Re: Parsimony is a virtue in science, but not in paleoanthropology

Allan Krill

Financial interest trumps parsimony in paleoanthropologic interpretations...

Alta is a wonderful place to visit in the summer, with 24 hours of direct sun, and no real night from March 26 to September 17. That is when most people visit Alta, as I am about to do with a class of geology students from southern Norway. In prehistoric times, it must have been difficult to survive in Alta during the winter: there is no daylight from November 26 to January 16, and deep snow covers the ground until summer begins in May. 

There are spectacular rock carvings along the fjord in Alta. A parsimonious interpretation would be that the carvings were made by people who visited Alta by boat during the summer, no more than 2000 years ago. But that interpretation is never mentioned by anthropologists. They know that a more interesting and financially rewarding interpretation is that the carvings were made by permanent residents, thousands of years earlier. People are more interested in knowing who might have lived in Alta, not who might have visited Alta. 

This is a typical example of a parsimonious interpretation being avoided in paleoanthropology, because other interpretations will draw more public interest and more research funding. 

The rock carvings do not seem to depict winter scenes. There are no carvings showing northern lights, for example. Many carvings show reindeer, which are in Alta only during the summers. The snow is too deep for them during the winter, so they migrate to colder and drier places inland. I think the prehistoric artists who made the Alta carvings also migrated with the seasons — to Alta in the summers, and back home in the winters. 


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