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#19 - Archaeologist: Neanderthals, a human-like species

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Please post below with any questions!
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Can you explain why the answer is B not A?

Doesn't B strengthen the argument by showing that meat could not be preserved via other means?
Claire Horan
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If you are a Neanderthal using lichens and grass in your fireplace, you might be doing it to produce light, heat, or smoke. Because lichens and grass are inferior to wood as a means of producing heat, if you are cold or want light and have the option of using wood, you will use wood. Answer choice (A) suggests a scenario where some fires were made of wood and some were made of lichens and grass. In that scenario, it seems that wood was available. So, the inference is that the lichen and grass fires were used for something else. This strengthens the argument (although of course there are still other ways the conclusion still may be untrue; for example, maybe wood was scarce and there was not enough for everyone).

Answer choice (B), on the other hand, describes a scenario where there was nothing between than lichens and grass to produce heat or light. If that were the case, it would be reasonable to assume the fires were used for heating and light, without jumping to the conclusion that they were used to smoke meat.

Here's an analogy--feel free to ignore if you understood the above:

An alien sees a couch and concludes it is used for sitting down with family and friends. Then it walks into your apartment and sees a bed and a couch-- and is strengthened in its belief that the couch was not for sleeping because you have a bed that seems much more comfortable for sleeping. This is like answer A. In another scenario, a stranger walks into your apartment and sees that you have a couch and nothing else that is soft that you could lie down on. That weakens the conclusion that the couch is used for sitting down with family and friends because perhaps it is used only for sleeping. This is like answer choice B.
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With A I wonder whether "proximity to the fireplace" means they come from the same period or even same place?
If different, this answer actually does nothing, right?
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Is answer choice B correct for providing that lichens and grass could have been used for something other than smoking meat for preservation because it shows that nothing else is available to produce any light and/or heat?

When reading this, I immediately crossed answer choice B out under the belief that if lichens and grass are the only plant available to produce heat/light and smoke then it is used to preserve meat as well as provide heat and light. :-?
Adam Tyson
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Hey there 15 and loretta, I'll tackle both of those here.

The importance of the fireplaces being near our lichen fireplaces is that proximity suggests that our Neanderthals had alternatives for heat and light nearby. If they were not nearby, then we would still be wondering if the lichen was used for smoking meat or if it was for heat and light.

If lichen and grass are the only things available, then there is no reason to believe they used them to smoke meat, because no matter what they wanted fire for (light, heat, scaring off predators, sending signals, etc.) they only had one choice of material to burn. If that's all there is, then there is no reason to believe they were smoking meat when it could have been for any number of other reasons instead (especially light and heat).

Keep at it, guys!
Adam M. Tyson
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Hi Adam,

I'm curious as to why the fact that the lichen and grass could be used for other things than smoking meat (light, heat, etc) eliminates the possibility that it was also used to smoke meat. Even if, as B suggests, no plants could be burned more effectively to produce light and heat than lichen and grass, that does not necessarily mean that burning lichen could not be used to smoke meat, nor that it was not the main way of preserving meat. Perhaps I'm going too far by suggesting that B is eliminating that possibility when perhaps it is not? Thanks!
Steven Palmer
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Hi Luna,

I think I see what you're getting at: just because there was nothing else available in that area at that time to make a hotter and brighter fire, how can we assume that the Neanderthals weren't using the fire for smoke?

Well, we can't know for sure that they weren't! However, this is a weaken question, meaning all the answer choice needs to do is to hurt the conclusion drawn in the stimulus. It does not have to totally crush it and prove it wrong or anything like that, it just needs to lend any amount of support against the conclusion.

(B) does this by attacking our archaeologist's main premise: that the fire of lichen and grass makes a lot of smoke, but is not as hot or bright as a wood fire. The archaeologist takes this to imply that the neanderthal was choosing to use the lichen and grass because of the smoke, instead of picking the hotter and brighter fire. (B) tells us that the Neanderthal actually didn't have a chance.

It does not prove 100% that the Neanderthals weren't smoking the meat, but it does hurt the argument.

Hope this helped!
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Really helpful - thank you!
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Since I got stumped by this one taking PT 79, I just wanted to write out a clear explanation of the trick the testmakers are using here, for my own sake and others. I think this is a trick that gets used on some of the most challenging Weaken questions, so it's useful to be aware of. Basically, the trick is to lead you on a wild goose chase for answers that will bolster one particular rival argument, whereas the correct answer attacks the argument from the opposite direction.

When we correctly identify the conclusion of the argument--"Neanderthals ... probably preserved meat by smoking it"--and then read about wood fires (or the absence thereof), we are primed to assume that our task in weakening the argument is to show that Neanderthals actually preserved meat by some other, more advanced technique (maybe involving a full-fledged wood fire). So we go hunting for an answer that opens the door to sophisticated meat preservation methods (beef jerky, anyone?) and likely settle on (A) or (D).

Meanwhile, the answer that most significantly undermines the argument does so from the opposite side. Answer choice (B) introduces the possibility that Neanderthals weren't preserving meat at all. Speaking from personal experience, it's very easy to reject (B) when scanning the answers for the first time, when you're browsing for something that would suggest Neanderthals used other methods of preserving meat.