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2023-01-29 17:18:35   •   ID: 2365

Some random reflections about Prehistoric Research of the last 25 years

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
These are some random Lithics of my personal Collection-Figure 1 and 2 show a flat symetric Biface ("Faustkeil- Blatt") and a "Quina"-transversal Scraper from the Orne Region in Northern France.

Figure 3 displays a Mousterian Point transitional to a "Limace" from the central Sahara and an elongated Levallois Point from Burgundy / France.

Figure 4 displays a carinated scraper / core from the La Rochette Rockshelter in the Vezere Valley and Figure 5 a small Biface, most probably from the late Middle Paleolithic, from the Bergeracois Region in S/W-Fance.

Let's compare the knowledge around 1975 - the time when I started to seriously explore prehistoric archaeology - with the state of research in 2023:

It is evident that historical and political developments have a direct influence on our view on Prehistory.

During the last years, the bipolar system of the Cold War was replaced by a multipolar and probably even more dangerous world. In social sciences, there was a breakdown of the master narratives of the twentieth century and a questioning of previous theories.

Multidisciplinarity continued to develop and the combination of different disciplines yielded new insights. Examples are the combination of lithic studies with cognitive behavioral science or with evolutionary theoretical paradigms.

We observed the ongoing scientification and professionalization of the discipline, the development of postcolonial perspectives, and, more generally, a shift away from linear toward non-linear reasoning.

However, a counter-movement also developed, with the renewed attempt to establish unscientific narratives in research (here we are talking about the denomination of sponsored programs such as: "our way to Europe", or the re-ethnicization of views in some countries).

Cultural-historical interpretations were almost completely replaced by structural/functional, processual and post-processual, ecological and technological interpretations and a greater stringency in the interpretation of findings developed.

However, this was accompanied by a certain hyperskepticism that questioned almost all observations before the year 2000 (for example, the evidence of middle Paleolithic huts, the reference to Neanderthal burials by earlier serious scientists).

Absolute dating by physical science is still very successfully on the rise and often challenges older incomplete and patchy relative chronologies. Together with genetic data, finer chronologies are especially helpful in the formulation of improved theories, especially in the evaluation of "Transitions" in Prehistory.

Enormous advances in genetics and molecular archaeology had implications for our view of the planet's colonization history and can sometimes answer questions about migratory movements or autochthonous evolution. However, I think that the last question is overestimated - a late echo of outdated nationalist research agendas. I personally don't care what micro-genetic signature I might carry...

However, advances in genetics also created the danger of inappropriately linking genetic data with findings from other disciplines. A prominent example is the mixing of genetic data with assumptions about ethnogenesis and the mixing of such theorems with linguistic data (a particularly ugly example is the obsessive preoccupation with "Indo-European peoples"). Why on earth would one conflate genetic signatures with self-attributed identities and, moreover, with a hypothetical extinct language. Honni soit qui mal y pense....

The processing of large amounts of data (big data), which is becoming possible now, has brought new insights, but with the problem that, except for a few specialists, even professional observers can no longer verify the accuracy of the statements. Of course, this also applies to the interpretation of genetic data. However, it is still better to rely on scientific statements that can be verified or falsified than on counterfactual narratives from obscure sources.