Zoe Williams, photo copyright of the Guardian

Go over to the Guardian and check out this delightful opinion piece by the lovely Zoe Williams (pictured right).

Better yet, read the comments below as well. It’s hilarious. She’s so well meaning! I don’t have a clue who she is (and her profile says nothing) but it looks like she’s had some archaeological theory training at the very least.

The article tries very hard to be a thought-provoking commentary on the social implications of finding out that a) Neanderthals aren’t stupid and b) the pyramids were built by workers, not slaves (see my earlier posts on those topics). But essentially it’s a bit wet and uninteresting and reads a bit like a rather earnest undergrad essay for a theory of archaeology class.

She quotes the Bristol archaeologist who directed the Neanderthal dig as saying the pigments “preparation makes no sense unless it was used as a body cosmetic. We can’t prove it but it makes sense”. As I’ve already pointed out, body paint’s surely just one of the options, and possibly the least interesting one. But I was really interested in one of the comments, which makes the point that perhaps the pigments/shell came from trading with humans?

I should say that this is not my area of expertise, and I don’t have time to investigate the possibilities, but the trade argument relies a) on this being the period when Neanderthals and humans co-existed and b) there being prior evidence of trade between the two species, preferably in the geographical and chronological area of the site in question. But if the answers to those two questions are positive, trade is a seriously good point.

But let’s face it, no one’s world has been turned upside down by the two big news stories this week – archaeologists and interested amateurs already knew this stuff, the general public probably don’t care, and the people who really should listen (writers, artists, Hollywood directors) don’t care about facts anyway!


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