Tag Archives | Anthropology

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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When Gay Marriage Was A Christian Rite

sergius_bacchus_7th_centuryWhen the conservative-minded say they favor a return to the traditional Christian definition of marriage, they might want to further explore what they mean by that. Via Irish Times:

A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman pronubus (best man) overseeing what in a standard Roman icon would be the wedding of a husband and wife. In the icon, Christ is the pronubus. Only one thing is unusual. The “husband and wife” are in fact two men.

The very idea of a Christian homosexual marriage seems incredible. Yet after a twelve year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian homosexual “marriage” did exist as late as the 18th century. Contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved as a concept and as a ritual.

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Could Humankind Ever Transcend War?

Nov3WomanBurqaNorthAllOn the Last Word On Nothing, a debate on whether or not war is an innate part of the human makeup. Scientist John Horgan says no:

There is no evidence of hominid or human group violence (as opposed to isolated acts of violence) dating back millions or even tens of thousands of years. The oldest evidence of deadly group violence by humans — a mass grave in the Nile Valley — is about 13,000 years old, and the vast bulk of evidence dates from 10,000 years ago or less, leading scholars such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Doug Fry, and Erik Trinhaus to conclude that war is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, associated often with agriculture and permanent settlements.

In response, some skeptics say, Well, we don’t have good evidence of any human behaviors more than 10,000 years ago. Actually, we have evidence of many complex cultural behaviors — tool-making, hunting, cooking, art, music, religion — emerging far back in the Paleolithic era, but not war.

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Science Overturns View Of Humans As Naturally Barbaric

herzog-boys-wrestling-1969-timeAFP on the mounting body of evidence that people and other advanced animals are, on a biological level, driven largely by empathy and caring — undermining the classic view of man possessing a nasty, violent nature tenuously kept in check by the thin veneer of civilization:

Biological research increasingly debunks the view of humanity as competitive, aggressive and brutish, a leading specialist in primate behavior told a major science conference.

“Humans have a lot of pro-social tendencies,” Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New research on higher animals from primates and elephants to mice shows there is a biological basis for behavior such as cooperation, said de Waal.

Until just 12 years ago, the common view among scientists was that humans were “nasty” at the core but had developed a veneer of morality — albeit a thin one, de Waal told scientists and journalists from some 50 countries.

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How Social Darwinism Really Works

File:Brazilian_indians_000

Author: Lecen (CC)

Via ScienceDaily:

Changes in social structure and cultural practices can also contribute to human evolution, according to a study that has recently been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), contributed to by the lecturer Mireia Esparza and assistant Neus Martínez-Abadías, from the Anthropology Unit of the UB’s Department of Animal Biology.

The study, coordinated by the expert Rolando González-José from the Patagonian National Research Center (CENPAT-CONICET, Argentina), examines physical, genetic, geographical and climatic patterns affecting over 1,200 people from the Baniwa, Ticuna, Yanomami, Kaingang, Xavánte and Kayapó indigenous groups of the Brazilian Amazon and Central Plateau.

According to the experts behind the study, one of the most interesting results is the rapid rate of morphological change in the Xavánte, which is up to 3.8 times faster than in the other groups studied. The changes observed in the Xavánte — who have larger heads, narrower faces and broader noses — follow an integration pattern of human skull shape recently described in the literature.

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Oldest Known “Beds” Had Insect Repellent

No MosquitosInsects have bugged human beings for a long time. Via Discover:

In a South African cave, researchers have uncovered traces of the oldest known human bedding, 77,000-year-old mats made of grasses, leaves, and other plant material. While it’s not especially surprising that early humans would have found a way to improve the cold, generally unpleasant experience of sleeping on a cave floor, archaeologists know little about our ancestors’ sleeping habits and habitats.

Using scanning electron microscopy, the researchers identified several species of local rushes and grasses that made up the bulk of the mattress, as well as leaves of the Cryptocarya woodii tree. These leaves contain chemical compounds that repel mosquitoes, lice, and other insects, suggesting that the cave’s ancient residents protected their bedding with natural insecticide.

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Meet the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street

David GraeberDrake Bennett writes in Bloomberg Business:

David Graeber likes to say that he had three goals for the year: promote his book, learn to drive, and launch a worldwide revolution. The first is going well, the second has proven challenging, and the third is looking up.

Graeber is a 50-year-old anthropologist — among the brightest, some argue, of his generation — who made his name with innovative theories on exchange and value, exploring phenomena such as Iroquois wampum and the Kwakiutl potlatch. An American, he teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. He’s also an anarchist and radical organizer, a veteran of many of the major left-wing demonstrations of the past decade: Quebec City and Genoa, the Republican National Convention protests in Philadelphia and New York, the World Economic Forum in New York in 2002, the London tuition protests earlier this year. This summer, Graeber was a key member of a small band of activists who quietly planned, then noisily carried out, the occupation of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, providing the focal point for what has grown into an amorphous global movement known as Occupy Wall Street.

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