Review: Buried Alive

This review was originally published as:

Groves C. (1999): Book review: Buried alive: the startling truth about Neanderthal man. Reports of the National Center for Science Education, (Jan/Feb 1999) 19(1):27-9.

It is republished here by permission of the National Center for Science Education and Colin Groves.

Dr. Colin Groves is a paleoanthropologist and Professor of Biological Anthropology at the Australian National University.

See also:

Jack Cuozzo's reply to Groves' review.

Chris Stringer's response to Jack Cuozzo

Buried Alive

Buried Alive: The Startling Truth about Neanderthal Man. By Jack Cuozzo Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books. 349pp. ISBN 0-89051-238-8. Reviewed by Colin Groves.

Jack Cuozzo is an orthodontist who works in a hospital in New Jersey, trained in forensic anthropology by the noted physical anthropologist W.M.Krogman. He is fascinated by the Neandertal fossils, and has personally examined and X-rayed many of them; this makes him unusual, possibly unique, because he is also a creationist. I know of no other creationist who has even tried to look at original fossil hominids: not Lubenow, not Bowden, certainly not Gish, all of whom snipe away from a position of profound ignorance. But Cuozzo has studied the originals: what difference does it make to his assessment of them?

His descriptions and basic assessments of the fossils, informed by his training and his skills in the othodontic field, are almost uniformly excellent, especially in his concluding "Research Notes" section. The way he reconstructed the subadult skull from Le Moustier is a case in point; his slightly patronising surprised tone when he reports (p.300) that the curators are using his radiographs to "put it together correctly" is quite uncalled-for: the curators realised that he very obviously knew what he was doing. In four and a half pages (pp.274-279) he demolishes the notion that the distinctive Neandertal morphology is entirely due to disease, taking apart the three proposed hypotheses - arthritis, syphilis, rickets - one by one; he even chastises a fellow creationist, Lubenow, for getting caught up in the rickets hypothesis. So one is the more astonished to read, in the next page and a half, from this man who has so clearly established that Neandertal morphology is real, that the entire appearance of the Kabwe (Broken Hill, Rhodesian) skull was caused by acromegaly!

Running throughout the book is a rivulet of paranoia. A rivulet, did I say? - an ocean, more like: the entire book is soaked in it, and it even infuses the descriptions of the fossils themselves. The entire first section of the book, fifteen chapters long, is a paean of paranoia: There, in 1979, is our hero, with his wife and five children, travelling to Paris; they breach the defences of the Musée de l'Homme, bastion of evolutionism, hiding their X-rays from the staff lest their true purpose be discovered; they are dogged by a mysterious Mr. McCue in Normandy; a furtive visit to the Louvre is spent dodging a sinister American, doubtless an evolutionist sent to tail them, their suspicions confirmed when he is detected that evening dining in the same pizzeria, after which there is a high-speed car chase through the suburbs of Paris, followed by not one but two cars driven by evolutionists; contact with friends is thwarted because their phone number, copied down by the conniving evolutionist lab secretary in the museum, turns out to be just a phone box; finally it gets so bad that, at the airport hotel, they have to unscrew the bathroom doors of the two rooms they occupy, to wedge them against the doors of their suites lest the evolutionists push their way in. This all reads like the screenplay for an Indiana Jones movie, but there is one little difference - there is not a scrap of evidence that anything anything untoward was going on, that any "evolutionist" was the least bit interested in them, let alone giving them wrong phone numbers, following their car, or trying to get into their rooms. (One might, indeed, infer that their own behaviour was more than a little suspicious: what were they doing, in the gastronomic capital of the world, visiting a pizzeria?).

And the paranoia of those first fifteen chapters never goes away. He meets with nothing but helpfulness in European museums, whether in Paris, London, Liège or Berlin, yet he persists in having dark thoughts about evolutionists looking over his shoulder. He finds a fossil that has been incorrectly reconstructed and immediately concludes not that those responsible had been simply mistaken, even a bit incompetent, but that they had been frauds, trying to make the fossil look more ape-like than it should be. Time and again we meet this theme. Take, for example, the Kabwe skull (already mentioned above). Ronald Singer's early (1958) X-ray of it almost seems designed, he implies in Chapter 16, to hide an uncomfortable fact about it - that it has a bullet hole in it! (And so does the photo of it on the dust-jacket of Mellar's and Stringer's (1989) book, The Human Revolution). Aha - not an ancient, primitive skull at all, but a modern acromegalic that had been killed by a shot from a gun!

Now, were I as paranoid as Cuozzo, I might at this point accuse him of concealing contrary evidence. Instead, I will do him the courtesy of suggesting merely that he has overlooked relevant literature. Montgomery et al. (1994) described and discussed that "bullet hole" in some detail, drawing attention to previous published discussions, and identified it is a partly healed pathological lesion.

Later in Chapter 16 Cuozzo implies that Dean, Stringer and Bromage were covertly responding to his (unpublished) findings by publishing a 1986 paper on growth in Neandertals, specifically the Gibraltar II child - and of getting it wrong because they assumed uniformitarianism, and did not allow "the skull and jaws ... to speak for themselves" (p.76). Actually, shortly afterwards Stringer et al. (1990) looked again at Neandertal ageing; using the Spitalfields dental data to assign a probable age to Gibraltar II, and commenting at length on the implications of this for growth in the skull. As before, I choose to interpret Cuozzo's failure to mention this study, which has certain rather profound implications for his own model, as mere ignorance of the literature rather than as a need to suppress information incompatible with creationism.

Then there is the "chin" of the La Quina V skull, apparently depicted in a 1911 excavation photograph reproduced on the cover of the book. On p.42, Cuozzo describes how evolutionists, over time, gradually replaced the chin (a sign of modernity; evolutionists wanted to make it primitive and ape-like, remember) by "a plastic-like material" and made it appear chinless. The fact is that the specimen even when discovered lacked a chin; look at that excavation photo carefully and you will see that the front of the jaw, except for the lowermost margin, consists of a smooth pale substance (plaster?) which was doubtless put there as the excavation progressed to hold the lower teeth in place - the presence of a "chin" then was as much an artifact as its absence is now, though as we know that some Neandertals did have some symphyseal protrusion it does not matter one way or the other and I can't see why Cuozzo gets so excited about it.

And there is the Le Moustier skull. On p.166 of the book is a photo, which he took in the public exhibition section of the museum in Berlin, which purports to be a reconstruction of the skull, and on p.167 is a drawing taken from a colour slide which can be purchased at the museum. Both, says, the author, are fraudulent: the specimen in the exhibition is "very ape-like" (p.165), while on the slide the mandible is dislocated and set much too far forward, so it is being "passed off as evidence for evolution" (p.166). Now, I can find no photo or drawing of Le Moustier anywhere that looks like either of these two. The exhibit appears to be actually a poor reconstruction not of Le Moustier at all but of "Pithecanthropus IV" from Sangiran, Java; presumably the labels got mixed up? As for the slide, it should be remembered that the Le Moustier remains were thought to have been destroyed during the war (until about 1989, when apparently they were returned from the USSR where they'd been all the time), so poorish drawings and casts may have been all that the museum authorities had had to work with. Experience teaches that a stuff-up is usually far more plausible than a conspiracy.

And now, finally, to what Cuozzo deduces to be The Truth about Neandertals: they were all extremely, incredibly old. Using modern standards - itself a little surprising, because of his continual tirades about uniformitarianism - he extrapolates from the infant Pech de l'Azé skull to the late juvenile Le Moustier specimen and through to the adult La Chapelle-aux-Saints and La Ferrassie I skulls, and concludes that Le Moustier was in his 30s at death, while La Chapelle and La Ferrassie were hundreds of years old! And, by Jove, wasn't this exactly the ages that, according to Genesis, people were achieving immediately after the Flood? - So that, friends, is who the Neandertals were: they were Arphaxad and co, Shem's descendants.

Actually, how many hundreds of years old were La Chapelle and La Ferrassie? You get different answers from different measurements. From near-maturity (Le Moustier's age) into old age, modern human cranial length increases at 0.06mm per year, according to the figures Cuozzo quotes and which I see no reason to doubt; La Ferrassie's cranial length is 16mm greater than Le Moustier's, so this represents 267 years of growth. Total facial height, on the contrary, grows at 0.18mm/yr, giving only 137 years' growth between Le Moustier and La Ferrassie; while lower facial height grows at 0.063mm/yr, giving 278 years' growth; basal skull length grows at 0.052mm/year, giving 365 years' growth; and so on. There is, in other words, variability. Moreover, calculating the growth from Le Moustier to La Chapelle, you find using some measurements that La Chapelle is older than La Ferrassie, but using others that it is younger.

There is a further internal difficulty with this: wouldn't their teeth have worn out completely, long before they reached three hundred years of age? Cuozzo's answer is simply astounding: their enamel regenerated! He quotes papers about the salivary enzyme statherin, which does indeed recalcify enamel in a minor way - but there is absolutely no evidence that it rebuilds teeth and keeps them functioning for hundreds of years. While one can perhaps admire his honesty in recognising that there is a problem, his sheer invention of a solution, out of thin air, does him no credit at all.

Now, I have no quarrel at all with the proposition that Neandertals may have lived to high ages. If one accepts the arguments of Cutler (1975), their potential longevity was about as great as ours, into the 90s perhaps. But 90 or 95 years is hardly 300 or 400.

Neandertals were consistently different from us, at any age. Infants as well as adults have a whole suite of characters which are distinct from modern humans (Schwartz & Tattersall, 1996). What evidence is there for Cuozzo's (uniformitarian) assumption that their growth from infancy to maturity, and the changes they underwent as adults, were the same as ours? None; in fact, the evidence is to the contrary, as witness the fact that you get different ages for La Ferrassie according to whether you extrapolate rates based on basal length, facial height or whatever (see above). The changes they underwent, both during growth and during adult life, were different from ours, that's all; and if part of this lay in some overall faster rates, so what?

Suppose we test the hypothesis that growth rates vary between species. In my time, I have measured a vast number of skulls of Great Apes. On a data sheet of orangutan skulls from the Berlin Museum I found measurements of a late juvenile male (about equivalent in dental eruption stage to Le Moustier), about 7 years old, and took two adults at random from the same sheet. The basal skull length of the juvenile was 142mm; the two adults were 173 and 183mm. Modern human basal length grows at 0.052mm/yr after the late-juvenile stage; so using Cuozzo's logic the two adult orangutans must have been 596 and 788 years old, respectively (plus the 7 years to reach the age of the juvenile skull). Again, the cranial length of the juvenile was 121mm, the two adults 140 and 135mm (note, by the way, that the adult with the shorter basicranium had the longer neurocranium). Modern human cranial length grows at 0.06mm/yr, so the two adult orangutans were 317 and 233 years old, respectively. Or perhaps not; perhaps different species grow at different rates, eh?

Longevity has been declining since the flood, says Cuozzo, and he quotes evidence that people are maturing earlier and earlier to this day. The evidence actually suggests that age at maturity, at least in Europe, has fluctuated through history, but Cuozzo argues for a regular, continuing trend from the Flood to now. He is able to do this by very carefully selecting his evidence, and by cavalierly dismissing contrary evidence which does not fit (such as the evidence from Aristotle that menarche occurred "in the 14th year of life" - p.192). Lapse of standards there, I'm afraid.

As for the equation of Neandertals with immediate post-flood people in the Book of Genesis, it fails the test of internal consistency. On p.253 there is a diagram of the decline of longevity from father to son, from Arpachsad (Shem's son) to Terah, implying that their achieved ages were characteristic of their respective cohorts, derived (with some allowances for different transliterations) from Genesis, 11:10-24; the genealogy goes Shem-Arphaxad-Salah-Eber-Peleg-Reu-Serug-Nahor-Terah, which is the same as that given by 1 Chronicles, 1:17-26 but not the same as that given by Luke, 3:34-36, who says that Arphaxad's son was called Cainan and it was he, not Arphaxad himself, who was the father of Sala (=Salah). Sorry, but if one genealogy is right, the other must be wrong. To bring up inconsistencies in the Bible may seem a bit petty, but if Cuozzo is going to insist that the assumption of Biblical inerrancy is as valid as what he calls the "assumption of evolution" then he must be able to show that the Bible really is inerrant and does not contradict itself.

Reading Cuozzo's book has been an interesting exercise. His obvious competence as a forensic anthropologist suggests that he could make important contributions in the professional literature, if only he could lay his paranoid fantasies to one side and let the facts, in his own words, "speak for themselves". There are not many creationists of whom one could say this. Yet he is firmly convinced that there is a gigantic "evolutionist" conspiracy, and this leads him to regard everyone else in the palaeoanthropology field as a fraud and, very likely, out to get him. His technical training in anatomy has not actually introduced him to the nature of science; in the end his book becomes an exercise in massaging the data to fit a Biblical mould.

References cited

Cutler, R.G. 1975. Evolution of human longevity and the genetic complexity governing aging rate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA, 72:4664-4668.

Montgomery, P.Q., H.O.L.Williams, N.Reading & C.B.Stringer. 1994. An assessment of the temporal bone lesions of the Broken Hill cranium. Journal of Archaeological Science, 21:331-337.

Schwartz, J.H. & I.Tattersall. 1996. Toward distinguishing Homo neanderthalensis from Homo sapiens, and vice versa. Anthropologie, 34, 79-88.

Stringer, C.B., M.C.Dean & R.D.Martin. 1990. A comparative study of cranial and dental development within a recent British sample and among Neandertals. Primate Life History and Evolution, 115-152. New York: Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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