Gasp, Gasp, Pant, Pant, Pant Phew, a little short of breath. Apparently, threatening to hold your breath until you get submissions really works! At least some of you didn’t want me to suffer the ill effects of oxygen deprivation (looks sternly at those who didn’t contribute).
I received an interesting mix of submissions and will start with the Cultural Anthropology. I’ve pulled some quotes, that I find interesting, from each post but don’t let that stop you from clicking over and reading the entire post as there is much more of interest to be found.
Krystal D’Costa has an an interesting discussion of time, here is a brief quote:
Real world examples of temporal structuring reflect cultural and political transactions of power. For example, in examining the work of missionaries among the Bosavi people, Schieffelin (2002) determines that missionaries were in part responsible for changing the associations of Time held by the Bosavi. Language in a 1961 brochure for the Unevangelized Fields Mission (UFM) instructed missionaries looking to work with the Bosavi people that, “These untouched Highlanders are a thousand years behind the times, therefore, it is imperative that their missionaries [as it were], go back behind the times with them”.
To see how this plays out in, say, the US you will have to read the rest of the post. It will be worth your while.
The International Cognition and Culture Institute has an interesting interview, by Emma Cohen, of Michael Tomasello. Here is a breif quote:
For me, the significance of cultural variability is that it provides rich and valuable evidence for how humans as a species function. And so the only way our research can help anthropologists explain cultural diversity is by identifying universal cognitive and motivational processes (e.g., by comparing humans to other apes) that make humans’ cultural way of life possible.
This, also, is a highly interesting read.
Greg Laden continues his series on Primitive Cultures are Simple, Civilization is Complex (A falsehood) II. Greg says:
This sense of privilege and betterness comes out more clearly when it is suggested that people in “civilizations” are not better than other people, and it comes out with a special sharpness … like when you crush the fresh basil instead of the dried basil, lots of extra insect poison floating around in the air … when it is further suggested that people in “primitive” societies may be in some ways better than those in civilized societies.
Neuroanthropology takes a look at Slash and Nature/Nuture. :
Again, this is closer to how things actually work and how we need to imagine those workings. I have advocated for the importance of experience and behavior, for example, the everyday brain and our everyday life or the role of embodiment in health. Greg does much the same with his work on balance. Anthropologists have already reworked our ideas of human “nature,” recognizing that culture is part of human nature, whether it’s a two-million year tradition of tool manufacture or our chimpanzee cousins and their rich behavioral traditions. Our understandings of “nurture” are next, of understanding how biology and human development play central roles in how culture works. Culture as systems of symbols and as discourse is just so Spock.
Eric Michael Johnson explores the nature of prestige and whether chimps have culture in is reply to Dan Sperber.
There are a number of things wrong with this argument (some of which Horner et al. have responded to). First off, Sperber’s insistence that prestige is limited to populations who “gossip about one another” (i.e. humans) doesn’t take into account the amount of information that can be conveyed non-verbally. Chimpanzees are highly social and utilize grooming in much the same way humans use conversation. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar measured the number of individuals in the average human clique and estimated that human gossip was almost three times as efficient a bonding mechanism as chimpanzee grooming (he later expanded this hypothesis in his book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language). His argument was that human gossip evolved out of the same social utility that grooming served in our common ancestors with chimpanzees. However, in a reanalysis of Dunbar’s data by Japanese primatologist Michio Nakamura, he estimated that:
Chimpanzees can obtain about the same efficiency as humans in terms of quantity of social interactions because their grooming is often mutual and polyadic [involving three or more individuals].
In other words, the amount of social bonding that Sperber insists can only occur through gossip can be achieved nearly as well through nonverbal grooming behavior.
Which brings us to archaeology. A year ago, or so, I wrote a review about a book on Albert Einstein. One of the chapters that stood out the most was a chapter exploring the impact of Einstein and relativity on the arts. Two submissions remind me of this chapter.
The first is by Sara Perry. Art, Archaeology & Historical Iconographies: Swifter, Higher, Stronger 2010 talks about the influence of archaeology on her artist husband.
I’ve said it before, but I think it’s important that several of the most interesting archaeological visualisers that I know were trained first as artists. This training often comes to be reflected in their experimental scientific outputs which are not afraid to question the taken-for-granted conventions of archaeological visualisation and, in so doing, challenge practitioners and the broader public to think differently about research on and presentation of the archaeological record.
If you saw last years special on Ardipithecus you may reminded of the section where the paleoanthropologists and J. H. Matternes this post should resonate.
A more intriguing post comes from Alun Salt, in Crowdsourcing Fieldwork: A Neuroarchaeology Project? Alun discusses the affects museum lighting has on our perception of the objects displayed.
This is a development of an idea I had last year after reading a post by Christina on a visit to the National Museum in Copenhagen. In short most museums I go to seem to have much darker galleries for prehistoric material that classical material. That has to have a psychological effect, but does it also have a physiological effect? Is the difference in light enough that there’s a difference feeling to observing prehistoric material to classical material because of the room and not the content? You could also ask similar questions of European and Rest of the World exhibits. Are African exhibits in more dimly lit rooms, and if so what does this say about ‘world museums’.
This is absolutely fascinating and I would love to see the results if anybody conducts the experiment Alun talks about.
Duane at Abnormal Interests comes up with what may be my favorite post of this edition. It combines linguistics, archaeology, and what I can only describe as forensic anthropology (specifically, the study of bite marks) to answer the question of when students started scribal training in Mesopotamia. No quote because the post is short and well worth reading (the only thing that could have made it better is if Duane could have somehow related it all to Twain)
Martin, the ardvarkian overlord of the Four Stone Hearth, fills us in on a 10th century enclosure at Jelling. Wohoo, severed heads in mead! This is also a short post, so I won’t quote from it.
Marcel Cornelissen gives us an overview of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in Switzerland. This quote jumped out at me:
I just wanted to point out that it remains true that early and middle stone ages receive relatively little attention and are perhaps also relatively difficult to detect in developer guided (however, not developer funded) Swiss archaeology. However, later (pre-)historic settlements, e.g. those dating to the Bronze Age, or Early Medieval sites, are typically difficult to detect as well. They hardly ever contain stone structures, mostly only consist of vague features and are often typified by very limited numbers of finds. Perhaps there really are less Mesolithic and Palaeolithic sites.
In fact, the relatively little attention for the Mesolithic (and the same is true of the Palaeolithic) causes some researchers concern. It is thought that better information exchange and communication could help the situation and thus a meeting was held in Fribourg, April 2010 where the formation of a society or interest group was discussed.
Julien Riel-Salvatore gives us an older, but still interesting post in the Two Sides of Every Biface (not to be confused with Robert Kelly’s The Three Sides of a Biface). This is about the giant bifaces discovered last year.
By any standard, at 30+cm in length these things are frikkin’ huge! Strikingly, the press release only mentions that these very large items were found, without any discussion of how their size is unusual and what this distinctiveness might mean. These specific artifacts are of uncertain age, and their function is also uncertain – at that size, it is unclear exactly what practical function they might have served, as they would have been rather unwieldy to use, unless they were somehow hafted, in which case their heft might be an indication of their ultimate function. Most people tend to assume handaxes were made and used as stand-alone hand-held tools.
From Anthropology.Net (I’m not sure if the writer is Raymond or Kambiz or somebody else – let me know and I will give proper credit) we get a discussion of fish and plant remains found in a Neanderthal hearth in Spain.
However, this new study from El Salt puts Neanderthals in Mediterranean Europe 25,000 years beforehand, at a time when there were very few – if any – AMH present to act as competition for food resources, indicating that if the El Salt Neanderthals were eating fish and possibly cooking or heating plant or vegetable products in addition to deer and goat, they were probably doing so from gastronomic choice alone.
I am not surprised by this at all.
Julien Riel-Salvatore returns with two more posts. The first is Heat treating stone for tools: Ethnoarchaeological insights. The post starts with a mention of the contemporary practice of heat treating stone tools by the Konso in Ethiopia and then segues to the Middle Stone Age at Pinnacle Point Africa. Ethnography still has much to contribute to paleoanthropology.
Brown et al.’s study is especially noteworthy in that they propose what are, to my knowledge, the first set of objective criteria that can be used to both identify heat treatment as well as to quantitatively assess how much more ‘flakable’ stone becomes after heat treatment. These include thermoluminescence, archaeomagnetism, and gloss/reflectance. This in itself is a big step forward for future studies of heat treatment as they set a new level of analytical rigor that now has to be matched by future studies interested in demonstrating that heat treating took place in the past. It also establishes the need for experimental protocols in such efforts.
The second deals with the discovery of Humans in the Philippines 67,000 years ago.
The really interesting part of the paper comes when the author discuss the taxonomic attribution of the metatarsal. They compare it to various extant primates and show that it is a convincing Homo bone, aligning itself most closely with small-bodied populations, such as H. habilis or contemporary Philippine Negritos, the latter of which stand out as likely potential analogs of the hominin to whom the metatarsal belonged.
Hawks takes on the Philippines finds as well.
Maybe too small. The metatarsal is reported to be smaller than OH8, with an estimated length just a hair longer than the measured length of LB1 MT3.
I’d have to look at a lot more MT3’s to be sure — which I can’t do right now — but this one looks sort of funny to me. Could it be some other kind of primate? The authors hold out some possibility that the specimen represents a subadult, but if it does, it was very close to being adult based on the preserved anatomy. So it’s not a case where the bone was going to grow a lot more. As usual, I wish that the paper included more information about the range of variation in humans and other primates. If we’re dealing with an odd specimen, how strange is it in the characters that stand out?
Homo floresiensis craze feh!
Finally, Neuroanthropology has a post on a recent PLoS paper that discusses Race, Genetics, Social Inequality, and Health.
In the PLoS paper, Lance, Amy and Connie are aiming squarely at the use of race in medicine, where it has become common in some circles to use racial classification as a proxy for genetics. Basically this research destroys the proxy notion, since social classification turns out to be a better predictor of blood pressure than genetic ancestry.
Yet the research also highlights that genetics does play a role, just not in the broad way we normally think (nature as cause). Specifically the data revealed an association between systolic blood pressure and a specific polymorphism, α2C adrenergic receptor deletion, only when social classification and socioeconomic status were included in the analysis.
At Dienekes Anthropology blog we have Brown-eyed men perceived to be more dominant.
The authors propose that true genetic linkage between eye color and these other facial features is unlikely, as eye color is determined by few loci, and these are unlikely to be the same ones that influence these other facial features. Thus, they propose a different explanation, namely that blue-eyed and brown-eyed children are treated differently by their parents as they grow up, and this “different treatment” manifests itself phenotypically. The argument in favor of different treatment stems from the fact that many people are born blue-eyed, but their eye color is set to a darker shade eventually.
Serious Monkey Business (a blog new to me) offers up Gesturing as Communication in Orangutans. This is a short, but sweet, post so I will not quote from it.
Finally, from Magnus Reuterdahl (the next host of the Four Stone Hearth) wishes us Happy Midsummer 2010.
As tradition bids a midsummer pole will be made; a pole, or rather a cross, dressed in flowers and leaves, around which ring dances are preformed, prefrebly by children with garlands of flowers on thier heads. This really isn’t, and never was, my thing – but the children, at least some, loves it, or are more or less forced to be part of it – and so the traditions lives on.
Be sure to check out the photos!
Update: All the links have now been fixed. I apologize to those whose links I had messed up earlier.
Update 2: I almost forgot, a link to this excellent post was left in a comment on a previous post.