Tag Archives | Anthropology

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Cannibalism

Picture: Cannibalism during Russian Famine of 1921 (PD)

Our friends at Mental Floss offer a fairly comprehensive overview of cannibalism. Here’s an excerpt:

Exocannibalism is the consumption of the flesh of a person outside of one’s own social group, often as a way to intimidate an individual or group, steal another’s life force, or express domination of an enemy in warfare. Certain tribes in the Fiji islands maintained ritualized acts of cannibalistic “battle rage,” where captured enemy warriors were publicly tortured, killed, and consumed.

The accusation of exocannibalism may be even more damaging to enemies than eating them. When Christopher Columbus encountered the Carib Indians, he described them as “sub-human eaters of men,” labeling them inferior to Europeans and not much better than animals. They were seen as a dangerous “other,” and the murder of their people and theft of their land was easily justifiable because of that. The slur of cannibalism goes both ways, however.

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Space Satellites As Humanity’s Final Monuments

The spacecraft EchoStar XVI will beam trillions of images into the darkness and then enter an eternal "graveyard orbit". Artist in residence at MIT Trevor Paglen on satellites as the new pyramids:
Currently, more than 800 spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit form a man-made ring of satellites around Earth. The dead spacecraft in orbit have become a permanent fixture around Earth, not unlike the rings of Saturn. They will be the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet’s surface. Presented by public art organization Creative Time, The Last Pictures is a project to acknowledge these spacecraft as the monuments of our historical era. They are our Pyramids, our Stonehenge, and our Nazca lines.
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Tech Writer David Pogue Transforms Into Neanderthal

Watch writer David Pogue transform into a Neanderthal through the magic of modern prosthetic makeup. Pogue's transformation comes courtesy of PBS television program Nova ScienceNow, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. On this Wednesday's episode, "What Makes Us Human", Pogue will walk the streets of New York City in his Neanderthal get-up and see how people react. Would you notice anything unusual about Pogue?
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Did Ancient Hairy Hobbits Once Inhabit A Japanese Island?

Cryptomundo discusses evidence, including tiny tools and bizarre pit dwellings, that supports legends of tiny elfin people living on the island of Hokkaido:

A commonly occurring phenomenon seen in the folklore and myth of a wide range of cultures throughout the world is the existence of miniature humanoid creatures [Faeries, dwarves, leprechauns, or by whatever other names they are known].

On the island of Hokkaido, in the cold northern reaches of the Japanese archipelago, the indigenous Ainu people too have their long traditions of an ancient race of dwarf-like people thought to have inhabited the land long before humans arrived. The Ainu knew these creatures as the Koropokkuru…most commonly translated as “the people who live under the burdock leaves.” Most commonly Koropokkuru are described as being rather hairy and odiferous.

Was there any truth to any of these stories of small, humanoid creatures living in the wilds of Hokkaido, and if so what were they?

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New Studies Identify Sub-species of the Bourgeoisie

Picture: David Shankbone (CC)

Anti-capitalist agitprop has always lagged behind in producing the raw empirical support for the range of macro-economic theories deployed to oppose mainstream capitalist economics. As such, it often exhibits some of the same weaknesses inherent in freshwater capitalist macroeconomics. This may be because of the idealism and preferred style of argument inherited by the 19th Century First International cohort from their cultural surroundings. However, this traditional weakness is starting to be broken down. Some of the empirical work on the sociology of class, capital and power is now starting to emerge in popular form from the niche, highly specialized academic and policy journals that previously were the only places this sort of data was ever published.

As an example, one new research program has set out to assign names and faces to the abstract notion of the transnational capitalist class. Project Censored reports:

[W]e ask: Who are the the world’s 1 percent power elite?

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Human Ancestors Were For The Most Part Vegetarian

Looking to free your diet from the perversions of modernity and eat paleo-style? When our ancient predecessors were developing their digestive systems, they did so on a steady ration of plants — which are what most primates eat to this day, writes Scientific American:

An entire class of self-help books recommends a return to the diets of our ancestors–Paleolithic diets, caveman diets, primal diets and the like. But what did our ancestors eat?

A paleo diet is an arbitrary thing. Which paleo diet should we eat? The one from twelve thousand years ago? A hundred thousand years ago? Forty million years ago? I would argue that, IF we want to return to our ancestral diets, we might reasonably eat what our ancestors spent the most time eating during the largest periods of the evolution of our guts. If that is the case, we need to be eating fruits, nuts, and vegetables—especially fungus-covered tropical leaves.

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Newly Unearthed Mayan Hieroglyphs Point To December 2012, With A Twist

Recently the Mayan calendar system was found to extend far beyond 2012, perhaps giving some respite to those who feared that the world would end by next Christmas. Now a new discovery once again highlights December 21, 2012, but as the end of a political cycle, rather than doomsday. I say bring it on. Phys.Org reports:

Archaeologists working at the site of La Corona in Guatemala have discovered a 1,300 year-old year-old Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called “end date” for the Maya calendar on December 21, 2012. The discovery, one of the most significant hieroglyphic find in decades, was announced today at the National Palace in Guatemala.

“This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy,” says Marcello A. Canuto, Director of Tulane’s Middle American Research Institute and co-director of the excavations at the Maya ruins of La Corona. “This new evidence suggests that the 13 Bak’tun date was an important calendrical event that would have been celebrated by the ancient Maya.”

The hieroglyphs commemorated a royal visit to La Corona in AD 696 by the most powerful Maya ruler of that time, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ of Calakmul.

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How Humanity Picked Its Colors

Our long-ago ancestors saw two basic colors: light and dark. Today we see eleven (black, grey, white, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, brown, pink). Tomorrow we will see more. Empirical Zeal on “color colonialism” and the odd pattern that societies follow in erecting “color boundaries”:

Blue and green are similar in hue. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet.

One of the first fences in this color continuum came from crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan… There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

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Did the Earliest Human Relatives Originate in Asia and Not Africa?

Reports Jennifer Viegas in Discovery News:
The ancestors of humans, apes and monkeys evolved first in Asia before moving on to Africa, suggests a new fossil find from Myanmar. Remains of a newly found primate, Afrasia djijidae, show this monkey-like animal lived 37 million years ago and was a likely ancestor of anthropoids — the group including humans, apes and monkeys. "Many people have heard about the 'Out of Africa' story of human origins and human evolution," said Christopher Beard, a Carnegie Museum of Natural History vertebrate paleontologist who co-authored a study about the fossil find in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our paper is the logical precursor to that, because we are showing how the anthropoid ancestors of humans made their way 'Into Africa' in the first place."...
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Americans’ Heads Getting Bigger In Size And Changing Shape

Writes Jacqueline Howard on the Huffington Post:
Did the 20th century make us big-headed? Maybe so, since forensic anthropologists at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville found that white Americans' heads are getting bigger and bigger ... in size, that is. The researchers studied about 1,500 skulls that dated from the mid-1800s through the 1980s. They noticed that the skulls gradually became larger, taller, and narrower. As a result, faces have become longer. "The surprising thing is the skull size increase has not been documented in modern Americans," researcher Dr. Richard Jantz told the Huffington Post. "We might have suspected that that was happening but this documents it ... The shape of the skull has also changed rather dramatically. In fact, shape change has been more dramatic than size change.”...
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