Tag Archives | Anthropology

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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Wall Street and the Psychology of Power

AtlasJames Curcio writes on Modern Mythology:

The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken aim at “the 1%,” but so far there has not been a great deal of consideration given to the culture or psychology of power.

Countering the charged, idealistic cry of the protesters comes the more cynical stance that “there will always be a 1%.” That, perhaps, it is human nature to claw our way to the “top of the pile,” to slay the sitting King and take the throne. Certainly, that is a model we see mirrored in the heroic myths of antiquity.

As a result of our nature, are we forever cursed to live out a narrative of master / slave, of fascist dictator, of oppressor and oppressed? Should we resign ourselves to the “grim meathook future” that seems the inevitable outcome of the myth of the Leviathan, supposing no agents of chaos destabilize the true obsession of fascism?… Read the rest

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Where Does Debt Come From?

Debt300dpiVia Naked Capitalism, a fascinating interview with economic anthropologist David Graeber about the history of debt over the last 5,000 years (and the oft-intertwined history of slavery):

Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.

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Fossils Reveal A New Ancestor On The Family Tree

Photo: Lee Berger of University of Witwatersrand

Photo: University of Witwatersrand

We may have some relatives we didn’t know about. Jeffrey Kluger writes onTIME:

One August day in 2008, a pair of nine-year-old boys crossed paths at a cave in South Africa. The boys didn’t play, didn’t speak, didn’t even smile at each other. One of them was Matthew Berger, the young son of paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, accompanying his dad into the field for an expedition. The other boy was known only as Australopithecus sediba, a pre-human child who died 1.977 million years ago, leaving only his fossilized bones behind.

The site, 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg, had been visited before and other bones had been found, but the remains Matthew stumbled across, along with those of an adult female, are the subject of no fewer than five papers in this week’s issue of the journal Science — and with good reason.

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Sex With Neanderthals Boosted Human Immunity

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

So that’s how they justified it … Matt McGrath reports for BBC News:

Sexual relations between ancient humans and their evolutionary cousins are critical for our modern immune systems, researchers report in Science journal.

Mating with Neanderthals and another ancient group called Denisovans introduced genes that help us cope with viruses to this day, they conclude.

Previous research had indicated that prehistoric interbreeding led to up to 4% of the modern human genome.

The new work identifies stretches of DNA derived from our distant relatives.

In the human immune system, the HLA (human leucocyte antigen) family of genes plays an important role in defending against foreign invaders such as viruses.

The authors say that the origins of some HLA class 1 genes are proof that our ancient relatives interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans for a period.

At least one variety of HLA gene occurs frequently in present day populations from West Asia, but is rare in Africans.

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Early Humans Likely Practiced Ritualistic Cannibalism

CannibalsTo be fair, 30,000 years ago, there were few other recreational activities to occupy one’s spare time. The Archaeology News Network writes:

Archaeologists have found 32,000-year-old human remains in southeastern Europe, which suggest that the earliest humans practiced “mortuary” or “ritual” cannibalism.

The excavated human remains, the oldest known in Europe, were found at a shelter-cave site called Buran-Kaya III in Ukraine and exhibit post-mortem cut marks, the MSNBC reports. “Our observations show a post-mortem treatment of human corpses including the selection of the skull,” said the paleozoologist and archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Stephane Pean.

However, Pean said that the treatment of the human bodies, which came with ornaments, did not follow nutritional purposes, rejecting the possibility of dietary cannibalism.

“Observed treatment of the human body, together with the presence of body ornaments, indicates rather a mortuary ritual: either a ritual cannibalism or a specific mortuary practice for secondary disposal,” he described.

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Egyptian Pyramids Found By Infrared Satellite Images

Gizah Pyramids. Photo: Ricardo Liberato (CC)

Gizah Pyramids. Photo: Ricardo Liberato (CC)

Not only were pyramids found, but an entire city-scape could be seen, fit with various buildings and roads. Frances Cronin of BBC News reports:

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.

Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.

The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.

She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.

“We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the “Aha!” moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we’d found and I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.

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An Outsider’s Firsthand Look At The Aghori And Tantra Traditions

James Curcio

James Curcio

Special guest host James Curcio talks to William Clark about the time he spent in India, covering everything from tabla, the aghori sects of tantra, hinduisim and all points in between.

Over the course of the Immanence of Myth project, James Curcio has had many conversations with mythic artists, intellectuals and professors, and outright mutants who in Hunter’s words are “too weird to live and too rare to die.” Most of these are being written or transcribed in part for the book.

The Gspot: William Clark and Tantra (Or listen to the podcast on Alterati.com)

In the time since, we produced a “Gonzomentary” satyr-play about the modern artist called Clark. This podcast provides a very different look at the character behind the character.

Clark Episode 2: No Money Mo’ Problems

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