Visual Thinkers Show Who They Are

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To a visual thinker, the modern developed world suffers from visual poverty.

These are not costumes, these are identities.

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Curtis Marean ASU / Video S. Africa Human Evo.

Real world info – how novel!

Curtis W. Marean is a professor of archaeology at Arizona State University. In a 2010 article in Scientific American, Marean explained how anatomically modern humans survived the MIS 6 glacial stage … Wikipedia

I would suggest that the “genius moments” Marean mentions are made possible by visual thinking – intuition. Before “cracking the code” of physical reality through mathematics and the scientific method, humans learned by directly engaging with natural materials and by observing natural processes. Early technology was dependent on “intimate” observation, curiosity, trial and error and visual memory – and- the ability to be focused, to persevere, and to “pay attention” to the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences around you.

An animal killed by a brush fire, with much of the fur burned away, and easier to remove, and portions of the meat “cooked” and easier to chew, might spur an archaic human to “look into” methods of controlling fire. Stones arranged to make a fire pit, secured by soft clay, might result in “cooked clay” ceramics. Sorting through bits of chert or quartz that have sharp edges due to their habit of conchoidal fracture, looking for the “right ones” might become tedious, but a few tries at fracturing large cobbles (throwing them against hard rock boulders or outcrops) might lead to observations that lead to new skills, new brain organization, and practically – a better daily life. Why did humans develop “big brains” is not a “complex” question. Technologic hunting and gathering behavior provided better nutrition: our “current brain” gobbles up 20% of our energy production. Nutrition came first.

Tools are simple: a tool works or it doesn’t. A hammer is essentially the same whether it’s a cobble used by a chimpanzee to break open nuts or an industrial machine that pounds posts into the ground. Once the “hammer” function is established, development is a matter of fine-tuning: scaling and engineering to fit a specific application.

I do not believe that archaic humans “conjured up” abstractions or “talked their way” into material inventions: They copied nature – their sensory system “accessed” the physical properties of materials, powered by curiosity and necessity. Children learned by watching and doing; a few improved on techniques or tried different materials, which could be demonstrated to others. Technology is of course impacted by the availability of materials. As far as Homo sapiens “the species” goes, there were many groups whose technical development withered away either due to a “good enough” attitude ( a stable environment) or lack of useable materials in their environment, and/or distance from other humans that exploited the materials around them.

Obviously, trade played a huge role in dissemination of technologic objects, but the gap between persistence of “stone age” technology and cyber technology exists and is very real today. “We” tend to applaud “our brilliance” (brilliance that belongs to a mere handful of inventors) in a highly mistaken prejudice as to a “our” superior progress, but there is no such thing as progress; the story isn’t over. A moral value cannot be attached to technical complexity. “All ” humans are not going to book passage on a “Celebrity” cruise  ship to Mars. “All” humans need uncontaminated water and proper nutrition, not to cling to the bottom rung of “barely living” but to build and power our greedy brains.

Direct sensory learning, especially by means of visual memory and processing,  remains the “go to” method of artists, crafts persons and many contemporary trades. This “hands-on” visual type of learning can be improved or facilitated by “words” but often “verbal instructions” impede the expertise that only comes through working with and handling materials. We can “see” that early and “wild” humans are visual thinkers BECAUSE they produce visual masterpieces, including practical objects and by transforming their bodies.



Genealogy of Religion / Cris Campbell

Cris Campbell holds advanced degrees in anthropology, philosophy, and law. This (WordPress) blog is his research database and idea playspace. (The most recent post seems to be in 2015, but there is plenty to explore)


Why “Hunter-Gatherers and Religion”?

Anyone who surveys the “religious” beliefs of hunter-gatherers (or foragers) will almost immediately discover that many of them do not have a word that translates as “religion” and do not understand the Western concept of “religion,” as explained to them by ethnographers and others.  Anyone who engages in such a survey will also soon discover that hunter-gatherers have a dazzling and sometimes bewildering array of beliefs related to the cosmos, creation, spirits, gods, and the supernatural.  Within a single group, these beliefs may be different and contradictory from individual to individual; the beliefs are often fluid and change considerably over time.  When comparing groups, the details — at least on the surface — seem to be so different that nothing general can be said about foragers on the one hand and their beliefs on the other hand.  Despite this variety, one can identify certain common themes, motifs and tropes that are characteristic of hunter-gatherer metaphysics.  These include:

  • A generalized belief in higher powers, which may be gods, spirits, or other forces; (I would modify this based on those who are visual thinkers and do not make abstract “things”)
  • A spiritualized reverence for nature and everything of nature; (what does ‘spiritualized’ entail? This is one of those Weasel Words that is never defined)
  • A cosmology oriented horizontally rather than vertically; “egalitarian”
  • A cyclic notion of time and perpetual renewal; and (or non-time, ie “living in the present”)
  • A belief array that includes animism, ritualism, totemism and shamanism. (these are all “western” inventions. The people supposedly practicing these “religions” may not see any difference or separation between these categorizations and behaviors of everyday life. There are atheist hunter-gatherers)

Because humans have been foragers for the vast majority of their time on earth, understanding the supernatural beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherers is essential to any genealogy of religion.  This Category will examine those beliefs as part of a larger effort to trace the history of religion.

How ironic! It is modern social humans who are trapped in a supernatural dimension created by “magic words”

A landscape created by light / Ephemeral Reality




Indian Rice Grass and other bunch grasses, Rabbit Brush about to bloom, sagebrush, mesquite, shadscale (spiny salt bush) and “weeds.” The evening sunlight literally reflects colors that don’t exist at  any other time of day.

Archaeological Novel Writing / Mesa Verde, Chaco, Contemporary Pueblos

If you have visited, or lived in, the Four Corners region, or the Upper Rio Grande Valley, the “ancient” world is very much present, unfortunately as tourist bait and trinkets, but also in the culture of the long-abused Pueblo people, who survived brutal attacks by the Navajo, which drove them into their present locations, and then invasion by the utterly bloodthirsty Spaniards from Mexico, who desired control of  what is now New Mexico.


The “Pueblo Revolt” drove the psychopathic Spaniards back into Mexico, but they returned 12 years later to beat down and enslave the Pueblos. This event is celebrated each year in Santa Fe as a “festival.” The Hispanic community “rubs the noses” of the contemporary Pueblo people in the blood of victorious carnage that is Spanish Conquest in the Americas.

The good news is that the Pueblos have survived the one-two punch of Navajo predation and the Gory Glory of Spanish Christianity for 500-600 years, but can they survive tourism?


The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Pueblo Revolt by Edward Countryman

In 1680 the people known collectively as “Pueblos” rebelled against their Spanish overlords in the American Southwest. Spaniards had dominated them, their lives, their land, and their souls for eight decades. The Spanish had established and maintained their rule with terror, beginning with Juan de Oñate’s invasion in 1598. When the people of Acoma resisted, Oñate ordered that one leg be chopped from every man over fifteen and the rest of the population be enslaved, setting a pattern that lasted four-score years. Now, rising virtually as one, the Pueblos drove out Spanish soldiers and authorities. The rebels allowed many Spaniards to flee, but twenty-one Franciscan priests died at their hands, and they sacked mission churches across their land. It took twelve years for Spanish troops to reconquer Pueblo country. They never did conquer the Hopi, who had been the westernmost contributors to the rebellion.

Unquestionably, one of revolt’s dimensions was religious. From Pecos Pueblo near the edge of the Great Plains to Acoma and Zuni in western New Mexico, Pueblo people had had enough of Christianity, after eight decades of living in what historian Ramón Gutiérrez has described as an imposed theocratic utopia. Backed by armed force and not reluctant to use the whip, Catholic missionaries had set out to destroy the ancestral Pueblo world in every respect, including what people could believe and how they could marry, work, live their lives, and pray. When the rebels could capture Franciscan priests, they killed them, sometimes after torturing them. They destroyed Catholic images, tore down mission churches, and defiled the vessels of the Catholic Mass. They put an end to marriages on Christian terms. They restored the kivas where Pueblo men had honored their ancestral Kachinas. From what I understand, the Kachinas are actual dolls used by women to educate girls about “female stuff.“With Catholic symbols and Spanish practices gone, the Pueblos set out to restore the lives their ancestors had lived.

For the rest of the story, go to Gilder Lehrman


And, from my own account of the “Fiesta” that celebrates the Reconquest: (still active since 1712 in Santa Fe)

Chapter 10: Looking for Las Vegas

At first, chic-by-law Santa Fe appears to be the turf this weekend of bad boys like the one before me who displays a tattoo of Jesus on his chest, but it’s families who are out to ingest fajitas, tacos, burritos and Navajo fry bread, to consecrate the ground with dirty paper plates, plastic utensils, greasy napkins, soft drink cups and cigarette butts.

After a quick circuit of the plaza, I stop at the performance stage; portrayed on the backdrop are those famous personages “1492 Colon” and “1692 de Vargas.” Columbus stands in his ship, as tall as the sail, a giant compared to de Vargas, who rides something that resembles an armadillo while his henchmen make their entrada on presentable horses. De Vargas – the man who murdered seventy Indian leaders after they had peacefully surrendered Santa Fe, who enslaved four hundred Indian women and children and presented them as ‘gifts’ to Spanish settlers to use as they wished. Twice more the ungrateful Rio Grande pueblos revolted and de Vargas gave those insurgents bloody holidays, too. But he got his reward; he’s buried under the altar at the cathedral and has a shopping center named for him, among other things.

Tourists, conspicuous by virtue of cameras which hang from their necks, many with lenses long enough to probe their navels, waddle earnestly and point at buildings, people and food. An incarnation of the Madonna, who totters on high heels, her cheeks gashed with rouge, and clad in a pink dress which consists mainly of a hard, sculptured bodice and a ruffle, holds a neonate likely named Jesus. Grandma hovers nervously, competing for attention in a purple tube dress and violent red shoes. Her face, which has lived a couple of lifetimes on its own, is a nightmare visitation to her body. Meanwhile, three cowboys from northern Mexico seem to be the only spectators comfortable with Bob and Ray, guitarists dressed in Ferdinand Marcos shirts, who at intervals squeal like hogs in a rainstorm. Bob and Ray are succeeded by a busty woman stuffed into a ruffled dress and her slimmer, identically costumed shadow who clomp, stamp, clomp, stamp as one, forming a strange quadruped which tosses its gauzy skirts about.

Clomp, clomp, bang, bang. Back at the fiesta stage, two ladies in yellow dance Jalisco style. I search the area for a trash barrel but find only trash. I can’t bring myself to throw my ice cream wrapper on the ground despite the scads of litter which spoil the plaza. Two toddlers use a small stone monument to General S W Kearney, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, as a pint-sized perch. They soon fly, and while deciding what to do with the pesky wrapper I read that in this plaza, General Kearney “proclaimed the peaceable annexation of New Mexico, August 19, 1846.” An avatar of Laura Petrie, in black flats, toreador pants, ruffled midriff blouse, hoop earrings and a toothy smile, who dances to a Cumbia, provides relief from the hyperactive feet of the Folkloricos. During the culminative season of despair in a misguided academic career I registered for Flamenco Dance, a falsely-titled course. But I gave Mexican Folk Dance a shot anyway. The other students, flap-flapping their scarves and bang-banging their feet to speedy tunes, danced like the doves of Mexico. And me?

I wander into the square where St Rita de Cascia, San Juan Neponuceno, Santa Barbara, San Pedro and others have been rendered in oil colors on plywood and wired to the trunks and branches of the trees. Coats of arms hang from the porch at the Palace of the Governors. A tourist videotapes the designs, some of which are of graphic interest: Pacheco – two baskets of asparagus spears or cucumbers; Ellis – five Arabic crescents in white on a black cross; Pino – five khaki pine cones; Bustamante – blue dots on a khaki field and Hurtado – three silver hearts on a red field. They are pretty, medieval and foreign. Across from the palace vinyl, air-filled Mickey Mouses and star-spangled balloons which twist in the smoke of grilling meats, are not enough to dispel the palpable descent of gory Spanish glory, of adventurers bestride horror, of cool Moorish thought annihilated by pride.


Aztec human sacrifice and cannibalism meet Christian human sacrifice and cannibalism: the result, enduring blended imagery.


The sky turns pink and lavender to the west. Mariachis play. A willowy old woman speaks to me. She wears a long, rose colored dress, stiff silver sandals last sold in the sixties, and a matching clutch purse. A Spanish comb holds her hair aloft.

“I’m tired. I want to go home,” she says.

“I know what you mean, but I might want more food,” I respond.

“I’m fussy. There are no tables, and I like to sit down when I eat.” She gazes across the smoky-dark square as if a table will form from the white litter.

“It’s okay to eat ice cream standing up,” I say, fiddling with the wrapper that resides in my pocket.

“I held the ladder all day for my husband while he scraped paint from the windows. If I was a drinker I’d have a shot of something, but I’m diabetic.” With that, she walks off.

Celebrants who roam the plaza “oculis natantibus sub actra nocte,” are treated to country music from another time, a sweet waltz played on guitars, fiddles, flutes and mandolins. A couple begins to dance in the street, bottoms sway, and babes are swung in mamas’ arms. After a polka the band gives the dancers El Talien, a rich, measured dance brought up from the Rennaissance. In the shadows, the young seek each other, now as then, perhaps with less grace but with the same necessity.




The dispersal of Homo sapiens / Southern Asia

The dispersal of Homo sapiens across southern Asia: how early, how often, how complex?

2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Robin Dennell, Michael D. Petraglia; Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield; School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

(I’m posting the discussion first because this is a long post) Essentially Dennell is politely refuting “Out of Africa” versions 1 and 2.

1.4. Discussion and implications

As with Out of Africa 1, the existing model of Out of Africa 2 has been a useful way of explaining a very small amount of information. Nevertheless, the present model unduly restricts the ways we can interpret the sparse, but recently much improved, data upon which it rests, and there are benefits to be gained from widening our range of possible hypotheses.

A useful initial step would be for us to be more explicit about just how few reliable observations we have of early H. sapiens in southern Asia; others would be to explore the likelihood that more than one donor population was involved in the earliest expansion of H. sapiens from Africa, that these expansions may have begun much earlier than currently envisaged, and dispersed via more than one entry point. As indicated above, there are good reasons for arguing that our species may have dispersed from Africa into Arabia and India earlier than previously thought, and therefore we should be open-ended as to how far east, and how early, they may have dispersed.

Although movement out of Africa was likely restricted during the driest parts of MIS 6 (MIS –Marine Isotope Stages: paleoclimate time scale of warm and cool periods) there is no obvious reason why H. sapiens could not have entered Arabia during the Last Interglacial or during moist episodes during MIS 6 and perhaps migrated further east. Additionally, we have yet to develop models that accommodate the probability that early H. sapiens in Asia interbred with both Neanderthals and Denisovans. Here, it would help to move discussion beyond an either/or approach to Out of Africa or multiregional models of modern human evolution, as both migration from Africa and inter-breeding with indigenous populations were likely involved, even if the role of each is impossible as yet to determine in most regions of southern Asia.

Investigations of how, when, and how often H. sapiens dispersed across southern Asia need also to be integrated with environmental and climatic studies so that the responses of human (and mammalian) populations to the changing conditions of MIS 3 and 4 (and perhaps earlier stages) can be properly assessed. We need to recognise that not all dispersal events are successful, and the first appearance of a species such as H. sapiens in a region does not necessarily indicate permanent colonisation. Under the challengingconditions of the Pleistocene, local contractions and even extinctions of populations are likely, just as with the Middle Pleistocene. In the same way that studies of Early and Middle Pleistocene hominin demography need to distinguish between short-term visitors and long-term residents, so too do those of hominin dispersal in the Upper Pleistocene. Finally, discussions of the expansion of early H. sapiens from Africa need to be kept distinct from discussions of the diffusion of “modern behaviour” however defined. Early H. sapiens populations were emphatically not “modern” in the same senses as Holocene or Late Pleistocene ones, and the expansion of H. sapiens across southern Asia (and other regions) before 50 ka may have stemmed as much from ecological opportunism as from behavioural superiority over other hominin species.

The timing and the paths of colonization of southern Asia by Homo sapiens are poorly known, though many population geneticists, paleoanthropologists, and archaeologists have contended that this process began with dispersal from East Africa, and occurred between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago. However, the evidence for this scenario is very weak, particularly the lack of human skeletal evidence between the Levant and Borneo before 40 ka and other explanations are possible. Here we argue that environmental and archaeological information is increasingly indicating the likelihood that H. sapiens exited Africa much earlier than commonly thought, and may have colonized much of southern Asia well before 60,000 years ago. Additionally, we cannot exclude the possibility that several dispersal events occurred, from both North and East Africa, nor the likelihood that early populations of H. sapiens in southern Asia interbred with indigenous populations of Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo erectus. The population history of southern Asia during the Upper Pleistocene is likely far more complex than currently envisaged.

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Although the expansion of our species from Africa into Europe between 30 and 40 ka has been extensively investigated for over a century, far less is known about its earlier expansion across southern Asia from Arabia to Australia. Over the last few years, a consensus has arisen that this expansion probably occurred between 40and 60 ka. Although opinion is far from unanimous, many palaeoanthropologists would support most components of the following consensus view of how and when this occurred:

Homo sapiens originated in East Africa by195-160 ka but did not enter Southwest Asia until the Last Interglacial, when it is first evidenced outside Africa by skeletal evidence from the caves of Skhul and Qafzeh in the Levant at 100 ka or perhaps as early as 125 ka, at the beginning of the Last Interglacial. It remained there until ca 65 ka when it was replaced by Neanderthals who may have been forced  southwards by the increasingly harsh conditions of MIS4. In this scenario, after being present in the Levant for ca 35-60 ka, these early populations of H. sapiens went extinct, thus leading to the argument that this was a failed dispersal by a groupof humans that were not as socially and cognitively advanced as later populations of H.sapiens.

Following an assumed demographic increase of populations in Africa, H. sapiens expanded across southern Asia between 40 and 60 ka and those that reached Sundaland, the landmass of modern island Southeast Asia that was linked to the Malaysian peninsula because of lowered sea-levels; they eventually crossed the open-sea to enter Australia. Some researchers have suggested that modern mans were the first to exploit systematically coastal resources (notably shellfish, sea mammals and inshore fish) and were thus able to disperse rapidly along a coastal route possibly by utilising coastal springs that emerged when sea levels fell and thus by passing indigenous populations that lived further inland. By this means, they were able to reach Australia by 40 ka or 60 ka, depending upon which dates are preferred from the Australian inland.

Although this consensus enjoys widespread support, we suggest that it is best regarded as a series of potentially falsifiable hypotheses, and we should thus be open-minded about alternative perspectives on what is likely to have been a much more complex process of colonisation. Leaving aside for the moment recent archaeological and skeletal evidence from southern Asia, there are two principal reasons why the current consensus may be overly simplistic. The first stems from its own internal weaknesses as a model, and the second is that the context in which early human dispersals across southern Asia is discussed is changing because of the implications of new fossil and archaeological evidence from Northeast Africa, and the evidence from ancient DNA (aDNA) studies that early H. sapiens outside Africa interbred with indigenous populations. To take each in turn:

1.1. Limitations of the current model (Out of Africa)

The current model for the expansion of H. sapiens across southern Asia is based on three lines of evidence: human skeletal material; genetic studies of modern populations; and the timing of arrival of H. sapiens in Australia. It has the following internal weaknesses:

1.1.1. The limitations of the human skeletal fossil record.

As indicated above, current evidence indicates that H. sapiens appeared in east Africa by ca 195-160 ka, whereas the earliest outside Africa are those from Israel at about 100-125 ka ago. At present, there are no hominin fossils 200 ka old from southern Asia, so it is an open question as to when H. sapiens first appeared in this region (or an open question as to when H. sapiens first appeared in this region y other type of hominin, from the Arabian Peninsula prior to the Holocene. All we know at present about southwest Asian hominins between 250and 125 ka ago is that Neanderthals were present in the northern Levant during part of MIS6. ”

Homo erectus was thought to have persisted into the last glaciation on the basis of isotopic dates for the Ngandong (Solo) assemblage of 28-54 ka, but a recent study now indicates that the likely age is between 143 and 546 ka. These estimates are consistent with faunal evidence that this hominin assemblage is late Middle Pleistocene in age (Storm, 2001). The earliest unambiguous evidence in Southeast Asia, for H. Sapiens is the cranium from Niah Cave, Borneo, dated to ca 35-37 ka.

The age of this specimen is comparable to that of the partial skeleton of H. sapiens from Tianyuandong, North China, and the 32 ka old H. sapiens cranium from Yamashita-cho, Okinawa (Kaifu and Fujita, 2012). Additionally, the 42 ka assemblages from Timor, which would most likely have been colonised by using boats or rafts with sails and paddles can also be attributed to H. sapiens.

Because the earliest evidence from the highlands of New Guinea now extends back to 49 ka, modern humans must have been on the Sunda Shelf and in mainland Southeast Asia by at least 50 ka. H. sapiens was absent from Southwest, South and mainland Southeast Asia before this time. As noted in relation to the evidence for Out of Africa 1, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

1.1.2. Stone tools are poor indicators of population changes

In the Levant, both Neanderthals and H.sapiens used Mousterian stone-tool assemblages, and in East and North Africa, early H. sapiens used the same lithic tool-kits as their predecessors. This indicates that stone tools are a poor indicator of the species of the hominin that made them: changes in hominin type did not necessarily result in changes in lithic technology. Conversely, unchanging lithic traditions need not imply that the type of hominin that used them remained the same.

As example, in mainland and island Southeast Asia, there is no equivalent of the Upper Palaeolithic, and Mode 1 technologically-simple flake and core assemblages persist into the late Pleistocene and even in places the Holocene, even though the species of hominin that made them changed from H. erectus to H. sapiens. This is in sharp contrast to a region such as western Europe, where the shift from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic was associated with the replacement of Neanderthals by H. sapiens leaving aside a much-contested debate over the status of so-called transitional industries that could have been made by either. Changes in lithic technology in southern Asia are likely to have been more subtle, and discernible only through more rigorous quantitative analysis than merely noting the size and frequency of a few common elements.

1.1.3. DNA studies of modern populations do not detect extinct ones, or ones older than 60 ka.

Analyses of the DNA of modern populations across southern Asia have made important contributions towards understanding the demographic history of H. sapiens outside Africa, and convincing arguments have been made that they first appeared in southern Asia ca 60ka. In China, similar studies indicate that the earliest populations of our species were present ca 50-60 ka or perhaps 27-56 ka. However, these claims are based on studies of surviving extant populations, and cannot take into account those that became extinct during the last 60 ka. Additionally, coalescence ages from mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome studies of contemporary Eurasian populations do not extend as far back as125 ka, when H. sapiens first reached the Levant. By the same line of argument, any expansion of H. sapiens that might have occurred across southern Asia before 60 ka is currently undetectable through analyses of modern populations. This is particularly relevant to the Arabian Peninsula, which H. sapiens probably reached at the same time, or even perhaps earlier than, the Levant, as its presence there in MIS 5 is also undetectable through genetic analyses of modern populations (Cabrera et al., 2009).

Moreover, given significant environmental changes in Arabia over the course of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, and the vulnerability of populations to even minor decreases in rainfall, we should anticipate that there were contractions and even local extinctions of hunter-gatherers, followed by population expansion and immigration from neighbouring regions. Thus the genetic make-up of contemporary populations in Arabia is likely only a partial and recent representation of the entire demographic history of the region, particularly because none has roots deeper than the late Pleistocene. Indeed, new genetic studies of Arabian populations indicate different source areas for indigenous peoples, with some groups representing much later Holocene expansions. The absence of any human skeletal evidence prior to the Holocene and the lack of ancient DNA studies continue to be major impediments to understanding the colonization and dispersal of populations of this critical region.

1.1.4. DNA studies of modern populations do not detect their residential histories

A point often overlooked in studies of the DNA of living populations is that they show their genetic, but not their residential history. As example, the Andaman Islanders are commonly regarded as the oldest surviving population in southern Asia, with a genetic history extending back 60 ka, and this in turn has been used as evidence in favour of an early coastal dispersal of H. sapiens across southern Asia. However, the fact that they have a genetic history extending back 60,000 years does not necessarily mean that they have inhabited the Andaman Islands, or have even beena coastal population, for that length of time. There is in fact noevidence that the islands were inhabited in the Pleistocene, as the earliest indications of occupation extend back only two millennia. This might indicate that either the Pleistocene (and early Holocene) occupation of the islands has yet to be detected, or that the modern islanders were until recently living on the main-land, and not even necessarily on the coast for much of their history. The same point can be made about the 30 ka Denisova individual, known only from its ancient DNA: its origin is probably African or Eurasian, but its distribution and the point at which “Denisovans” first (or how often) inhabited Siberia remain unknown.

1.1.5. The timing of arrival of humans in Australia

A conservative estimate for the arrival of humans in Australia is ca 40 ka, when it was conjoined by lowered sea levels to New Guinea and Tasmania. This estimate is consistent with the date of the Niah cranium in Borneo, and the evidence from Timor, and with a narrative that envisages modern humans arriving in Southeast Asia ca 40 ka and shortly afterwards using boats or rafts with sails and paddles to colonise islands such as Timor and the Australian landmass. Recent evidence from New Guinea indicates that humans were already in the highlands by ca 49 ka, which would imply an earlier entry into Southeast Asia that preceded the earliest dates for Niah and Timor. If one accepts the earliest dates proposed, humans reached Australia ca 60 ka. However, a recent genetic study of a100-year old lock of Aboriginal hair implies that Aboriginal Australians are descended from a dispersal of H. sapiens into SE Asia ca 62-75 ka.

These uncertainties over the timing of arrival of humans in Australia have wider but unaddressed implications for the colonisation of southern Asia. An exit from Africa ca 60 ka and an arrival in Australia at 40 ka implies a slow rate of dispersal, and low rates of population increase in the donor population. In contrast, a near simultaneous departure from Africa and arrival in Australia implies an almost epidemic rate of population growth in the donor region (presumably East African) and ensuing daughter populations, for which there is no evidence, anda dispersal event of H. sapiens as early as 62-75 ka into SE Asia implies that the date of dispersal from East Africa may have been under-estimated.

1.2. Emerging problems: donor regions, points of entry, and inter-breeding

In addition to the above problems, three recent developments pose further diffculties for the existing model.

1.2.1. How many donor regions?

Emerging evidence from Northeast Africa indicates that the Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) cranium is that of sapiens rather than a Neanderthal, and is ca 160 ka old (Smith et al., 2007). Associated Middle Stone Age a date back ca 145 ka at Ifrin Anmaar. These include perforated beads from the Grotte des Pigeons (Morocco) that are ca 82 ka old, and thus predate the 75 ka old beads from Blombos, South Africa (Balter, 2011), which were previously the oldest known examples. Similar and even earlier examples are now known from Qafzeh, Israel, and Oued Djebbana, Algeria, where they are ca 100-135 ka. All this leads to the possibility not only that H. sapiens may have entered Southwest Asia from either North or East Africa, or both, but also that there may have been several dispersal events,involving different populations. As example, the 80 ka skull from Dares-Soltan, Morocco, shows affinities with both those from JebelIrhoud and Qafzeh (seeBalter, 2011). Although these early populations of H. sapiens in Morocco may have been marginal to developments in Asia, the greening of the Sahara in the Last Interglacial and early part of the last glaciation makes it more probable that they could have dispersed eastwards towards the Levant and Arabia during and after the Last Interglacial.

1.2.2. How many entry points from Africa into Asia?

Because the Levant is often envisaged as a crossroad that links Africa to Europe and continental Asia, it is frequently depicted as the principal entry point into Asia for the earliest anatomically modern humans that left Africa via the Sinai Peninsula or theNegevDesert at the north end of the Red Sea. This view is of course reinforced by the presence of H. sapiens in the northern Levant a searly as 115-125 ka. It is not, however, the only route out of Africa, or even the most likely one. An alternative is the Bab al Mandab at the southern end of the Red Sea between theHorn of Africa and southern Yemen, and 1200 miles south of the Sinai Peninsula. These straits are only 20 km wide, and at times of low sea level, perhaps only12-15 km wide, and cannot be counted as a major sea barrier. With island hopping (especially at times of lowered sea levels), the distances across open water are reduced still further, although they were never totally eliminated. We should note also recent indications from Crete, that humans, presumably H. sapiens arrived there during the Last Interglacial aftera sea-crossing of at least 70 km.

A third route out of Africa that avoids the need to cross any open water is along the western and then eastern coasts of the RedSea; after that, entry into the interior of the Arabian peninsula,where there were large river courses would havebeen relatively easy. Alternatively, hominins might have continued along the coast and dispersed along the coast of the Indian Ocean towards Oman, following lowered spring lines. There is no reason to exclude any of these routes; indeed it is likely that all were used, although not necessarily at the same time or by the same populations. Nevertheless, the Arabian Peninsula was probably a more important faunal corridor than the Levant. Besides being geographically closer to East Africa than the Levant, the faunaof the Arabian Peninsula has few endemic mammalian species.

Irrespective of dispersal route(s), topographic and favourable environmental settings in Arabia indicate that populations could have penetrated and expanded in these zones. If H. sapiens was present in the Levant for a period spanning 60 ka (from 130 to70 ka), it seems inconceivable that similar populations were not also present in the well-watered and vegetated zones of Arabia at the same time.

1.2.3. The implications of ancient DNA (aDNA) studies

One of the most important revelations of the recent analysis of the aDNA of Neanderthal fossils is that they interbred with non-African modern humans before the divergence of modern Europeans, East Asians and Papuans, who thereby acquired ca 4-8% of their genes from Neanderthals. This most likely occurred through contact in Southwest Asia between 100 and125 ka (when H. sapiens is first recorded outside Africa) and 65 ka (when they became locally extinctin the Levant). Likewise, analysis of the aDNA of the Denisova individual also indicates inter-breeding with H. sapiens, hence the presence of some “Denisovan” genes in modern-day inhabitants in Melanesia, and the possibility that Denisovans once inhabited Southeast Asia. Both discoveries imply complex population histories in southern Asia, and the likelihood of hybridisation between Neanderthals, Denisovans and H. sapiens. By extension of the same reasoning, inter-breeding may also have occurred in East Asia between incoming populations of H. sapiens, and resident populations of H. erectus, whose genetic make-up remains unknown. This point has relevance to some of the specimens from South China, as indicated below.

1.3. Archaeological and human skeletal evidence

Recent evidence from Arabia, India, mainland and island Southeast Asia imply that the population history of southern Asia may have been more complex than envisaged under the current view, and that our species may have left Africa before 40-60 ka.

1.3.1. Arabia

Recent analysis indicates that some Arabian Middle Palaeolithic assemblages show affinities with both the Levant and EastAfrica.At Shi’bat Dihya in Southwest Yemen (opposite the Horn of Africa), assemblages with Levallois cores and tool forms date to ca 55 ka, and are said to be reminiscent of both the Levantine Mousterian and East African MSA, but are also idiosyncratic. As mtDNA analysis indicates that H. sapiens was in southern Asia by 60 ka, it seems reasonablycertain that any Middle Palaeolithic assemblage younger than that from southern Asia (including Arabia) would also have been made  sapiens, rather than Neanderthals. In contrast with Shi’bat Dihya, a lithic assemblage dated to ca 125 ka from Jebel Faya in Oman is claimed to have affinities with Northeast Africa, suggesting a population in flux of H. sapiens from Northeast Africa during the Last Interglacial. (Opinion remains sharply divided on this claim.

Nevertheless, given that so little is known about the early prehistory of the million-square miles of the Arabian Peninsula, we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that modern humans were resident there before 60 ka, particularly because they were present scores of millennia before that date in the adjacent regionsof Northeast Africa and Levant.

1.3.2. India

The crucial link between the western and eastern parts of southern Asia is India, which has traditionally played little part indiscussions of modern human origins in Asia though this has been changing in recent years. In northern Pakistan, a small blade assemblage was excavated at site 55, Riwat,and dated to ca 45 ka (Dennell et al., 1992) but most blade- and micro-blade dominated assemblages appear after ca 35 ka in peninsular India (Clarkson et al., 2009), given the caveat that there are more reliable dates available for sites such as Hayonim, Israel, than for the whole of India! Moreover, most radiocarbon and luminescence dates from India are single determinations, oftenmade many years ago and long before laboratory and field tech-niques improved to their current standards.Recent research in peninsular India has produced a great deal of new evidence that substantially revises previous knowledge of the Indian Palaeolithic sequence. Much of this new evidence has comeabout through intensive study of the Younger Toba Tuff (YTT) that resulted from the volcanic eruption of Toba in Sumatra ca 74 ka. As this was by far the largest eruption of the Pleistocene, a great deal of ash fell across India, and thus it providesa clear marker horizon  Most significantly, recent analyses of core reduction techniques show that these most resemble those of the African Middle Stone Age made by H. sapiens. Such assemblages can be distinguished from those made in the Levant by Neanderthals. This strongly implies that these Indian Middle Palaeolithic assemblages were also made by H. sapiens, and this suggestion further implies that that it entered India earlier than the dates estimated from mtDNA data. Even more exciting is the recent discovery that stone assemblages from above and below the Toba ash are extremely similar technologically to those from early modern humans sites in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Australia, suggesting modern humans may have entered India before the Toba eruption as part an early eastward dispersal from Africa.

Although only a single find, the recovery of a tanged point under the Toba ash, also suggests an African affiliation.The earliest micro-blade industries excavated fromrock sheltersin India and Sri Lanka firmly date to ca 35 ka. Although it has been suggested that the tradition of making micro-blade tool forms and small crescentic tools was derived from the considerably older Howieson’s Poort assemblages from southernAfrica, dated to ca 65-60 ka, the most parsimonious explanation is that these are local innovations that may denote changes in hunting or plant processing activities, rather than the revival of a technique first initiated several thousands of kilometres distant and scores of millennia earlier. In support of this suggestion, there is currently no strong or convincing evidence for “Upper Palaeolithic” industries or symbolic assemblages, or microliths in early MIS 3 > 40 ka or MIS 4 in either the Zagros (which is fairly well-documented for the last glaciation) or Arabia. If the micro-blade industries of the Indian subcontinent are local in origin, their wider significance is that H. sapiens did not arrive in southern Asia with a behavioural “package” of useful items and techniques (e.g. microliths, bone points, fishing equipment), but developed these as and when they were locally useful, in the same way that has been proposed for Australia.

1.3.3. Southeast Asia

There are two slight hints that H. sapiens might have been present in island SE Asia and the Philippines before 50 ka. The first is a premolar from Punung, Java, dated on faunal grounds to 80-126 ka. Although identified as H. sapiens, Bacon et al. were not convinced that this constitutes convincing proof for the presence of modern humans in Java at such an early date. The second and stronger piece of evidence is a hominin 3rd metatarsal dated to ca 67 ka from Callao Cave, Luzon,the northern Philippines.

1.3.4. South China

As most readers will be aware, most Chinese palaeoanthropologists maintain that H. erectus evolved locally in East Asia into H. sapiens, with the early forms of our species best described as “archaic” H. sapiens” This leads to an immediate confusion in that the same term is sometimes given to the earliest examples of H. sapiens in Africa. This point aside, there is still considerable uncertainty over the dating and context of these “archaic” specimens prior to 30 ka. The main problems in evaluating the Chinese evidence (besides the obvious one over language for non-Chinese readers) are that excavations are not always fully published, some claims are based solely on isolated teeth, and there are doubts over the context and dating of finds, particularly in these complex cave environment. The hominin specimens from several cave sites are particularly problematic. At Liujiang, the breccias containing a cranium and post-cranial bones attributed to H. sapiens have been dated to a minimum age of 61-68 ka, but a probable age of 111-139 ka; they also suggest that the maximum age could be 153 ka.

The layer containing H. sapiens teeth at Bailongdong cave was previously dated to 30-14 ka, but a stalagmite contemporary with the same layer has recently been dated to 160 ka. At Tubo Cave, stalagmites above and below a layer with human teeth were dated to between 94 and 220 ka, and dating by 230-234 and 227-230 of two non-human teeth in the same layer to 85-139 ka. At Laibin, human teeth have been dated to a minimum of 39-44 ka, and a maximum of 112 ka. More recently, a mandible from Zhirndong, South China, has been attributed to H. sapiens and dated by U-series dating to ca 125 ka. Interestingly, because the mandible shows a mixture of characteristics associated with both H. sapiens and H. erectus, it is interpreted as showing inter-breeding between the two species at an early date, rather than purely in situ evolution (An alternative interpretation is that it indicates a gracile late H. erectus.  

The Chinese evidence outlined above is clearly at odds with the conventional scenario for the colonisation of Southeast Asia by H. sapiens, with Niah as the earliest indication at ca 43 ka, and western scholars have tended to ignore these early dates, or reject them because of uncertainties over age and context. However, itmight be advisable to consider alternative interpretations. As Kaifuand Fujita (2012: 8) suggests “a compatible scenario is that there was an earlier MIS 5 eastward dispersal of early modern humans but their genes did not significantly contribute to the genetic make-up of contemporary Asia people.” Because one implication of the aDNA evidence for both Neanderthals and “Denisovans” is that they interbred with H. sapiens, there is no a priori reason why H. erectus might not also have interbred with H. sapiens (and other extinctspecies), and produced off-spring with hybrid features (as suggested for Zhirendong). Additionally, if, Denisovans inhabited Southeast Asia and interbred with H. sapiens, the population history of this region is likely much more complex than currently envisaged.”

The Tough Question / What is Art?

This is difficult – to explain in words what visual meaning, means. I keep repeating, “The image is the meaning.” If you are a visual person, that revelation needs no explanation, but I will try for those who are unfamiliar with the existence of visual thinking.

Last night, the dogs and I drove south to my favorite “mud hole.” In town, the temperature was 94*, but as we climbed a bit in elevation, it dropped to 87*. Hot wind blew through the truck cab; the pale blue and yellow countryside was softened by a haze from dust. The dogs settled into getting drunk on smells, wind and whatever it is they see, which certainly is not what I see. They “collect” their own universes and then dream about them, perhaps explore what they have taken within themselves, as they  sleeping; running madly on the floor – twitching, jerking and howling in desperation.

My intuitive thoughts began to bubble over, and this is what I thought:

Artists are people who can see fragments of the universe, and in those fragments they see the entire universe, or if you will, the secrets of the universe. It’s a ‘fractal’ awareness?  The artist chooses fragments; discovers fragments, is chosen by the fragments. However it happens, it happens. So, the artist needs to be careful about the  fragments with which they engage; those fragments become one’s universe and one’s “self” is created by that collected vision.

We observe themes in the work of artists; visual ideas that develop over a lifetime. A fascination or obsession with certain forms, patterns, objects, people, models and structure – fragments of the universe through which the artist tries to “get at” those questions of meaning. but the image is the meaning.

I vividly remember taking up “residence” at the Art Institute of Chicago during high school. Art for me then was actual paintings, prints, sculptures, and other more everyday objects made with “vision.” Chinese ceramics were especially “content heavy” – bowls made with exquisite patience: little universes in themselves. I absorbed everything I saw.

Over the years “gallery art” “framed and ready to hang” “suitable for a corporate environment” “significant for its political message” “the voice of the disenfranchised” “compatible with the new pastel trend in home decorating” infringed on my views about art. These are “social” concepts and uses for images that ultimately trivialize the power of images until they have no importance. I’m Asperger: these social motives (all Pavlovian) have no meaning for me.

Do I criticize artists who pursue social success; support their families, join the chaos of “appraising monetary value” that consumes entire cultures? Which product is worth more? Pink and purple plastic crap from China, or the artist’s non-figural interpretation of a sofa-sized Mid-Century Modern graphic that will not offend anyone’s selection of living room furniture? In a rabid consumer culture, it only matters to the mass retailer. It’s good that some artists can find this type of success – why not?

I’m one of those people who was constantly urged to “make something of my talent.” (I did work in advertising for fifteen years and enjoyed it!) The social pressure was always present: when I quit to study geology there was consternation, but also applause – I would of course go into the oil industry and strike it rich. The social advice was always to reorient my focus away from what interested me, to making things that people would pay for. What would it hurt to be “normal”? (Sigh)

Unknown, even to myself, fragments of the universe had been filling my life from the beginning, creating who I am, bit by bit, image by image, and in stark contrast to the “crappy” circumstances that often took control of my life, the universe was beautiful. I believed in what the universe kept telling me, and rejected the social perversions of reality.

IMG_0969wp 2wp IMG_1052colorwp

So be careful when you choose which fragments to incorporate into “who you are”.




Official People / Owning Art by explaining Art

This post was intended to be an examination of “expert” explanations put forth by academics as to the “meaning” of  cave art, but…

No one knows what’s “going on” with humans and yet “discovering” who we are is a fundamental project that consumes entire Western Cultures. I sense a weariness in people today that comes from this incessant pre-occupation. “Who am I?” quickly devolves into “Who am I supposed to be?”

The picture that we are shown of “America: Land of immigrants” is always uplifting; escape from poverty, tyranny and war; tough times, but eventual success; happy new citizens waving little American flags. New generations of “foreign” Americans owning homes, businesses, and gadgets, and doing their best to dress like “official” people. Too eager, too accommodating, too much “I love America.” I wonder who it is that these ardent new citizens are trying to convince?

It’s obvious that not all newcomers identify with “Official America” – which actually doesn’t exist. Nor do the majority of native born citizens identify with official America. What social humans fear the most is the possibility that no one is “in charge” ergo, the popularity of gods: it’s a comfort to believe that invisible parents are in control; obedience implies a master.

Speaking from my personal Asperger “way of being” it is apparent that in early childhood I found no reassurance that adults were reliable authorities as to “how things work”. There were no foundations of thought, but merely incessant arguing about who is right. Right always had some absolute force behind it, but the validity of authority fell apart with even the most simple challenge.

Contrary to popular conceptions of Asperger children, I think that like other people, we want someone to “know what’s going on” to “be in charge” and for there to be some sensible and reasonable explanation for human behavior and our existence. But deep down in my intuitive thinking machine, (I can’t apply this to all Aspergers) I have always known that this not true. My Asperger father had solved this dilemma by believing in  engineering, technology and the hard sciences. At some point in his teens he had jettisoned humans as impossible complications in a pure mathematical world. I saw this as unfortunate, and although people were hugely problematic, I believed that their actions and behavior were understandable.

After all, humans had produced things that I loved: drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, design – anything and everything that spoke to me. I discovered that the majority of artists were not “official people” but messy people; awkward, scared, searching and obsessed, infuriating to “normal” people. Disobedient. Willful, even crazy. If lucky, they found people to encourage and protect them. Most could not support themselves, but many of their works generate billions today for museums, auction houses, dealers and an underworld of theft and fakery.

Modern social typicals tend to believe that somehow an artist’s post-death destiny of “fame” and high dollar value, must compensate (in a magical way, of course) for having a crummy life and justify the “funny money” involved in the official Art World as somehow supporting the arts; of course this illusion comes from literally owning the art. Ownership is the point; many wealthy people have no clue as to what it is that they own.

My haunt as a teenager growing up in Chicagoland was the Art Institute of Chicago, and without that exposure, I doubt I would have discovered myself to be a “visual being” – there is always a startling reaction to seeing “live” objects that had before only been available in books. How many children never have the experience of visual intelligence, but grow up on Cheetos, pizza, smiley stickers and purple talking dinosaurs?


This process of ownership by purchase, academic commentary and theory generation, and supernaturalization – no surprise – of art extends into the far distant past of “cave art”. It’s another case of Neurotypical narcissism – modern social humans truly believe that the humans who produced exquisite pictures of animals, as well as geometric forms, doodles and hand prints, and who coaxed images from natural geologic forms within those caves, who hunted a wild landscape for a living; endured physical hardship beyond what we can likely imagine, and risked (and were) being eaten alive by predators, were merely modern neurotypical humans who lacked laptops with word processing programs, which, if they had possessed, would have been used to verify the outlandish texts now published by academics.

we-are-best-friends-forever-teddy-bear-graphicNeurotypical bears.

Remember: The image is the meaning.

Ethological Attachment Theory and ASD

Maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkey's - Harry Harlow's 1950s experimentsfamous experiments

Maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkeys – Harry Harlow’s famous experiments, 1950s

Ethological Attachment Theory: A Great Idea in Personality?

By Patricia Pendry, Northwestern University (complete paper)

This paper critically reviews the ethological attachment theory as proposed by Bowlby and Ainsworth in order to examine if attachment theory is a great idea in personality. The most important aspects of attachment theory are presented and two critical questions are posed. The first question is, Can attachment theory be supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, a variety of studies will be reviewed, each of which examines a specific aspect of attachment theory. The second question is whether the phenomena explained by creators and proponents of ethological attachment theory could have been explained differently, using other psychological mechanisms. These are two criteria that must be met if attachment theory is to be considered a great idea.

After millions of years of successful rearing of infants by primates, is it not peculiar that modern social humans are still arguing over How to be a proper parent?

After millions of years of successful childrearing by primates, is it not peculiar that modern social humans are still trying to figure out how to be a proper parent? Tribal people get it. Why don’t we?


“Given that attachment security describes the interpersonal relationship between infant and caregivers, one could easily see that personality traits and temperament play an active role in the dynamics of establishing this relationship. Attachment theorists recognize this aspect and note that it is exactly the concept of sensitive caregiving that forms an effective predictor of the quality of the attachment bond.  A major reason that temperament and other child characteristics do not show strong relationships with attachment security may be that their influence depends on goodness-of-fit. From this perspective, many attributes of children can lead to secure attachment, as long as the caregivers modify their behavior to fit the needs of the baby (Seifer & Schiller, 1995). But when a mother’s capacity to do so is limited by her own personality or stressful conditions then infants with difficult temperament or problem behaviors are at risk for developing attachment insecurity. According to attachment theorists, sensitive caregiving implies that regardless of the innate temperament of the infant, whether introverted or extraverted, whether shy or irritable, whether outgoing or confident, the care is adjusted to fit precisely the need of that particular infant. It is this eclectic nature of ethological attachment theory that becomes another strength.”


Is this not a problem in Western culture, where “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality still lurks beneath social indoctrination? Your child “acts funny” so he or she must be examined, tested, diagnosed and categorized and then is coerced into being someone it is not. Hysteria surrounds childrearing in contemporary America, especially among the upper classes – which likely accounts for ASD diagnosis skyrocketing in this group.