Are billions and billions of pieces of stone found strewn across the African continent the product of intelligent design (purposeful actions) or random processes? Last year I presented a Stone-Age artifact challenge to the young-earth creationist’ chronology. Dr. Mortenson, from Answers in Genesis, responded to the evidence that I presented of vast stone-tool production in Africa by first insinuating my Christian witness of the facts can’t be trusted and then suggesting my estimates of stone age artifacts were vastly overestimated and questioned how so many artifacts could be produced even in the space of a million or more years. I have addressed the later claims in a series of articles which explored the physical evidence of the existence of immense numbers of stone artifacts and therefore beg for an explanation (see links below).
Stone Age Artifacts – A Challenge to Young Earth Chronology
Here are my responses thus far to Dr. Mortenson’s attempt to defend a young earth perspective on the existence of extensive stone-age artifacts.
Part V (this article): Mortenson Rejects Intelligent Design, Appeals to “Natural Processes” as a Better Explanation for Stone Artifacts
Possible future installments in this series:
Part VI: Where are all the pre-flood artifacts? A human artifact problem
Part VII: Putting it all Together: Dr. Mortenson’s Real Problem
My articles which prompted Dr. Mortenson to respond are here:
Trillions of Stone Age Artifacts: A Young Earth Anthropology Paradox
How Rare are Stone Age Artifacts? A Visit to a Stone Tool-Making Center at Kathu, South Africa
Thousands of Stone Age Artifacts and Fossil Bones: A Story of an Ancient Butcher Shop
If you can’t explain billions stone artifacts then deny they exist
As I continue to look at Dr. Mortenson’s response we see that he continues his kitchen sink approach to the problem of too many artifacts tossing out multiple possible answers to the stone artifact problem. In the end he tosses out one last-gasp possibility: the artifacts aren’t really artifacts.
Rather than products of human stone tool production he proposes that the vast majority of artifacts known as lithics, pieces of rock presumed to be the result of stone tool production, are nothing more than random pieces of stone that have been misinterpreted as evidence of human technology. Just what is the origin of these random pieces of stone? He proposes that most of these artifacts are nothing more than random chips of rock resulting from rocks bumping into one another.
Here is the pertinent quote from his article:
“These stones are not a huge problem for young-earth creationists. …. in the couple of centuries of the post-Flood, Ice-Age period there would still be residual catastrophism on local or region scale greater than we generally see today. The extremely heavy rainfall in lower latitudes would have resulted in massive sheet runoff and erosion from hills so that large sheets of loose sediments spread out onto lower-lying flat areas. This is very evident in the western USA. In now desert areas the intense winds then remove much of the smaller sand particles from these outwash deposits, leaving behind the larger pebbles and cobbles scattered across the desert floor like litter. Some of the pebbles and cobbles would have been rounded while others would have been chipped and flaked by the agitation in those debris flows. Thus these extensive deposits of pebbles and cobbles of various sizes and shapes are not the work of “stone-age” people over millions of years of tool-making but are better explained by the work of catastrophic natural processes in a very short time.”
Dr. Mortenson uses exactly the type of argument that I predicted YECs would make (see: Reflections on a Young Earth Creationist’ Approach to Scientific Apologetics). He doesn’t seek to provide a sound argument but rather only seeks to provide an explanation that sounds plausible to his audience so that the conventional explanation of the data can be ignored.
I have already written several articles detailing the evidence that vast numbers of artifacts are indeed present on and just below the surface of the African continent. Dismissing these artifacts as “catastrophic natural processes” is absurd. Aside from the absurdity of this speculation, I am fascinated by the irony in Dr. Mortenson’s appeal to natural processes.
Dr. Mortenson rejects design and promotes chance events as a causal explanation for stone artifacts
The original article that prompted me to investigate the young-earth reactions to stone artifacts included a fascinating discussion about the influence that Stone Age technology hand on shaping the geography of central Libya. The authors of this article propose that archaic humans transported so much rock from other locations that it literally changed the erosion patterns in this region. Here is how this region of central Libya is described:
“The Messak Settafet, a sandstone massif in the Central Sahara (Libya), is littered with Pleistocene stone tools on an unprecedented scale and is, in effect, a man-made landscape. Surveys showed that parts of the Messak Settafet have as much as 75 lithics per square metre and that this fractured debris is a dominant element of the environment. The type of stone tools—Acheulean and Middle Stone Age—indicates that extensive stone tool manufacture occurred over the last half million years or more. The lithic-strewn pavement created by this ancient stone tool manufacture possibly represents the earliest human environmental impact at a landscape scale and is an example of anthropogenic change. “ Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment.
How ironic is it that we have secular scientists seeing evidence of human-produced stone-tool debris and its influence on landscape patterns, while creationists deny human agency or as they might call it “design.” Rather, the latter propose that these stone found scattered across the landscape in central Libya are nothing other than a product of natural processes. Put another way, Dr. Mortenson is suggesting that chance events alone are responsible for the size, shape and pattern of rocks observed in the Libyan Desert.
Dr. Mortenson and Dr. Snelling, who is also referenced in the article, have ample opportunity to see design in these shards of stone and the way they are distributed on the landscape but rather than accept the evidence of purposeful manipulations via human hands they propose the shards of stone are a result of “chance” events and thus involve no “designer.” However, dozens of experts on stone-tool production have studied artifacts in this region and concluded that these stones are the product of purposeful actions. How ironic that their conclusions are being questioned by a group that is usually first in line to claim design whenever it has the opportunity.
Do Drs. Mortenson and Snelling really believe that we can’t determine human design through the study of physical evidence? This really is an insult to the intelligence of those that study these stones. Drs. Mortenson and Snelling have no expertise in this area and I have found no evidence that anyone at Answers in Genesis has ever personally studied stone tool technology. Given their lack of familiarity with the stone tools you would hope they at least spend a good amount of time reading the research literature before offering up an alternative interpretation but it is clear they did not.
I am not claiming to be an expert but I have talked with experts on arrowheads and have sat in on sessions of arrowhead and spearhead reproductions and attempted to make my own. North American arrowheads are considered much more complex tools than those in Africa but nonetheless many of the same principles of percussive flaking are involved. More importantly I have personally read more than 40 articles from the primary literature on stone tool production in Africa in addition to obtaining several book-length treatments in preparation to write several blog posts on the topic including these responses.
From Mortenson’s description it appears he showed Dr. Snelling a picture from one of my blog posts and from that Snelling offered up a competing interpretation for Stone Age tools and artifacts that have been studied by hundreds of scientists that have devoted their lives to understand the origin and significance of these items. They dismiss all that research with a piece of speculation about how post-Flood local catastrophic events may have “produced” many of these artifacts. Do they really believe that individuals that have devoted their entire lives to studying stone tools really have no idea how to tell the difference between a piece of rock that was produced by random bumping against another rock versus a deliberate strike of a rock with another rock guided by an intelligent being?
Is Mortenson’s appeal to natural processes a hypothesis worth considering? It might be if it hadn’t already been considered, tested and rejected. If Mortenson were more familiar with research on Stone Age artifacts he would know that anthropologists and geologists certainly have considered and tested the possibility that rocks could bump into each other and the chips resulting from those interactions might be misidentified as the products from human processing of rocks to make tools. Many of the papers in the bibliography below include discussions about natural processes that could produce stone flakes and how real artifacts produced by intent can be identified.
I have said before, it is evident that Mortenson’s goal is not to convince anyone other than the devoted follower of AiG that they need not worry about stone artifacts. He will say that all these other scientists, even those that are Christians that work in the field of anthropology, don’t have on the right worldview glasses when they do their research. The non-experts at Answers in Genesis are apparently the only people with the right glasses and thus ability to accurately interpret these stones. These glasses are so powerful that they can determine, even without ever having looked as any of these stones, that they can give us an interpretation that trumps all others not matter how well-researched and supported those conclusions may be.
I believe it would be disrespectful for me to respond to an article without having done any research myself. If I am going to spend time to understand my topic, and even then I will admit I have much to learn, I expect a critic to also have spent some time evaluating the material they intend to discuss. With this in mind, I will end with a short list of important pieces of primary literature that I have examined and that I suggest Dr. Mortenson become familiar with before attempting to construct a defense of young-earth interpretation of Stone Age artifacts.
Anderson-Gerfaud, P. (1990). 14: Aspects of Behaviour in the Middle Palaeolithic: Functional Analysis of Stone Tools from Southwest France. The emergence of modern humans: an archaeological perspective, 389.
Andrefsky Jr, W. (2009). The analysis of stone tool procurement, production, and maintenance. Journal of archaeological research, 17(1), 65-103.
Chazan, M., Wilkins, J., Morris, D., & Berna, F. (2012). Bestwood 1: a newly discovered Earlier Stone Age living surface near Kathu, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Antiquity, 86(331).
Chiotti, L., Olszewski, D. I., Dibble, H. L., McPherron, S. R., Schurmans, U., & Smith, J. R. (2007). Paleolithic Abydos: reconstructing individual behaviors across the high desert landscape. The Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt: Essays in Honor of David B O’Connor. Cairo: Supreme Council of Antiquities Press Cairo, 169-183.
Close, A. E. (1996). Carry that weight: The use and transportation of stone tools. Current Anthropology, 545-553.
Close, A. E. (1990). Living on the edge: Neolithic herders in the eastern Sahara. Antiquity 64: 79-96.
Close, A. E. (1992). “Holocene occupation in the eastern Sahara,” in New Light on the Northeast African past. Edited by F. Clees and R. Kuper, pp. 155-183. Koln: Heinrich-Rarth-Institut.
Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment PLoS ONE 10(3):e0116482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116482
Henshilwood, C. S., d’Errico, F., & Watts, I. (2009). Engraved ochres from the middle stone age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 57(1), 27-47.
Lombard, M., Parsons, I., & Van der Ryst, M. M. (2004). Middle Stone Age lithic point experimentation for macro-fracture and residue analyses: the process and preliminary results with reference to Sibudu Cave points: Sibudu Cave. South African Journal of Science, 100(3 & 4), p-159.
Mussi, M., & Peresani, M. (2011). Human settlement of Italy during the Younger Dryas. Quaternary International, 242(2), 360-370.
Olszewski, D. I., Dibble, H. L., McPherron, S. P., Schurmans, U. A., Chiotti, L., & Smith, J. R. (2010). Nubian Complex strategies in the Egyptian high desert. Journal of human evolution, 59(2), 188-201.
Porat, N., Chazan, M., Grün, R., Aubert, M., Eisenmann, V., & Horwitz, L. K. (2010). New radiometric ages for the Fauresmith industry from Kathu Pan, southern Africa: Implications for the Earlier to Middle Stone Age transition.Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(2), 269-283.
Scerri, E. M., Drake, N. A., Jennings, R., & Groucutt, H. S. (2014). Earliest evidence for the structure of Homo sapiens populations in Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews, 101, 207-216.
Schoville, B. J. (2010). Frequency and distribution of edge damage on Middle Stone Age lithic points, Pinnacle Point 13B, South Africa. Journal of human evolution, 59(3), 378-391.
Stanford, D., Lowery, D., Jodry, M., Bradley, B. A., Kay, M., Stafford Jr, T. W., & Speakman, R. J. (2014). New evidence for a possible Paleolithic occupation of the Eastern North American continental shelf at the Last Glacial Maximum. In Prehistoric Archaeology on the Continental Shelf (pp. 73-93). Springer New York.
Tryon, C. A., McBrearty, S., & Texier, P. J. (2005). Levallois lithic technology from the Kapthurin formation, Kenya: Acheulian origin and Middle Stone Age diversity. African Archaeological Review, 22(4), 199-229.
Wadley, L. (2005). A typological study of the final Middle Stone Age stone tools from Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal. The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 51-63.
Velichko, A. A., Pisareva, V. V., Sedov, S. N., Sinitsyn, A. A., & Timireva, S. N. (2009). Paleogeography of Kostenki-14 (Markina Gora). Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, 37(4), 35-50.
Walker, S. J., Lukich, V., & Chazan, M. (2014). Kathu Townlands: a high density Earlier Stone Age locality in the interior of South Africa.
Wilkins, J., & Chazan, M. (2012). Blade production∼ 500 thousand years ago at Kathu Pan 1, South Africa: support for a multiple origins hypothesis for early Middle Pleistocene blade technologies. Journal of Archaeological Science,39(6), 1883-1900.
Wurz, S. (2002). Variability in the middle stone age lithic sequence, 115,000–60,000 years ago at Klasies river, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 29(9), 1001-1015.
Th featured image is of a small stone “core” found in South Africa at a location which is described as having a “carpet” of lithics as far as the eye can see. The image is from this blog: https://simonhoyte.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/carpets-of-artefacts-mountains-of-baboons/