Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Did Ancient Pleistocenes Really Sail the Oceans on Rafts? – Part II

In the 1990s, a research program dealing with questions of Pleistocene navigation was undertaken with the purpose of creating probability scenarios for the Pleistocene crossings of several sea barriers in eastern Asia and in the Mediterranean. Among these programs was the so-called crossings of Lombok Strait, believed to have been accomplished 800,000 years ago, and the Timor Sea, believed to have been accomplished 60,000 years ago. 
     This so-called movement of humans through the islands and to Australia, is dated to an assumed 60,000 years ago and more, according to Bednarik and M. Kuckenburg. They also report that the only two main regions of Pleistocene maritime navigation are evidenced—the Mediterranean, where at least five deep-water islands were occupied during the Ice Age, and the general regions of east Asia to Australia, with the only other island with known Pleistocene occupation being Santa Rosa, one of the California Channel Islands.
    Much of this is determined by the claim of similarities between lithic (stone) industries and tools found on Java and Timor as well as on Australia (R.G. Bednarik and M. Kuckenburg, Nale Tasih: Eine Floßfahrt in die Steinzeit, Thorbecke, Stuttgart, 1999).
    A series of international expeditions, called the First Mariners Project, was commenced in 1996. It was engaged in result-targeted replication experiments, supplemented where possible by product-targeted replication with a number of rafts built with the help of Palaeolithic stone tool replicas, equipped entirely with materials believed to have been available to Pleistocene seafarers.
    The purpose of this work was to construct a scientifically based (testable) probability framework meant to generate the most rational explanations of how very early maritime navigation may have been achieved
    Since 1996, there have been six replicative experiments to explore the practicalities of these crossings through the Lombok Strait (Nale Tasih 1 through 4), with varying degrees of success. Most of them have involved large and anachronistically (ancient) complex rafts, whose description as Pleistocene-style rests on uncertain grounds. After all, what might a raft have looked like 800,000 years ago, and how could that possibly be determined?
    On the most recent endeavor, a crossing of the Aegean, the experimental voyage involved a raft constructed of almost 5,000 bundles of Mediterranean cane (Arundo harax), a frame of Pencil pine, and a Venetian-blind-style sail of 40-square feet. As the leader of the expedition, Bob Hobman wrote, “We are hoping to build the raft with an assemblage of stone tools based on the recent finds on Crete and Gavdhos which have added more than 100,000 years to the human settlement on Crete” (Bednarik R.G., Hobman B. & Rogers P., 1999.Nale Tasih 2: journey of a Middle Palaeolithic raft. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, vol.28(1), 1999, pp25–33).
Planned course from Kupang on Timor Island to Darwin in Northwest Australia

In an experiment, referred to as Nale Tasih 2 (Nale Tasih 1 failed in the attempt), on December 17,1998, a log raft left Kupang, on the southernmost tip of Timor (Timur, meaning “east”) Island in Indonesia and sailed across the Timor Sea to the Beagle Gulf and to the southern coast of Mantiyupi on Melville (Yermainer) Island, north across the Clarence Strait from Amhem Land just north of its original destination, Darwin, Australia, a distance of 525 miles.
Actual course from Kupang on Timor Island to Melville Island, north of Darwin across the Clarence Straitthe result would have proven disastrous except that the coastguard took the crew off the raft before it landed in crockadile-infested waters

Though Nale Tasih 2 travelled without an escort boat, and the crew’s only contact with the outside world was via a satellite telephone, reporting its position twice a day to a contact in Darwin. With the exception of this item and equipment for navigation, recording, and scientific purposes, all equipment on the vessel would presumably have been available to sailors hundreds of thousands of years ago. On the eleventh day, the seas became rough and the raft was sailed under extreme conditions for two days. The steering oar broke, a yard broke in two, and at one stage, all forward guy ropes of the mast snapped in unison. However, all repairs were effected successfully in heavy seas.
    On the thirteenth day, waves of 13 to 16 ½-feet forced the raft toward Melville Island, north of Darwin, the coast of which is heavily populated with saltwater crocodiles. The Australian coastguard insisted that, as a precaution, the crew be taken from the raft three hours before the raft was to reach the shore. The crew transferred to the oil tender Pacific Spear on the evening of the 29th. Three days later the raft was recovered in Calmer seas from where it was beached on the south coast of Melville Island, and towed to Darwin.
    Though hailed as a success, showing how ancient man could have sailed to Australia from Timor Island, the researchers failed to consider several important points. When considering that earlier humans under such conditions would have made the so-called successful voyage the following should be kept in mind:
1. The early humans would not have known of such land existing that was so far out of sight (over 500 miles away), and one can only wonder what would have prompted them to make such a voyage without any knowledge of what lay ahead of them;
2. They would not have had the backup safety knowledge of a telephone to contact for help if it was necessary;
3. There was no coastguard to take them off the raft when it became extremely dangerous to continue;
4. They would not have had the knowledge of numerous experts, maritime seamen, and native shipbuilders and sailors that Nale Tasih 2 was provided;
5. They would not have known to prepare for dangers they could not anticipate with no prior experience and no known knowledge of such matters (taking so many extra pieces of equipment to replace broken spars and steering oar, snapped ropes, extra sails, etc.)
6. The Nale Tasih 2 crew and planners were afforded complete background information on the sea and its conditions between Timor and Darwin and thus known where to sail, what direction to head, and what bearing to continue upon;
7. They would not have had the type of navigational equipment that they took with them on Nale Tasih 2.
    That is, under normal circumstances that would have faced those early so-called maritime pioneers, their first attempt failed, and the second attempt would have resulted in disaster, very possibly ending in the death of all aboard.
    The point is, and it can never be stressed often enough in regard to modern attempts to replicate voyages of the past, that the knowledge known and available to modern man in his planning such an endeavor was never available to these so-called early maritime voyagers. Modern man knows, and therefore can plan regarding, the modern knowledge of island locations, ocean and wind currents, drift voyage expectations, planning for dangers and events past experience has convinced them could happen, and above all, can draw upon the experiences, opinions, and knowledge of men who have done similar voyages in the past.
    It cannot be overstressed that these first, initial voyages that are claimed to have happened, would have taken place without any knowledge of any kind of anything that would be encountered, which alone would have had a considerable effect on whether or not the voyage would have been undertaken in the first place.
    Yet, despite all these belief-ending drawbacks, though seldom considered by modern man, current scientists claim “The evidence of widespread seafaring by pre-modern humans is too solid to regard as a mere anomaly.” Bednarik goes on to write, “In the author’s opinion, the Nale Tisih 2 project shows that the knowledge and technological skills required to sail the open sea are far in excess of the capabilities conceded to early hominids by these paleoanthropologists.”
    Just consider one huge difference between modern man replicating an ancient voyage and actual ancient man considering such a voyage—ancient man would not have known such an island as Australia would have existed 500 miles away across an unknown horizon. He had no prior knowledge, no satellite photos, charts, or any understanding more islands existed beyond the horizon. And after sailing for eleven days on the open sea and seeing absolutely nothing in the way of land and encountering heavy seas and dangerous storms, would he has pressed onward, not knowing land did exist out there somewhere?
    These early men would not have known anything at all existed before them, and even if they believed it, must have known they could have missed their destination—what would have propelled them to continue? They had no back-up cell phnone to call in the coastguard to save them.
    While it is obvious that early humans might well have taken the chance to sail by raft across channels and straits where they could see their destination of a nearby island, what would motivate someone to set sail on a raft into the blank ocean of which they had no idea what might lay beyond the horizon? We, of course, know in advance of any event, what lays beyond the horizon—we have satellite photos, detailed charts, exact measurements, GPS, compasses, sextants, cell phones, radios, etc. We know what lies beyond the horizon and any plan modern man might make to sail on some voyage, he knows where that destination is and how to get there—the challenge comes in reaching the destination.
    In these so-called early across-the-ocean voyages modern man claims were made by very early humans, what was out of sight was a complete mystery and no guarantee that anything lay within any distance of where they stood looking out across the open sea. It is amazing that so-called “scientists,” such as historians, writers and anthropologists, try to hard to convince us that ancient man accomplished such unreasonable achievements that have no bearing in reality.

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