Since many don’t understand the scientific paper on the pile of bones from the Sterkfontein caves, here is the picture:
If making up stories about a pile of bones is science, then my story is science too. It is, however better, because it is a picture. In my picture, I’ve added a scavenger (is that a lion?) that explains why there are so many bits, and no complete skeletons.
A pile of bones in a remote chamber of a cave sounds a lot like burial – but that a the ground on top of the cave was not necessarily there 200 years ago. It is the notion of ritual treatment of death that motivates the label “homo” for man, rather than “-pithecus” for ape. It looks more like a rubbish tip.
I didn’t draw the other possibility, which is that the Voortrekkers shot the last of the pesky southern apes, sold “vetkoek en bobbejaan” to the locals, fed the rest of the carcasses to the dogs, and threw the rotting remains in a pit. Two hundred years and a good flood later to cover, a team of priests from the First Scientific Church of Evolution at Wits arrives to worship the broken remains. (And if 200 years or so isn’t enough for you, then just change the story – make it 2000 years, swop Voortrekkers for Romans on expedition, and substitute vetkoek with pizza – science is all about telling a story about stuff, remember.)
The strangest part of this bizarre tale is that presenting a pile of ape bones as “Primitive African men” that buried part of the bones their dead is somehow science, and not racism. You don’t have to be a racist to complete their words “and to this day the most primitive men are found in Africa”. There are most certainly primitive savages with limited powers of understanding involved in this project, but they are neither the animal bones, nor the bemused locals, nor their ancestors.