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Estudios de Doctorado > Tesis doctorales UAB

Miquel Carandell Baruzzi
Orce Man. A Public Controversy in Spanish Human Origins Research, 1982-2007
Director/es: Oliver Hochadel
Fecha de lectura: 09-10-2015

This PhD thesis deals with the so-called Orce Man controversy. The Orce Man is a 8 centimetres cranial fragment attributed to a hominid and discovered in the Venta Micena site, in Orce, Granada, Andalusia, southern Spain. The fossil was unearthed in 1982 by three young Catalan palaeontologists, Josep Gibert, Salvador Moyà-Solà i Jordi Agustí, from the Institut de Paleontologia de Sabadell. Apparently the discovery could be scientifically revolutionary as it was attributed to the earliest European hominid. The three scientists brought the discovery to the politicians in charge of their institution. Together with the Andalusian politicians, a public presentation of the discovery was organized for June 1983. When it was announced, the internal part of the bone was still attached to a rock and, therefore, remained invisible. The Orce Man attracted a great media following with coverage from several newspapers, magazines, and television channels. The political situation in Spain, with democracy just emerging after 40 years of dictatorship, was a crucial factor in the way that this discovery was disseminated. After a year, the internal part of the fragment was cleaned and a strange crest appeared. The crest seemed to indicate that the fragment was not from a hominid but that it belonged to an ancient equine. The new information was first made public on the front page of the El País newspaper. With this, a very public controversy broke out. Only one of the three discoverers, Josep Gibert, stuck to his stance, maintaining that the Orce fragment was indeed a hominid. This dispute lasted for at least 23 years until 2007 when Gibert died. By developing a chronological narrative of the controversy, this thesis wants to explore the interactions between scientists, journalists, the general public, and politicians.  In this analysis, several general remarks emerged. First, the importance of the geographic situation of scientists and sites and how this affected the way that knowledge was presented to society. Second, the significant role that the Orce scientists¿ discourses and strategies that make certain claims credible or not for both the scientific community and the general public. Third, the necessity to consider the similarities between the Orce Man story and other scientific successful stories, in order to detach from Orce the label of a exception in scientific practice that often is attributed to this controversy. Fourth, the prominent role of politicians in this controversy that let us think about the several ways in which politics are related to science. Finally, this thesis aims to highlight the extent to which scientific practice is related to these so-called `publics¿ of science. In the Orce Man story we can perfectly see how the shape that scientific knowledge took place was completely determined by its public stance. To sum up, the Orce Man public controversy is a perfect example to understand how scientists claims are developed, negotiated and finally accepted (or rejected) in public, and, therefore, involving the general public as well as politicians and other actors.