Reinterpret

I’m onto day 22 of my thirty blogs in thirty days challenge, and today’s topic is reinterpret, which I guess is what I do to the titles I have on the list.

Reinterpret

Between 1910 and 1911 on the island of Jersey in the small parish of St Brelade, an archaeological exploration was taking place at a site in a collapsed cave, where tens of thousands of years earlier, Neanderthal people had lived. The site was called La Cotte de St Brelade, cotte being the word for cave in Jèrriais the language of Jersey. It is an incredibly ancient site of habitation, going back maybe a quarter of a million years. Despite so many new discoveries – archaeological and scientific, Neanderthal people are still – even today, often thought of as ‘cavemen’, who had no language, few of the skills that we modern people have and were little more than advanced apes.

One of the most amazing and valuable discoveries at St Brelade were some teeth, thirteen of them, belonging to a Neanderthal person. At the time of their discovery they were thought to belong to one individual. When this person was living and hunting, making tools and clothing, looking after their families and community, and living their life, it was much colder, the sea level was lower, maybe ten metres lower and Britain was still part of Continental Europe, not an island. Animals now extinct roamed their world, including mammoth and woolly rhinoceros. The site had attracted archaeologists since the 1880’s when stone tools had been found and evidence of fire and piles of bones. What was discovered in 1910-11 was new and exciting and they interpreted their finds in the light of what they knew then and using the science that was at that time available.

Fifty years after the Neanderthal teeth were found, more modern archaeologists found what they saw as evidence that hunters had managed to kill their mighty prey by ‘herding’ them and driving them over cliffs… But wait, those heaps of mammoth bones, what did they really show us? Looking at the evidence now, sixty years after those bone heaps were found, we can wonder if it really was feasible that any hunters could drive these mighty beasts as had been thought. And if they could, and if they did, wasn’t it rather wasteful to have that quantity of meat, bone, hide, sinew – how could a small group or tribe be able to use what they had from killing creatures like this. Wasn’t it more likely that this a quarter of a million year old waste disposal site? A rubbish dump? As the climate changed, the debris was gradually buried beneath loess, and lay undiscovered until more modern archaeologists got to work.

Back to the teeth I mentioned, the teeth discovered over a century ago, dated back 40,000 years and belonging to a Neanderthal individual… actually, it wasn’t one individual, there were at least two who had left their teeth for us, a message from the distant past. “…researchers used computed tomography (CT) scans of the teeth to study them at a level of detail that wasn’t available to researchers in the past.” What scientists now have discovered is that not only did the teeth belong to several people, but those people had characteristics of Neanderthals and modern humans! It seems that these people, Neanderthal or modern, had the characteristics of both in their teeth; it wasn’t a case that the Neanderthals died out or were eliminated by modern humans, there was connection between them which we can trace though our scientific expertise and our understanding of DNA. It’s no longer thought to be true that Neanderthal people became extinct; there are traces of them in modern humans – in their modern descendants.

Over the years since the site was first discovered, archaeologists and scientists have looked at it, explored it, analysed it and its artefacts, interpreted and understood what they saw on the basis of the knowledge they had at the time. Now our archaeologists and scientists are doing the same thing but they are looking with a different, advanced way of understanding and interpreting what is before them.

I first read about this story on the BBC page:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55882130

and then found out more at:

https://www.lacotte.org.je/

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