Tag Archives | Anthropology

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’ ProblemsRead the rest

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The Last Free People On Earth

Joanna Eede writes for National Geographic:

Deep in one of the remotest parts of the Brazilian Amazon, in a clearing at the headwaters of the Envira River, an Indian man looks up at an aeroplane.

He is surrounded by kapok trees and banana plants, and by the necessities of his life: a thatched hut, its roof made from palm fronds; a plant-fiber basket brimming with ripe pawpaw; a pile of peeled manioc, lying bright-white against the rain forest earth.


The man’s body is painted red from crushed seeds of the annatto shrub, and in his hand…

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World’s Oldest Optical Illusion Found?

Bison or Mammoth?This is interesting. I wonder how they relate to the therianthropes found in cave paintings popularized by Graham Hancock and others. Andrew Howley writes on NatGeo News:

Prehistoric artists were creating mind-bending double images of their own, according to a new paper presented earlier this year at an international convention on rock art research.

The paper’s author, Duncan Caldwell has surveyed the Paleolithic art of several caves in France and discovered a recurring theme that he says can’t be simply accidental. Throughout the cave of Font-de-Gaume, and in examples from other sites as well, drawings and engravings of woolly mammoths and bison often share certain lines or other features, creating overlapping images that can be read first as one animal, then the other. Rarely, if ever, do they do the same with other animals.

While images of horses, deer, extinct cattle, and even rhinos often appear in such caves, and often partially or entirely overlap each other, it is only the mammoth-bison pair that Caldwell found regularly appearing superimposed so exactly.

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New Species Of Human Discovered

Photo: David Reich, et al./Nature

Denisovan tooth. Photo: David Reich, et al./Nature

Unraveling ancient human DNA must be like crack for anthropologists — they just can’t stop! Joe Palca reports for NPR:

DNA taken from a pinkie bone at least 30,000 years old is hinting at the existence of a previously unknown population of ancient humans. It’s just the latest example of how modern genetic techniques are transforming the world of anthropology.

The pinkie bone in question was unearthed in 2008 from what’s called the Denisova Cave.

“The Denisova Cave is in southern Siberia in the Altai Mountains in central Asia,” says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “This bone is the bone of a 6- to 7-year-old girl.”

Reich and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig were able to extract DNA from the pinkie bone and sequence all 3 billion letters of DNA that made up this girl’s genome.

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