Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


10 June 2015

So… What? Does the paradigm currently want to budge so much?

Cyprian Broodbank Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 27.2 (2014), 267-272

From the introduction

The debate over the extent and significance of Palaeolithic maritime activity in the Mediterranean stands in danger of unhelpful polarisation and dumbing down of its crucial subtleties, a process by which we would all turn out to be the long-term losers. ‘Debate’ may, in fact, be too multilateral a term, given that over the last few years the literature has been dominated by a forcefully advocated, highly publicised maximalist position (of which Curtis Runnels’s contribution here is exemplary), with relatively fewer more sceptical or intermediate opinions expressed. The latter run the danger, furthermore, of appearing out-of-date, boring and pessimistic in comparison. In the modern West, seafaring seems incorrigibly glamorous, so naturally we want it to be tremendously, romantically ancient too. As the author of several such spoil-sport calls for caution, I welcome this opportunity for open discussion, and aim to demonstrate that in contrast to the ‘with us or against us’ tone of much of the discourse so far, a mid-way, cautious approach can be helpful and insightful, and should enable us to agree upon quite a lot. The best way forward, I argue, lies in a modestly incremental approach to knowledge affirmation, as well as to the legitimate limits of inference-building and interpretation. Despite the avowed efforts by Runnels and others to topple dramatically the current paradigm of an overwhelmingly terrestrial hominin universe, it seems to me that sufficient evidential leverage to effect this is simply not there, at least not for now (if ever?), and that the academic community would therefore also be wise to distinguish carefully between a genuine intellectual impetus to rethink our fundamental frameworks in this regard, and simply getting swept away on the back of some interesting, thought-provoking yet often thoroughly ambiguous discoveries.


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