What the hell happened to National Geographic?

I’m a fanatical paleolithic art enthusiast. It was exciting enough for me when Chauvet was discovered, shattering the previous record for the oldest known cave paintings, but it felt like nothing less than a miracle when they let Werner Herzog in there with a (wait for it) skeleton crew to make it something everyone could experience. I still think Cave of Forgotten Dreams is one of the most important films ever made. But The King’s Speech cleaned up that year and Herzog’s sui generis was completely ignored. I expect as much from the Academy.

I hold National Geographic to a higher standard. I understand what print publications have had to adapt to, I’ll even accept “Nat Geo” – worked for KFC, I guess – but they just took a shit on what might have been the most exhilarating discovery since Chauvet.

World’s Oldest Cave Art Found—And Neanderthals Made It

Oh my God! CLICK. “The findings suggest that Neanderthals and modern humans had the same cognitive abilities.” Wait, what? That’s not a new theory. And do the findings suggest more evidence to that, or that they made the stuff they found like the headline says? They go on to quote the archaeologist who coauthored the study, “[The works discovered] predate anything remotely similar known from the African continent. And they were made by Neanderthals.”

What the hell? Okay, first, this is in Spain, why compare it to Africa? Chauvet is in France. And what does he mean, “remotely similar”? Like, apparently man-made? More importantly, WHAT KIND OF SCIENTIST WOULD MAKE THIS CLAIM? “They were made by Neanderthals“? This is starting to stink of rhetoric. They go on to reference jewelry made by Neanderthals around 43,000 years ago, which actually takes you to a study showing that “a cultural exchange may have taken placebetween modern humans and Neanderthals”. Yeah, there’s good evidence for that. But that’s NOT what the link text says.

They finally get around to a shout out to the buzzkills, quoting University of California, Berkley Emerita Professor Margaret Conkey, asking of the study’s primary evidence – dating the rock under the paintings – “Does a date alone equal a Neanderthal presence?” THAT is a question a scientist would ask.

They conclude the article by quoting the other coauthor of the study, Alistair Pike, “We’ve only just scratched the tip of the iceberg. We could be doing this all our lives.”

Well, job security is nice. And I guess that explains why Nat Geo has been reduced from collectable volumes to clickbait.

I’m gonna have to look into this further, because I want to know if this really is the new Chauvet and not just a sad example of how evil archaeologists have gone from organizing indigenous tribes to steal from their mutually respected nemesis to politicians looking for tenure and book deals.

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