Roughly 9,000 years ago, humans had mastered farming to the point where food was plentiful. Populations boomed, and people began moving into large settlements full of thousands of people. And then, abruptly, these proto-cities were abandoned for millennia. It's one of the greatest mysteries of early human civilization.[more inside]
"Scientists have reconstructed the genome of a man who lived 45,000 years ago, by far the oldest genetic record ever obtained from modern humans. The research, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, provided new clues to the expansion of modern humans from Africa about 60,000 years ago, when they moved into Europe and Asia. And the genome, extracted from a fossil thighbone found in Siberia, added strong support to a provocative hypothesis: Early humans interbred with Neanderthals."
AS THE SUN set over Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, nearly thirty minutes had passed since I had inserted a turkey baster into my bum and injected the feces of a Hadza man – a member of one of the last remaining hunter-gatherers tribes in the world – into the nether regions of my distal colon. I struggled to keep my legs in the air with my toes pointing towards what I thought was the faint outline of the Southern Cross rising in the evening sky. With my hands under my hips – and butt perched against a large rock for support – I peddled an imaginary upside down bicycle in the air to pass the time as I struggled to make sure my new gut ecosystem stayed put inside me.Jeff Leach's attention grabbing opening starts a fascinating overview about researching gut fauna, microbiomes and the hunter-gatherer diet of the Hadza people of Tanzania in the quest to rediscover humanity's "natural" guts. [more inside]
Between the Lines: tracing the controversial history and recent revival of Inuit facial tattoos.
"There’s a wonderful term used by anthropologists: “osteobiography,” the “biography of the bones.” Kennewick Man’s osteobiography tells a tale of an eventful life, which a newer radiocarbon analysis puts at having taken place 8,900 to 9,000 years ago. He was a stocky, muscular man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing about 160 pounds. He was right-handed. His age at death was around 40." After years of legal wrangling and scientific arguments, Smithsonian Magazine takes on the history of the Kennewick Man and the long-awaited publication of studies co-edited by physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley (of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History's Anthropology department.) [more inside]
Even the first-year student of anthropology quickly learns that cultural groups are “varied” and “diverse.” Yet one group that has not been studied in all its diversity is the Nairarbi, an information-working caste scattered through many societies in the modern world.
Featured in the Australian literary journal Meanjin, Restless Indigenous Remains is a Paul Daley essay on how the Australian government's National Museum handles the remains of Indigenous people accumulated during Australia's colonial period. An engaging, thoughtful and sobering piece, it covers the history of 'remains collection' in Australia, as well as the current debate concerning whether the Indigenous defenders against colonial expansion should be recognized by the Australian War Memorial.
A new study by Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann and others found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. This may have clinical implications for how to treat people with schizophrenia, she suggests.
Papyrus Turin 55001 is code for "the erotic papyrus." Then there's the 2,500-year-old erotic graffiti from Greece, with a rude claim about who did what where. If you're amid graffiti of a more recent vintage -- specifically that of the American public restroom -- you might want to consult "Here I Sit -- A Study of American Latrinalia" (.pdf) by Alan Dundes (obit, previously). Good reading!
In 1976, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics ran a household survey that marked a crucial departure from other census exercises. The Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD) did not ask Brazilians to choose a race category among pre-determined choices; instead, researchers went out and asked people to describe the colour they thought they were.
Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication is a free book (PDF) from NASA. The premise is that communication with alien lifeforms will have some (cautious) analogues to interpreting past cultures, and to the work that anthropologists and linguists do cross-culturally. Among the 16 chapters are: Beyond Linear B - The Metasemiotic Challenge of Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence; Learning To Read - Interstellar Message Decipherment from Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives; and, Mirrors of Our Assumptions: Lessons from an Arthritic Neanderthal.
In honor of May the Fourth, I present to you more information about Ewoks than you ever cared to know: The Return of the Subaltern (Part One and Part Two)
The American Museum of Natural History will unlock thousands of old photos from their vault, they announced this week. The new online image database (officially launching on Monday the 28th) will take you behind the curtain, delivering images that span the 145-year history of the Museum. The collection features over 7,000 images—many never before seen by the public—and includes photos, rare book illustrations, drawings, notes, letters, art, and Museum memorabilia. They say "it’s like stepping into a time machine and seeing a long ago NYC or just catching glimpses of ghosts from a forgotten world now seen only by researchers and Museum staff." Previously. [more inside]
Zombies occupy a variety of liminal spaces wherein contemporary social tensions are reflected and refracted. These tensions, however, have historical and ongoing parallels with images of "Indians." Zombies reveal societal ambivalence about race, class, gender, ethnicity, political power, agency, and other aspects of social reproduction. In other words, zombies touch upon all the anxieties commonly associated with colonialism.If you only watch one hour-long lecture on the Anthropology of Zombies today, then make it this one by Native American scholar Chad Uran.
Human Terrain Systems is a U. S. military program to use modern anthropological ideas, research results, and professionals to assist counterinsurgency in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Human Terrain Systems Dissenter Resigns, Tells Inside Story of Training’s Heart of Darkness on counterpunch.org by Saint Martin's University professor David H. Price is about anthropologist John Allison, who joined, participated, and ultimately resigned. Allison tells his own story here. The counterpunch article is a central part of Price's book, Weaponizing Anthropology. [more inside]
The genome of the Anzick child, who died 12,600 years ago at the age of three and was buried with ceremony in the American Rockies, has been fully sequenced. The results shed an incredible light on the history of the peopling of the Americas: his people seem to have been direct ancestors to most tribes of Central and South America, and close relatives of the Canadian tribes. The discoveries have had an emotional impact on Native Americans, and the boy's remains will be reburied with great respect. Still, tribal belonging is about much more than genetics, as anthropologist Kim Tallbear reminds us. You can see replicas of the heirloom artefacts left in the boy's grave here, or visit the collection at the Montana Historical Society if you're in the area.
There is much talk today of a financial and economic crisis comparable to the 1930s. With the threat of a currency war and the euro’s collapse looming, the specter of the Great Depression’s bloody aftermath has returned with a vengeance. Several versions of how to make human beings and build society co-existed during the Cold War, when much of the world won independence from colonial empire. Yet, discussion of humanity’s growing interdependence is today limited to a one-world capitalism driven by finance. What have anthropologists to say about that? It would seem very little. But a positive case can be made for the discipline’s contribution to public debate. We make such a case here. We review recent developments in the anthropology of money and finance, listing its achievements, shortcomings and prospects, while referring back to the discipline’s founders a century ago. Economic anthropologists have tended to restrict themselves to niche fields and marginal debates since the 1960s. We hope to reverse this trend by focusing on money’s role in shaping global society and bringing world history into a more active dialogue with ethnography.Money and finance: For an anthropology of globalization by Keith Hart and Horacio Ortiz
This documentary pokes fun at the ways in which Inuit people have been treated as “exotic” documentary subjects by turning the lens onto the strange behaviours of Qallunaat (the Inuit word for white people). The term refers less to skin colour than to a certain state of mind: Qallunaat greet each other with inane salutations, repress natural bodily functions, complain about being cold, and want to dominate the world. Their odd dating habits, unsuccessful attempts at Arctic exploration, overbearing bureaucrats and police, and obsession with owning property are curious indeed. A collaboration between filmmaker Mark Sandiford and Inuit writer and satirist Zebedee Nungak, Qallunaat! brings the documentary form to an unexpected place in which oppression, history, and comedy collide.Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny
In 1906, Caroline Furness Jayne wrote String Figures And How To Make Them - A Study Of Cat's Cradle In Many Lands [Google Books], probably the best-known study of string figures and string games. [more inside]
Discard Studies "is meant as an online gathering place for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and anyone else whose work touches on themes relevant to the study of waste and wasting." It's about hoarding discourse. Migrants' material trails. The stewardship of repair. Flood level markers. And so much more, thanks to the trashiest anthropologist in New York. [more inside]
NYTimes: "The paleontologist Richard Leakey has called their removal a “sacrilege.” Kenyan villagers have said their theft led to crop failure and ailing livestock. It is little wonder, then, that the long, slender wooden East African memorial totems known as vigango are creating a spiritual crisis of sorts for American museums." [more inside]
"Always I love you and realize what a desert life might have been without you." —Margaret Mead to anthropologist and folklorist Ruth Benedict, who remained her companion and arguably her soul-mate despite both women having husbands.
Anthropologists weigh in on Jared Diamond's latest: lack of citations, ethnographic carelessness, and the smoothing of complex narratives into quotable fables. The World Until Yesterday has prompted a flurry of commentary from anthropologists unenthusiastic about the physiologist turned evolutionary biologist turned geographer. In a recent London Review of Books, leading political anthropologist James C. Scott doesn't buy Diamond's description of the modern nation-state arising to curtail primitive tribal violence "[i]n a passage that recapitulates the fable of the social contract" given how "slaving was at the very centre of state-making." Anthropologist Alex Golub, who shares Papua New Guinea as a major research site, wrote "Still, it is telling that we live in an age when a member of America’s National Academy of Sciences and one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals has less concern for citations and footnotes than do the contributors to Wikipedia." David Correia pulls no punches in his opinion piece "F*ck Jared Diamond" calling Diamond's resurrection of environmental determinism as racist apologia and his latest book as essentializing primitivism in order to define Western industrialized exceptionalism. [more inside]
' "Discovery" is such a loaded term nowadays in American cultural studies that one dare not use it without immediately qualifying it as problematic and politically charged. We tend to prefer "invasion" or "dispossession" or "conquest" because those words, and their attendant categories, suggest a more accurate way to characterize early American exploration.... Homi Bhabha's theory of the "hybrid" colonial subject, and his focus on the production and maintenance of colonial power, has compelling implications for the relationship between European explorers and Native Americans in Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 discovery narrative La Relación. Several scholars have commented on Cabeza de Vaca's hybridity—the collision between his Spanish heritage and his acquisition of Native American culture—but none has discussed it in terms of the exercise of colonial power and its resultant ambiguities.' This is a verbose introduction to the interesting and complex life of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the four survivors of the 600-strong Narváez expedition, in the period of inland Spanish conquistadores. You could read more, or watch Cabeza de Vaca, the 1991 film that is "sometimes straightforward, sometimes pagaentlike and sometimes hallucinatory ... a road trip movie set in a time before there were roads."
The son of a Yanomami tribeswoman returns to the jungle to look for her. David Good is the child of an American anthropologist and the Yanomami woman he married while doing field research in the remote Amazon rainforest. Raised in the US, he returns to find his mother. [may be nsfw - images of unclothed tribespeople]
Reel 2 Real: Sound at the Pitt Rivers Museum is a digitization project that is taking the archival field recordings of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford University's museum of ethnography and anthropology), digitizing them, and placing them online with Soundcloud. [more inside]
How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist. "Jaguars and anacondas are impressive adversaries — 'Indiana Jones had nothing on me,' Napoleon Chagnon says — but his staunchest foes are other anthropologists."
Dougal Dixon is a scientist, author, and illustrator. While he is most famous for his work on dinosaurs, his books After Man: A Zoology of the Future and Man After Man: An Anthropology Of The Future attempt to explore what might happen in the far future. The Posthuman Art Of Dougal Dixon. [more inside]
First noticed on tumblr but now available to all, Alex Clayden's paper "Same-Sex Desire in Pharaonic Egypt" which, among other things, tells you about the connection between lettuce and semen and the Ancient Egyptian for "You have a nice ass."
Ilana Gershon is a professor currently researching how people use the Internet to break up with their romantic partners, but before that she wrote an anthropological study about "strategic ignorance" in Samoan immigrant communities, all of which is just a complicated way of showing that she's the most unusually qualified person on the Internet to comment on the Manti Te'o hoax. (previously)
The Value of Culture is a five part BBC radio series by Melvyn Bragg (which can be downloaded as a podcast) which explores the modern concept of 'culture' from its roots in mid-19th Century Britain, specifically Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy and Edward Burnett Tylor's Primitive Culture (vol. 2), and exploring the discourse and uses of the concept until the present day. There are five episodes, each a little over forty minutes long, focusing in turn on Arnold and the roots of the concept of culture, Tylor and the anthropological conception of culture, C. P. Snow and the 'Two Cultures' debate, mass culture and culture studies, and then ending with a debate on the value of culture today.
When sex means reproduction, certain proclivities may simply not be part of cultural models of sexuality: "Barry and Bonnie Hewlett had been studying the Aka and Ngandu people of central Africa for many years before they began to specifically study the groups' sexuality... [T]he Hewletts conclude, "Homosexuality and masturbation are rare or nonexistent [in these two cultures], not because they are frowned upon or punished, but because they are not part of the cultural models of sexuality in either ethnic group."" [more inside]
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
In 1969, anthropologist Richard B.Lee wrote about his experience 'Eating Christmas in the Kalahari.' (PDF)
Culture, delusions, and the early treatment of schizophrenia.
Greg Downey: Living in the prodrome, part 1, part 2. [more inside]
Greg Downey: Living in the prodrome, part 1, part 2. [more inside]
Drawing on recent work by anthropologists Elinor Ochs and Carolina Izquierdo (working draft in PDF format of relevant paper here), The New Yorker asks: Are Americans raising the most incompetent and spoiled children in the world? The Wall Street Journal also considers Ochs' and Izquierdo's conclusions...
"From photography’s earliest days, enterprising practitioners realized they could take their services directly to the people. This lead to the horse-drawn wagons called “Daguerreotype Salons” and then to portable, darkroom tents that allowed wet-plate photographers to make pictures outside. As technology advanced, the tents morphed into a single apparatus that combined both camera and darkroom, which allowed photographers to work anywhere. Afghanistan is one of the last places where street vendor photographers still use such a hand-made, wooden camera called kamra-e-faoree or “instant camera.” Observing this practice lead photographer Lukas Birk & anthropologist Sean Foley to undertake the Afghan Box Camera Project." - Photo Technique Magazine introduction to an interview with Lukas Birk [more inside]
Crooked Timber's online seminar on David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years (previously, previously, previously and previously). [more inside]
The New Priesthood - "The hapless economist uses the same tools as acclaimed physicists and astronomers. She has trained for years to speak precisely the same language as them, to understand the same advanced mathematics, to deploy most complex statistical methods which are an essential part of the scientific toolbox. It is, understandably, incredibly difficult to accept that her work is a form of higher order superstition; a religion couched in the language of mathematics and statistics. Tragically, this is precisely what it is." [more inside]
Having heard way to many similar stories, Dr. Kate Clancy, author of the popular Scientific American blog Context and Variation, has recently run two accounts written by graduate students about their experiences with sexual harassment in the hopes that they will spark a wider discussion. The comments in the second article are uncharacteristically amazing and include several more women sharing their experiences. [more inside]
I Am tells the stories of 36 Sri Lankan elders, about their lives and work, and their connections to their hometown. ... With the movement of people away from their hometowns, particularly from Jaffna and Galle, I also spoke to the so called 'internal diaspora', about their longing for their hometowns and their sense of belonging to their adoptive homes."
The TV show Bones is loosely based on the life of forensic anthropologist and author Kathy Reichs. But how much science does the show get right? Can you really use the mandibular angle to figure out the sex of the victim? What about diagnosing Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva from a tiny bone fragment? Biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove dissects the science of each episode on her blog, Powered by Osteons.
The ruins of Gede are the remains of a mysterious lost city on the Swahili Coast of Kenya, located deep within the Arabuko Sokoke forest. The mystery of Gede (Gedi) is that it does not appear in any Swahili, Portuguese, or Arab written records and present day research has not yet been able to fully account for what actually happened to the city. The inhabitants were of the Swahili, an ancient trading civilization that emerged along the eastern coasts of Africa ranging from Somalia to Mozambique. Archaeological excavations carried out between 1948 and 1958 have uncovered porcelain from China, an Indian lamp, Venetian beads, Spanish scissors, and other artefacts from all over the world, demonstrating the occupants were engaged in extensive and sophisticated international trade. Questions still remain as to what caused the downfall of Gede, but by the 17th century, the city was completely abandoned to the forest and forgotten until the 1920s. Today, a National Museum, Gede's sister cities from the period are part of the ethnography based archeological work of Dr Chapurukha M. Kusimba of Chicago's Field Museum, whose lifework has thrown light on the precolonial heritage of the Swahili peoples.
Man: A Course of Study (MACOS) was a social sciences educational curriculum designed in the late 1960s. The course examined the commonalities between human behavior and that of several animal species, and culminated with a series of short films documenting the lives of the Netsilik Eskimo people. Although many school systems initially adopted MACOS, it was largely abandoned after a campaign of opposition from conservative Christians, who saw it as a Trojan horse for the indoctrination of secular humanism and cultural relativism in the public schools. The 2004 documentary Though These Eyes looks at creation of MACOS and the controversy surrounding it.