Day By Day

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Academic Fraud -- More on Neanderthals

World Net Daily, citing Deutsche Welle, reports:
A flamboyant anthropology professor, whose work had been cited as evidence Neanderthal man once lived in Northern Europe, has resigned after a German university panel ruled he fabricated data and plagiarized the works of his colleagues.

Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a Frankfurt university panel ruled, lied about the age of human skulls, dating them tens of thousands of years old, even though they were much younger, reports Deutsche Welle.

As always Chris Stringer was available for comment to the press. He says:
"What was considered a major piece of evidence showing that the Neanderthals once lived in northern Europe has fallen by the wayside. We are having to rewrite prehistory."
It will be interesting to see the fallout from this. Much of the evidence on human habitation in paleolithic Europe was collected long ago and has never been subjected to modern testing techniques. Such testing is now being undertaken in several places. I suspect that this will not be the last case of fraud or incompetent analysis uncovered.

UPDATE: The Guardian has a nice piece on this subject too. Read it here. It fills in a lot of details regarding the professor's career, the claims made for his "finds" and the significance attached to them. For example:
The scandal only came to light when Prof Protsch was caught trying to sell his department's entire chimpanzee skull collection to the United States.

An inquiry later established that he had also passed off fake fossils as real ones and had plagiarised other scientists' work.

Regarding the significance of the finds:
"Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago," said Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who discovered the hoax. "Prof Protsch's work appeared to prove that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals had co-existed, and perhaps even had children together. This now appears to be rubbish."

Read the whole thing.

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