Phaistos phakery redux

(Originally published at The Growlery, 2008/08/21)

Prior to writing my previous post about Jerome Eisenberg’s conclusion that the Phaistos Disk is a recent forgery perpetrated by its excavator, Luigi Pernier, I unfortunately did not have access to the original article in Minerva magazine in which Dr. Eisenberg announced his findings (Eisenberg, Jerome M., ‘The Phaistos Disk: one hundred year old hoax?’, Minerva, July/August 2008, 9-24). Happily, once he found my post, Dr. Eisenberg commented on it and later sent me an electronic copy for my consideration. I can now report that while I previously thought I knew a lot about the disk, I now have a much better knowledge of the disk and the nature of the hoax claim. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced, even though I admit that I do want to believe the hoax claim, but I think that the evidence from the sign-forms just isn’t strong enough, that it relies on unproven visual similarities to too great a degree. Let me explain what I mean.

In the previous post, I focused on Eisenberg’s evidence from a) the uniqueness of the artifact’s manufacture, which is unlike the Linear A tablets; b) it uses ‘movable type’ of which no other example has ever been found; c) the idea that Luigi Pernier’s rivalry with Arthur Evans would lead him to do this. In dealing with the first two, I pointed out that comparisons with the Linear A tablets aren’t necessarily that useful if in fact the PD was part of a highly specialized text genre – i.e. it would be like using a monumental inscription to proclaim a handwritten note to be a forgery. Of course we don’t know that it’s part of such a genre, or indeed what genre it could have represented at all – hence the mystery.

The one thing I didn’t focus on is the sign-forms or graphemes on the Disk. In fact, Eisenberg spends a good deal of his paper looking at resemblances between Phaistos signs and signs on other inscriptions from the ancient world in order to assert that the latter formed the models on which Pernier based his forgery. In particular, he aims to show that there are similarities between the Phaistos graphemes and authentic artifacts made much later, but that were known to 19th century archaeologists / epigraphers and thus could have been known to Pernier.

This is an unusual line of argument; it is in fact a sort of cousin to the standard techniques by which experts on scripts postulate cultural borrowings from one society to another. If we have a 10th century BC Phoenician inscription and a very early, 8th century BC Greek inscription that use many similar letter-forms, we make the reasonable inference (all right, it is more complex than this, but you get the idea) that the Phoenician script is ancestral to Greek. In particular this is the case because there is known cultural contact (e.g. trade) between the two societies, and more importantly, because there is not just a graphemic similarity but also a phonetic similarity – the signs don’t just look the same but they have the same / similar sound-values. What Eisenberg is doing, effectively, is turning these resemblances on their heads. If there are similarities between the PD signs and known inscriptions from elsewhere, then those inscriptions may have acted as a model for the forger. If the inscriptions are later in date than the PD, Eisenberg argues, it is far likelier that these artifacts served as a model for the disk’s forger than that the Disk script served as a model for the later artifacts. Similarly, if the PD shows influences from several different regional styles, this suggests that a forger just cobbled together signs from different inscriptions to make something really unique.

Now, the reason I’m unconvinced is that I just don’t think the similarities bear up, and that even where they do they don’t point unequivocally to a hoax. For instance, let’s have a look at Phaistos sign 03:

Now, this is seen by Eisenberg as being modelled after an 18th Dynasty Egyptian wall painting (16th century BC) in which the figure, a Cretan captive is facing the other direction, has extensive facial features, has hair (long, flowing hair), and has a torso with arms. The only major similarity is the two circles on the face. But this seems to go directly against the notion of the Disk as a hoax; the time is right, the captive is Cretan, so the most parsimonious explanation is that they are both genuine representations of some sort of facial decoration (indeed, as Eisenberg suggests, it may be a Cretan ‘double earring’). But, writing, “It was certainly derived from the wall painting”, Eisenberg proceeds to write as if it is now a given that Pernier did, in fact, use this as a model for sign 03 (Eisenberg 2008: 17).

When we get to one of the more unusual characteristics of the Disk – the presence of five hand-incised dots on each side of the disk, and ‘word-separating’ vertical lines – I’m in my element, because these, Eisenberg sees as being modelled after the Cretan five dots = the numeral 50 and vertical bar = the numeral 100. This is dangerous territory though – dots and lines are ubiquitous in scripts and numerical systems. And are we really to believe that Pernier needed a model to think of the idea of adding bars and dots to a forgery? These are stylistic elements found in virtually any script worldwide, and are not indicative of anything. One of the real problems with the study of writing systems is the assertion of cultural relationships based on passing visual similarities, and one of the things that we do not yet know how to do well is to know how similar two graphemes must be before a claim of diffusion can be sustained. This is the same sort of reasoning used to argue for a hoax in this case, and ultimately its inclusion greatly weakens Eisenberg’s argument, and made me look much more critically at the remainder of his claim.

But the heart of the issue is that Eisenberg is working at cross-purposes here. On the one hand, he wants us to believe that the Disk is so unique, so different from other inscriptions that it cannot possibly be genuine. On the other, he wants us to use evidence of similarities with known scripts as proof of ‘forger’s models’. While a hoax can, of course, be both unique and based on models, we’re left with the impression that virtually any similarity or difference can be evidence of forgery, and that just isn’t sound argumentation. So I’m not convinced. I do still think the idea is worthy of consideration, and I do think that it is worth trying a thermoluminescence test, not only because it can settle the hoax issue but also because it can resolve the question of the artifact’s age even if it turns out to be genuine. In this respect, I believe that Eisenberg and I are in full agreement.

In conclusion I want to thank Dr. Eisenberg for sending me this paper, and also for inviting me to the upcoming International Conference on the Phaistos Disk, which unfortunately I am unable to attend due to my new work commitments. It does highlight however the real value of blogging as a means of social interaction and information exchange.

But of course the real question remains unanswered: should it be disk or disc?

Is the Phaistos disk a phony?

(Originally posted at The Growlery, 2008/08/04)

The Phaistos Disk is one of the more enigmatic and bizarre artifacts in the field of ancient writing systems. Found in Crete in 1908 by the archaeologist Luigi Pernier and associated archaeologically with the Minoan civilization (dating to roughly 1850 – 1600 BCE), it remains completely undeciphered and has no obvious connection either to the Minoan (Linear A) script or to any other known script, deciphered or otherwise. Now, a very notable claim has been made by the American art historian / art dealer Jerome Eisenberg, an expert on forgeries, that the Disk was in fact an elaborate hoax constructed by Pernier himself, which Eisenberg has published in his own magazine, Minerva (Eisenberg 2008).

I’m not an expert on Minoan writing by any means, but my scholarly focus lies heavily in the study of ancient scripts and the anthropology and archaeology of literacy. I use Yves Duhoux’ hilariously entitled ‘How not to decipher the Phaistos Disc’ in my course on the anthropology of literacy (Duhoux 2000). Moreover, the century of scholarship on the Phaistos Disk is legendarily riddled with cranks, frauds, and loons, and as I have more than a passing interest in pseudoarchaeology, Phaistos-related material is of ongoing interest to me. Honestly, it would make a lot of things a whole lot simpler if we could just deny the disk’s authenticity – but this is no ordinary hoaxbusting exercise, and the importance of the artifact demands that we give the claim close scrutiny.

Phaistos Disk, Side A
Phaistos Disk, Side A. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Before we get to the Eisenberg claims, we need some context. So, firstly, what do we know about the PD?
– It is a fired clay disk, roughly 16 cm in diameter and 1-2 cm thick.
– It was found at a Minoan palace site at Phaistos in southern Crete.
– It appears to have been fired intentionally (with care) to produce a permanent record, whereas other Minoan documents were fired accidentally (e.g., when buildings were burned).
– Glyphs are stamped on both sides using distinct punches or stamps, not carved/incised into the clay.
– It has 241 signs in total, consisting of 45 distinct characters / glyphs. However, the total ‘signary’ (all the signs in the system) was probably greater, since some rare signs almost certainly do not appear in this particular text.
– The ‘text’ is divided into 61 sections of up to 5 characters apiece.
– The prior two facts suggest that it may have been a syllabic writing system, recording syllables rather than single phonemes; it has too many unique signs to be an alphabet but too few to be a logographic (word-signs) or some other sort of system. However, this does not rule out the possibility that it was not phonetic writing at all (e.g., if it was a calendar or a game).
– Because the signs in the centre are slightly compressed, it seems to have been written from the outside spiralling inward.
– Judging by the overlap in some signs, it was stamped/written from right to left, suggesting that that is how it was meant to be read.
– There is no useful resemblance of the glyphs to those of any other writing system in the Mediterranean or elsewhere, although it was found in close association with a Linear A (Minoan) tablet.
– Its date is established solely through its archaeological context, and while the early second millennium is the most likely period, it may date as late as 1400 BCE.

Now, on to Eisenberg’s paper. The first thing worth noting is this is not a peer-reviewed academic venue, and the author is the founder, editor, and publisher of the magazine. A better analogy would be to think of it as editorial opinion. It also is not the result of any particular new research undertaken by Eisenberg or anyone else. In fact, as seen in the comments here, Dr. Eisenberg has been making this claim for nearly a decade, and there is no new evidence that demonstrates the likelihood that it was a forgery. Pernier, the artifact’s excavator excavator, is labelled as a forger, not on the basis of any particular evidence, but has simply been ascribed motives (rightly or wrongly) that might lead him to falsify the document. So we don’t have anything like the revelations in the early 1950s that debunked the Piltdown hoax on the basis of physical or chemical analysis; neither do we have the spectactular video evidence that revealed Fujimura Shinichi planting fake discoveries at his sites in the Japanese Paleolithic hoax in 2000 (Hudson 2005). It is a highly circumstantial case. It is nonetheless one that ought to be vetted seriously, both because it is plausible on its face and because Eisenberg has been responsible for several other (much more solid) hoax-busting episodes over the past few decades.

The starting point for Eisenberg’s claim of a Phaistos ‘hoax’ is the uniqueness of the artifact, both the object itself and the writing on it. Given that no other examples of this form of writing have been found, it is striking (pun intended) that its creator would have made 45 distinct seals to stamp into the clay rather than simply incising the signs as necessary. No actual stamps/seals resembling the signs have been found, either, suggesting that this early instance of ‘movable type’ was used to create only one artifact, and then the process was abandoned entirely. In his popular Guns, Germs and Steel, the evolutionary biogeographer Jared Diamond (1997: 239-259) asserts that the PD was indeed a very early and remarkable example of movable type, but one that could not be exploited by the Minoans because in other respects their society lacked the technology and organizational expertise to develop it further. Eisenberg’s perspective is different – he argues that the uniqueness of the artifact’s medium suggests that it is a hoax, designed by Pernier to intrigue and mystify other scholars and to boost his own prominence, and that of Phaistos, in relation to his rivals (particularly Arthur Evans).

The PD is a singular artifact and a very short text, making it literally impossible to decipher unless more examples of the writing system are found. Yet John Chadwick, whose career was built upon his work with Michael Ventris in deciphering the Mycenaean Linear B script (Chadwick 1990), was plagued by purported Phaistos decipherers and purportedly received one new solution per month; there is a fairly thorough list of purported decipherments in this Wikipedia article. Basically, every remotely plausible script tradition has been claimed as an influence, and the disk itself has been asserted to be in languages ranging from Greek to Egyptian to Basque to Atlantean (!!!). Alternately, it has been suggested to be a game board, a calendrical document, or some sort of mystical text. Unless more documents in the same script are found, no one is going to be able to resolve the matter definitively. If it were confirmed to be a hoax, however, everyone could just stop looking. Eisenberg is suggesting, in effect, that the futility of the search rests in part on Pernier’s ingenuity in creating such a mystery.

The crux of Eisenberg’s argument, however, lies in the physical properties of the artifact: the fact that it was very carefully, intentionally fired, and that it has a very cleanly cut edge in comparison to other Minoan clay tablets, and here, he finds fault with Pernier. Because it is so different from other Minoan clay artifacts in this regard, this sends up a red flag for Eisenberg suggesting that its uniqueness may be due to Pernier’s ignorance of these facts. The counterargument to this, however, would be that while Minoan clay tablets with Linear A writing are all economic documents not intended for long-term archiving, the PD, if ancient, is almost certainly of a very different textual genre and script tradition than these texts. This doesn’t disprove the notion that it may be a hoax, but neither does it act as substantial confirmation. For instance, if the disk is a gaming board, a calendar, or a devotional inscription, its makers would have a good reason to fire the clay at the time of manufacture, and a potentially good reason to cut its edges so cleanly. It simply was not the same sort of text as the copious clay economic documents. We need to answer the question, “Could the Minoans have chosen to preserve some forms of information permanently and not others?”

One potential resolution to the mystery lies in its dating. The artifact has never undergone any sort of radiometric dating, and indeed for most of the past century could not have been dated except through archaeological context, as discussed above. However, thermoluminescence dating allows archaeologists to non-destructively determine the date when clay was fired, and if TL dating were used on the disk, one could find out if it was truly of ancient manufacture. Yet this test has not been permitted by the museum that holds it (in Heraklion, Crete), because, Eisenberg claims, “no Greek scholar or politician would dare to help ‘destroy’ such a national treasure”. This is unfortunately true; museums are rarely open to this sort of inquiry, even from major scholars. Archaeology is frequently tied up in nationalistic fervor and institutional pride, and the failure to undertake a standard, well-accepted test will haunt the study of the Disk from now on, now that the claim has been made so publicly. Thus, I regard Eisenberg’s public claim as a valuable stimulus, hopefully forcing the issue of the thermoluminescence dating. It would also be highly informative even if the PD proves to be ancient, because the TL could establish whether it was an early second millennium artifact (1800-1600 BCE) or more in the range of 1400 BCE.

Ultimately, this is suggestive, and I would not exactly be astonished if Eisenberg’s claim were to be verified, and if the PD turned out to be a fake, but I cannot agree that the matter is now settled. Because literacy is not simply an ‘on/off’ phenomenon – we must deal with the possibility of different text genres, different media, and different purposes for writing – we can’t use the Linear A clay economic documents to prove the disk’s anomalous nature. A date from an independent lab would go a long way toward resolving my doubts. This would still leave the question of how it was done and by whom – remember that there is no direct evidence against Pernier. However, I for one look forward to this claim receiving greater attention over the next couple of years.

Chadwick, John. 1990. The decipherment of Linear B, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press.
Diamond, Jared. 1997. Guns, germs and steel: the fates of human societies, W.W. Norton.
Duhoux, Yves. 2000. ‘How not to decipher the Phaistos Disc: a review article’,American Journal of Archaeology, 104, 3, 697-700.
Eisenberg, Jerome M. 2008. ‘The Phaistos Disk: one hundred year old hoax?’, Minerva, July/August, 9-24.
Hudson, M.J. 2005. ‘For the people, by the people: postwar Japanese archaeology and the Early Paleolithic hoax’, Anthropological Science, 113, 2, 131-139.

Accreditation and online scholarship

(Originally posted at The Growlery, 2008/06/08)

There’s an interesting essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education online by Gary Olson, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Illinois State University, addressing the question of certifying online research. Olson argues persuasively that online research is not taken seriously enough, and that while peer-reviewed online journals have found acceptance as ‘real’ academic work for the purposes of hiring, tenure, and promotion, other forms of work such as databases, online bibliographies, and other Internet sites remain essentially unaccredited, and thus easily ignorable within the academic mainstream. His solution is for each discipline to create its own canonization process to accredit and review this material in a manner best suited to its disciplinary conventions.

I’m about as big an advocate for online research as you will find anywhere. In particular, I find it extremely valuable to use my senior seminars (and eventually, graduate courses) as launching pads for high-quality student work that would otherwise not see the light of day, as I have done in the Pseudoarchaeology Research Archive and the Dollarware Project. An extremely important part of academic professionalization derives from taking “finished” term work, editing/revising it, and then putting it out for the world to see. If you aren’t interested in doing that (to some degree), then no matter how bright you are, you’re not really interested in being a scholar, and it’s better you should figure that out as a senior, or as a master’s student. I’m also firmly convinced that ‘even’ undergraduates (at least, the very best senior undergraduates) are capable of producing work that is of quality equal to much peer-reviewed research, and that there is an unfair prejudice against this work when it is known in advance to have been written by very junior scholars.

One potential benefit of disciplinary accreditation is that both I and my students might benefit if these projects were ‘officially’ accredited. And believe me, if such a system existed, I would be at the head of the line, submitting online projects for consideration. One concern would be, however, that if accreditation is merely seen as something that Ph.D. holders should receive for their work, then we would end up in a situation where good work ends up just as marginalized as before. Obviously, the material is still out there; Olson’s proposal is far closer to a ‘publish-then-peer-review’ model than the current ‘peer-review-then-publish’ model. But if what exists is perceived as being illegitimate, or controlled very narrowly by a small group of insiders within disciplinary societies, then what is created is a monstrosity in which these elite individuals hold power far greater than any journal editor or academic press.

In fact, the greatest challenge with the current model is that the people in charge of hiring/tenure/promotion are not part of a culture that considers these online publications to be legitimate. I’m not sure that an online peer-review/accreditation system will change that – tenure committees are free to denigrate or ignore all sorts of publications they consider to be second-rate, for instance. I understand the argument Olson is raising – that this gives deans, provosts, etc., information about the importance of a work to a discipline that they otherwise couldn’t really have. But without a general cultural change within a discipline – for instance, physics has already shifted to a model where online publications are given considerable weight – I’m not sure that this does anything but shift the error from tenure committees to the disciplinary associations themselves.

I am very strongly in favour of Olson’s proposed changes, in theory. In anthropology, this would pave the way for online site reports, field notes, photo journals, and other scholarship to receive critical attention, and to promote the publication of scholarship that otherwise might not be published because it’s not perceived as beneficial to one’s career. But the devil is in the details, as always, and what is needed is to continue to discuss these issues constructively to build a model.

Was Stonehenge mathematically structured?

(Originally posted at The Growlery, 2008/06/07)

Stonehenge is never really out of the news; in fact, it’s probably the archaeological site that enjoys the most media exposure. Even so, it has been in the news quite a lot lately, what with the recent report of work by Mike Parker Pearson’s Stonehenge Riverside Project, which has given us radiocarbon dates from burials excavated in the 1920s, suggesting that the site was used for burials from around 3000 BCE, several centuries earlier than previously thought and really quite early in the British Neolithic.

I must insist, however, that Parker Pearson’s theory that Stonehenge stood in contrast to the much larger timber circle at Durrington Walls, is plausible at best but completely unproven. Based on an ethnographic analogy resulting from some earlier fieldwork he did in Madagascar, Parker Pearson has sought to revive structuralist archaeology with his contention that the two British sites were conceptually binary opposites, the stone of Stonehenge representing permanence and ancestry, with wood representing transience and impermanence. Okay, so far so good (though still ‘not proven’). However, he goes on to assert that stone is not only ancestral but also male, while wood is (quoting PP himself) “soft and squishy, like women and babies.” (1) At which point my inclination is to get out a Walloping Cod and suggest that he keep his structuralism to himself until he has archaeological evidence for all this.

But lost amidst all this highly-funded work is a new book by Anthony Johnson, Solving Stonehenge: The Key to an Ancient Enigma (Thames and Hudson, 2008), offering clues to the mathematical abilities of the builders of the monument. I haven’t read the book (which isn’t published for another week) , but an article in the Independent suggests that the geometrical knowledge of the builders was more considerable than previously believed (by some). I hadn’t heard of Johnson before (despite having a very strong research interest in the prehistory of mathematical thought, and a secondary interest in the archaeology of megaliths). He appears to be a doctoral candidate at Oxford working on geophysical techniques in archaeological survey, but has not published before on Neolithic mathematics. One does need to be cautious when dealing with topics in ancient science, which are particularly prone to attracting the attention of pseudoarchaeologists, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

How, then, do we evaluate what an ancient monument can tell us about the mathematical abilities of its creators? The most important finding that Johnson is suggesting, from my perspective, is that other than the well-known solar alignments of the monument, no significant astronomical knowledge was employed in the orientation of the site. Rather, it was in geometry, and the creation of complex polygons using ‘rope-and-peg’ technology (making arcs and lines on the landscape using physical means), that the Stonehenge builders excelled, creating, over 1000+ years of the site’s history, a palimpsest of complex polygons among the various features of the site. By ‘experimental archaeology’ I take it that Johnson used this technique himself to show that using modest technology and a modicum of geometrical knowledge about the relationship between circles and squares, the monument’s shapes could have been constructed precisely. This is fascinating stuff, and gets us away from Alexander Thom’s ‘megalithic yard’ and Gerald Hawkins’ ‘Neolithic computer’ theories, both of which start from the assumption that astronomy was the function of the site.

My only major issue (prior to reading the book, which I’ll have to do over the next few months) is Johnson’s claim that “It shows the builders of Stonehenge had a sophisticated yet empirically derived knowledge of Pythagorean geometry 2000 years before Pythagoras”, mostly because Pythagoras was essentially a fiction about whose work we know almost nothing, and because it suggests inappropriately to the untutored reader that in fact the Stonehenge builders had proven the Pythagorean theorem, which is not what is being claimed. It’s not quite the same kind of error as asserting that sunflowers ‘know’ the Fibonacci sequence because their florets are arranged in such a pattern (okay … no one actually claims that, as far as I know). The point is, though, that there is always a danger in inferring specific mathematical knowledge from the outcomes of processes such as the rope-and-peg technique. Similarly, while it is plausible that “this knowledge was regarded as a form of arcane wisdom or magic that conferred a privileged status on the elite who possessed it”, we don’t actually know who exactly controlled this knowledge (and how), whether in fact the engineers/surveyors/artisans involved were part of the (as-yet incipient) social elite at the site, whether that status changed at all over a millennium or more (almost certainly!), and whether in fact geometrical knowledge was perceived as ‘magic’ in any sense.

In my ‘Prehistory of Language and Mind’ seminar, I emphasize the real dangers in attempting to hermeneutically insert oneself into the minds of prehistoric individuals based on their material culture, a caution that is worth repeating here. This is particularly true in the case of megaliths, which archaeologists approach too often on the basis of intuition, faulty ethnographic analogies (I’m looking at you, Parker Pearson…) and wishful but unsupported thinking, as Jess Beck and I show in a forthcoming publication (2). All of which is fine when one is speculating idly, or creating one’s own personalized or intuitive understanding of the past, but is pretty shoddy evidence-based scholarship. Accordingly, I’d insist that even Johnson’s work (to which I am initially positively disposed, and whose use of experimental archaeology is a definite advantage here) needs to be treated with the utmost caution, due to the exceedingly high risk of erroneous interpretations of ancient scientific abilities.

(1) Caroline Alexander. 2008. If the stones could speak. National Geographic, June 2008, p. 50.
(2) Jess Beck and Stephen Chrisomalis. Landscape archaeology, paganism, and the interpretation of megaliths. Forthcoming in The Pomegranate.

ETA: Anthony Johnson himself has now commented on the post, noting that the quotation from the news article about Pythagoras does not actually reflect his words. The blog for his book can be found at Sarsen56.

Is your pet smarter than a first-grader?

(Originally posted at The Growlery, 2008/05/23)

Geoff Pullum over at Language Log has been raising issues with purported ‘animal language’ news stories for several years now, with very good reason.   In this case Pullum’s post is on target, taking on a BBC report on an African grey parrot in Japan that was reunited with its owner after it said its owner’s name and address, is a classic example of science journalism sensationalized.  The notion that biologists, linguists, or random ‘experts’ agree that grey parrots have the cognitive capacity of a six-year-old human child is laughable at best.   They (the experts) don’t, and they (the parrots) don’t.

I don’t always agree with Pullum’s reasoning or the extent of his arguments, however; I am cognizant that our species is an evolutionary cousin to apes that do possess considerable communicative capacities, and I try to remain equally cognizant of the fact that the definition of ‘language’ can be shifted to reaffirm one’s prejudices about humanity’s special place in the cosmos.  An evolutionary perspective always takes account of the fact that our capacities came from somewhere and that the antecedents of language must also have been adaptive for some purpose.   Unfortunately, several of the comments on the LL post seem to take the narrow perspective that animal communication can tell us very little about ‘language’, defined as ‘human language’ involving recursion, arbitrariness, ‘discrete infinity’, or whatever other feature is seen as necessary and sufficient to distinguish language from non-language.   There is an ongoing turf war, unstated for the most part, between evolutionary and non-evolutionary perspectives on language, and one of the key battlegrounds is this debate (now decades old) about whether the comparative evidence tells us much.   Don’t get me wrong: I do think there is a substantial difference between human language and whatever it is that other animals do; I don’t think that it is useful at all to borrow terms like ‘grammar’ and ‘syntax’ willy-nilly into nonhuman studies.  Nevertheless, unless you want to be a linguistic creationist, the evolutionary evidence (and the comparison with nonhuman animals) must be part of theory-building and the redefinition of language.

For my part, and here I don my anthropologist hat, my concern is that so much attention seems to be paid to cetacean and bird communication, when in fact, if we are looking for comparative material, we ought to rely heavily on material from African apes and only lightly from our more distant evolutionary cousins.    It seems to me almost as if, over the past five years or so, the apes have occupied a secondary role in animal communication debates in the popular press, which is a shame since I don’t think it accurately reflects the state of the field.

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