Date: Sun, 26 May 1996 10:25:33 -0400
To: Athena Discuss 
Subject: Re: Sphinx again

Bernard R Ortiz-de-Montellano wrote:
> Thomas says:
> >Hard archaeological data dated to 4000 BC do not constrain inferences as
> >to what might have been in 10,000 BC. If there are no archaeological finds
> >dating to 10,000 BC, that does not mean that such finds might not emerge
> >in the future. Maybe the archaeologists are digging in the wrong places,
> >or not digging deep enough. Who knows? As I have said before: absence of
> >evidence is not evidence of absence.
> *****
> We have really turned the world upside down. No data is worth more than
> data. This goes even beyond what Lefkowitz chiefly objects about Bernal
> (what do you know these two made it back into the discussion :-)). Mary
> Lefkowitz (1993), referring to Martin Bernal's claims of massive Egyptian
> influence on Greece, describes another common technique, "...because
> something is possible, it can be considered probable, or even actual si
> potest esse, est."

There is a misconception lurking here somewhere.  Not everything that
is possible, is, and that certainly is not what is being asserted
by those who would date the sphinx to 10,000 BC.  They look at *evidence*
of rainfall-induced weathering, and which any interested person can
also look at for himself.  Then follows a chain of inference.  If there
were rainfall-induced weathering, when could this rainfall have occurred,
considering that the sphinx is located in a desert.  So you work backward,
based on weather models, also archaelogical evidence concerning when last
it was that the Sahara was regularly subject to rainfall.  And that, it
seems, was sometime prior to 10,000 BC.  Therefore, the sphinx had to have
been built before then, otherwise it could not display evidence of
rainfall-induced weathering.  So there are two data clusters which a
theory must now fit--data showing rainfall-induced weathering, and data
showing requisite rainfall only prior to about 10,000 BC.  And the theory,
which as always must parsimoniously fit the data, then stares us in the
face.  It is the least that could be asserted consistent with the data.
That, in a nutshell, is the Schoch/West theory.  Now come the receivists,
the defenders of the received theory, and they do not deny the data
clusters asserted by Shoch/West, which is what would defeat the Schoch/West
theory, they assert a third data cluster: namely that "there is no 
evidence of a requisite society dating back to 10,000 BC", and since there
is no such evidence, any theory that ascribes a date for the sphinx anterior
to when such evidence emerges must clearly be wrong.  So they 
assert non-evidence as a data point that must be fitted.  It is that 
to which I object as being unscientific, and it is a gross 
mischaracterization to suggest that the Schoch/West theory 
is one of the form "si potest esse, est" (if it is
possible to be, then it is).  Not at all.  It is the most parsimonious
theory (the one that assumes least, or is least extravagant) that is 
also consistent with the data adduced, that is being asserted.  To
attack it, you do not assert non-data (no evidence of a society of the
*assumed* requisite structure, etc.); you attack the *facts* asserted,
or the argumentation therefrom.  Absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence.

>  Many Afrocentrists are less cautious and use the following chain of
> reasoning: if it is conceivable, it is possible, it is probable-- it is
> true. 

Nonsense, clearly.  In any case you have demonstrated no such

> In this case, we go even further. If there is no evidence, it must be
> true. You can't prove a negative, but there are also rules of credibility.
Again nonsense.  You are the one asserting a negative--the non-existence
of certain data--and requiring that it constitute a data point that
the theory must fit.  This is a-scientific.  It is allowing preconception
to be used as a filter for the data, rather than simply following the
data where ever they may lead.
> Similarly, in the case at hand. You must agree (don't you?) that building
> the Sphinx would require a large number of people, people with a knowledge
> of building and quarrying stone and capable of organizing the job, a system
> to feed all these people while they work on building the Sphinx. 

Maybe, maybe not, but I see no reason to make any assumptions a priori as 
to how the sphinx was built.  Maybe it was carved from a rock outcropping, 
as has also been suggested.  

> A society
> at the level of hunting and gathering bands (40-50 individuals), which is
> non- hierarchical (i.e. people in these societies cannot order each other
> around) would not have 1) the population density to carry out the job (H-G
> lifestyle can only support a very low number of people per square km); 2;
> no food surplus-- they consume as they go and cannot carry very much; 3)no
> experience with carving rock-- they do not build permanent dwellings. At
> some stage, I've got to claim some authority. 

No, you may *cite* authority and summarize their facts and their
arguments.  So far, all I'm seeing are assumptions.

> Anthropologists know the
> characteristics of societies, just as chemists know chemical reactions, or
> electrical engineers know circuits. Why is it that you quibble about the
> most elementary of anthropological knowledge?

Please distinguish the general from the particular.  Whatever
general "knowledge" anthropologists might claim, you still must
establish that the facts of a particular case fit the predicates
required by the general theory, which you cannot do with 
historical *non*-data.

> Anthropologists of all colors will tell you that humans lived as
> Hunter-Gatherers from the time of Australopithecus onward until about 8000
> B.C. when domesticated plants began to appear. 

So far as they know or are willing to guess.  They weren't there.
If hard data (the sphinx exists, it is rain-weathered, the required
rain existed only before 10000 BC) suggests otherwise, the theory
must be revised, not the hard data, nor parsimonious inferences
from the hard data.

> Domestication of plants, is
> the *sine qua non* for the development of villages, cities, states which in
> turn will have (population density, food surplus, experts, etc) required
> for Sphinx building.
> What I am telling you is that archaeologist, botanists, anthropologists who
> have searched all over the world have never found domesticated plants that
> are older than 8-9000 B.C. anywhere. 

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

> We also KNOW that it takes a long time
> from the beginning of plant domestication to societies capable of building
> large monuments. 

That is supposition not knowledge.  In any case, your predicate 
"beginnings of plant domestication" is not established.  So you are
building assumption upon assumption, major premise and minor premise,
neither of which is established, and attempting to assert a 
consequent as a matter of fact when it is nothing but supposition.

> We have the time sequences archaeologically. In the New
> World for instance domestication of corn began about 5500 6000 B.C. and the
> large stone monuments (much smaller than the Sphinx) were not built until
> about 2000 B.C. Therefore, when I argue that 10,000 B.C. is improbable,
> there are valid reasons for it and evidence to support the reasons.

If you would attack Schoch/West, I would suggest attacking their
data clusters (is it rainfall weathering, or something else; 
assuming no, then the second data point--when was the rain available--
no longer needs to be fitted; assuming yes, is 10,000BC indeed 
the earliest time when the requiste rainfall was there?).  But do
not attempt merely to throw out the data clusters in favor of
non-data, merely because the new theory would gut the received
theory.  Let us sit humbly before fact, as all scientists (also
detectives and historians) should, and follow the data where they lead.

> Bernard Ortiz de Montellano


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