Intelligent design advocates are fond of trying to claim archaeology is a fellow design science – basically the part of archaeology that deals with identifying whether an item is an artifact (and hence designed) or a product of natural processes. The rest of archaeology – the part where archaeologists use the patterned distribution of artifacts to infer something about the people who made them – gets quietly ignored.
I bring this up because I am currently reading Human Origins: Louis Leakey and the East African Evidence edited by Glynn Isaac and Elizabeth McCown. The book was published in 1976 and basically was written to honor the work of Louis Leakey. It gives an interesting snapshot of the state of the art in Paleoanthropology at that time. One of the contributors is Mary Leakey and in her contribution she mentions a couple of interesting items, one from Makapansgat and one from Upper Bed I at Olduvai Gorge. Concerning these items she says:
In concluding this review of the lithic material from Oldowan and Developed Oldowan Sites the grooved and pecked phonolite cobble found in Upper Bed I at FLK North must be mentioned. This stone has unquestionably been artificially shaped, but it seems unlikely that it could have served as a tool or for any practical purpose. It is conceivable that a parallel exists in the quartzite cobble found at Makapansgat (Dart 1959)*. in which natural weathering has simulated the carving of two sets of hominid – or more strictly primate – features on parts of the surface (bolding mine – afarensis). The resemblance to primate faces is immediately obvious in this specimen, although it is entirely natural, whereas in the case of the Olduvai stone a great deal of imagination is required in order to see any pattern or significance in the form. With oblique lighting, however, there is a suggestion of an elongate, baboon-like muzzle with faint indications of a mouth and nostrils. By what is probably no more than a coincidence, the pecked groove on the Olduvai stone is reproduced on the Makapansgat specimen by a similar but natural groove and in both specimens the positions of the grooves correspond to what would be the base of the hair line if an anthropomorphic interpretation is considered.
So, which is it? Are both the result of natural processes? Neither? Or is one designed and the other natural? and if so how can we tell? If it is the latter what does it mean that natural forces can create figures of primates? Can ID help us with this? One doubts it given Intelligent Design’s inability to calculate or even rigorously define one of its central concepts.
* The Dart reference is to: Dart (1959) How human were the South African man-apes? South African Panorama, November pp. 18-20
Filed under: Intelligent Design