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Publicado el 28 de November de 2013 por Carlos Díez

Fossils race

During my studies, I was told that the origins of archaeology should be dated back to 1748, corresponding to the rediscovery and excavation of the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, funded by our King Charles III. A scholarship in Italy made me realize that the excavations in the Roman Forum and Villa Adriana were much older, 100 years older. Later, I learned that in today's China, in the eleventh century, there were already archaeological works going on in Anyang, which was the capital of the Shang Dynasty at that time. We could cite hundreds of examples in which, under the certainty that scientific knowledge advances, we find approaches that try to bestow pre-eminence on a particular country, discovery or scientific team. Newspaper headlines, and even reputable research centre websites, periodically bombard us with news about `the oldest site in North Africa`, `the richest one in Eurasia` or `the most important fossil to learn about human evolution`.


Emiliano Aguirre, my master, always raised the cases of Steinheim (Germany) and Swanscombe (England) whose digs had produced some human skulls in the 1930s which were assigned alternately, on the basis of European hominids depending on the particular political and military dominance of Germany or England or on the nationality and creed of the researcher who was writing. That is to say, we must distinguish between quantifiable data (numerical) and formal data (qualitative); these are relative, smoke and mirrors, a call for attention, desires rather than certainties. I say this, because in recent times, the idea that researchers in Archaeology and Human Evolution are immersed in a race driven by journalists, political or economic managers of science, among others, lies beneath. We're told there is not money for everything and that we must therefore prioritize. Give more to some than others, whether it's sites, teams or research topics. No one doubts that we must always rationalize our decisions, but we should make two specifications. One about our object of study and another about our profession. First, human societies from prehistory did not apply market laws, the state had not been invented and reciprocity distinguished transactions. As anthropologist Mauss said, the only three bonds between people were giving, receiving and returning. The best way to approach his knowledge is to try to keep these principles in mind and also apply them ourselves. Furthermore, in our work we know that the best reading of prehistory we can do is one based on the maximum number of researched sites, collected data and ideas and contributed interpretive models. When we look back, what we see is that all sites are essential, all of them let us know something more and all together they help us understand what happened.


Every time we make an exclusive decision, we eliminate a possible source of information. Our main activity is therefore not to compete with colleagues, but to accumulate evidence and complete the puzzle of the past. If we take research as a race in which losers receive nothing, and only large projects deserve to be subsidized, we will enter a dangerous spiral, and it will become true that while all people are unique, we are also unnecessary. I think that, just like fossils, all of us are indispensable.