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First the link to this week's complete list as HTML and as PDF.
Even after sleeping on it for several nights I still can't make my mind up, if the letter by Wimbush is satire or meant in earnest.
Hassett is popular science aimed at a very general audience, although a better acquaintance with US-American culture than mine is required to get all her jokes. Although the book succeeds in its aim, that does not excuse its lack of rigour. I have already found three serious factual mistakes and as yet I've only reached page 134 of 320. That said I've learnt a lot from those parts where she stays in her own specialty, so on the whole I'd still recommend the book.
Batto is undoubtedly right in identifying the Biblical Yam Suf with one of the arms of the Red Sea, although I opt for the Gulf of Aqaba and not the Gulf of Suez, and in rejecting the lakes of the Egyptian delta. His reading of Yam sof may well be correct, although Humphreys has described a reed marsh right next to the seashore near Eilat, a circumstance unique enough conceivably to feature in naming a place.
I used to see the common condemnation of salt as ill advised at best, but Lanaspa et al. have now elucidated a mechanism and made the connection with common disorders that much more plausible.
Berger et al.'s main result is at least surprising if not unplausible. Reducing nearly all the tin in an ore to metal leads to noticeable fractionation while under experimental conditions with a yield of only about a fourth it's said to be low. If the slag and evaporate representing the bulk of the material are both strongly fractionated, how can the obtained metal not be?
That said, even if we accept their result, their claim that provenancing was possible is unwarranted. As they say themselves
„The variation of the isotope ratios of cassiterite within tin ore provinces such as South-West England (d124Sn = -0.5 to -0.8 ‰), the Erzgebirge region (d124Sn = -0.3 to -0.5 ‰) or the Iberian Peninsula (d124Sn = -0.4 to -0.6 ‰) are much larger than the fractionation arising from the smelting process.“ So the internal variation (here reported to be smaller than can be found in other publications of theirs) is larger than that between regions.
On top of that they have still not made the first basic step of simply measuring commercial tin from sources like e.g. East Asia, South America, and Central Africa, just to get a picture of the actual observable span of variation between ore regions. As long as fractionation is the only process out there yielding an isotopic variation in tin, any putative signal can and will be swamped by further fractionation from processing as has already been demonstrated several times.
Hoffmann et al. and Appenzeller open up an interesting question. So far portable and parietal art, jewellery, symbolic artifacts, and body ornamentation have all been seen as one coherent package. As far as I know there are no examples of parietal art in modern humans before contact with Neanderthals. Is it possible that they learnt from each other and that preexisting but different art enabled Neanderthals to emulate MH culture in the Châtelperronien as quickly and as easily as they seem to have done?
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