There are times when reality is just too belly-shaking hilarious. Take the recent case of Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a distinguished German anthropologist from the University of Frankfort who was noted for his Cuban cigars, large gold watches and prediliction for Porsches. Trained at UCLA, he emigrated back to his homeland thirty years ago and quickly became a leading light in European anthropological circles. Recognized as an expert in radio-carbon dating, he established the ages for hundreds of specimens from Europe and Africa during the course of his career.
There was only one problem. Over the course of thirty years, he lied about the age of every specimen he touched.
Yes, it seems the good professor was so incompetent he didn’t even know how to run his own carbon-dating machine. He plagiarized papers, he plagiarized fossils, he invented whatever dating he thought he could get away with, he sold artifacts to the highest bidder and – this is the interesting sidenote – he even lied about his lineage. It seems he wasn’t really descended from one of the old Prussian generals. Instead, his father was actually a Nazi, which, perhaps, explains why enormous amounts of documentary evidence concerning gruesome Nazi experiments in the death camps were apparently shredded under his thirty-year watch.
No doubt about it – it’s been a rough week for anthropology in Frankfurt.
"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."
Chris Stringer, a Stone Age specialist and head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said: "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."
The creationists are, of course, in paroxysms of ecstasy. The scientists are downcast, but have not lost hope. Even though the entire discipline now resembles a suicide bomber after the smoke has cleared, even though every anthropology textbook is now as accurate as a Superman comic, yes, even now, there are many who come to the defense of science in this, it’s darkest hour. They point out that while science can take wrong roads, the fact that scientists discovered the error proves that, in the final analysis, science is able to get the job done.
Thank God! We should remember it only took science three decades to whisper, “Hey… Johann… that von Zeiten guy… yeah, the guy who trained the last two generations of anthropologists… well… well, maybe he isn’t really an anthropologist! Maybe he’s really a secret Nazi who is infusing vaguely anti-Christian Aryan migration theories into scientific discourse. Maybe the scientists are so open to it that they accept it without question! Maybe… maybe…oh, say it ain’t so, Johann!”
Now, it must be admitted that archeologists are getting better at discovering fraud. When the illustrious theologian, scientist and swindler Teilhard de Chardin discovered Piltdown Man’s jaw, back in 1913, it took forty years for anyone to figure out that the archeologists had been hoaxed.
When today’s creationists pin them on that point, the illustrious Ph.D.’s (and they really are Post-hole Diggers, in this case) vigorously defend themselves by pointing out that they never had access to the Piltdown bones themselves, so they had no real way of verifying the claim until the 1950’s. The Piltdown bones were locked in the British Museum, you see, and no one was permitted to handle them. Archeologists were forced to work from plaster casts, with just a quick glance at the bones themselves to verify things.
So... Well... that clears things up, then. And when you think about it, that explanation is very comforting, really. Archeology is apparently such a well-developed science that when someone says “Pay no attention to the bones behind the curtain” they don’t… pay… any… attention… to the bones! It would be easier to accept that this was just a simple, honest mistake, the kind anyone could make day-in, day-out for… well, for longer than it took to wage all of the wars staged in Europe over the last two centuries combined. Yes, as I say, it would be easy to accept the Piltdown explanation… if Piltdown had been a one-time occurrence.
But now it isn’t. This time around, the brown-nosed diggers had access to everything, and it still took them thirty years to figure out that the skull von Zieten dated as being 27,000 years old actually dated to about 1750 and still smelt of decaying flesh. Hmmm… how to explain that…. Hmmm…. well, everyone knows the hayfever season in Europe just never seems to end… and there was that really bad cold going around the department… and...
So, it took forty years in the 1900s, thirty years today… at this rate, in only another couple of hundred years, we can expect our archeologist friends to be able to nail down swindles in less than a decade. Yes, things are definitely looking up for the sciences.
But now there are impertinent types at every door, asking questions like, “What kind of discipline has experts who take thirty years to figure out they are been lied to by a man who can barely turn on the major tool in their trade? Is this a normal thing in science – thirty years to detect a fraud? Is archeology really a science?”
And, we are all forced to leap to the defense of our poor Neanderthal-discovering colleagues and insist (I swear this is an actual quote), “"He was perfect at being evasive… He would switch from saying 'it isn't really clear' to giving diffuse statements.”
So, there you have it. In order to verify an archeological discovery, all you have to do is ask the guy who makes the discovery. If he double-dog swears that he isn’t making it up, and spits besides, well, who can question that? These ancient standards of archeological research must be respected.
Given such high scientific standards, how was von Zeiten found out? It’s simple, really. It’s not like anyone suspected anything. No, it was much more prosaic than that. Another Frankfurt professor just needed to pin down a date more precisely and decided to send one of von Zieten’s artifacts in for another test. When confronted with the University of Oxford’s radically newer date, von Zieten insisted Oxford was wrong: they had failed to remove shellac preservative from the specimens. To drive home his assertion, he made a striking point, "Unfortunately, archaeologists and most anthropologists do not study physics or chemistry and therefore they cannot make judgments on carbon dating… Wrong measurements are made in all laboratories."
That was in 2001, which just goes to prove that archeologists aren’t complete fools. It took them only another three years to figure out that maybe they had been duped.
This kind of audacity must be respected. Von Zieten understood his colleagues perfectly. He was so close to retirement he could even afford to tell them exactly how he had swindled them, secure in the knowledge that it would be several more years before they would move against him, assuming they ever did.
People will soon begin to claim von Zieten was not a real scientist, but this is absolutely false. In a world that believes embryonic stem cell research is superior to adult stem cell research, insists a woman in Florida who responds to visitors is essentially dead, or asserts that there is no child in the womb, von Zieten is the pre-eminent scientist. He proves what the embryo researcher, the judge, the abortionist already know: lie big enough, invoke science often enough, and no one dares to question what you say. No one but those damned Christians, and who believes them?