The First Mariners

Book Series: Anthropology : Current and Future Developments

Volume 1

by

Robert G. Bednarik

DOI: 10.2174/97816810801921150101
eISBN: 978-1-68108-019-2, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-68108-020-8
ISSN: 2405-7703 (Print)
ISSN: 2405-7711 (Online)



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This volume summarizes the history and findings of the First Mariners Project, which the author, Robert G. Bednarik, commenced in 1996 in orde...[view complete introduction]

Table of Contents

Foreword

- Pp. i-ii (2)

Jason R. Thompson

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Preface

- Pp. iii-v (3)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Introduction

- Pp. 3-35 (33)

Robert G. Bednarik

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The Domestication of Eve and Adam

- Pp. 36-70 (35)

Robert G. Bednarik

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The Origins of Human Modernity

- Pp. 71-109 (39)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Pleistocene Seafarers

- Pp. 110-161 (52)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Bound For Australia

- Pp. 162-218 (57)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Mariners of the Lower Paleolithic

- Pp. 219-255 (37)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Rafts at Sea

- Pp. 256-299 (44)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Primitive Archaeology

- Pp. 300-331 (32)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Subject Index

- Pp. 332-334 (3)

Robert G. Bednarik

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Foreword

I was quite surprised when Bednarik suggested that I write the foreword for this book, for I am entirely a product of the Euroamerican archaeological establishment he has vociferously criticized for decades, although my own research and interpretations sometimes deviate considerably from its august received orthodoxy. In many ways, this present work reminds me very much of Dr. Robert Bakker’s (1986) book, The Dinosaur Heresies, another volume from a very different field similarly devoted to upending established orthodoxies. Bakker’s work turned the dinosaurs from plodding morons into dynamic, even colorful, creatures at drastic odds with the thentraditional orthodoxy of fossil interpretations. Time and recovery of new and better data has tended to confirm Bakker’s interpretations. Bednarik gives us a similar tantalizing view of our own human ancestors with this work, and he rightly chastises our own discipline’s purveyors of the received orthodoxy as he calls for a paradigm shift. We must, however, be cautious, for proposals of nautical activity on the part of Lower Pleistocene Homo are unquestionably more provocative than feathers for tyrannosaurs who genetics have shown to be related closely to birds.

Yet, shifts in paradigmatic perspectives are not new to archaeology at all and they occur independently of demands for them. In fact, the discipline is replete with them. Consider merely the epistemological shifts against the previous orthodoxies associated with the following names: Boucher de Perthes, Breuil, Peyrony, Garrod, Childe, to Bordes, from MacNeish to Binford; changes in the disciplinary constituency result over time to paradigmatic shifts. This is evolution in action, and it is actually a sign of a dynamic field, not just a monolithic stasis of orthodoxy. Whereas we frequently describe these punctuated phenomena less elegantly, often labeling them “disciplinary revisions”, the process is the same and they are very simply part of the fabric of archaeology.

As is Bednarik’s wont, he paints rather a dismal, if interesting, picture of an embattled archaeology of Western determinism largely premised upon a severe critique of the orthodox “African replacement model” of human origins. Although I think Bednarik can tend towards hyperbole on occasion, we can, I submit, recognize many aspects of our discipline in his words: its tendency to serve nationalistic and political ends; its domination by a self-elected literary elite who ruthlessly polices its niche against interpretive heterodoxy; its scientific hubris, in which it constructs itself as Science even as it uses non-falsifiable premises to frame its basic arguments. So long, however, as archaeology is practiced by analog minds with biases and pervaded by individual economic self-interest it will be ever thus. All of Science is pervaded with bias, not merely archaeology.

We find ourselves in a quandary in this regard: we may wish to study biased human organisms free from human bias, but laboring against intrinsic properties of the biased subject of inquiry is unwise when the subject is its own biased observer. As someone with a significant Geology background, I have often compared it to archaeology (aside: why do we generally not capitalize archaeology while we do other sciences?), admiring it for its cold precision in describing tangible material, physical, chemical, mineral, and lithological properties. And yet the reason we become archaeologists is our interest in the intangible human past as opposed to the exhaustive study of extremely tangible ooids and calcium carbonate outcrops that conform entirely to physicochemical predictions.

In the past twenty years, despite numerous instances of special-pleading (see Henshilwood and Marean 2003, for example) the African replacement model has come under tremendous stress, and as its body of thought strains against such challenges we should reflect on some very simple things. First, we have now the powerful ability to sequence ancient DNA, at least that from <50 ka, which has presented the African Eve model with a mortal threat against its primary assumption: that “moderns” and “archaics” were totally separate species. The non-African human genome is now known to contain Neanderthal DNA; many Southeast Asian genomes contain Denisovan DNA. If DNA is good enough to solve recent murders in the law courts it is probably admissible as evidence to ancient human affiliations. Second, a reconsideration of the precious few examples of Lower-Middle Pleistocene perishable technology visible to us at Schöningen, Lehringen, and Clacton-on-Sea has given us the barest glimpse at the breadth of the technological repertoire available to allegedly archaic humans, and it is broader than the traditional orthodoxy can bear.

Jason R. Thompson
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, IA 50614,
USA


Preface

When early humans began to cross sea barriers they demonstrated what they were capable of by harnessing nature. This may have been the most consequential single achievement in human history, because it marked the advent of the domestication of natural systems—the evolution of technologies that harness the energies of nature, in this case wind, wave action, current, and buoyancy. The importance of this is not so much in the expanded ability of colonization or the introduction of “assisted locomotion”, but in the cybernetic feedback derived from the conscious manipulation of natural systems and its impact on the cognitive and intellectual development of hominins. From an archaeo-technological perspective, early maritime navigational ability provides a more accurate determination of maximal technological capability than any other available evidence from the Ice Ages—rather in the same way as space travel does today. In both cases technology facilitates the survival of humans in life-threatening circumstances. Hence there are several good reasons to take a special interest in where, when, and especially how seafaring began.

But the available archaeological evidence for the use of boats or rafts and related paraphernalia only extends back to the end of the Ice Ages, in the order of 10,000 years ago, because any earlier remains have been destroyed by the repeated sea level rises of the previous couple of million years. So in effect we have absolutely no maritime artifacts from the early periods of human civilization. Nor do we know anything about that half of early humanity that lived in fertile regions that became repeatedly submerged by the sea in those early times. Since these people can be assumed to have been more sedentary and more technologically advanced than the inland hunters pursuing the animal herds of the continents’ interior, we can reasonably assume that Ice Age archaeology can only deliver a skewed picture of these times.

However, these barriers to our understanding can be overcome with a little care. Fieldwork in the 1950s and 1960s has demonstrated that the island of Flores in Indonesia was occupied by a thriving population of hominins (early humans) by at least 700,000 or 800,000 years ago. We know from other places in the world, including from nearby Java, that the kinds of humans then existing were of Homo erectus types. And we know that the islands of Nusa Tenggara, formerly called the Sunda Islands, were never connected to the Asian landmass. In fact, they are geologically very recent phenomena, resulting from the tectonic forces unleashed in the region’s subduction zone as the Australian plate (Sahul) ploughs under the Asian (Sunda). These mostly volcanic islands are "only" a few million years old.

These circumstances are of great importance in understanding not only the expansion of humans, especially through their first colonization of Australia, but also for more significant reasons. For one thing, they could tell us a great deal about the cognition and the technology available to these people, including their abilities to communicate, to collaborate, and to plan for the future. To arrive at Flores they must have crossed at least three sea barriers, which it is impossible to achieve without the use of some propelled flotation device. Since it is inevitable that the number of people crossing each of these times must have been at least several dozen, it stands to reason that these colonization attempts were well planned and executed campaigns. If the number of participating people had been below that required for a viable breeding population, bringing with them an adequate gene pool and a good number of fertile females, the new colony would have perished, or suffered great genetic deprivation. The impressive number of occupation sites already found in central Flores bears witness to a flourishing settlement, and the project described in this book also secured similarly early human occupation evidence from two other islands, Timor and Roti. These may have been the last stops before hominins launched their invasion of the Australian continent.

One would have thought that the Ice Age (Pleistocene) archaeologists had taken a great interest in this knowledge, especially those who were concerned with the colonization of Australia. Far from it, the Flores evidence was almost completely ignored by a discipline that instead developed a mythology around the notion that a superior form of humans appeared much more recently in Africa and exterminated or outcompeted all other humans in the world. What has led to this controversy in Ice Age archaeology? The simple answer is that nearly all the published reports about the Flores evidence had appeared in German, had never been seen by most specialists and were soon forgotten by others. Becoming aware in the 1990s that practically all archaeologists mistakenly believed that it was the African superhumans they had invented who first swept through the Indonesian Archipelago to reach Australia 60,000 years ago, I set about drawing attention to the Flores presence of Homo erectus. I even began dismantling the dogma of the African Übermenschen by showing that it derives from a hoax by a German archaeology professor dating back to the 1970s, which the discipline had accepted as part of its dogma until 2002.

This book tells the story of how I set about correcting one of the discipline’s great errors (the latest in a series of many), beginning with exploring the circumstances of the early colonization of the Indonesian Archipelago, and of several islands in the Mediterranean. To gauge the sophistication of the first mariners’ culture I designed a series of “replicative” experiments designed to determine the lowest levels of technology needed to succeed in traversing a number of sea straits. The primary purpose of these experiments is to examine each of the many variables involved in Pleistocene seafaring quantitatively, to create the conditions for constructing multiple scenarios within a realistic framework of probability. In this procedure, the confidence that the most probable scenario can convincingly be identified is a function of the number of variables or determinants accounted for satisfactorily. Therefore numerous experiments were essential, and all needed to be conducted under controlled conditions. While the most sensible, economic, or logical course of action is not necessarily the one always taken by hominin mariners, the task is facilitated by several arbitrary limiting factors. For instance, these journeys had much to do with survival, and we can reasonably assume that they explored the very limits of the technologically possible at the times in question. The most probable scenarios can then be tested by reference to known parameters of technological competence at the time in question, especially the well-known stone tool technology. These were derived from the archaeological research forming part of the overall project. This would seem to be the only scientific method available to us to generate informed and plausible explanations for the very early maritime feats of hominins.

The first maritime colonizations were the greatest single achievement in human history, rather than the invention of the wheel, of agriculture, or writing, or flying machines. By comparison to the monumental importance of the first ocean crossing, Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface was indeed no more than a small step for mankind. In effect the entire destiny of humanity was decided around a million years ago, when hominins made a conscious decision to entrust themselves, their very existence, to a contraption they themselves had built, and to seek their future in an unknown land. Since that moment in time, the destiny of the planet Earth has become closely intertwined with the destiny of the human species, because it led to the irreversible and ever-accelerating technological spiral that now transforms the biomass of our planet, and heralds human capacity to affect other objects in space. The ongoing extinction catastrophe on Earth has developed alongside this technological ascent of our species, which mushrooms at a rate massively outstripping our physical, cognitive, or intellectual evolution.

More than one thousand people have, in one capacity or another, contributed to the success of the First Mariners Project, from 1996 to the present. I cannot thank them all individually, but in singling out the following, which were among the most instrumental in in the accomplishment of this large venture, I wish to also extend my gratitude to the hundreds of others who were involved as well:

Peter Rogers, Bob Hobman, Emmanuel Littik, Jacobus Zakawerus, Peter Welch, Fachroel Aziz, Mike Morwood, Eben Unu, Mark Pidcock, Silvia Schliekelmann, Alan Keohane, Abdeslam El Kasmi, Mohammed Boumahdi, Mohammed Habibi, Georgina Pye, Richard Rudgley, Haji Najib, Burhanudin Abdullah, Ruslam Ahmad, Saleh Ahmed, Ibrahim Akadir, Junaidin Ali, Kamirudin Arsyad, Usman Gani, Ibrahim Habeb, Hadji Suaeb Nonci, Bert Roberts, Subhan Solo, Thomas Sutikna and Ali Tahril, Muhammed Su’ud, Idrus, Mala Burhana, Narno, Sawaludin, A. Lukman, Muliono Susanto, Alice Roberts, Sunardi, A. Yuli, Ama Ros, Naomi Law, Tom Barrow, Scott Martin, Paul Bradshaw, Ed Bazalgette, Nadia Astari, Thor Hemmerle, David Hamlin, and the thirty-eight crews and the many builders of the four Nale Tasih rafts; as well as the four hundred men who lifted and carried the Nale Tasih 1; the builders of the Rangi Papa and the Lombok, the crews of the various support vessels, and the four film crews of BBC and National Geographic. They all have contributed their very diverse talents and enthusiasm to the greatest replication experiment ever undertaken in archaeology, and one of the most remarkable adventures of modern science. I have been honored and often humbled by their passion, their inspiring dedication and wonderful friendship, and I thank all of them from the bottom of my heart.

Finally, I thank my teachers, Aboriginal men of the highest degree as they are called, who taught me that their ancestors, in the Dreamtime, arrived in Australia by crossing the sea. As one of them (C. D.) remarked: "White fellows are very knowledgeable about trivialities; they know little of real importance."

Robert G. Bednarik
International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO)
P.O. Box 216
Caulfield South
Melbourne
VIC 3162
Australia
E-mail: auraweb@hotmail.com

List of Contributors

Author(s):
Robert G. Bednarik
International Federation of Rock Art Organisations
(IFRAO)
P.O. Box 216
Caulfield South
Melbourne, VIC 3162
Australia




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