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  • February 4, 2011
  • 01:24 PM
  • 1,450 views

Early Complex Societies & Early Organized Religions

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Historians have long known that the shelf life of complex societies throughout human history has been rather limited. Archaeologists are aware of this also. But how to explain it?
In a recent (open access) paper, “Cycling in the Complexity of Early Societies,” Sergey Gavrilets and colleagues mathematically modeled early complex societies using a number of variables [...]... Read more »

Gavrilets, Sergey, Anderson, David G., & Turchin, Peter. (2010) Cycling in the Complexity of Early Societies. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, 1(1), 59-80. info:/http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5536t55r

  • February 4, 2011
  • 12:16 PM
  • 992 views

Tricks of the trade: chimpanzees and their tools

by Djuke Veldhuis in Elements Science

Deep in the African rainforest researchers continue to find a wide array of tool use in wild chimpanzee populations. Djuke Veldhuis examines what is happening in the emerging field of primate archaeology.



Related posts:Science spreads through African lands
... Read more »

  • February 4, 2011
  • 09:04 AM
  • 1,423 views

Adaptationism in the Human Penis

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

As Scicurious’ mom points out, penises are funny lookin’. As long as humans have been humans, men and women have looked down and thought, “now what could be the possible reason for that?” The question no doubt vexed our early ancestors so much that they simply had to evolve larger brains to think about it [...]... Read more »

Bowman EA. (2010) An explanation for the shape of the human penis. Archives of sexual behavior, 39(2), 216. PMID: 19851854  

BIRKHEAD, T., & HUNTER, F. (1990) Mechanisms of sperm competition. Trends in Ecology , 5(2), 48-52. DOI: 10.1016/0169-5347(90)90047-H  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 05:42 AM
  • 1,405 views

Human (amphibious model): living in and on the water

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

At the beginning of the film clip, Bajau fisherman Sulbin sits on the side of a boat on the coast of Borneo, gulping air, handling his speargun.  And then, he drops into the water.  The footage suddenly changes and becomes arresting: silent, dreamy, slow, and so blue.  Sulbin strokes deliberately and descends until he strides along the bottom of the ocean, holding his breath, and hunts for fish through handmade goggles.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spears a fish and heads for the surface.  The narrator tells us that Sulbin could stay down twice as long and dive deeper if necessary.  Most viewers, unfamiliar with free diving, exceptional if they can hold their breath longer than thirty seconds, are quite likely to be shaking their heads by the end of the clip, wondering at the ability of the human body to adapt to life in water.  Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch.

I stumbled across the video clip in part because of my academic interest in free diving. Earlier this month, I was supposed to attend a free diving workshop in New Zealand with one of the sport’s world record holder, Will Trubridge (or see the story on the Times Online).  The workshop fell through at almost the same time I was diagnosed with multiple hernias, so my first free diving experience likely wouldn’t have worked out – I’m still hoping to do it as part of my ethnographic research on extraordinary human performance in the near future.
But the clip of Sulbin on the BBC series, Human Planet episode, Oceans, has inspired me to write a little bit about Homo aquaticus (kidding), adaptation, culture, and what this sort of remarkable human adaptation might imply for the idea of ‘human nature.’
Sulbin’s ability is remarkable, but like so many exceptional human skills, it relies not on innate difference from other individuals, but on the steady cultivation of peculiar changes in the body and in how it is experienced.  What I hope to suggest is that amphibious humans point to the most basic fact of human nature: that we seem particularly adept at finding ways to adapt ourselves – biologically, psychologically, behaviourally, technologically – to a host of niches that then rebound back upon us and shape how we develop.  We are a peculiar self-made species.

This piece is probably best seen as one in a series I’ve been crafting on how human adaptation to situations that we place ourselves in map out the envelope of our bodies’ malleability.  Human skills and adaptation show us how our brains and nervous systems can be trained to do amazing things.  Frequent readers will know that I think much of the discussion of ‘human nature,’ carried out by — to put it nicely — exceptionally sedentary theorists, severely underestimates what our bodies are capable of doing.
Too often, in discussions of human adaptation, we allow a flabby distinction between three basic types of adaptation: genetic, phenotypic (or physiological), and cultural (or technology).  What I’ve been playing with, and will return to at the end of this piece, is the inseparability of these, especially the last two: physiology and culture.  The Bajau fisherman Sulbin shows us how biology and culture are inseparable because what he does ends up shaping his body, but only because he grew up around people who knew how to manage becoming human in this distinctive amphibious way and because his adaptations play upon how his nervous system works, including some intriguing quirks.
If you’re mad keen to learn more about human adaptation and my ongoing obsession, you might check out samples of my work on human quadrupedalism (part two), barefoot running, barefoot climbing, and even overhand throwing (the piece is specifically on ‘throwing like a girl’).  I’ll be posting more in the months to come, so if you’re interested in what the human body can be made to do, pay us a return visit periodically.
‘Sea gypsies’ in Southeast Asia
Sulbin is a member of a number of groups who live wholly or partially as oceanic nomads or sea foragers in South-East Asia.  As the BBC website explains:
Few peoples have a deeper connection with the sea than the Bajau Laut of South-East Asia. Sometimes known as “sea gypsies”, they live in house boats or stilt houses built on top of coral reefs and when they do spend the occasional night on solid ground they often report feeling ‘landsick’.
Malaysia’s best Bajau free-divers can dive to depths of over 20 metres and stay there for several minutes on a single breath as they go in search of fish. And as if that weren’t enough, studies on some “sea gypsy” children from Thailand and Burma show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
The Bajau Laut’s livelihood is traditionally totally dependent on the resources of the sea so spear-fishing is vitally important to them, but different cultures have very different ways of catching fish.  (BBC website).
I won’t go into the ethnographic material on the Bajau and other groups called ‘sea gypsies’ (such as the Moken, who live along the coasts of Thailand, Burma and increasingly into Malaysia).  If you’re interested, I’ve placed some links to more material on the Moken and other groups at the end of this article.  Some of the groups experienced a recent spike in interest when they apparently avoided serious casualties in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 because they ‘saw signs in the waves’ of the trouble to come.
This post is really about adapting to diving, and that happens a lot more broadly than just in ‘sea gypsy’ populations.  Although SCUBA and other techniques are replacing breath-hold diving, traditional divers cultivated incredible abilities in the production of sponges in Greece, and pearls in places like Polynesia and the Persian Gulf.  The practice is still widespread among recreational divers, competitive divers, and even in some industries, such as among seafood harvesters in Japan and Korea, where an estimated 20,000 professional divers still worked with minimal equipment as late as the 1990s (see Park et al. 1990, cited in Ferretti 2001).
Learning to ‘hold’ your breath
Freediving: Ewens Ponds
Human ‘adaptation’ to water is both conscious and unconscious, as so many things about human behaviour.  Even the most basic adaptive reflexes have to be shaped and elaborated, although they can often be learned in implicit, indirect ways or found in basic form very early.  For example, one of the most reliable reactions to a startling new sensation is to gasp, a potentially deadly maladaptive approach to dealing with being dunked in the water.  Fortunately, when water hits the pharynx or larynx, glottal spasms clamp the throat shut with a glottal spasm in part of what is referred to as the ‘diving reflex’.
If we’re going to enjoy the whole underwater swimming experience, however, we’ve got to be taught to stop the airway voluntarily and close the glottis muscularly, or to exhale. It’s more pleasant than just plunging into the water and trusting that the ‘diving reflex’ will save you from winding up with a couple of lungs full of the stuff by triggering a glottal spasm.  In other words, the reflex has to be cultivated into a skill.
The online web resource eHow suggests, in How to Teach a Baby to Hold Breath Underwater, that you first condition an infant by essentially an associative learning process where dipping a washcloth in water is followed shortly by dripping water over his or her face.  The writer advocates following this up at a pool with a learned association between ‘1… 2… 3…’ and subsequently being splashed in the face, later substituted by short immersion.  The diving reflex can cue the early learning, but the goal is to build a more robust v... Read more »

Bavis, R., Powell, F., Bradford, A., Hsia, C., Peltonen, J., Soliz, J., Zeis, B., Fergusson, E., Fu, Z., Gassmann, M.... (2007) Respiratory plasticity in response to changes in oxygen supply and demand. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(4), 532-551. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icm070  

Ferretti, G. (2001) Extreme human breath-hold diving. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(4), 254-271. DOI: 10.1007/s004210000377  

Ferretti G, & Costa M. (2003) Diversity in and adaptation to breath-hold diving in humans. Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular , 136(1), 205-13. PMID: 14527641  

Gislén A, Dacke M, Kröger RH, Abrahamsson M, Nilsson DE, & Warrant EJ. (2003) Superior underwater vision in a human population of sea gypsies. Current biology : CB, 13(10), 833-6. PMID: 12747831  

Gislén A, Warrant EJ, Dacke M, & Kröger RH. (2006) Visual training improves underwater vision in children. Vision research, 46(20), 3443-50. PMID: 16806388  

Parkes, M. (2005) Breath-holding and its breakpoint. Experimental Physiology, 91(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2005.031625  

Schagatay E, van Kampen M, Emanuelsson S, & Holm B. (2000) Effects of physical and apnea training on apneic time and the diving response in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 82(3), 161-9. PMID: 10929209  

SCHOLANDER PF, HAMMEL HT, LEMESSURIER H, HEMMINGSEN E, & GAREY W. (1962) Circulatory adjustment in pearl divers. Journal of applied physiology, 184-90. PMID: 13909130  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 05:42 AM
  • 1,050 views

Human (amphibious model): living in and on the water

by Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology PLoS

At the beginning of the film clip, Bajau fisherman Sulbin sits on the side of a boat on the coast of Borneo, gulping air, handling his speargun.  And then, he drops into the water.  The footage suddenly changes and becomes arresting: silent, dreamy, slow, and so blue.  Sulbin strokes deliberately and descends until he strides along the bottom of the ocean, holding his breath, and hunts for fish through handmade goggles.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spears a fish and heads for the surface.  The narrator tells us that Sulbin could stay down twice as long and dive deeper if necessary.  Most viewers, unfamiliar with free diving, exceptional if they can hold their breath longer than thirty seconds, are quite likely to be shaking their heads by the end of the clip, wondering at the ability of the human body to adapt to life in water.  Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch.

I stumbled across the video clip in part because of my academic interest in free diving. Earlier this month, I was supposed to attend a free diving workshop in New Zealand with one of the sport’s world record holder, Will Trubridge (or see the story on the Times Online).  The workshop fell through at almost the same time I was diagnosed with multiple hernias, so my first free diving experience likely wouldn’t have worked out – I’m still hoping to do it as part of my ethnographic research on extraordinary human performance in the near future.
But the clip of Sulbin on the BBC series, Human Planet episode, Oceans, has inspired me to write a little bit about Homo aquaticus (kidding), adaptation, culture, and what this sort of remarkable human adaptation might imply for the idea of ‘human nature.’
Sulbin’s ability is remarkable, but like so many exceptional human skills, it relies not on innate difference from other individuals, but on the steady cultivation of peculiar changes in the body and in how it is experienced.  What I hope to suggest is that amphibious humans point to the most basic fact of human nature: that we seem particularly adept at finding ways to adapt ourselves – biologically, psychologically, behaviourally, technologically – to a host of niches that then rebound back upon us and shape how we develop.  We are a peculiar self-made species.

This piece is probably best seen as one in a series I’ve been crafting on how human adaptation to situations that we place ourselves in map out the envelope of our bodies’ malleability.  Human skills and adaptation show us how our brains and nervous systems can be trained to do amazing things.  Frequent readers will know that I think much of the discussion of ‘human nature,’ carried out by — to put it nicely — exceptionally sedentary theorists, severely underestimates what our bodies are capable of doing.
Too often, in discussions of human adaptation, we allow a flabby distinction between three basic types of adaptation: genetic, phenotypic (or physiological), and cultural (or technology).  What I’ve been playing with, and will return to at the end of this piece, is the inseparability of these, especially the last two: physiology and culture.  The Bajau fisherman Sulbin shows us how biology and culture are inseparable because what he does ends up shaping his body, but only because he grew up around people who knew how to manage becoming human in this distinctive amphibious way and because his adaptations play upon how his nervous system works, including some intriguing quirks.
If you’re mad keen to learn more about human adaptation and my ongoing obsession, you might check out samples of my work on human quadrupedalism (part two), barefoot running, barefoot climbing, and even overhand throwing (the piece is specifically on ‘throwing like a girl’).  I’ll be posting more in the months to come, so if you’re interested in what the human body can be made to do, pay us a return visit periodically.
‘Sea gypsies’ in Southeast Asia
Sulbin is a member of a number of groups who live wholly or partially as oceanic nomads or sea foragers in South-East Asia.  As the BBC website explains:
Few peoples have a deeper connection with the sea than the Bajau Laut of South-East Asia. Sometimes known as “sea gypsies”, they live in house boats or stilt houses built on top of coral reefs and when they do spend the occasional night on solid ground they often report feeling ‘landsick’.
Malaysia’s best Bajau free-divers can dive to depths of over 20 metres and stay there for several minutes on a single breath as they go in search of fish. And as if that weren’t enough, studies on some “sea gypsy” children from Thailand and Burma show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
The Bajau Laut’s livelihood is traditionally totally dependent on the resources of the sea so spear-fishing is vitally important to them, but different cultures have very different ways of catching fish.  (BBC website).
I won’t go into the ethnographic material on the Bajau and other groups called ‘sea gypsies’ (such as the Moken, who live along the coasts of Thailand, Burma and increasingly into Malaysia).  If you’re interested, I’ve placed some links to more material on the Moken and other groups at the end of this article.  Some of the groups experienced a recent spike in interest when they apparently avoided serious casualties in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 because they ‘saw signs in the waves’ of the trouble to come.
This post is really about adapting to diving, and that happens a lot more broadly than just in ‘sea gypsy’ populations.  Although SCUBA and other techniques are replacing breath-hold diving, traditional divers cultivated incredible abilities in the production of sponges in Greece, and pearls in places like Polynesia and the Persian Gulf.  The practice is still widespread among recreational divers, competitive divers, and even in some industries, such as among seafood harvesters in Japan and Korea, where an estimated 20,000 professional divers still worked with minimal equipment as late as the 1990s (see Park et al. 1990, cited in Ferretti 2001).
Learning to ‘hold’ your breath
Freediving: Ewens Ponds
Human ‘adaptation’ to water is both conscious and unconscious, as so many things about human behaviour.  Even the most basic adaptive reflexes have to be shaped and elaborated, although they can often be learned in implicit, indirect ways or found in basic form very early.  For example, one of the most reliable reactions to a startling new sensation is to gasp, a potentially deadly maladaptive approach to dealing with being dunked in the water.  Fortunately, when water hits the pharynx or larynx, glottal spasms clamp the throat shut with a glottal spasm in part of what is referred to as the ‘diving reflex’.
If we’re going to enjoy the whole underwater swimming experience, however, we’ve got to be taught to stop the airway voluntarily and close the glottis muscularly, or to exhale. It’s more pleasant than just plunging into the water and trusting that the ‘diving reflex’ will save you from winding up with a couple of lungs full of the stuff by triggering a glottal spasm.  In other words, the reflex has to be cultivated into a skill.
The online web resource eHow suggests, in How to Teach a Baby to Hold Breath Underwater, that you first condition an infant by essentially an associative learning process where dipping a washcloth in water is followed shortly by dripping water over his or her face.  The writer advocates following this up at a pool with a learned association between ‘1… 2… 3…’ and subsequently being splashed in the face, later substituted by short immersion.  The diving reflex can cue the early learning, but the goal is to build a more robust v... Read more »

Bavis, R., Powell, F., Bradford, A., Hsia, C., Peltonen, J., Soliz, J., Zeis, B., Fergusson, E., Fu, Z., Gassmann, M.... (2007) Respiratory plasticity in response to changes in oxygen supply and demand. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(4), 532-551. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icm070  

Ferretti, G. (2001) Extreme human breath-hold diving. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(4), 254-271. DOI: 10.1007/s004210000377  

Ferretti G, & Costa M. (2003) Diversity in and adaptation to breath-hold diving in humans. Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular , 136(1), 205-13. PMID: 14527641  

Gislén A, Dacke M, Kröger RH, Abrahamsson M, Nilsson DE, & Warrant EJ. (2003) Superior underwater vision in a human population of sea gypsies. Current biology : CB, 13(10), 833-6. PMID: 12747831  

Gislén A, Warrant EJ, Dacke M, & Kröger RH. (2006) Visual training improves underwater vision in children. Vision research, 46(20), 3443-50. PMID: 16806388  

Parkes, M. (2005) Breath-holding and its breakpoint. Experimental Physiology, 91(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2005.031625  

Schagatay E, van Kampen M, Emanuelsson S, & Holm B. (2000) Effects of physical and apnea training on apneic time and the diving response in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 82(3), 161-9. PMID: 10929209  

SCHOLANDER PF, HAMMEL HT, LEMESSURIER H, HEMMINGSEN E, & GAREY W. (1962) Circulatory adjustment in pearl divers. Journal of applied physiology, 184-90. PMID: 13909130  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 01:59 AM
  • 2,005 views

The Social Functions of Blushing

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice



It's happened to all of us. The poorly timed remark, tripping over an uneven sidewalk, a torn seam or an open button or zipper, or even the dreaded toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe—embarrassment can strike at any time.

It's easy to feel as though embarrassing things happen only to you. (We tend to over-emphasize embarrassing events, but I'll let it slide if you want to pretend that you're socially savvy.) In fact, earlier this week, I came close to falling flat on my back twice—in boots that were snow and slush appropriate no less—thanks to the slippery conditions that seem to have settled in the northeast. On my way into the office, I lost my footing on a slight downhill slope and felt my feet start to slide. Before I could catch myself, someone grabbed my arm and righted me. When I stepped out for lunch, I nearly fell again: I walked right over a large patch of ice and felt my feet start to slide out from under me. Once more, a quick thinking stranger with awesome reflexes appeared at my side to keep me from connecting with the sidewalk.

Though I thanked my saviors profusely, I could feel my face flush with that telltale sign of embarrassment: the blush. I was really glad that these folks were kind enough to act. But I was also embarrassed. I've been walking for almost three decades—you'd think I would have gotten the hang of bipedalism by now. But feeling embarrassed is fine. Why do others need to know that I'm embarrassed? Why does embarrassment produce visible signals? Do they serve a purpose?

On a list of things to be embarrassed about, I'm sure that my lack of coordination ranks fairly low. Yet, the things that cause embarrassment are highly personal. And a lot of what embarrasses us depends on the responses of others. What does it mean to be embarrassed? It's an emotion involving feelings of guilt and shame, and possibly modesty. It also is marked by some pretty clear signs, one of which is blushing. We'll work with the following definition:
Embarrassment is the acute state of awkward and flustered abashment and chagrin that follows events that produce a threat of unwanted evaluations from real or imagined audiences (1).So you may think those dance moves you've been practicing in front of the mirror are going to make you the hottest thing on the dance floor. And they very well may. But if you're the center of attention because everyone is pointing and laughing or mimicking, then what you're faced with is embarrassment. If the floor doesn't open and swallow you—as it very rarely does when you need it to—you'll likely find that you're blushing, possibly furiously if you're sensitive enough and/or fair skinned.

Blushing intrigued our good friend Darwin, so much so that it got an entire chapter in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). It is "the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions," he wrote (2). Darwin documented examples to show that blushing affects a range of ages and races, both the sexes, and individuals with disabilities and varying faculties, leading him to conclude that:
The facts now given are sufficient to show that blushing, whether or not there is any change of colour, is common to most, probably all, of the races of man (3).Of course, he also drew conclusions that were rather interesting: For example, he proposes that when English women blush, the farthest the color extends is the top of the chest (4). He makes this claim despite noting that there are exceptional cases to suggest that blushing responses may vary between individuals. But he also hits upon the connection between blushing and social awareness, noting that a sense of guilt or a feeling of having breached social etiquette can prompt one to blush. He frames these arguments within a fixation on appearance, stating:
Men and women, and especially the young, have always valued, in a high degree their personal appearance; and have likewise regarded the appearance of others. The face has been the chief object of attention, though, when man aboriginally went naked, the whole surface of his body would have been attended to. Our self-attention is excited almost exclusively by the opinion of others, for no person living in absolute solitude would care about his appearance. Every one feels blame more acutely than praise. Now, whenever we know, or suppose, that others are depreciating our personal appearance, our attention is strongly drawn towards ourselves, more especially to our faces (5).Still, Darwin finds little adaptive purpose for blushing. He does suggest that it is inherited, in that we all have the ability to blush, but maintains that it is a habit, in that it is the result of a consciousness that we learn—after all, babies do not blush.

But blushing may serve a regulatory role. It's possible that blushing helps smooth out incidents that could spark potential social conflicts. It appears to be our signal that we know we've committed some transgression. Embarrassment does follow from the fear that we are being judged—that our identities are compromised. Darwin was right that we care about how others perceive us. It doesn't matter whether we have a relationship with members of the witnessing public or not, embarrassment springs from the belief that others are aware of a shortcoming. Blushing may help mitigate what are believed to be examples of social ineptness. Researchers have suggested that individuals who display visible signs of embarrassment are more likely to be treated kindly by witnesses, who are more likely offer words of support and sympathy in these cases than when individuals don't demonstrate remorse (6).

Embarrassment is a difficult experience:
It is uncomfortable and upsetting. Blushing may cause an individual to feel warmer than normal, and the sense of self is challenged—your identity is challenged. Some individuals may also experience extreme blushing conditions, accompanied by tingling and burning sensations in the face, ears, and neck (7).
It is punishable—adolescents tend to tease others who demonstrate signs that they are embarrassed.
Embarrassed individuals often believe the transgression is worse than it is, leading to subsequent feelings of anxiety, and possibly social avoidance.
Embarrassing events can suggest to the witnessing public that the individual doesn't fit with with the social order. The responses to embarrassment, which include a number of recognized behaviors in addition to blushing, are meant to shift the individual away from this moment of marginalization (even if it is self-imposed). The responses tell both the individual and the witness that a mistake has occurred and allows both parties to take steps to repair the relationship. Blushing is set apart from other conciliatory actions, such as gaze aversion, self-touching or grooming, and downward head movements, because it is largely involuntary, and thus viewed as a trustworthy signal of a person's emotional state (8, 9).

In fact, blushing may have worked so well as a conciliatory signal that it may be deployed in other social interactions. To avoid embarrassment, for example, an individual may deploy gaze aversion and other such actions, which may lead to blushing, before an embarrassing event actually occurs. So in an instance of social awkwardness, displaying signs of embarrassment may prompt conciliatory actions on part of... Read more »

Keltner, D., & Anderson, C. (2000) Saving Face for Darwin: The Functions and Uses of Embarrassment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 187-192. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00091  

Miller, Rowland S. (2001) On the Primacy of Embarrassment in Social Life. Psychological Inquiry, 12(1), 30-33. info:/

NICOLAOU, M., PAES, T., & WAKELIN, S. (2006) Blushing: an embarrassing condition, but treatable. The Lancet, 367(9519), 1297-1299. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68554-1  

  • February 2, 2011
  • 02:08 AM
  • 828 views

Divergence and gene flow – what is a paleogenetic model

by Jörg Friedrich in Reading Nature

With the technical advances in gene sequencing, the possibilities of their use are growing rapidly. Totally new scientific disciplines evolve – eg the paleogenetics. Gene sequences are produced from bones thousands of years old, and these are compared with each … Continue reading →... Read more »

Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PL.... (2010) Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 468(7327), 1053-60. PMID: 21179161  

  • February 1, 2011
  • 04:00 AM
  • 980 views

How to navigate a Viking longboat with a king, some bees and a DC-8

by Alun in AlunSalt

Jo Marchant has reported on a new paper, On the trail of Vikings with polarized skylight: experimental study of the atmospheric optical prerequisites allowing polarimetric navigation by Viking seafarers, for Nature news. She also adds more on her own blog including the link to the paper that you can access for free. The research is [...]... Read more »

  • January 31, 2011
  • 03:40 PM
  • 1,071 views

Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

This post uses literature review, my own empirical research, and a new paper to demonstrate that menstrual cycling does not impact iron status in women. This goes against a major, prevailing medical notion and inhibits appropriate diagnosis in anemic women.... Read more »

  • January 31, 2011
  • 03:40 PM
  • 1,003 views

Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

This post uses literature review, my own empirical research, and a new paper to demonstrate that menstrual cycling does not impact iron status in women. This goes against a major, prevailing medical notion and inhibits appropriate diagnosis in anemic women.... Read more »

  • January 31, 2011
  • 11:16 AM
  • 1,379 views

Do all cities have neighborhoods?

by Michael Smith in Wide Urban World

It's hard to imagine a modern city that does not have neighborhoods. What would residential areas in such a city look like? Is this even possible? Given the prominence of neighborhoods in social science research on life in cities today, I would guess that all modern cities do have neighborhoods. If a sociologist or planner, for example, identified a city that lacked neighborhoods, I'm sure they would study the situation and publicize it for being so strange.For premodern cities whose housing and living conditions are described in historical documents, all or nearly all published examples have neighborhood organization (I haven't found a neighborhood-less city yet, and I haven't given up searching yet). As for cities only knowable through archaeology, my own specialty, neighborhoods are more difficult to identify but some progress is being made (Smith 2010). It seems that any time an archaeologist decides to look into housing and residential zones at an ancient city, the result is the identification of neighborhoods. My article on this is posted here.What do I mean by neighborhood?  These are the working definitions I used in the article:"A neighborhood is a residential zone that has considerable face to face interaction and is distinctive on the basis of physical and/or social characteristics" (Smith 2010:139)."A district is a residential zone that has some kind of administrative or social identity within a city." (p. 140)In the article I give some examples of premodern and nonwestern cities that have numerous small neighborhoods and a smaller number of (larger) administrative districts. The Hindu city of Bhaktapur in Nepal is an example (see Smith 2010 for details and citations). Although it may be difficult to distinguish neighborhoods and districts empirically, these concepts are important because they point to two of the major kinds of social dynamics that define and shape neighborhoods. On the one hand are bottom-up processes arising from social interaction among neighbors, and on the other are top-down processes of administration and control by city or state authorities. Much of what happens in urban neighborhoods is a result of the interaction of these bottom-up and top-down processes within a given built environment.So far, we are batting 1,000. Whether one looks at modern cities, historically documented premodern cities, or archaeologically excavated ancient cities, all have neighborhood organization. But that's not all. Some large village settlements (e.g., prehistoric pueblo socieites in the U.S. Southwest) are divided into housing clusters or zones that resemble neighborhoods. And rapidly urbanizing sites, such as squatters settlements in the developing world, tend to have neighborhood organization. Even Black Rock City, the temporary city that is the site of the Burning Man festival each year, has neighborhood organization (generated by both bottom-up and top-down forces).If neighborhoods are truly a universal aspect of urban organization, two questions are worth exploring: (1) why is this the case? and (2) what are the implications for modern cities and urban policy? Stay tuned, we don't have the answers yet. In the meantime, you can find out about a transdisciplinary research project on urban neighborhoods and open spaces.References:Smith, M. (2010). The archaeological study of neighborhoods and districts in ancient cities Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 29 (2), 137-154 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2010.01.001... Read more »

  • January 31, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,066 views

Kadiskos the symbols of Zeus Ktesios

by Nikolaos Markoulakis in Tropaion

I would like to start a series of brief posts that will present in detail the ancient Greek household worship and religious practice. One, major, problem that exists when a research is been conducted for the ancient Greek world and especially the ancient Greek religion is generalization. As it has been identified by a great number of scholars for every aspect of ancient Greek religious practice, generalization is in fact an error which has been occurred as soon as omissions and over-simplifications entered the falsification of facts. It is even more difficult to produce a generalized opinion for the ancient Greek household religion or household cults. Another issue that must be addressed is that the private religious practice that includes the household of the ancient Greeks has not been described in any detail in literature. Why? As it is the fact today, any family prayers, even if still they remain in some households, are obsolete. Therefore modern household household piety, if recorded, leaves a great deal of details out, which then required the future researcher to fill the gap with cross referencing from other sources, using even his imagination. Something similar it needs to be said for the ancient Greek household religious practices. My purpose, therefore, is to minimize the methodological difficulties mentioned above, by pointing out the sources, date and possible region or community for which the household practice is presented.... Read more »

Nilsson, M., P. (1940) Greek Popular Religion. Lectures on the history of religions. n.s. info:other/608793

Rose, H.J. (1957) The religion of a Greek household. Euphrosyne, 95-116. info:/

  • January 30, 2011
  • 03:52 PM
  • 1,158 views

Smoking and the Slave Trade

by Dirk Hanson in Addiction Inbox


To Africa and back again.

[Queen Nzinga (smoking a pipe) with Her Entourage, Kingdom of Kongo, 1670s]--------->

In the 17th Century, tobacco, the prototypical New World stimulant, was introduced to Africa by European traders. By 1607, tobacco was being cultivated in Sierra Leone, and in 1611 a Swiss doctor commented on how the soldiers of the “Kingdom of Kongo” fought hunger by grinding up tobacco leaves and setting them on fire, “so that a strong smoke is produced, which they inhale.”

It did not take long for the true motivations behind this botanical boon to be revealed. Tobacco served two crucial functions for the slave traders of the Middle Passage: Once Africans had acquired the smoking habit, tobacco could be used in lieu of cash as payment for purchasing slaves. In addition, tobacco was frequently handed out to slaves during the horrific Atlantic voyage. This was not done out of altruism, or common decency, of course. In an article for Slavery and Abolition Journal, Jerome S. Handler writes: “European slavers apparently believed that such measures were useful in their efforts to control their ‘cargo’ and avoid or minimize social unrest and revolts—or even put the enslaved in a better mood prior to their being sold or transshipped from one American port to another."

How did the slaves smoke the tobacco enroute? With clay pipes supplied by the slave traders. The Europeans had introduced an easily grown, highly addictive plant drug, so it was inevitable that white traders would use that addictive property to their advantage. And they were happy to create an additional market in paraphernalia.

Handler, writing in the African Diaspora Archaeology Network Newsletter, notes that, while Africans produced their own pipes, “white clay pipes of Europeans manufacture, particularly English and Dutch, were commonly used to purchase slaves…. In general it appears that European pipes were often preferred to African ones.” The pipes came in long and short versions, the long “elbow bend” pipes being preferred on shore, with the short pipe being preferred for use onboard. Jean Barbot, an agent for the French Royal African Company, reported that the slaves onboard were occasionally given “short pipes and tobacco to smoak upon deck by turns.”

However humane the practice might sound, the motivations of the traders “were the same as those which prompted them to distribute beads and allow African board games aboard the ships, that is, an attempt to mollify or placate the captives in situations that were always fraught with tension and possibilities of insurrection.” Presumably, it also diminished hunger and helped keep the slaves on their feet during auction in the New World.

Not every ship’s captain went along with the pipes. A French slave ship captain wrote that “for fear of fire, tobacco should be grated and given as a powder.”  Handler, a Senior Scholar at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, notes that “there are no data on whether the enslaved were allowed to keep the pipes they received aboard the slave ships. “

Probably not. “Chances are that pipes were collected by the ship’s crew after each use to be re-used at another time,” according to Handler. But it is likely enough that at least some pipes were successfully smuggled ashore. And while most of the white clay pipes found in African descendant archaeological sites in America were probably local in origin, “it may be that an occasional pipe was brought by some enslaved African via the Middle Passage.”

Handler, J. (2009). The Middle Passage and the Material Culture of Captive Africans Slavery and Abolition, 30 (1), 1-26 DOI: 10.1080/01440390802673773

Graphics Credit: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library,
www.slaveryimages.org.... Read more »

  • January 30, 2011
  • 04:00 AM
  • 1,120 views

Paleolithic Diet More Satisfying Than Mediterranean-Style

by Steve Parker, M.D. in Advanced Mediterranean Diet

Swedish researchers reported recently that a Paleolithic diet was more satiating than a Mediterranean-style diet, when compared on a calorie-for-calorie basis in heart patients.  Both groups of study subjects reported equal degrees of satiety, but the paleo dieters ended up eating 24% fewer calories over the 12-week study.
The main differences in the diets were that [...]... Read more »

  • January 30, 2011
  • 12:57 AM
  • 1,002 views

Egypt Week – Spiteful versus Altruistic Punishment

by Jon Wilkins in Lost in Transcription

So, welcome to the first Egypt Week edition of Lost in Transcription. We're going to kick it off with an anthropology paper that uses a cross-cultural approach to study the origins of human punishment and cooperation.

If you're not familiar with this vein of research, let me set the stage for you. The "problem" of cooperation when people talk about it in anthropology, biology, and economics is this. If you take a super naive view of natural selection, it would say that we should have evolved to ruthlessly pursue our own self interest. In particular, if we have an opportunity to cheat and get away with it, the logic of self interest suggests that we should. From this perspective, the whole idea of successfully engaging in collective action seems absurd.

Contrary to this naive expectation, we observe that people do forego opportunities to pursue their own narrow self interest, and the history of civilization is one of successful collective action on an enormous scale.
Read more »

... Read more »

Marlowe, F., Berbesque, J., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Gurven, M., & Tracer, D. (2010) The 'spiteful' origins of human cooperation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2342  

  • January 28, 2011
  • 11:32 AM
  • 917 views

Bonding, Biophilia, and Biosynergy--oh my!

by Serious Monkey Business in This is Serious Monkey Business

Growing up, I never gave so much of a guenon's dung for primates. But after one class and some research, I think about the effects of bonding with primates and what effects that has on the environment.... Read more »

  • January 28, 2011
  • 01:16 AM
  • 833 views

Science Online 2011: Underrepresentation hurts us all

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

In my second year of graduate school, I was in a study group with a few other grad students: in particular I remember a white female student and an Asian-American female student. Somehow we got on the topic of admissions, where we all admitted, jokingly, to feeling like impostors. Then the white female student stated that she didn't believe in affirmative action, and expressed her view with quite a bit of anger. "Besides," she finished, "I just don't see race."I was completely paralyzed, and felt like I had no way to articulate what was wrong with what she just said. She happened to leave the room shortly after her statement. I turned to my Asian-American friend."Doesn't see race?" She almost shouted. Tears sprang to her eyes. "When she says that, she doesn't see ME." I looked at her, mute, wanting to cry myself for the shame of not knowing how to be a better friend.* * *I haven't always been the best ally. At times, I probably haven't been an ally at all. The story I related above was the only one I dared share where I could sufficiently pseudonymize the characters. It was not the first, nor was it the last, time I was struck dumb by racism.I did learn to speak up and interrupt racism, and slowly have figured out ways to make the elimination of racism and sexism priorities in my life. But I have a long way to go.The MLK, Jr Memorial panel at Science Online 2011, like the women scienceblogging panel, was up against some stiff competition: Defending Science Online, Standing out: Marketing yourself in science, Blogging networks and the emerging science communications ecosystem and Not All Marketing is Evil: Getting Life Science Companies to Support Science Online. I'll admit to sitting near the back with the thought I might divide my time between this session and one other. Yet within the first few minutes I sat there, I knew I was in the right place. David Kroll, who you know all over the internet because of his great blogs Terra Sigillata and Take as Directed, opened by playing the guitar and singing Bob Marley. Within a few bars, about a third of the audience was singing along with him. I was too busy trying not to cry to join in.I was emotional for a number of reasons... because of the wonderful contradiction of David sitting up there and singing, because of the warmth of the room, where it felt like we had a shared mission. David contradicted the paralysis a lot of allies face, because we are so afraid of doing it wrong, of making the mistake that exposes the racism and privilege we are working so hard to cover up.In addition to discussing Martin Luther King, Jr's history in Durham and the surrounding area, David shared with us the following quote from Irving Epstein (which it turns out David wrote about a year ago here):In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs.Danielle Lee of Urban Science Adventures, and Alberto Roca of Minority Postdoc, were also panelists. Danielle was engaging and smart: she talked about issues of underrepresentation in science, as well as access and trust of science in minority communities. Alberto, who I had also heard speak as an audience member at a few other panels, also talked about underrepresentation issues in science, the invisibility and isolation of being a person of color in science, and how to operate against that isolation. Here are a few of their broader points (any butchered or incomplete thoughts are my fault only):People of color and from underrepresented groups often have to pass in order to survive in science.People have to be mentored all the way up the chain: several stories were mentioned where women and people of color were not adequately prepared or professionalized for their jobs and suffered for it.Impostor syndrome is universal.You act like a role model when you have a voice, so if you aren't speaking up you aren't a role model. Also, if you are invisible or are ignored/underappreciated, you will have a harder time being an effective role model. So the knife cuts both ways.As Danielle says, science needs a new PR campaign. The African American community has serious trust issues with science and with good reason: this community has been exploited, undervalued, ignored.Related to the above, there was some discussion of issues of religion and science; namely, that it is a mistake to completely discount or scoff at those with religion. Religion, faith, and religious practices have an important cultural component for many minority communities in the United States and beyond, and to write off their beliefs is to write them off as people. Even if that's not what is intended, that is certainly what is heard.The entire session was moving -- all three panelists were so thoughtful and kind to one another, they answered audience questions so well, and the audience was committed to the issue of underrepresentation in science. I have a few last thoughts of my own that I'd like to share, as a way to extend the conversation about women scienceblogging to be more inclusive.First, I don't think white people or people with privilege should shy away from conversations about underrepresentation, race, or ethnicity. It is time to just be comfortable with the fact that we are going to make mistakes. If we are well-meaning and want to eliminate racism and other oppressions, then the mistakes we are going to make will not be as bad as the worst ones faced by those to whom we're trying to be allies. Those of us in this community who are academics tend to encourage our students to make mistakes, because we know they will learn from them. But the stakes feel so high in this situation that we are paralyzed. Guess what? Being paralyzed is actually worse than making a mistake. You can apologize for a mistake. There isn't much you can do to fix things if you stay out of an important fight.Second, you know the isolation we talk about as women scientists and science writers? Multiply that times a million and you probably have the isolation of being a person of color in the sciences. There are some different ways in which sexism and racism play out in the public sphere, at least in the US: people might be a bit more willing to make sexist comments than racist ones. However, the impact of racism is at least as harmful, probably more harmful in most ways, because it leads to social disparities in education, health, salaries, living conditions. There are people out there who study the effects of social disparities and internalized racism on health, and folks, it's not good. For instance, the mortality rates of blacks are significantly higher than for whites in heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, flu and pneumonia, HIV, cirrhosis and homicide (Williams 1999). Measures of internalized racism are correlated with a higher waist circumference, abdominal obesity and insulin resistance (Tull et al 1999, Chambers et al 2004). Issues of acculturation plague immigrant women, especially second-generation women, who experience more explicit instances of racism in their lives through acculturation (Viruell-Fuentes 2007).Finally, science will be a richer, more interesting topic when there is more diversity. And I don't just mean it in the Small World sense: I mean that while I love the scientific method, I know the process of science to be strongly biased by who performs it, and so it is absolutely necessary that we have many different people doing and thinking about science in order to have the best possible perspective on it.Back when I was a union organizer in grad school, my organizer and mentor told me that graduate school doesn't weed out the weak, it weeds out the strong: it weeds out those with strong senses of self who don't want to be exploited, who realize there are other things to do in the world and other ways to live a meaningful life. I think that is true for a lot of people who leave academia and science, and unfortunately most of the ones I know who left were women and people of color.Here's the problem. I want them back, I miss them: they were my dear friends. Those are the kinds of people we need to lead science, do science, communicate science, encourage and excite young people to be scientists.Reach out for people. Be an ally. Interrupt racism and sexism. Implement changes where you work to better recruit and retain people of color. Put people of color in positions of power: they probably know how to fix this mess much better than you do. Risk making mistakes; say you're sorry once you realize it.But whatever you do, don't just sit there.References... Read more »

  • January 28, 2011
  • 12:48 AM
  • 1,272 views

Brand Anthropology: New and Improved, with Extra Diversity!

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

Since graduating from high school, I’ve several times worked as a salesman, first flogging reference books door-to-door over summers while an undergraduate and later, while writing my dissertation, getting involved in the ‘design consulting’ business where I helped sell something a lot less tangible.  Sales was a great training ground for an anthropologist: nothing prepares you for quickly manufacturing social relations like slogging around door-to-door with a sample case, and a large lecture room of first-year students is a lot easier to sell than a skeptical dairy farmer in Wisconsin.
Marquesan tattooing (rear), by Von de Steinen.
I’ve often given anthropological colleagues advice that could have been taken verbatim from my stints in sales school — they would probably be mortified if I knew about the dual purposing.  At times, I worry about my colleagues because I think that a whole series of situations in academia actually resemble sales situations: job interviewing, ‘open day’ for prospective students, grant writing, and even the first few lectures in an introductory class, when you’d be well served if you could persuade the assembled students that you’ve got something to say worth hearing.  
Anthropologists sometimes don’t seem terribly good at selling what they do. If you couldn’t convince a starving man to eat a sandwich, how can we persuade diverse audiences to pay attention to anthropology?
After my previous post on the ‘Vital topics forum,’ reader Jason Antrosio asked my opinion about Ulf Hannerz’s article from the same American Anthropologist: ‘Diversity is Our Business.’  Since I had been banging on about anthropology promoting itself as the study of human diversity, Jason probably assumed, quite reasonably, that I had already read Hannerz’s piece.  Alas, I hadn’t.  One of the many downsides of being laid up at home is that I only read the forum online and hadn’t really browsed the contents of the latest AA because my hard copy is likely still sitting in my office mailbox.
Hannerz’s piece, ‘Diversity is Our Business,’ is well worth the read not just because he explores how the field is misrepresented in the public eye; Hannerz asks what we might do as a field to counter-act anthro-bashing.  He wades into water that I prefer to plunge into neck deep here: what kind of brand is ‘Anthropology,’ how do we tell people about what we do, and do we need to perform a bit of brand management?
Perhaps provocatively, in drawing on a characteristic current vocabulary, I would argue that anthropology needs to cultivate a strong brand. Those who feel ill at ease with that term, thinking that in its crassness it sullies their noble scholarly pursuits, can perhaps just as well continue to call it “public image” or even just “identity,” but in times of not just neoliberal thought but also of media saturation and short attention spans, it may be that “brand” is a useful root metaphor, a word to think with in the world we live in. (These days, too, not only corporations or consumer goods are linked to brands but also for example cities and countries.) Brands should attract outsiders: customers, visitors, members of the public. At the same time, they should preferably offer a fully acceptable identity for whoever may count as insiders to reflect on and be inspired by. (Hannerz 2010: 543)
Hell, yeah, we should think about Anthropology as a brand! With no trace of irony, I’d argue that we get serious about our collective self-promotion as a discipline.  Hannerz gets off to a good start, but I think we could even step up the campaign a bit, making use of the traditional strengths of our discipline to promote our intellectual and research potential.  And I’m going to take this opportunity, as well, to reply to some of the issues Daniel outlined in his piece, Anthropology and Publicity, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Anthropology bashing
Hannerz begins his discussion with a reflection on Pres. Barack Obama’s use of ‘anthropological’ to describe when, during his campaign, Obama apologized for sounding out of touch.  Obama said he was sorry that he sounded as if he was ‘talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters.’ As Hannerz explains, Obama’s assumptions embedded in this apology grate for anthropologists because he takes for granted a public stereotype so at odds with our self-conception (and so ironic given that Obama’s late mother was an anthropologist):
Here it seems to me, then, that the candidate Obama assigns a stereotypically distant view, lacking in empathy, to anthropology—and then proceeds to sketch, as its opposite, precisely the sort of close, contextualizing understanding that we as anthropologists are much more likely to claim for ourselves. And from this particular source, we may find the stereotype so much more surprising because we might have thought this candidate should have got his anthropology right—but more about that later. In any case, here is an instance of a recurrent phenomenon that we might call “anthropology bashing.”  (Hannerz 2010: 541)
According to Hannerz, ‘anthropology bashing’ comes in four basic flavours:

Anthropologists are portrayed as cold and distant observers, ‘at worst, as someone who uses his skills to manipulate situations in ways which are detrimental to the human beings about which he has built up an expertise’ (Hannerz 2010: 541).  This image is of the ‘handmaiden’ of colonialism, a superior-feeling expert at manipulating natives, depriving them of their patrimony, and speaking in place of the cultures that we study.
Anthropologists, in contradiction, are depicted as ‘bumbling, incompetent observer who does not get even obvious realities right,’ as Hannerz puts it, less capable of ‘getting it’ than locals or even amateur observers.  This image is the anthropologist as dowdy professor-type who is ill-suited for life beyond the Ivory Tower but utterly oblivious to this fact.
As part of academia, Hannerz also worries that we are ‘easy target for a kind of populism that proclaims that research in and about far-away places is useless and that money devoted to it is therefore not well-spent.’  Here, Hannerz suggests that anthropologists are particularly prone to populist abuse, such as the ‘Golden Fleece Awards’ given by US Senator William Proxmire, often to projects that receive federal funding but have the bad luck to possess titles that Sen. Proxmire finds easy to mock.
Finally, Hannerz argues that anthropologists are bashed as being anachronistic and slightly out of date, pictured in pith helmets and safari suits with a mirthful chuckle that our field even still exists.  Ironically, I believe that one of the senior administrators at my own university had a giggle at our expense for this very reason, as if it was comical to think that anthropologists still were out there, wandering around, doing this funny old anthropology thing we do.

I could fiddle with this classification, but I think the list is quite good on the whole and demonstrates the key problem: not a single critique, but a lack of control over how we are perceived. Anthropologists need to invest more in getting our version of what we do before the public eye rather than let ourselves be defined by others.
If we look closer, what we find in a lot of the critiques are caricatures of us put forward by other people: indigenous ‘advocates’ who attack anthropologists, cultural studies scholars who try to make game of us, and the out-of-touch who assume that, if they don’t know what’s happening, there must not be anything happening in our field.  We often don’t take strong stands against these caricatures, or we take nuanced opposition to them that doesn’t do much to abate the more powerful rhetorical thrust of the criticism.
For example, when criticized for being complicit in colonialism, most cultural anthropologists will tend to roll over and go along with the criticism, conceding that, in fact, anthropologists have given indirect assistance and even philosophical justification for colonialism.  I think that this is a losing strategy in the public sphere.
Cui Yin Mok at the Open Anthropology Cooperative similarly argues that anthropologists have sort of lost their mojo as they’re going too self-critical ‘baggage’ that stops them from better describing their field to the public.
Anthropology’s troubled past and its roots in colonialism might... Read more »

Hannerz, U. (2010) Diversity Is Our Business. American Anthropologist, 112(4), 539-551. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01274.x  

  • January 28, 2011
  • 12:48 AM
  • 1,152 views

Brand Anthropology: New and Improved, with Extra Diversity!

by Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology PLoS

Since graduating from high school, I’ve several times worked as a salesman, first flogging reference books door-to-door over summers while an undergraduate and later, while writing my dissertation, getting involved in the ‘design consulting’ business where I helped sell something a lot less tangible.  Sales was a great training ground for an anthropologist: nothing prepares you for quickly manufacturing social relations like slogging around door-to-door with a sample case, and a large lecture room of first-year students is a lot easier to sell than a skeptical dairy farmer in Wisconsin.
Marquesan tattooing (rear), by Von de Steinen.
I’ve often given anthropological colleagues advice that could have been taken verbatim from my stints in sales school — they would probably be mortified if I knew about the dual purposing.  At times, I worry about my colleagues because I think that a whole series of situations in academia actually resemble sales situations: job interviewing, ‘open day’ for prospective students, grant writing, and even the first few lectures in an introductory class, when you’d be well served if you could persuade the assembled students that you’ve got something to say worth hearing.  
Anthropologists sometimes don’t seem terribly good at selling what they do. If you couldn’t convince a starving man to eat a sandwich, how can we persuade diverse audiences to pay attention to anthropology?
After my previous post on the ‘Vital topics forum,’ reader Jason Antrosio asked my opinion about Ulf Hannerz’s article from the same American Anthropologist: ‘Diversity is Our Business.’  Since I had been banging on about anthropology promoting itself as the study of human diversity, Jason probably assumed, quite reasonably, that I had already read Hannerz’s piece.  Alas, I hadn’t.  One of the many downsides of being laid up at home is that I only read the forum online and hadn’t really browsed the contents of the latest AA because my hard copy is likely still sitting in my office mailbox.
Hannerz’s piece, ‘Diversity is Our Business,’ is well worth the read not just because he explores how the field is misrepresented in the public eye; Hannerz asks what we might do as a field to counter-act anthro-bashing.  He wades into water that I prefer to plunge into neck deep here: what kind of brand is ‘Anthropology,’ how do we tell people about what we do, and do we need to perform a bit of brand management?
Perhaps provocatively, in drawing on a characteristic current vocabulary, I would argue that anthropology needs to cultivate a strong brand. Those who feel ill at ease with that term, thinking that in its crassness it sullies their noble scholarly pursuits, can perhaps just as well continue to call it “public image” or even just “identity,” but in times of not just neoliberal thought but also of media saturation and short attention spans, it may be that “brand” is a useful root metaphor, a word to think with in the world we live in. (These days, too, not only corporations or consumer goods are linked to brands but also for example cities and countries.) Brands should attract outsiders: customers, visitors, members of the public. At the same time, they should preferably offer a fully acceptable identity for whoever may count as insiders to reflect on and be inspired by. (Hannerz 2010: 543)
Hell, yeah, we should think about Anthropology as a brand! With no trace of irony, I’d argue that we get serious about our collective self-promotion as a discipline.  Hannerz gets off to a good start, but I think we could even step up the campaign a bit, making use of the traditional strengths of our discipline to promote our intellectual and research potential.  And I’m going to take this opportunity, as well, to reply to some of the issues Daniel outlined in his piece, Anthropology and Publicity, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Anthropology bashing
Hannerz begins his discussion with a reflection on Pres. Barack Obama’s use of ‘anthropological’ to describe when, during his campaign, Obama apologized for sounding out of touch.  Obama said he was sorry that he sounded as if he was ‘talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters.’ As Hannerz explains, Obama’s assumptions embedded in this apology grate for anthropologists because he takes for granted a public stereotype so at odds with our self-conception (and so ironic given that Obama’s late mother was an anthropologist):
Here it seems to me, then, that the candidate Obama assigns a stereotypically distant view, lacking in empathy, to anthropology—and then proceeds to sketch, as its opposite, precisely the sort of close, contextualizing understanding that we as anthropologists are much more likely to claim for ourselves. And from this particular source, we may find the stereotype so much more surprising because we might have thought this candidate should have got his anthropology right—but more about that later. In any case, here is an instance of a recurrent phenomenon that we might call “anthropology bashing.”  (Hannerz 2010: 541)
According to Hannerz, ‘anthropology bashing’ comes in four basic flavours:

Anthropologists are portrayed as cold and distant observers, ‘at worst, as someone who uses his skills to manipulate situations in ways which are detrimental to the human beings about which he has built up an expertise’ (Hannerz 2010: 541).  This image is of the ‘handmaiden’ of colonialism, a superior-feeling expert at manipulating natives, depriving them of their patrimony, and speaking in place of the cultures that we study.
Anthropologists, in contradiction, are depicted as ‘bumbling, incompetent observer who does not get even obvious realities right,’ as Hannerz puts it, less capable of ‘getting it’ than locals or even amateur observers.  This image is the anthropologist as dowdy professor-type who is ill-suited for life beyond the Ivory Tower but utterly oblivious to this fact.
As part of academia, Hannerz also worries that we are ‘easy target for a kind of populism that proclaims that research in and about far-away places is useless and that money devoted to it is therefore not well-spent.’  Here, Hannerz suggests that anthropologists are particularly prone to populist abuse, such as the ‘Golden Fleece Awards’ given by US Senator William Proxmire, often to projects that receive federal funding but have the bad luck to possess titles that Sen. Proxmire finds easy to mock.
Finally, Hannerz argues that anthropologists are bashed as being anachronistic and slightly out of date, pictured in pith helmets and safari suits with a mirthful chuckle that our field even still exists.  Ironically, I believe that one of the senior administrators at my own university had a giggle at our expense for this very reason, as if it was comical to think that anthropologists still were out there, wandering around, doing this funny old anthropology thing we do.

I could fiddle with this classification, but I think the list is quite good on the whole and demonstrates the key problem: not a single critique, but a lack of control over how we are perceived. Anthropologists need to invest more in getting our version of what we do before the public eye rather than let ourselves be defined by others.
If we look closer, what we find in a lot of the critiques are caricatures of us put forward by other people: indigenous ‘advocates’ who attack anthropologists, cultural studies scholars who try to make game of us, and the out-of-touch who assume that, if they don’t know what’s happening, there must not be anything happening in our field.  We often don’t take strong stands against these caricatures, or we take nuanced opposition to them that doesn’t do much to abate the more powerful rhetorical thrust of the criticism.
For example, when criticized for being complicit in colonialism, most cultural anthropologists will tend to roll over and go along with the criticism, conceding that, in fact, anthropologists have given indirect assistance and even philosophical justification for colonialism.  I think that this is a losing strategy in the public sphere.
Cui Yin Mok at the Open Anthropology Cooperative similarly argues that anthropologists have sort of lost their mojo as they’re going too self-critical ‘baggage’ that stops them from better describing their field to the public.
Anthropology’s troubled past and its roots in colonialism might... Read more »

Hannerz, U. (2010) Diversity Is Our Business. American Anthropologist, 112(4), 539-551. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01274.x  

  • January 27, 2011
  • 11:05 PM
  • 692 views

A species by any other name...would leave us with the same problem

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

This is a great big week for anthropology coverage. The sequencing of the orangutan (Pongo species) genome made the cover of Nature. It's grant-writing-dissertation-formulating-prelim-studying time for me so I haven't had a chance to read this one yet. Science has a couple paleoanthropology-related stories, including two by Ann Gibbons. The first is about recent research on ancient DNA, and how this informs the debate about 'modern human' origins. But there's also a short blurb on what the eff "species" means.
This is a great effing question! The textbook species definition is that proffered by Ernst Mayr: populations of actually or potentially interbreeding individuals, capable of producing viable (and fertile) offspring. Cool, so a dog and a cat are different species because if they mated (ew) no ungodly animal would come from this monstrous union. Expensive high-tech multivariate Scientific reconstruction simulations show the abomination would probably look like this:
But there are many "good" plant and animal species that do mate and reproduce successfully ('hybridize'). Very often these hybrids are sterile, but then very often they're not. This has led researchers to come up with scores of other ways to define species (Holliday (2003) has a great discussion on the matter).
Worse, there's no way to measure, genetically or morphologically, just how different things should be before they can be called different species. The late Morris Goodman and others (Wildman et al. 2003) argued that humans and chimpanzees are so genetically similar that chimps, now in the genus Pan, should be moved to our genus Homo to denote how similar we are. But any other, non-genetic comparison would put our chimp cousins in a very different group from us. Moreover, the effects of hybridization seem, to me at least, to be fairly unpredictable, at least superficially. That is, the outcome of hybridization is highly contingent on what animals are hybridizing, and on these lineages' own evolutionary histories (this is the intractable problem that made me abandon doing hybrid work for my dissertation. Some day though...).
A major issue relates to what I blogged about yesterday: both 'species' and 'hybrid' are terms we've found ourselves with, but they have no inherent meaning in themselves, other than whatever we give them. So it's funny to read this from Gibbons' story:In the real world, [Jean-Jacques Hublin] says, Mayr's concept doesn't hold up: "There are about 330 closely related species of mammals that interbreed, and at least a third of them can produce fertile hybrids."But is it Mayr's species concept that's flawed, or was it misguided to have put these hybridizers into different species in the first place? Should we delineate species based on our a priori conception about whether two things are different, or should a definition of 'species' determine what we call them? Or does it even matter?
To this end, Gibbons's other story describes the morphologically-unremarkable Denisova fossils as belonging to "a new type of human." Well, now what the eff does that mean? We're back to "The Species Problem" (the title of Gibbons's article), but with a new term. And pretend for a moment that the Denisovan fossils didn't yield DNA: the pinky and tooth probably would not have made headlines. Pretend they did have diagnostic cranial remains - would we have recognized them as being so distinct as their genes indicate?
For that matter, I wonder how many arguably 'modern' human fossils would still retain the modern moniker if we could analyze their genes...
ReferencesGibbons, A. (2011). The Species Problem Science, 331 (6016), 394-394 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.394
Gibbons, A. (2011). A New View Of the Birth of Homo sapiens Science, 331 (6016), 392-394 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.392
Holliday, T. (2003). Species Concepts, Reticulation, and Human Evolution Current Anthropology, 44 (5), 653-673 DOI: 10.1086/377663
Wildman, D. (2003). Implications of natural selection in shaping 99.4% nonsynonymous DNA identity between humans and chimpanzees: Enlarging genus Homo Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100 (12), 7181-7188 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1232172100... Read more »

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