Monday, January 02, 2006

Dialectical Anthropology-A.P. Alexeev

Anthropology and Sociology are sciences that resonate with Historical Materialism and Dialectics. They were in their infancy when Marx and Engels embraced them and promoted them. Hence Historical Materialism is sometimes seen as an amalgam of history, politics, economics, sociology and anthropology. One could add geography and urban studies as well, but you get my drift. It is a particular philosophic viewpoint that is often mistakenly called Marxist interpretations of science. In fact Historical Materialism arises from the scientific viewpoint, expanding on Kant and Hegel, Fichte and Comte, and their materialist viewpoints and their histographical view of the philosophies of science.

In North America we suffer from a disinct lack of contact with both Contiental European authors and scientists as well as those from the Slavic speaking countries. Part of the problem of course is that their is a uniligual as well as scientific monothiesm or isolationaism that dominates North America. It's American exceptionalism. If it ain't American it ain't worth sh*t.

Of course during the Cold War (1948-1989) any scientific work done by Soviet researchers, or even those who came from Eastern Europe, was suspect. The anti-communism (anti-Stalinism of the liberal left) of the American Military Industrial Complex and its right wing lobbyists (the John Birch society) would have nothing to do with academics from Russia. And of course American academics on the liberal left, (Daniel Bell comes to mind) quickly denounced Historical Materialism and Dialectics, as well as Marxism in their rush to bury and banish revolutionary thought and thinkers from Americas universities.

Last summer I was in Vancouver and visited the Peoples Co-op Bookstore, once the outpost of the Communist Party of Canada, now a left non sectarian bookstore, operated by the CPC still. There I found a book entitled The Origin of the Human Race by A.P. Alexeev puiblished twenty years ago. It was one of the last books published by the English Language publishing house of the USSR, Progress Books before the Stalinist regime dissolved into a withering mass of contradictions market capitalism.

Alexeev was no mere acamedician, he was a high ranking member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which of course is no more. And he was their leading archaeologist and anthropologist specializing in primitive man and his socio-cultural evolution. And he was not a party member. He was very much a free thinker, as much as one could be under that particualr authoritarian structure.

In Origins of the Human Race he challenges his readers and the scientific community with his theories.

Homo rudolfensis is a fossil hominin species originally proposed in 1986 by V. P. Alexeev for the specimen Skull 1470 (KNM ER 1470)[1] . Originally thought to be a member of the species Homo habilis, much debate surrounded the fossil and its species assignment. Skull 1470 is an estimated age of 1.9 million years. It was found by Bernard Ngeneo, a member of a team led by anthropoligist Richard Leakey, in 1972 at Koobi Fora on the east side of Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana).
Homo habilis / Homo rudolfensis
Though many paleoanthropologists classify Homo habilis ("handy man") as a Homo sapiens ancestor, the exact bridge from one species to another has been debated since the Leakeys found the first specimen (OH 7) in 1960.
Homo habilis is thought to be the first hominid to use simple tools. Its brain size is bigger than that of the australopithecenes. Experts can't even agree on exactly which specimens should be definitely considered Homo habilis.
Adding to the confusion over Homo habilis, some specimens have sufficient differences that another species has been proposed. V.P. Alexeev, using thee KNM-ER 1470 as a type specimen, suggested the species Homo rudolfensis in 1986. Homo rudolfensis may have been the ancestor to the Homo habilis. Perhaps they were two separate species. Some even believe it should be classified as an australopithecene.

H. habilis

Early Hominds Text

As stated, the attribution of the species rudolfensis to any specimen is somewheat controversial, since many paleoanthropologists do not see rudolfensis as a valid species. Its dating (whether the early dates proposed by some or the contemporaneous dates to habilis) makes its brain size an issue, and raises questions about current standard phylogeny of the human line. Homo rudolfensis may be the first member of the genus Homo on a path to modern humans, or it may be a more Homo-like australopithecine with no direct bearing on the evolution of H. sapiens. Nothing can be stated for sure at this point, except that there will be much more future debate on the issue.

Human evolution: taxonomy and paleobiology
Homo rudolfensis (Alexeev, 1986) sensu Wood,
In a presentation of the fossil evidence for human
evolution, published in English in 1986, the Russian
anthropologist Valery Alexeev (1986) suggested that
the differences between the cranium KNM-ER 1470
and the fossils from Olduvai Gorge allocated to Homo
habilis justified referring the former to a new species,
Pithecanthropus rudolfensis, within a genus others had
long ago sunk into Homo (see H. erectus section
below). Some workers have claimed that Alexeev
either violated, or ignored, the rules laid down within
The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature
(Kennedy, 1999). However, there are no grounds for
concluding that Alexeev’s proposal did not comply
with the rules of the Code, even if he did not follow all
of its recommendations (Wood, 1999a). Thus, if
Homo habilis sensu lato does subsume more variability
than is consistent with it being a single species, and if
KNM-ER 1470 is judged to belong to a different
species group than the type specimen of Homo habilis
sensu stricto, then Homo rudolfensis (Alexeev, 1986)
would be available as the name of a second early
Homo taxon.
This does seem to be the case, for several in-
dependent studies have shown that the degree of
variation within Homo habilis sensu lato is greater
than that which would be expected in a single species
(Lieberman et al. 1988; Wood, 1991; Rightmire,
1993; Kramer et al. 1995; Grine et al. 1996). Several
researchers have recommended that the material be
split into 2 species.

The Hominid Transitonal Timeline

In 1991 Alexeev was invited to speak at Harvard it would be his first and last
trip to the United States. He died that year as the Soviet Union finally collapsed and becamse the Russian confederation.

His renarkable set of lectures at Harvard have been transcribed and put online by
Geraldine Reinhart-Waller.

Valery Pavlovich Alexeev came to Harvard University in Summer, 1991 to teach two anthropology courses: "Peoples and Cultures of the Soviet Union" and "Archaeology of the USSR". The subject matter for this volume, "A Brief Cultural History of Eurasia as told by Professor Alexeev to his student Geraldine Reinhardt", is based on these lectures; however, much of the information has been updated to reflect the current geography of Eurasia rather than preserving the once Soviet Union.

Alexeev was considered one of the Soviet Union's most distinguished anthropologists. He directed the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow and was able to achieve full membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences without ever having been a member of the Communist Party. He studied both ancient and contemporary cultures throughout the USSR; his studies also took him to Mongolia, Syria, India, Vietnam, and Cuba. As a staunch supporter of international collaboration way before the emergence of "perestroika", Alexeev participated in joint Soviet-American conferences on the Siberia/Alaska connection and was a paramount figure in establishing a role for Soviet scholars in Earthwatch sponsored field programs. It was Alexeev's wish to establish a world-class natural history and anthropological museum in Moscow.

Myth*inglinks' Eurasia / Eurasia/Central Asia Portal Page

Alexeev being a paleoanthropolgist specializing in Eurasian Peoples and cultures from prehistory to the early modern period is of course bound to conflict with scientists from the West whose speciality is not this geographic area. Such was his contention over the Kenyan skull find. Of course during the cold war such science was dismissed often out of hand by those in West in the pay of a Cold War Academia.

He contributed to the UNESCO History of Humanity Volume 1
Prehistory and the beginnings of civilization

Another contentious issue that Alexeev contributed to was the Asiatic origins of the ancient Sythian peoples.

“Scythian Triad” and “Scythian World”

In order to recognize
the Asian origin of the Scythians as recorded in Herodotus it
was necessary to find archaeological sites in the steppes that
belonged to the Cimmerians, the precursors of the Scythians.
The discussion has intensified concerning the connection be-
tween concrete archaeological cultures and disparate archaeo-
logical sites belonging to the Cimmerians who were mentioned
in written sources. Many scholars believe in the existence of a
specific Cimmerian ethnos. Only pre-Scythian sites, and sites
located in the Black Sea area, have been identified with the
Cimmerians (Terenozhkin 1976; Alexeev et al 1993). Euro-
pean archaeologists had divided opinions concerning the iden-
tification of the Cimmerians with the diverse pre-Scythian an-
tiquities. Discussion again surged concerning the chronologi-
cal and typological connections between the cultures, and their
place within other Late Bronze Age cultural formations. The
discussion is far from over, and currently these experts have
come full circle.

Finally he argued that Neanderthal's were were more prevelant than currently is accepted by Western scientists. He also posits that they traveled widely and in more open areas and thus had a developmental influence on humans and continued into existance in Ice Age Eurasia. His thesis was that Eurasia was vastly more populated with indigineous peoples than scientists up till then had been willing to accept.

A year after Alexeev's death another Russian Paleoanthropogist shook the academy with his announcement of finding ancient prehistoci peoples in Siberia.

Siberian Site Defies Theories on Peopling Pebble Tools Are Dated to 3 Million Years

by Don Alan Hall

A vast archaeological site in Siberia is challenging anthropologists to reconsider theories of human evolution and dispersal. Because of his discoveries over the past 10 years at the Diring site on the Lena River, Yuri A. Mochanov, a prominent Russian archaeologist, has concluded that hominids lived in the far north in the Earliest Paleolithic, possibly as long as 3 million years ago.

Perhaps, he dares suggest, humans might not have originated in Africa.

Mochanov presented his findings at the 45th Annual Northwest Anthropological Conference in April at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Mochanov, a member of the faculty of the Academy of Science at Yakutsk, Siberia, was making his first appearance at a scientific meeting in North America. His presentation obviously perplexed American and Canadian anthropologists and archaeologists. Siberia is not supposed to be a place to look for stone tools more than maybe 35,000 years old— certainly not more than a million years old.


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