Dawkins and Dembski

Richard Dwakins has a new article here.
The Interesting bit:

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt
Ridley has put it, “Most scientists are bored by
what they have already discovered. It is ignorance
that drives them on.” Science mines ignorance.
Mystery – that which we don’t yet know; that
which we don’t yet understand – is the mother lode
that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery
and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in
mystery for a very different reason: it gives them
something to do. Maybe we don’t understand yet,
but we’re working on it! Each mystery solved
opens up vistas of unsolved problems, and the scientist
eagerly moves in.
Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital
to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the
least, when enemies of science turn those constructive
admissions around and abuse them for political
advantage. It is worse than galling. It threatens the
enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect
creationism or ‘intelligent design theory’ (ID) is
having, especially because its propagandists are
slick, superficially plausible and, above all, wellfinanced.
ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism.
It simply is creationism disguised, for political
reasons, under a new name.

IDthe Future has a response. The Interesting bit:

And William Dembski takes on Dawkins’ argument-from-ignorance objection here.

So I followed the link and this is what we get: “He claims that ID is an argument from ignorance. But is the problem ignorance of the material causes needed to bring about biological complexity or an inherent inability of such causes to do so? Dawkins can’t seem to get his mind around this latter possibility.”

At first I thought Dembski had just missed the point Dawkins was making. That it is the desire to demystify the mysterious and explore the unknown that drives the scientific enterprise. I especially thought this because Witt, the author of the ID the Future post, mischaracterises Dawkins argument as “an argument from ignorance” – birds of a feather and all. Then I realized that Dembski was just being perverse and really believes ignorance is proof of Intelligent Design. Biblical literalism has a way of doing that to people!

Interesting Stuff on the Maya

This is fascinating!

The Maya lived in what is now Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize since at least 2600 BC. Their hieroglyphic texts were inscribed mostly from AD 250 to 900. This is called the “Classic Period” of the Maya. After that, the Maya mysteriously abandoned many of their major cities, and their civilization collapsed.


Thanks to the work of many other epigraphers (eh-PIG-ruh-fers, people who decipher and classify ancient inscriptions), we now know that Maya writing has two kinds of symbols. Some represent whole words. For example, a picture of a spotted animal with long teeth means “jaguar.” Other symbols represent sounds, such as “la,” “ka,” or “ma.” When put together — la-ka-ma — they form “lakam,” which means “banner.” We know that from a 16th-century Spanish/Maya dictionary. The Maya used around 500 glyphs. They are inscribed in columns that are read in pairs from left to right, top to bottom.

Another breakthrough happened in 1960. Russian-American architect Tatiana Proskouriakoff noticed that when the ancient Maya drew a picture of a man being dragged by his hair, they often drew similar glyphs nearby, like a caption for the picture. She identified the symbols for “was captured” — chu-ka-ja, or “chukaj.” Ms. Proskouriakoff was eventually able to prove that glyph texts told stories of real events in Maya history.

More on New World Origins

In comments to the previous post Dior had asked for some links to sources. As I was working on a response I realized I had more to say on the subject.
First some terminological issues. The words Pre-Projectile Point Horizon actually have some meaning in archaeological jargon. The term horizon is defined, in Willey and Phillips “Method and Theory in American Archaeology” as “…a primarily spatial continuity represented by cultural traits and assemblages whose nature and mode of occurence permit the assumption of a broad and rapid spread. As applied to Clovis, then, you have a simple technology (the Southeast Asian Chopper-Chopping Tool Traditon mentioned above) which somewhere evolves a new trait (Clovis) which spreads like wildfire (in some respects it is like punctuated equilibria with it’s emphasis on peripatric speciation followed by a rapid spread). Other examples of a horizon would include the spread of shell tempered pottery in the southeast and the spread of the Southern Cult, also in the Southeast.

You will also note I did not say much about skeletel remains. The reason is that with a few rare exceptions, such as the Kennewick material, skeletal material from this time range does not exist ( go here, here and here for more info on Kennewick – especially the first site). Kennewick does have an impact on the debate and I may do a post about it some time in the next couple of weeks.
Now to answer Dior.
The only magazine reference I used was from the May National Geographic. The article doesn’t seem to be in the online edition. For the rest, I basically summarized part of Chapter One of Willey’s Introduction to American Archaeology – a two volume classic. I would recommend it to anyone interested in archaeology. You might also check out Jennings and Norbeck’s Prehistoric Man in the New World. Macgowan and Hester’s Early Man in the New World is also quite good. In terms of journal articles the following are pretty interesting:

Chard 1959 New World Origins: A Reappraisal, Antiquity 33(129): 44-49
Chard 1959 Old World Sources for Early Lithic Cultures, Actas del 33ra Congresso de Americanistas pp314-320
Chard 1963 The Old World Roots: Reviews and Speculations Anthro. Papers 10(2) University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Wilmsen 1964 Flake Tools in the American Arctic: Some Speculations
Wormington 1957 Ancient Man in North America, Popular Series # 4, Denver Museum of Natural History.
Finally, for the climate stuff Butzer has a good book called “Environment and Archaeology”

The above references, you may have noticed, are from the 50’s and 60’s. Although old, these are the papers that set the framework for the debate over Clovis and the Pre=Projectile point horizon. As matters stand now, archaeologists are at something of an impasse older material like Lewisville, Tule Springs, Topper, Meadowcraft and Monte Verde keep cropping up, but unfortunately none of them provide definitive answers (one way or the other).

To answer Henry: My advice would be to take the point to a university anthro department. However, if you want to solve the riddle yourself I would consult Willey’s book – or a similar book. Fluted points are pretty distictive – unfortunately, I couldn’t find a pic where the fluting really stands out. The flutes are broad long grooves running the length of the point (Clovis and related points are spear points – you can tell by the size). I haven’t read Diamond’s book yet, so I can’t really comment on it. There are valid arguments for the younger dates. I, personally, find the above sites (and quite a few others that are similar) to be suggestive. They are, IMHO a legitimate phenomena that needs to be explained.

The Peopling of America: Clovis and The Pre-Projectile Point Horizon

One of the main goals of Americanist archaeology is to elucidate the cultural history of North America. Perhaps, the biggest problem concerns how and when North America was first settled. Recent finds at the Topper site in North Carolina may provide an answer to the when. Before I can discuss that, however, a little background is necessary. The following account is drawn from Gordon Willey’s excellent “Introduction to American Archaeology Volume One: North and Middle America (1966).

The Climatic Background

The Pleistocene, in North America, is divided into four glacial and interglacial periods. The periods of glacial advance and retreat (called interstadials) are presented for the last (Wisconsin) stage below (these are for the Laurentide ice sheet, which covered eastern North American).

Glacial stages Posted by Hello

Three other periods need to be mentioned. The Anathermal climatic stage occured from 8,000 to about 5,00 BC. During the Anathermal a minor glacial advance called the Cochrane advance occured. The Anathermal was followed by a period of warmer climates called the Altithermal. This is followed by the Medithermal – or period of climatic optimum, which lasted from around 5,000 to 2,500 BC. The medithermal was characterized by a climate much like that which we experience now.
ClimatePosted by Hello

It is within this context that most of the discussion of the “how” and “when” of North American Settlement takes place. There is abundant amount of evidence to indicate that the first immigrants to America came via the Bearing Land Bridge (so I won’t discuss it). The problem has always been with the timing. There are only certain periods during which routes from Siberia to North America were passable. The main timeframe was 10,000-12,000 years ago and it had always been assumed that this was the time during which North America was settled. The first inhabitants of North America participated in a cultural tradition called the Big Game Hunting Tradition. The Big Game Hunting Tradition was adapted to and developed in a grasslands environment and most of the significant sites are found on the North American Plains. The Big Game Hunting Tradition, was, largely centered around the hunting of large mammals such as mammoth and buffalo. It is characterized by bifacially flaked fluted projectile points (such as Clovis – pictured below – Fulsom, Sandia and Plano) which date to around 10,000-9,000 years BC (or during the Two Creeks Interstadial which preceeded the Valders advance). Associated with the projectile points were a series of specialized and unspecialized choppers, scrappers, knives and drills.

clovis Posted by Hello

clovis and beyond Posted by Hello

However, there are a number of sites that may, or may not be older and which may or may not have earlier, more primitive technology. Such sites are found in both North and South America. They are characterized by crude, percussion flaked tools. Mainly scrapers, flakes and pebble choppers. They are also characterized by the absence of bifacially flked projectile points (such as Clovis). They are usually found in geological associations (or with faunal associations) that imply great age – if accepted.
For example, a site was found in Lewisville, Texas which consisted of pebble-choppers, hammerstones and flakescrapers in association with what were believed to be hearths. Radiocarbon dating of the hearths yielded dates of around 38,000 years old. There are several problems with the site however. First, it is entirely possible that the hearths were in fact not hearths. Rather the blackened areas excavators identified as hearths could actually be the results of burned vegetation (through lightening strikes, etc.). Second, the site was excavated through the use of heavy earth moving equipment and suffered some post-depositional mixing. A, possibly, intrusive Clovis point was found at the site.
Another interesting site is at Tule Springs, Nevada. The site was discovered in an erosion channel, later dated to 28,000-23,500 BC. It appeared to be a camp on the edge of an ancient lake. Remains of camel, bison, horse, mammoth and groundsloth were found near what seemed to be a fire area or charcoal lense. A number of scrapes and flakes as well as two bone implemets were also found. The entire site was covered with several feet of lake deposited clay and silt interbedded with fine sand and gravel. Unfortunately, later research indicated the site dated to approximately 11,000 BC.
These two sites are typical of pre-Clovis archaeology. There are a number of sites in both North and South America that contain – in the words of Gordon Willey – “…chipped stone complexes whose typology and isolation from technologically more advanced implements suggests the possibility of great age (Willey, see above pg 33)”. These complexes have been christened the Pre-Projectile Point Horizon.
There are two possibilities, then, for the development of the Big Game Hunting Tradition.
First, people arrived in America much earlier than 10,000-12,000 years ago. They carried with them a tool kit reminiscent of the Southeast Asian Chopper-Chopping Tool tradition (characteized by rough core tools, chopppers and scrappers and the lack of bifaceial blades and points). Which would explain the tantilizing sights such as Lewisville and Tule Springs. This tradition eventually evolved into the Big Game Hunting Tradition. In this view, Clovis was an in situ development and humans arrived in North America considerably earlier.
Second, Clovis and related points evolved out of Asiatic and Eurasiatic prototypes – in particular complexes in western and southwestern Siberia. Some of these prototypes were related to Mousterian, Solutrean and Magdalenian antecedents. Ust’Kanskaia in western Siberia is a good example. The site is found in a cave in the Altai Mountains. Tools found at the site (bifaces, scrappers, burins, retouched flake points) reflect the Mousterian Tradition. It is argued that assmblages such as this blended, further east, with the Southeast Asian Chopper-Chopping Tool Tradition and were then carried into the new world. Interestingly enough, sites in Alaska and the Yukon share some of the same Mousterian flaking techiques as at, say Ust’Kanskaia.
In order to resolve which of these is correct, either of two things are needed. First, indiputable associations of pre-Clovis artifacts with middle or early Pleistocen deposits and convincing radiocarbon dates. Second, a complex of materials attributable to pre-Clovis assmblages are found stratigraphically beneath artifacts of the well known clovis tradition.
Posted by Hello

In 2004 Albert Goodyear found material he claims will satisfy on or possibly both of the above conditions. The Topper site, located on the banks of the Savannah River in South Carolina, is dated to 16,000-20,000 years ago and may be as old as 50,000 years (I am skeptical of this latter date as it pushes things to close to the neanderthals and early modern humans – remember neanderthals are found as late as 35,000 years ago in Europe). The picture above is of the stratigraphy of the site. The artifacts were found in the layer labeled Pleistocene Terrace. The artifacts themselves were a mixture of primitive scappers, flakes and points and they were found below Clovis. They were also found in association with a blackened area believed to be a hearth.

From thePress Release:

“The dates could actually be older,” Goodyear says. “Fifty-thousand should be a minimum age since there may be little detectable activity left.”
The dawn of modern homo sapiens occurred in Africa between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago. Evidence of modern man’s migration out of the African continent has been documented in Australia and Central Asia at 50,000 years and in Europe at 40,000 years. The fact that humans could have been in North America at or near the same time is expected to spark debate among archaeologists worldwide, raising new questions on the origin and migration of the human species.

Which would satisfy the second condition also. There are two problems. First, are the artifacts really human made tools or are they just rocks that look like they might be something? The Jury is out. Second concerns the date and the association with the hearth.

preclovis chert tools Posted by Hello

It would be nice if we had a reliable way of determining whether any given hunk of rock is human made or not. There are several techniques such as trace wear analysis that do help. It gets difficult the closer you get to the origination of stone tools and there comes a point where the boundry is pretty muddled.

the dig Posted by Hello

At any rate, I would be skeptical of the 50,000 year old date and certainly question dates older than that. I do, however, think that the 16,000 to 20,000 date (mentioned in the May National Geographic) is probably correct. I have always been somewhat skeptical of the notion that humans have only been in America for 10,000-12,000 years. The Pre-Projectile Point Horizon is a real phenomena – there are too many sites with this type of material to dismiss. Consequently, an explantion is needed and the best, to date, is that humans did indeed arive earlier than currently believed. Of course more proof is needed and Topper, like the other sites, is a tantilizing piece of the puzzle.

This is why I don’t like the mainstream media

Via Eschaton

Days after financial services giant Morgan Stanley informed print publications that its ads must be automatically pulled from any edition containing “objectionable editorial coverage,” global energy giant BP has adopted a similar press strategy.

According to a copy of a memo on the letterhead of BP’s media-buying agency, WPP Group’s MindShare, the global marketer has adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward negative editorial coverage.

Another magazine executive who had not heard about BP’s policy or of Morgan Stanley’s said his company has unwritten guidelines with advertisers from several industries, including auto, airlines and tobacco, to pull their ads if related negative stories are in the issue. These cases, the executive said, occur more with news magazines than lifestyle ones.

Great, our news is being managed by advetising. Wonderful. So really, everything we read has to be friendly to whoever has paid for the advertising. So if BP has a pipeline break and kill tons of wildlife and do huge amounts of damage to the environment they can manage the news by threatening to pull their advertising and none of us will know about it.

Happy Anniversery Mrs. Afarensis!

Lovers, Rovers and Songs of Sidhe

We roamed the world over,
She and I , we played the rovers,
I, following fortune,
She, her four leaf clover.

We searched for gold,
and secrets of olden times,
She, with beauty like cathedral chimes,
I, with the hunger to know other minds.

We lay by a stream,
we lay by a brook,
we slept in a ship,
far out on the foamy sea.

Then some siren call,
or song of Sidhe,
lured her beyond the love of me.
We parted,
Her, with sparkles of magic in her mind,
I with the sad fate of being left behind.

We roamed the world over,
She and I, we played the rovers.
I following fortune,
But she, She followed the magic of elven tunes.
We Loved. We parted. Will I follow soon?

Sixteen years and she still loves me. Amazing!

Lovers, Rovers and Songs of Sidhe, Part Two

Come softley, come swiftly, come, come away.
Leave farming, leave trading, come what may.
Sleep softly, wake swiftly, today is a new day.
Leave plowing, leave forestin, come, come away.

The waves break upon the shore,
as I morn for days that are no more.
I see the sun shine,
and far off, I hear something that hints of cathedral chimes.

leave the sea, forsake the sea,
come with us, your destiny,
leave the castle noble lord,
forsake it’s treasure,
sheath it’s bloody sword.

Something calls,
A siren from earlier times,
something calls,
reminding me of cathedral chimes,
Something calls,
A shadow looms,
and calls,
tinkling with elven tunes…

Soft beauty,
You and I,
together once more,
watch the sun rise.

I wrote both of the above poems a long time ago when Mrs. afarensis and I were first dating. I could probably rewrite them into much better poems, but Mrs. afarensis has a sentimental attachment to them (they are her favorites of all the poems I have written for her) so I don’t mess with them.
Oddly enough, I took a creative writing class in college and showed both of them to my teacher – he liked the second one better (I’ve always thought the first was the best) especially the “something calls” part (he thought it was a very intense bit of writing). He didn’t like the fact that the lines numbered 4, 4, 5, 8 and 4 and really strongly encouraged me to rewrite it but I didn’t want to make Mrs. afarensis mad – which I explained to him. He thought I was being silly. But that’s the effect love has on some people.

Odds and Ends

I am currently working on three kind of long posts on North American Archaeology, Biology and Machines, and the skeletal anatomy of several of the Australopithecines. Hope to have them up soon.