25/10/2015

A mudman from Asaro with his unique clay mask
Mary Douglas (2002, pp.2) argues that “dirt is essentially disorder”, meaning that it is matter that falls between the categories of a socially constructed system of classification. So in terms of definition it “exists in the eye of the beholder”; due to different systems of classification, what may be considered ‘dirty’ or ‘pure’ from a western perspective may not be in other cultures. In this essay I am going to discuss different beliefs about pollution and dirt in relation to systems of classification in various cultures. I will look at what is meant by systems of classification, how dirt and pollution are classified, religious classification, how this affects food classification, and discuss how the ethnographic examples address how dirt and pollution are integrated (or aren’t) into systems of classification. To explain these ideas in the context of a culture quite different to the Western world, throughout this essay I will refer to the people (the Hua, among others) of the Papua New Guinea Highlands to illustrate my points.

First I would like to look at systems of classification, which are an important knowledge component of all societies, as they allow us to mentally structure our surroundings in order to achieve an understanding of the world. In an anthropological sense, this means separating people, animals, objects and other phenomena into socially pre-defined categories and types (Eriksen, 1995, pp.246). Classification itself is learned at a very young age, even before language, as we begin to categorise people, places and things etc. based on cultural knowledge and experience. However, it’s believed that classification is socially constructed, and different cultures have different systems, a famous example of which is the Cassowary of Papua New Guinea. In a Western system it would be a bird (it has feathers and lays eggs), however to the indigenous Karam, it is not a bird because it cannot fly. On the other hand, the Karam classify bats with birds for their ability to fly (Bulmer, 1967, pp.7-8).

Now I am going to explore views of dirt and pollution and how they are defined (and affect classification) from two different perspectives; the Hua and the Japanese. If we look at the Hua concept nu (we may interpret it as a 'vital essence'), they believe most of the transactions in social life involve the sharing of nu. Nu is thought of as substances including sexual fluids, faeces and urine, breath and body odours, sweat, body oil, hair, saliva, fingernails, and flesh and blood; however nu can be seen as good or bad depending on the social source (Meigs, 1983, pp.99). Since much of their food is classified in order to avoid the ingestion of these substances from the wrong sources (I will talk about these food rules in the next paragraph), the Hua concept of siro na (literally 'dirty thing') can be identified through their social interactions rather than just the substances themselves. For example, in contrast to Western beliefs, Hua men do not classify vomit as dirty if it is produced by his real or classificatory father, in fact it is rubbed into the body to promote growth and vitality (Meigs, 1978, pp.308). The Japanese similarly convey their idea of dirt in the form of baikin, or 'germs', which are closely associated with the spatial 'outside'. They (like the Hua) believe that these 'germs' are exchanged through personal interactions and classify the 'outside' as hitogomi (literally people-rubbish), meaning the crowds that populate the streets, shops etc. Therefore they take measures, such as gargling water, to purify themselves of these baikin when moving from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’ (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1984, pp.21-22). It is argued that the way we deal with household dirt forms a symbolic protection, that shields the 'inside' from disorder, whilst the 'outside', where one meets strangers, can be "rubbished" (Chakrabarty, 1991, cited in Beall, 2006).


Ideas of hygiene therefore are learned; a product of classification based on ideas of dirt and purity that have evolved in different cultures, and we could argue that these ideas have been created over time by rituals and religions. Hua males undergo an initiation period between the ages of seven and eleven, and during this time the world around them is classified with new restrictions, put in place to avoid pollution from bad nu. Certain slow growing foods (such as some species of yams) are classified as polluting to their nu during initiation, as they would stunt growth (Meigs, 1983, pp.137-138). In a similar context, Mary Douglas (1996) explores the Jewish dietary rules and restrictions from the Bible that classifies animals as ‘pure’ and ‘impure’. For example, animals that crawl are considered dirty due to their proximity to the ground, becoming a metaphor for sloth and gluttony; this makes eating an act of worship, but also introduces an entire system of classification to the Jewish community. This classification isn’t restricted to food; after gold was discovered at Mt. Kare in New Guinea, many people moved there to try and find gold, however due to the cold, damp conditions people easily became ill. The mountain had previously been considered a sacred place inhabited by spirits, but after these illnesses started to spread, the mountain was associated with Satan (the Christian image was due to mission influence). Therefore the gold became classified as ‘dirty money’, which could harm a man and his family, so could only be used for the purchase of luxuries such as alcohol (Clark, 1993, pp.744-745). So we can see that when religion and ritual in societies begin to make purity and pollution symbolic, there are large (and sometimes seemingly random, even for people within the society) changes in systems of classification.

One of the main ways in which religion and ritual classify the world is by designating certain foods as ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. In response to their ideas of siro na, the Hua classify their food with absolute and relative rules. The absolute rules being those that define a relation between the consumer and a certain type of food, which are observed ceremonially, for example foods with a red/reddish juice are classified as polluting during a male’s initiation, as it is associated with blood. The relative rules are those that prevent pollution of nu by sanctioning the relationships between the consumer and the producer, and are the rules that are observed more loosely as a part of everyday life (Meigs, 1983, pp.17-18). An example of a relative rule would be that Hua males don’t eat food prepared by menstruating females, as menstrual blood is siro na and will pollute their nu, so is classified as ‘bad cooking’ (Hage & Harary, 1981, pp.368). Alternatively, the Kapsiki of Cameroon believe that the taboo foods aren't themselves dirty, but the person that eats them is considered so. Therefore, in their society, blacksmiths are classified differently to other villagers because they have a very different set of taboo foods, and as such can be considered dirty for eating the foods tabooed by the rest of the society (van Beek, 1992, pp.41-42). However food rules aren’t exclusively created by religion and ritual, other factors such as language can affect classification. For example Americans categorise the edible parts of an animal by making distinctions between the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. The muscle and fat become ambiguous, inferred by the general label ‘meat’, however the ‘inner’ parts are named (e.g. heart, kidneys etc.) and thus becomes easily associated with the human body (Sahlins, 1977, pp.175), leading to ideas of pollution that could be linked to the way we think of cannibalism.

Now I would like to discuss the way in which dirt and pollution are shown to relate to systems of classification in the previous examples. The authors seem to show us how dirt and pollution affect how things are classified, however there is little comment on how people within a society react to these classifications. They could have gone about this like James (1979), who looks at attitudes towards cheap sweets in northern England, where adults call them 'kets' meaning rubbish, but to the children these 'kets' and the youth culture surrounding them are a social refuge from adult authority. Also, I found that the authors only really looked at how views of dirt and pollution are a social construction. Alternatively, Curtis (2007, pp.660) explores how concepts of dirt and pollution aren’t just a product of social construction, but that they are embedded into our instincts too as an integral aspect of our survival mechanics. She gives evidence that looks at the attitudes of other animals' reactions to dirt, and hypothesises that humans won't have lost these instincts; they may be a contributing factor of current attitudes.

In conclusion, looking at the examples above, I agree with Mary Douglas that ideas of dirt and pollution are rooted in the social construction of a specific society. There are certain aspects (such as attitudes towards bodily exudations) that appear to a certain extent universal, and this may be due to a possible underlying understanding of dirt that links to our primal survival instincts. This means that different systems of classification may have similar attitudes to dirt in regards to potentially harmful substances, but I believe that the main way that dirt and pollution relate to systems of classification can be attributed to religion and ritual.

References:
Beall, J. (2006). Dealing with Dirt and the Disorder of Development: Managing Rubbish in Urban Pakistan. Oxford Development Studies 34(1), pp.81-97.

van Beek, W.E.A. (1992). The Dirty Smith: Smell as a Social Frontier among the Kapsiki/Higi of North Cameroon and North-Eastern Nigeria. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 62(1), pp.38-58.

Bulmer, R. (1967). Why is the Cassowary Not a Bird? A Problem of Zoological Taxonomy Among the Karam of the New Guinea Highlands. Man 2(1), pp.5-25.

Chakrabarty, D. (1991). Open Space/Public Space: garbage, modernity and India. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 14(1), pp.15-31.

Clark, J. (1993). Gold, Sex and Pollution: Male Illness and Myth at Mt. Kare, Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 20(4), pp.742-757.

Curtis, V.A. (2007). Dirt, Disgust and Disease: a natural history of hygiene. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61(8), pp.660-664.

Douglas, M. (2002). Purity and Danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo. London: Routledge.

Eriksen, T.H. (1995). Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: Pluto.

Hage, P. and Harary, F. (1981). Pollution Beliefs in Highland New Guinea. Man 16(3), pp.367-375.

James, A. (1979). Confections, Concoctions and Conceptions. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 10(2), pp.83-95.

Meigs, A.S. (1983). Food, Sex, and Pollution: A New Guinea Religion. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Meigs, A.S. (1978). A Papuan Perspective on Pollution. Man 13(2), pp.304-318.

Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1984). Japanese Germs. In Illness and Culture in Contemporary Japan: an anthropological view. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.19-50.

Sahlins, M. (1977). Food Preference and Tabu in American Domestic Animals. In Culture and Practical Reason. Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp.170-179.

Image credit:
Asaro Mudman (flipped) - By Jialiang Gao peace-on-earth.org (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dirt - By normanack [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How do beliefs about pollution and dirt relate to systems of classification?

A mudman from Asaro with his unique clay mask
Mary Douglas (2002, pp.2) argues that “dirt is essentially disorder”, meaning that it is matter that falls between the categories of a socially constructed system of classification. So in terms of definition it “exists in the eye of the beholder”; due to different systems of classification, what may be considered ‘dirty’ or ‘pure’ from a western perspective may not be in other cultures. In this essay I am going to discuss different beliefs about pollution and dirt in relation to systems of classification in various cultures. I will look at what is meant by systems of classification, how dirt and pollution are classified, religious classification, how this affects food classification, and discuss how the ethnographic examples address how dirt and pollution are integrated (or aren’t) into systems of classification. To explain these ideas in the context of a culture quite different to the Western world, throughout this essay I will refer to the people (the Hua, among others) of the Papua New Guinea Highlands to illustrate my points.

First I would like to look at systems of classification, which are an important knowledge component of all societies, as they allow us to mentally structure our surroundings in order to achieve an understanding of the world. In an anthropological sense, this means separating people, animals, objects and other phenomena into socially pre-defined categories and types (Eriksen, 1995, pp.246). Classification itself is learned at a very young age, even before language, as we begin to categorise people, places and things etc. based on cultural knowledge and experience. However, it’s believed that classification is socially constructed, and different cultures have different systems, a famous example of which is the Cassowary of Papua New Guinea. In a Western system it would be a bird (it has feathers and lays eggs), however to the indigenous Karam, it is not a bird because it cannot fly. On the other hand, the Karam classify bats with birds for their ability to fly (Bulmer, 1967, pp.7-8).

Now I am going to explore views of dirt and pollution and how they are defined (and affect classification) from two different perspectives; the Hua and the Japanese. If we look at the Hua concept nu (we may interpret it as a 'vital essence'), they believe most of the transactions in social life involve the sharing of nu. Nu is thought of as substances including sexual fluids, faeces and urine, breath and body odours, sweat, body oil, hair, saliva, fingernails, and flesh and blood; however nu can be seen as good or bad depending on the social source (Meigs, 1983, pp.99). Since much of their food is classified in order to avoid the ingestion of these substances from the wrong sources (I will talk about these food rules in the next paragraph), the Hua concept of siro na (literally 'dirty thing') can be identified through their social interactions rather than just the substances themselves. For example, in contrast to Western beliefs, Hua men do not classify vomit as dirty if it is produced by his real or classificatory father, in fact it is rubbed into the body to promote growth and vitality (Meigs, 1978, pp.308). The Japanese similarly convey their idea of dirt in the form of baikin, or 'germs', which are closely associated with the spatial 'outside'. They (like the Hua) believe that these 'germs' are exchanged through personal interactions and classify the 'outside' as hitogomi (literally people-rubbish), meaning the crowds that populate the streets, shops etc. Therefore they take measures, such as gargling water, to purify themselves of these baikin when moving from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’ (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1984, pp.21-22). It is argued that the way we deal with household dirt forms a symbolic protection, that shields the 'inside' from disorder, whilst the 'outside', where one meets strangers, can be "rubbished" (Chakrabarty, 1991, cited in Beall, 2006).


Ideas of hygiene therefore are learned; a product of classification based on ideas of dirt and purity that have evolved in different cultures, and we could argue that these ideas have been created over time by rituals and religions. Hua males undergo an initiation period between the ages of seven and eleven, and during this time the world around them is classified with new restrictions, put in place to avoid pollution from bad nu. Certain slow growing foods (such as some species of yams) are classified as polluting to their nu during initiation, as they would stunt growth (Meigs, 1983, pp.137-138). In a similar context, Mary Douglas (1996) explores the Jewish dietary rules and restrictions from the Bible that classifies animals as ‘pure’ and ‘impure’. For example, animals that crawl are considered dirty due to their proximity to the ground, becoming a metaphor for sloth and gluttony; this makes eating an act of worship, but also introduces an entire system of classification to the Jewish community. This classification isn’t restricted to food; after gold was discovered at Mt. Kare in New Guinea, many people moved there to try and find gold, however due to the cold, damp conditions people easily became ill. The mountain had previously been considered a sacred place inhabited by spirits, but after these illnesses started to spread, the mountain was associated with Satan (the Christian image was due to mission influence). Therefore the gold became classified as ‘dirty money’, which could harm a man and his family, so could only be used for the purchase of luxuries such as alcohol (Clark, 1993, pp.744-745). So we can see that when religion and ritual in societies begin to make purity and pollution symbolic, there are large (and sometimes seemingly random, even for people within the society) changes in systems of classification.

One of the main ways in which religion and ritual classify the world is by designating certain foods as ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. In response to their ideas of siro na, the Hua classify their food with absolute and relative rules. The absolute rules being those that define a relation between the consumer and a certain type of food, which are observed ceremonially, for example foods with a red/reddish juice are classified as polluting during a male’s initiation, as it is associated with blood. The relative rules are those that prevent pollution of nu by sanctioning the relationships between the consumer and the producer, and are the rules that are observed more loosely as a part of everyday life (Meigs, 1983, pp.17-18). An example of a relative rule would be that Hua males don’t eat food prepared by menstruating females, as menstrual blood is siro na and will pollute their nu, so is classified as ‘bad cooking’ (Hage & Harary, 1981, pp.368). Alternatively, the Kapsiki of Cameroon believe that the taboo foods aren't themselves dirty, but the person that eats them is considered so. Therefore, in their society, blacksmiths are classified differently to other villagers because they have a very different set of taboo foods, and as such can be considered dirty for eating the foods tabooed by the rest of the society (van Beek, 1992, pp.41-42). However food rules aren’t exclusively created by religion and ritual, other factors such as language can affect classification. For example Americans categorise the edible parts of an animal by making distinctions between the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. The muscle and fat become ambiguous, inferred by the general label ‘meat’, however the ‘inner’ parts are named (e.g. heart, kidneys etc.) and thus becomes easily associated with the human body (Sahlins, 1977, pp.175), leading to ideas of pollution that could be linked to the way we think of cannibalism.

Now I would like to discuss the way in which dirt and pollution are shown to relate to systems of classification in the previous examples. The authors seem to show us how dirt and pollution affect how things are classified, however there is little comment on how people within a society react to these classifications. They could have gone about this like James (1979), who looks at attitudes towards cheap sweets in northern England, where adults call them 'kets' meaning rubbish, but to the children these 'kets' and the youth culture surrounding them are a social refuge from adult authority. Also, I found that the authors only really looked at how views of dirt and pollution are a social construction. Alternatively, Curtis (2007, pp.660) explores how concepts of dirt and pollution aren’t just a product of social construction, but that they are embedded into our instincts too as an integral aspect of our survival mechanics. She gives evidence that looks at the attitudes of other animals' reactions to dirt, and hypothesises that humans won't have lost these instincts; they may be a contributing factor of current attitudes.

In conclusion, looking at the examples above, I agree with Mary Douglas that ideas of dirt and pollution are rooted in the social construction of a specific society. There are certain aspects (such as attitudes towards bodily exudations) that appear to a certain extent universal, and this may be due to a possible underlying understanding of dirt that links to our primal survival instincts. This means that different systems of classification may have similar attitudes to dirt in regards to potentially harmful substances, but I believe that the main way that dirt and pollution relate to systems of classification can be attributed to religion and ritual.

References:
Beall, J. (2006). Dealing with Dirt and the Disorder of Development: Managing Rubbish in Urban Pakistan. Oxford Development Studies 34(1), pp.81-97.

van Beek, W.E.A. (1992). The Dirty Smith: Smell as a Social Frontier among the Kapsiki/Higi of North Cameroon and North-Eastern Nigeria. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 62(1), pp.38-58.

Bulmer, R. (1967). Why is the Cassowary Not a Bird? A Problem of Zoological Taxonomy Among the Karam of the New Guinea Highlands. Man 2(1), pp.5-25.

Chakrabarty, D. (1991). Open Space/Public Space: garbage, modernity and India. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 14(1), pp.15-31.

Clark, J. (1993). Gold, Sex and Pollution: Male Illness and Myth at Mt. Kare, Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 20(4), pp.742-757.

Curtis, V.A. (2007). Dirt, Disgust and Disease: a natural history of hygiene. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61(8), pp.660-664.

Douglas, M. (2002). Purity and Danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo. London: Routledge.

Eriksen, T.H. (1995). Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: Pluto.

Hage, P. and Harary, F. (1981). Pollution Beliefs in Highland New Guinea. Man 16(3), pp.367-375.

James, A. (1979). Confections, Concoctions and Conceptions. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 10(2), pp.83-95.

Meigs, A.S. (1983). Food, Sex, and Pollution: A New Guinea Religion. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Meigs, A.S. (1978). A Papuan Perspective on Pollution. Man 13(2), pp.304-318.

Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1984). Japanese Germs. In Illness and Culture in Contemporary Japan: an anthropological view. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.19-50.

Sahlins, M. (1977). Food Preference and Tabu in American Domestic Animals. In Culture and Practical Reason. Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp.170-179.

Image credit:
Asaro Mudman (flipped) - By Jialiang Gao peace-on-earth.org (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dirt - By normanack [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

23/10/2015

The archaeological record is the way that we interpret prehistory, so the effective preservation of evidence is the most important way to build an understanding. First this essay will look at what actually gets preserved, and then how these materials get preserved for long periods of time, with Ötzi the iceman, American caves, the Schöningen spears, Ohalo II and the Laetoli footprints as case studies. Lastly there will be a discussion on the problems of preservation, including the impossibility of behavioural preservation and the way that archaeologists can get around these problems with scientific methods, experimental archaeology and ethnoarchaeology (with a focus on Central African hunter-gatherers).

What gets preserved?

The archaeological record is comprised of finds which can be categorised mainly into artefacts (literally handmade objects) and biofacts (organic/natural remains). Finds such as the Oldowan stone tools at Gona, Ethiopia are an example of inorganic artefacts, in the form of stone tool flakes, which pushed the dates for the earliest stone tool manufacturing from 1.8 to 2.6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). The reason we could reliably produce these dates is because stone artefacts survive well and they aren't biodegradable, meaning there is more evidence to find to support this hypothesis.

On the other hand, organic artefacts and biofacts make up a minority of the archaeological record; being materials such as wood and skins, they are biodegradable. However, even though organic finds are limited, they can provide much better evidence of material culture than inorganics, as it is most likely that tools would be made organics like wood, animal parts etc. Supporting this idea, Sillitoe & Hardy (2003: 556) make the observation that the majority of material culture, such as tools, of the current Wola tribe of Papua New Guinea wouldn't survive archaeologically, just like prehistoric artefacts. Therefore, the way we classify the archaeological record is biased (see Fig.1) (Beck & Jones, 1989); certain articles are preserved, and others aren’t, and we should remember that a large portion of artefacts we find are actually refuse. This means our understanding of the archaeological record is pushed towards certain cultures and aspects of life based on the interpretation of the available evidence. 

Fig.1: The causes of bias in the archaeological record, and some ways to respond.

How are artefacts preserved?

John Coles (cited in Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 72) Estimates that around 75% of evidence at a site is organic and thus may not be preserved, this is due to the fact that in order to be preserved effectively, specific conditions must be met. Survival of materials depends largely on the climate and the surrounding matrix, but also must be kept in a stable moisture environment (extremely arid/cold) or an anaerobic/anoxic state (Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 63-7). Bones, for example, are preserved in alkaline material, which is why discoveries of human remains are often made in limestone caves and caverns; although this creates a geographical bias, restricting our understanding of where people lived to certain areas (see Fig.1).

A cold or frozen environment effectively refrigerates materials, keeping them preserved for long periods of time, a famous example of which is the discovery of 'Ötzi the Iceman' (see Fig.2) in the Ötztal Alps near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The body of a man was found frozen in a glacier, and radiocarbon dated to around 5100-5300 years ago, preserved because the ice hadn’t thawed until he was found, which kept conditions such as the moisture stable (Barfield, 1994). The body was kept so well that even his stomach contents could be identified, allowing archaeologists to build a picture of how and where he lived based on the types of pollen they found (Groenman-van Waateringe, 2011). And the many items he was found with, for example a copper axe, provided “unprecedented insight” into life and culture of Neolithic-Copper Age central Europe (Müller et al, 2003).

Fig.2: The preserved body of Ötzi and tools

In much the same way, organic materials can also be kept stable and preserved in arid environments; many destructive micro-organisms cannot thrive in an environment with a lack of water. Hogup and Danger Caves, Utah were inhabited by humans up to 10,000 years ago, and were dry enough to preserve 142 human coprolites. This allowed archaeologists to examine the diet and lifestyles of the inhabitants, after which they found the oldest evidence of the human exclusive parasite Enterobius vermicularis (human pinworm), which were radiocarbon dated to 7837years ago. Similarly, excavations were carried out in Lovelock Cave, Nevada, where coprolites preserved in the arid conditions showed that the inhabitants had extremely course diets of seeds, hulls and tough plant fibres (Heizer & Napton, 1969: 563) and North America's oldest sling (made of Apocynum) was found preserved on the mummified body of a child (Heizer & Johnson, 1952: 139). 

Materials can be kept in an anaerobic/anoxic state in waterlogged environments; this prevents the destruction of materials by harmful bacteria, allowing them to be preserved. Three complete wooden spears (around 2m in length) were found at Schöningen in an unusually dense deposit that precluded air penetration, stopping bacterial decay (Klein, 2013: 113-4). Dated to around 400kya alongside the bones of several butchered horses, they provided the oldest compelling evidence of human hunting activity (Thieme, 1997). Similarly the Ohalo II site at the Sea of Galilee was established after a period of droughts and pumping from the lake revealed a series of submerged brush hut dwellings (see Fig.3) dated to around 23kya (Hole, 2004). The discovery of organic remains of fruits, seeds and wooden objects in context offered insight into the lifestyle of people during the LGM; but the main point of interest was the discovery of preserved bedding (see Fig.3). It consisted of partially charred Puccinellia confer convoluta leaves and stems, covered by a thin compact layer of clay arranged around a central hearth, and became the oldest evidence of in situ bedding (Nadel et al. 2004: 6821-4).

Fig.3: Layout of dwelling (left), preserved grass bedding (right)
Alongside preservation in cold, arid or waterlogged conditions, there are incidents where materials are preserved due to ‘freak conditions’ such burial in volcanic ash. The footprints of Australopithecus afarensis discovered in Laetoli, Ethiopia (by Mary Leakey in 1978) were believed to have been preserved by rapid cementation by natrocarbonatite and melilitite ashes erupted from the nearby Sadiman volcano (Zaitsev, 2011). They were formed when hominin walked through a wet ash-fall, and their preservation has allowed archaeologists to determine the way that early hominin walked by examining the shape and angles of the prints (Raichlen et al, 2010).

Problems with preservation

Since there are many problems in regards to how well materials are preserved, archaeologists must find ways to deal with these problems. The use of scientific methods in archaeology has improved the understanding we can draw from the archaeological record. For example, Young and Bamforth (1990) explore the problems faced when trying to differentiate between natural wear and signs of use in stone tools. They argue that macroscopic approaches often lead to misinterpretation, and cannot compare to careful microscopic analysis. Improved methods of analysis have led to new techniques of interpreting evidence too, as Hurcombe (2008) explains; by examining the organic residue on lithics, a new understanding of Neolithic craft culture (such as basket weaving) was established (see Fig.4). This is often supported  by 'experimental archaeology', a process designed to 'replicate past phenomena' (Mathieu, 2002, cited in Outram, 2008), this could be anything from hafting stone tools to test effectiveness, to building ancient dwellings and destroying them to monitor the decay (Carrell, 1992: 4).

Fig.4: An Archaeologist uses
a stone tool to cut reeds, then identifies
the wear
Experimental archaeology is useful when it comes to trying to understand how things we find were used in the past, but there are some things that simply aren't preserved at all, such as behaviour. One of the closest ways we can get to understanding behavioural patterns is through an ethnoarchaeological process; London (2000: 2) explains that by living in contemporary traditional societies and observing the people, archaeologists can record data to improve their understanding of ancient artefacts. Hunter-gatherer societies in many parts of the world have been the focus of much ethnoarchaeological attention; Atherton (1983) describes the way in which the study of African hunters and foragers has shed new light on the debate over the transition between foraging and agriculture. He explains that in contrast to John Pfeiffer's 'Eureka' theory (1976: 23), in which the transition was a sudden irreversible one; based on the passive reaction to agriculture shown by today's hunter-gatherers, prehistoric communities may have acted in the same way, choosing not to use them or only when necessary. When studying the indigenous San Bushmen of central Botswana, an observation was made that there was a distinct difference between foragers, who move their camps to follow food, and collectors, who gather resources and return to a semi-static camp. This identification allowed archaeologists to determine the lifestyles of prehistoric communities based on the types of camps discovered (Binford, 1980: 5-10). Though we must remember when taking an ethnoarchaeological approach that contemporary hunter-gatherers are not living fossils.

Conclusions

I believe that preservation of materials is extremely important when building an understanding of the archaeological record; if evidence fails to be preserved then our interpretation of the past would be extraordinarily limited. The preservation of inorganic materials can be useful, but based on fairly certain knowledge that most prehistoric material culture would have been organic; it is not the best evidence. Organics may be the best, but unfortunately they are perishable and are only preserved under specific conditions. However archaeological science, experimental and ethnoarchaeology provide ways to deal with this lack of evidence, and form an ever improving understanding of the archaeological record.

References:
Atherton, J.H. (1983). Ethnoarchaeology in Africa. The African Archaeological Review 1, pp.75-104.

Barfield, L. (1994). The Iceman reviewed. Antiquity 68, pp.10-26.

Beck, C. & Jones, G.T. (1989). Bias and Archaeological Classification. American Antiquity 54(2), pp.244-262.

Binford, L. (1980). Willow Smoke and Dog's Tails: Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45(1), pp.4-20.

Carrell, T.L. (1992). Replication and Experimental Archaeology. Historical Archaeology 26(4), pp.4-13.

Fry, G.F. & Moore, J.G. (1969). Enterobius vermicularis: 10,000-Year-Old Human Infection. Science 166(3913), pp.1620.

Groenman-van Waateringe, W. (2011). The Iceman's last days - the testimony of Ostrya carpinifolia. Antiquity 85, pp.434-440.

Heizer, R.F. & Johnson, I.W. (1952). A Prehistoric Sling from Lovelock Cave, Nevada. American Antiquity 18(2), pp.139-147.

Heizer, R.F. & Napton, L.K. (1969). Biological and Cultural Evidence from Prehistoric Human Coprolites. Science 165(3893), pp.563-568.

Hole, F. (2004). Stone Age Bedding by the Sea of Galilee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(19), pp.7207-7208.

Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

Klein, R. (2013). Hominin Dispersals in the World. Ch3 in: Scarre, C. (ed.) The Human Past. 3rd ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

London, G. (2000). Ethnoarchaeology and Interpretations of the Past. Near Eastern Archaeology 63(1), pp.2-8.

Mathieu, J. R. (2002). Introduction. In Mathieu, J.R. (ed.) Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviours and Processes. BAR International Series 1035, Archaeopress: Oxford.

McPherron, S. P. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

Müller, W. et al. (2003). Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman. Science 302(5646), pp.862-866.

Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World's Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Outram, A.K. (2008) Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.1-6.

Pfeiffer, J. E. (1976). A Note on the Problem of Basic Causes. In Harlan et al. (eds.) Origins of African Plant Domestication. Mouton: University of Michigan.

Raichlen, D.A. et al. (2010). Laetoli Footprints Preserve Earliest Direct Evidence of Human-Like Bipedal Biomechanics. PLoS ONE 5(3), pp.e9769.

Renfrew, C & Bahn, P. (2008). Archaeology: Theories, Methods & Practice. 4th ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

Silletoe, P. & Hardy, K. (2003). Living lithics: ethnoarchaeology in Highland Papua New Guinea. Antiquity 77 pp.555-566.

Thieme. H. (1997). Lower Palaeolithic Hunting Spears from Germany. Nature 385, pp.807-810.

Young, D. & Bamforth, D.B. (1990) On the Macroscopic Identification of Used Flakes. American Antiquity 55(2), pp.403-409.

Image references:
Fig.2: Holden, C. (2003). Isotopic Data Pinpoint Iceman's Origins. Science 302(5646), pp.759+761.

Fig.3: Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World's Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Fig.4: Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

How does preservation affect our understanding of the prehistoric archaeological record?

The archaeological record is the way that we interpret prehistory, so the effective preservation of evidence is the most important way to build an understanding. First this essay will look at what actually gets preserved, and then how these materials get preserved for long periods of time, with Ötzi the iceman, American caves, the Schöningen spears, Ohalo II and the Laetoli footprints as case studies. Lastly there will be a discussion on the problems of preservation, including the impossibility of behavioural preservation and the way that archaeologists can get around these problems with scientific methods, experimental archaeology and ethnoarchaeology (with a focus on Central African hunter-gatherers).

What gets preserved?

The archaeological record is comprised of finds which can be categorised mainly into artefacts (literally handmade objects) and biofacts (organic/natural remains). Finds such as the Oldowan stone tools at Gona, Ethiopia are an example of inorganic artefacts, in the form of stone tool flakes, which pushed the dates for the earliest stone tool manufacturing from 1.8 to 2.6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). The reason we could reliably produce these dates is because stone artefacts survive well and they aren't biodegradable, meaning there is more evidence to find to support this hypothesis.

On the other hand, organic artefacts and biofacts make up a minority of the archaeological record; being materials such as wood and skins, they are biodegradable. However, even though organic finds are limited, they can provide much better evidence of material culture than inorganics, as it is most likely that tools would be made organics like wood, animal parts etc. Supporting this idea, Sillitoe & Hardy (2003: 556) make the observation that the majority of material culture, such as tools, of the current Wola tribe of Papua New Guinea wouldn't survive archaeologically, just like prehistoric artefacts. Therefore, the way we classify the archaeological record is biased (see Fig.1) (Beck & Jones, 1989); certain articles are preserved, and others aren’t, and we should remember that a large portion of artefacts we find are actually refuse. This means our understanding of the archaeological record is pushed towards certain cultures and aspects of life based on the interpretation of the available evidence. 

Fig.1: The causes of bias in the archaeological record, and some ways to respond.

How are artefacts preserved?

John Coles (cited in Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 72) Estimates that around 75% of evidence at a site is organic and thus may not be preserved, this is due to the fact that in order to be preserved effectively, specific conditions must be met. Survival of materials depends largely on the climate and the surrounding matrix, but also must be kept in a stable moisture environment (extremely arid/cold) or an anaerobic/anoxic state (Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 63-7). Bones, for example, are preserved in alkaline material, which is why discoveries of human remains are often made in limestone caves and caverns; although this creates a geographical bias, restricting our understanding of where people lived to certain areas (see Fig.1).

A cold or frozen environment effectively refrigerates materials, keeping them preserved for long periods of time, a famous example of which is the discovery of 'Ötzi the Iceman' (see Fig.2) in the Ötztal Alps near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The body of a man was found frozen in a glacier, and radiocarbon dated to around 5100-5300 years ago, preserved because the ice hadn’t thawed until he was found, which kept conditions such as the moisture stable (Barfield, 1994). The body was kept so well that even his stomach contents could be identified, allowing archaeologists to build a picture of how and where he lived based on the types of pollen they found (Groenman-van Waateringe, 2011). And the many items he was found with, for example a copper axe, provided “unprecedented insight” into life and culture of Neolithic-Copper Age central Europe (Müller et al, 2003).

Fig.2: The preserved body of Ötzi and tools

In much the same way, organic materials can also be kept stable and preserved in arid environments; many destructive micro-organisms cannot thrive in an environment with a lack of water. Hogup and Danger Caves, Utah were inhabited by humans up to 10,000 years ago, and were dry enough to preserve 142 human coprolites. This allowed archaeologists to examine the diet and lifestyles of the inhabitants, after which they found the oldest evidence of the human exclusive parasite Enterobius vermicularis (human pinworm), which were radiocarbon dated to 7837years ago. Similarly, excavations were carried out in Lovelock Cave, Nevada, where coprolites preserved in the arid conditions showed that the inhabitants had extremely course diets of seeds, hulls and tough plant fibres (Heizer & Napton, 1969: 563) and North America's oldest sling (made of Apocynum) was found preserved on the mummified body of a child (Heizer & Johnson, 1952: 139). 

Materials can be kept in an anaerobic/anoxic state in waterlogged environments; this prevents the destruction of materials by harmful bacteria, allowing them to be preserved. Three complete wooden spears (around 2m in length) were found at Schöningen in an unusually dense deposit that precluded air penetration, stopping bacterial decay (Klein, 2013: 113-4). Dated to around 400kya alongside the bones of several butchered horses, they provided the oldest compelling evidence of human hunting activity (Thieme, 1997). Similarly the Ohalo II site at the Sea of Galilee was established after a period of droughts and pumping from the lake revealed a series of submerged brush hut dwellings (see Fig.3) dated to around 23kya (Hole, 2004). The discovery of organic remains of fruits, seeds and wooden objects in context offered insight into the lifestyle of people during the LGM; but the main point of interest was the discovery of preserved bedding (see Fig.3). It consisted of partially charred Puccinellia confer convoluta leaves and stems, covered by a thin compact layer of clay arranged around a central hearth, and became the oldest evidence of in situ bedding (Nadel et al. 2004: 6821-4).

Fig.3: Layout of dwelling (left), preserved grass bedding (right)
Alongside preservation in cold, arid or waterlogged conditions, there are incidents where materials are preserved due to ‘freak conditions’ such burial in volcanic ash. The footprints of Australopithecus afarensis discovered in Laetoli, Ethiopia (by Mary Leakey in 1978) were believed to have been preserved by rapid cementation by natrocarbonatite and melilitite ashes erupted from the nearby Sadiman volcano (Zaitsev, 2011). They were formed when hominin walked through a wet ash-fall, and their preservation has allowed archaeologists to determine the way that early hominin walked by examining the shape and angles of the prints (Raichlen et al, 2010).

Problems with preservation

Since there are many problems in regards to how well materials are preserved, archaeologists must find ways to deal with these problems. The use of scientific methods in archaeology has improved the understanding we can draw from the archaeological record. For example, Young and Bamforth (1990) explore the problems faced when trying to differentiate between natural wear and signs of use in stone tools. They argue that macroscopic approaches often lead to misinterpretation, and cannot compare to careful microscopic analysis. Improved methods of analysis have led to new techniques of interpreting evidence too, as Hurcombe (2008) explains; by examining the organic residue on lithics, a new understanding of Neolithic craft culture (such as basket weaving) was established (see Fig.4). This is often supported  by 'experimental archaeology', a process designed to 'replicate past phenomena' (Mathieu, 2002, cited in Outram, 2008), this could be anything from hafting stone tools to test effectiveness, to building ancient dwellings and destroying them to monitor the decay (Carrell, 1992: 4).

Fig.4: An Archaeologist uses
a stone tool to cut reeds, then identifies
the wear
Experimental archaeology is useful when it comes to trying to understand how things we find were used in the past, but there are some things that simply aren't preserved at all, such as behaviour. One of the closest ways we can get to understanding behavioural patterns is through an ethnoarchaeological process; London (2000: 2) explains that by living in contemporary traditional societies and observing the people, archaeologists can record data to improve their understanding of ancient artefacts. Hunter-gatherer societies in many parts of the world have been the focus of much ethnoarchaeological attention; Atherton (1983) describes the way in which the study of African hunters and foragers has shed new light on the debate over the transition between foraging and agriculture. He explains that in contrast to John Pfeiffer's 'Eureka' theory (1976: 23), in which the transition was a sudden irreversible one; based on the passive reaction to agriculture shown by today's hunter-gatherers, prehistoric communities may have acted in the same way, choosing not to use them or only when necessary. When studying the indigenous San Bushmen of central Botswana, an observation was made that there was a distinct difference between foragers, who move their camps to follow food, and collectors, who gather resources and return to a semi-static camp. This identification allowed archaeologists to determine the lifestyles of prehistoric communities based on the types of camps discovered (Binford, 1980: 5-10). Though we must remember when taking an ethnoarchaeological approach that contemporary hunter-gatherers are not living fossils.

Conclusions

I believe that preservation of materials is extremely important when building an understanding of the archaeological record; if evidence fails to be preserved then our interpretation of the past would be extraordinarily limited. The preservation of inorganic materials can be useful, but based on fairly certain knowledge that most prehistoric material culture would have been organic; it is not the best evidence. Organics may be the best, but unfortunately they are perishable and are only preserved under specific conditions. However archaeological science, experimental and ethnoarchaeology provide ways to deal with this lack of evidence, and form an ever improving understanding of the archaeological record.

References:
Atherton, J.H. (1983). Ethnoarchaeology in Africa. The African Archaeological Review 1, pp.75-104.

Barfield, L. (1994). The Iceman reviewed. Antiquity 68, pp.10-26.

Beck, C. & Jones, G.T. (1989). Bias and Archaeological Classification. American Antiquity 54(2), pp.244-262.

Binford, L. (1980). Willow Smoke and Dog's Tails: Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45(1), pp.4-20.

Carrell, T.L. (1992). Replication and Experimental Archaeology. Historical Archaeology 26(4), pp.4-13.

Fry, G.F. & Moore, J.G. (1969). Enterobius vermicularis: 10,000-Year-Old Human Infection. Science 166(3913), pp.1620.

Groenman-van Waateringe, W. (2011). The Iceman's last days - the testimony of Ostrya carpinifolia. Antiquity 85, pp.434-440.

Heizer, R.F. & Johnson, I.W. (1952). A Prehistoric Sling from Lovelock Cave, Nevada. American Antiquity 18(2), pp.139-147.

Heizer, R.F. & Napton, L.K. (1969). Biological and Cultural Evidence from Prehistoric Human Coprolites. Science 165(3893), pp.563-568.

Hole, F. (2004). Stone Age Bedding by the Sea of Galilee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(19), pp.7207-7208.

Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

Klein, R. (2013). Hominin Dispersals in the World. Ch3 in: Scarre, C. (ed.) The Human Past. 3rd ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

London, G. (2000). Ethnoarchaeology and Interpretations of the Past. Near Eastern Archaeology 63(1), pp.2-8.

Mathieu, J. R. (2002). Introduction. In Mathieu, J.R. (ed.) Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviours and Processes. BAR International Series 1035, Archaeopress: Oxford.

McPherron, S. P. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

Müller, W. et al. (2003). Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman. Science 302(5646), pp.862-866.

Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World's Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Outram, A.K. (2008) Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.1-6.

Pfeiffer, J. E. (1976). A Note on the Problem of Basic Causes. In Harlan et al. (eds.) Origins of African Plant Domestication. Mouton: University of Michigan.

Raichlen, D.A. et al. (2010). Laetoli Footprints Preserve Earliest Direct Evidence of Human-Like Bipedal Biomechanics. PLoS ONE 5(3), pp.e9769.

Renfrew, C & Bahn, P. (2008). Archaeology: Theories, Methods & Practice. 4th ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

Silletoe, P. & Hardy, K. (2003). Living lithics: ethnoarchaeology in Highland Papua New Guinea. Antiquity 77 pp.555-566.

Thieme. H. (1997). Lower Palaeolithic Hunting Spears from Germany. Nature 385, pp.807-810.

Young, D. & Bamforth, D.B. (1990) On the Macroscopic Identification of Used Flakes. American Antiquity 55(2), pp.403-409.

Image references:
Fig.2: Holden, C. (2003). Isotopic Data Pinpoint Iceman's Origins. Science 302(5646), pp.759+761.

Fig.3: Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World's Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Fig.4: Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

11/10/2015


The Laughing Man has become a symbol for many activists worldwide
This essay will examine the problematic identified by the latent texts of the Japanese animation ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’, directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. ‘Ghost in the shell’ (GitS) is set in the year 2030 in a fictional Japanese city called Niihama, and follows Motoko Kusanagi (Major), leader of Public Security Section 9, a special operations task force that investigates various (usually ‘cyber’) crimes. In this future, the creation of cybernetic bodies, prosthetics and advanced artificial intelligence has changed the whole world, enhancing the lives of many people, however there is an underlying conflict throughout the series, made apparent by various latent references and ideas. According to Althusser, one way in which the problematic in a text is revealed is through the answering of questions that were never formally posed (Storey, 2008, p.72). I would argue that the underlying ideas seem to offer answers that reveal the structuring problematic: ‘In a world of increasing technological advancement, humanity is becoming displaced.’ In this essay I want to examine the latent texts throughout this series that identify this problematic; first looking at the development of individualism in the robotic characters and the ethics of artificial intelligence. Then I would like to look at how the director uses cybernetics to engage with the dilemma of body and soul in an age of increasing digital advancement, and finally I would like to examine how ‘the Laughing Man incident’ is used to identify the effects of worldwide media exposure on identities and the distortion of reality through virtual exposure.

First I would like to examine the Tachikomas, a group of robotic tanks that possess artificial intelligence (AIs). They are designed to act as support for Section 9, and on the surface seem to provide an element of comic relief for the otherwise serious anime. However, as the story develops, it is possible to argue that the Tachikomas are in fact a device used to discuss the issues and ethics of artificial intelligence. Even though they look identical, the Tachikoma have developed a seeming variety of individual personalities and traits (For example, Batou, another member of Section 9, exclusively identifies one specific Tachikoma as his favourite), which leads to debates among the robots that explore the various problems that have been identified by real scientists as to the ethics of artificial intelligence. For example Bostrom and Yudkowsky (2014, pp.319-24) explain that there are two components that would be shared by (only) humans and AIs; which are sentience (the capacity for phenomenal experience or qualia, such as the capacity to feel pain and suffer) and sapience (capacities associated with higher intelligence such as self-awareness). These two attributes would mean that AIs would have to hold the same level of moral status as a human being, and thus would require equal treatment. The viewer would then be expected to show emotional response during series one, episode 15, when then Tachikomas are sent to be decommissioned for fear that their increasing awareness would interfere with the team’s operations; it leads to questions about the boundaries of humanity (‘Machines Désirantes’, 2006). 

Some of the Tachikomas’ conversation topics could also be addressing the similarities between artificial intelligence and humanity. For example, there is a scene, also in ‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006) in which a Tachikoma explains to Batou that they are beginning to understand more about the world, and presents their theory of God. They explain that God could be translated into mathematics as the concept of zero, a symbol that represents the absence of meaning and whose meaning is necessitated by the delineation of systems from each other (in this case positive and negative). They then make the comparison that this is the same both in analogue (in this case humans) and the Tachikomas’ own digital construction. This addresses a running theme throughout the series that refers to the ‘ghost’ as the vital essence and defining characteristic of humans, and which isn’t (supposedly) possessed by AIs. However, after the Tachikomas’ individuality is accepted by the Major, this view is challenged during series 2, episode 26, when they sacrifice themselves to save the refugees under threat of nuclear attack (‘Endless∞Gig’ 2006). As they sacrifice themselves, they are heard singing:

“It’s because we’re all alive that we are sad. When we raise our hands and let the sunlight filter through, we can see our blood coursing through them a vivid red.”

Therefore the viewer could perceive the humans and AIs as parallel entities, thus encouraging them to question the validity of our own human experience in a future alongside artificial intelligence. The underlying ideas presented through the Tachikoma thus answer the questions posed about the ethics of AIs that were never asked; in this case stating that our attitude towards machines would have to change in the event of the creation of true artificial intelligence, lest we lose our humanity.

A Tachikoma
Another theme that hints at the problematic is the concept of cyberisation; in the future in which GitS is set, cybernetics that drastically improve life expectancy and (supposedly) quality have become commonplace and only the poor are without prosthetic enhancements. On the surface, this seems to be a way to allow the characters to perform actions that would be impossible for normal people, giving the director freedom to create extraordinary and exciting action sequences. The issue with cybernetics in GitS is the seeming detachment of body and soul, and a running theme is the concept of a ‘ghost’, in other words the spirit or vital essence that defines the individual. Unlike the AIs, it is argued that no matter how many parts of his body are replaced by prosthetics, his ‘ghost’ will always remain the same, which is related to the philosophical concept of Theseus’ Paradox (Scaltsas, 1980). However there seems to be a constant doubt in the cyberised characters’ minds as to whether they are actually real or just a fabricated entity, which is hinted at by small seemingly illogical actions that they perform. For example, Batou continues to buy weight training equipment, even though it is pointless to do so as a full cyborg, almost as if there is a conscious need for affirmation of his very being. This points to the dilemmas of body that humans are facing with increasing frequency, as Poster (2002, p.15) explains that what it means for a human being to have a body is now challenged by bio-engineering, medical transplants and reproduction technologies. 

However, as Storey explains (2008, p.74), Pierre Macherey builds on Althusser’s method of symptomatic reading; a text is not an expression of a singular hidden message, but an amalgam of meaning. With this in mind, I believe that there is also a confrontation of the concept of separation of body and mind as a possible forward step for humanity. Appleby (2002, p.101-) argues that in fact the body is now obsolete, referring often to the work of Stelarc who challenges outmoded Platonic and Cartesian metaphysics in an attempt to re-evaluate the body. However I disagree with Stelarc’s assumption that humanity’s development is a teleological process that pursues a primal desire to fight gravity and leads to humanity’s eventual cyberisation in order to survive away from earth. Instead of this outcome, the answer that GitS seems to provide is that humanity is instead destined to inhabit the digital realm rather than a physical one. We could argue that the decision of the full cyborg leader of the refugee rebellion Kuze Hideo to upload his consciousness to the net and exist as a non-corporeal entity could be seen as an active engagement with this idea (‘The Side of Justice’, 2006), however this could be challenged as this event doesn’t end up coming to fruition thanks to the sacrifice of the Tachikomas. Instead this possibility for the future of humanity is left unexplored by the director and by its absence hints to the viewer that the future of humanity is not so easily predicted.

Building on the underlying theme of human integration with technology, I would like to examine the ‘Laughing Man’ incident, from series one. ‘The Laughing Man’ is an expert hacker who (six years prior to the series) publicly assaulted head of Serano Genomics (a micromachine company) for withholding a cyberbrain illness cure. He hacked the eye implants of all the spectators, replacing his face with a stylised logo (see fig.1), and this lead to a series of copycat crimes all under the name of ‘The Laughing Man’ using this logo (‘Meme’, 2006). The problematic is addressed by  references to J.D. Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’, especially Holden Caulfield’s constant criticism of phonies, which refer to not only the copycat crimes, but also seems to provide an answer to how people live their  (online) lives in a digital future. The implication of this is that people constantly connected to the net are subject to total media saturation, and in a cybernetic context where the net may be accessed anywhere from within one’s own mind, this could result in a fusing of the real and digital worlds. Heim (1995, p.65) argues that through the development of ‘virtual reality’ “Life’s body is becoming indistinguishable from its computer prosthesis.” The difficulty of escaping this media saturation is shown during the last episode of series one (‘Stand Alone Complex’, 2006), as the Major runs her hand over the words “Fuck You” on the wall of the library where she meets the ‘original Laughing Man’ who stays there to be away from the world. This is a reference again to ‘Catcher in the Rye’, where Holden states: 

“You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write 'Fuck you' right under your nose.” (Salinger, 1951, p.204)

Therefore the ‘Laughing Man’ incident points to the problematic of human displacement in future society, attributing media saturation as the factor that blurs the boundary between the physical identity and virtual representation.

By using the ‘Laughing Man’ and its associated implications, the media creates an entire phenomenon based on the heroics and mystery of the hacker. As people become more and more obsessed with this logo and the ‘heroic’ act it symbolised, they become copycats who commit similar crimes under the name of the ‘Laughing Man’. This is supposed to highlight the fact that media saturation has the effect of causing mass duplication under the guise of pursuing individuality, for example today we see people all watching the same TV shows, being exposed to the same ideals and concepts. This is taken to the next level in GitS, as people themselves are linked directly into the net, and shows us the effects of media exposure through the creation of ‘Laughing Man’ copycats. The underlying idea related to this is that it will become dangerous for people to experience such exposure. The fact that the people who become copycats truly believe that they are the ‘real Laughing Man’ reveals that the world of virtual reality could be extremely harmful. Their reality is becoming distorted, which is hinted to as the laughing man logo is seen on the face of the hacker in real life, as he hacks into the eyes of the viewers. This is linked to the idea that the virtual would become more real than reality, and is a concept that is uncomfortable but also attractive to many, as the possibility to live our fantasies battles with the worry that we would lose ourselves entirely. This is confirmed by Poster (1995, p.94) who explains that “technology has evolved to mime and to multiply, to multiplex and to improve upon the real”. 

In conclusion a symptomatic reading of GitS reveals that behind a manifest text that shows an amazing, technologically advanced future populated by equally fantastic cyborgs, there is a latent text and underlying problematic that challenge us to think about the place of humanity in such a digitally advanced future. By facing this problem, we are shown that there are strong ethical implications attached to the creation of artificial intelligence; that we must retain a sense of ourselves as the concept of ‘body’ evolves; and the future of human integration with the digital world is uncertain and could be extremely dangerous.   I believe that the ideas and answers we receive from the underlying text all indicate a need to be wary of our future and above all to retain our humanity in the face of the biggest challenges to our existence.

References:
Appleby, J. (2002). Planned Obsolescence: Flying into the Future with Stelarc. Ch.6 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.101-113.

Bostrom, N. & Yudkowsky, E. (2014). The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, Ch.15 in The Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Endless∞Gig’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Heim, M. (1995). The Design of Virtual Reality. Ch.4 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.65-77.

‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 15. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

‘Meme’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 6. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2002 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Poster, M. (2002). High-Tech Frankenstein, or Heideggar Meets Stelarc. Ch. 1 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.15-32.

Poster, M. (1995). Postmodern Virtualities. Ch.5 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.79-95.

Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Scaltsas, T. (1980). The Ship of Theseus. Analysis, 40(3), pp.152-157.

‘Stand Alone Complex’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Storey, J. (2008). Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education.

‘The Side of Justice’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 25. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Image Attribution:
Image 1 - By tangi bertin from Rennes, France (Ghost in the Shell #stopacta  Uploaded by Paris 17) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2 - Ghost in the shell SAC - Tachikoma 6  2013> (IMG_4641.CR2) | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - https://www.flickr.com/photos/27411321@N02/8441188801Author: Rod-20 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Symptomatic reading of Kenji Kamiyama’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex


The Laughing Man has become a symbol for many activists worldwide
This essay will examine the problematic identified by the latent texts of the Japanese animation ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’, directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. ‘Ghost in the shell’ (GitS) is set in the year 2030 in a fictional Japanese city called Niihama, and follows Motoko Kusanagi (Major), leader of Public Security Section 9, a special operations task force that investigates various (usually ‘cyber’) crimes. In this future, the creation of cybernetic bodies, prosthetics and advanced artificial intelligence has changed the whole world, enhancing the lives of many people, however there is an underlying conflict throughout the series, made apparent by various latent references and ideas. According to Althusser, one way in which the problematic in a text is revealed is through the answering of questions that were never formally posed (Storey, 2008, p.72). I would argue that the underlying ideas seem to offer answers that reveal the structuring problematic: ‘In a world of increasing technological advancement, humanity is becoming displaced.’ In this essay I want to examine the latent texts throughout this series that identify this problematic; first looking at the development of individualism in the robotic characters and the ethics of artificial intelligence. Then I would like to look at how the director uses cybernetics to engage with the dilemma of body and soul in an age of increasing digital advancement, and finally I would like to examine how ‘the Laughing Man incident’ is used to identify the effects of worldwide media exposure on identities and the distortion of reality through virtual exposure.

First I would like to examine the Tachikomas, a group of robotic tanks that possess artificial intelligence (AIs). They are designed to act as support for Section 9, and on the surface seem to provide an element of comic relief for the otherwise serious anime. However, as the story develops, it is possible to argue that the Tachikomas are in fact a device used to discuss the issues and ethics of artificial intelligence. Even though they look identical, the Tachikoma have developed a seeming variety of individual personalities and traits (For example, Batou, another member of Section 9, exclusively identifies one specific Tachikoma as his favourite), which leads to debates among the robots that explore the various problems that have been identified by real scientists as to the ethics of artificial intelligence. For example Bostrom and Yudkowsky (2014, pp.319-24) explain that there are two components that would be shared by (only) humans and AIs; which are sentience (the capacity for phenomenal experience or qualia, such as the capacity to feel pain and suffer) and sapience (capacities associated with higher intelligence such as self-awareness). These two attributes would mean that AIs would have to hold the same level of moral status as a human being, and thus would require equal treatment. The viewer would then be expected to show emotional response during series one, episode 15, when then Tachikomas are sent to be decommissioned for fear that their increasing awareness would interfere with the team’s operations; it leads to questions about the boundaries of humanity (‘Machines Désirantes’, 2006). 

Some of the Tachikomas’ conversation topics could also be addressing the similarities between artificial intelligence and humanity. For example, there is a scene, also in ‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006) in which a Tachikoma explains to Batou that they are beginning to understand more about the world, and presents their theory of God. They explain that God could be translated into mathematics as the concept of zero, a symbol that represents the absence of meaning and whose meaning is necessitated by the delineation of systems from each other (in this case positive and negative). They then make the comparison that this is the same both in analogue (in this case humans) and the Tachikomas’ own digital construction. This addresses a running theme throughout the series that refers to the ‘ghost’ as the vital essence and defining characteristic of humans, and which isn’t (supposedly) possessed by AIs. However, after the Tachikomas’ individuality is accepted by the Major, this view is challenged during series 2, episode 26, when they sacrifice themselves to save the refugees under threat of nuclear attack (‘Endless∞Gig’ 2006). As they sacrifice themselves, they are heard singing:

“It’s because we’re all alive that we are sad. When we raise our hands and let the sunlight filter through, we can see our blood coursing through them a vivid red.”

Therefore the viewer could perceive the humans and AIs as parallel entities, thus encouraging them to question the validity of our own human experience in a future alongside artificial intelligence. The underlying ideas presented through the Tachikoma thus answer the questions posed about the ethics of AIs that were never asked; in this case stating that our attitude towards machines would have to change in the event of the creation of true artificial intelligence, lest we lose our humanity.

A Tachikoma
Another theme that hints at the problematic is the concept of cyberisation; in the future in which GitS is set, cybernetics that drastically improve life expectancy and (supposedly) quality have become commonplace and only the poor are without prosthetic enhancements. On the surface, this seems to be a way to allow the characters to perform actions that would be impossible for normal people, giving the director freedom to create extraordinary and exciting action sequences. The issue with cybernetics in GitS is the seeming detachment of body and soul, and a running theme is the concept of a ‘ghost’, in other words the spirit or vital essence that defines the individual. Unlike the AIs, it is argued that no matter how many parts of his body are replaced by prosthetics, his ‘ghost’ will always remain the same, which is related to the philosophical concept of Theseus’ Paradox (Scaltsas, 1980). However there seems to be a constant doubt in the cyberised characters’ minds as to whether they are actually real or just a fabricated entity, which is hinted at by small seemingly illogical actions that they perform. For example, Batou continues to buy weight training equipment, even though it is pointless to do so as a full cyborg, almost as if there is a conscious need for affirmation of his very being. This points to the dilemmas of body that humans are facing with increasing frequency, as Poster (2002, p.15) explains that what it means for a human being to have a body is now challenged by bio-engineering, medical transplants and reproduction technologies. 

However, as Storey explains (2008, p.74), Pierre Macherey builds on Althusser’s method of symptomatic reading; a text is not an expression of a singular hidden message, but an amalgam of meaning. With this in mind, I believe that there is also a confrontation of the concept of separation of body and mind as a possible forward step for humanity. Appleby (2002, p.101-) argues that in fact the body is now obsolete, referring often to the work of Stelarc who challenges outmoded Platonic and Cartesian metaphysics in an attempt to re-evaluate the body. However I disagree with Stelarc’s assumption that humanity’s development is a teleological process that pursues a primal desire to fight gravity and leads to humanity’s eventual cyberisation in order to survive away from earth. Instead of this outcome, the answer that GitS seems to provide is that humanity is instead destined to inhabit the digital realm rather than a physical one. We could argue that the decision of the full cyborg leader of the refugee rebellion Kuze Hideo to upload his consciousness to the net and exist as a non-corporeal entity could be seen as an active engagement with this idea (‘The Side of Justice’, 2006), however this could be challenged as this event doesn’t end up coming to fruition thanks to the sacrifice of the Tachikomas. Instead this possibility for the future of humanity is left unexplored by the director and by its absence hints to the viewer that the future of humanity is not so easily predicted.

Building on the underlying theme of human integration with technology, I would like to examine the ‘Laughing Man’ incident, from series one. ‘The Laughing Man’ is an expert hacker who (six years prior to the series) publicly assaulted head of Serano Genomics (a micromachine company) for withholding a cyberbrain illness cure. He hacked the eye implants of all the spectators, replacing his face with a stylised logo (see fig.1), and this lead to a series of copycat crimes all under the name of ‘The Laughing Man’ using this logo (‘Meme’, 2006). The problematic is addressed by  references to J.D. Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’, especially Holden Caulfield’s constant criticism of phonies, which refer to not only the copycat crimes, but also seems to provide an answer to how people live their  (online) lives in a digital future. The implication of this is that people constantly connected to the net are subject to total media saturation, and in a cybernetic context where the net may be accessed anywhere from within one’s own mind, this could result in a fusing of the real and digital worlds. Heim (1995, p.65) argues that through the development of ‘virtual reality’ “Life’s body is becoming indistinguishable from its computer prosthesis.” The difficulty of escaping this media saturation is shown during the last episode of series one (‘Stand Alone Complex’, 2006), as the Major runs her hand over the words “Fuck You” on the wall of the library where she meets the ‘original Laughing Man’ who stays there to be away from the world. This is a reference again to ‘Catcher in the Rye’, where Holden states: 

“You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write 'Fuck you' right under your nose.” (Salinger, 1951, p.204)

Therefore the ‘Laughing Man’ incident points to the problematic of human displacement in future society, attributing media saturation as the factor that blurs the boundary between the physical identity and virtual representation.

By using the ‘Laughing Man’ and its associated implications, the media creates an entire phenomenon based on the heroics and mystery of the hacker. As people become more and more obsessed with this logo and the ‘heroic’ act it symbolised, they become copycats who commit similar crimes under the name of the ‘Laughing Man’. This is supposed to highlight the fact that media saturation has the effect of causing mass duplication under the guise of pursuing individuality, for example today we see people all watching the same TV shows, being exposed to the same ideals and concepts. This is taken to the next level in GitS, as people themselves are linked directly into the net, and shows us the effects of media exposure through the creation of ‘Laughing Man’ copycats. The underlying idea related to this is that it will become dangerous for people to experience such exposure. The fact that the people who become copycats truly believe that they are the ‘real Laughing Man’ reveals that the world of virtual reality could be extremely harmful. Their reality is becoming distorted, which is hinted to as the laughing man logo is seen on the face of the hacker in real life, as he hacks into the eyes of the viewers. This is linked to the idea that the virtual would become more real than reality, and is a concept that is uncomfortable but also attractive to many, as the possibility to live our fantasies battles with the worry that we would lose ourselves entirely. This is confirmed by Poster (1995, p.94) who explains that “technology has evolved to mime and to multiply, to multiplex and to improve upon the real”. 

In conclusion a symptomatic reading of GitS reveals that behind a manifest text that shows an amazing, technologically advanced future populated by equally fantastic cyborgs, there is a latent text and underlying problematic that challenge us to think about the place of humanity in such a digitally advanced future. By facing this problem, we are shown that there are strong ethical implications attached to the creation of artificial intelligence; that we must retain a sense of ourselves as the concept of ‘body’ evolves; and the future of human integration with the digital world is uncertain and could be extremely dangerous.   I believe that the ideas and answers we receive from the underlying text all indicate a need to be wary of our future and above all to retain our humanity in the face of the biggest challenges to our existence.

References:
Appleby, J. (2002). Planned Obsolescence: Flying into the Future with Stelarc. Ch.6 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.101-113.

Bostrom, N. & Yudkowsky, E. (2014). The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, Ch.15 in The Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Endless∞Gig’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Heim, M. (1995). The Design of Virtual Reality. Ch.4 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.65-77.

‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 15. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

‘Meme’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 6. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2002 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Poster, M. (2002). High-Tech Frankenstein, or Heideggar Meets Stelarc. Ch. 1 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.15-32.

Poster, M. (1995). Postmodern Virtualities. Ch.5 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.79-95.

Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Scaltsas, T. (1980). The Ship of Theseus. Analysis, 40(3), pp.152-157.

‘Stand Alone Complex’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Storey, J. (2008). Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education.

‘The Side of Justice’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 25. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Image Attribution:
Image 1 - By tangi bertin from Rennes, France (Ghost in the Shell #stopacta  Uploaded by Paris 17) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2 - Ghost in the shell SAC - Tachikoma 6  2013> (IMG_4641.CR2) | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - https://www.flickr.com/photos/27411321@N02/8441188801Author: Rod-20 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

21/04/2015

Hey, just wanted to let you know that the 'Anthropology Beginners Guide' textbook is available in loads of bookshops (UK), and I think it is one of the main textbooks used in colleges and universities. It was written by Simon Underdown and Joy Hendry, who work at Oxford Brookes University, which is where I currently study. I actually have Biological Anthropology lectures from Simon Underdown (he's a great lecturer) and the textbook I use for my Japanese Society and Culture lectures was written by Joy Hendry!


Here is a link to the book if you wish to buy it from amazon, I recommend it as it is an easy to read and understand book that teaches all the basics you need to know:


Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

Anthropology Textbook

Hey, just wanted to let you know that the 'Anthropology Beginners Guide' textbook is available in loads of bookshops (UK), and I think it is one of the main textbooks used in colleges and universities. It was written by Simon Underdown and Joy Hendry, who work at Oxford Brookes University, which is where I currently study. I actually have Biological Anthropology lectures from Simon Underdown (he's a great lecturer) and the textbook I use for my Japanese Society and Culture lectures was written by Joy Hendry!


Here is a link to the book if you wish to buy it from amazon, I recommend it as it is an easy to read and understand book that teaches all the basics you need to know:


Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

18/04/2015

Hallo everyone, sorry it has been a while since I last posted anything, Uni has kept me very busy!

I just wanted to share an experience I had helping Cory Cuthbertson, a PhD student, who was looking at the origins of teaching, language and stone tools. We were working with porcelain instead of flint, for control purposes, and we were told to watch a video of a person making a biface (hand axe). The video only served as a way for us to see someone making a biface, but provided no instruction aurally or visually. Myself and two other volunteers were part of this video learning group, but there were three other groups involved, each with it's own learning method: being taught silently, being taught normally, and having to 'figure it out alone'. 

My poor attempt at a biface (hand axe)...
The purpose of the experiment was to challenge hypotheses about the origins of teaching and language, using the medium of stone knapping. We were looking at Theory of Mind, which is 'thinking about thoughts', or the ability to theorise about the mental states of another; expressed in levels of intentionality. This theory of mind ability strongly indicates a language ability, and this is what was to be measured by the experiments.

Myself, knapping flint this time (for fun!)

It was an interesting experience that made us think about the way in which language and teaching could have developed (and it made us all appreciate how difficult stone knapping is!). If you would like to read more about this subject, then check out Cory's Academia page here. If you would like to read my short essay on the origins of stone tools then you can find it here.



Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

Stone Knapping Lessons: Origins of Teaching, Language and Stone Tools

Hallo everyone, sorry it has been a while since I last posted anything, Uni has kept me very busy!

I just wanted to share an experience I had helping Cory Cuthbertson, a PhD student, who was looking at the origins of teaching, language and stone tools. We were working with porcelain instead of flint, for control purposes, and we were told to watch a video of a person making a biface (hand axe). The video only served as a way for us to see someone making a biface, but provided no instruction aurally or visually. Myself and two other volunteers were part of this video learning group, but there were three other groups involved, each with it's own learning method: being taught silently, being taught normally, and having to 'figure it out alone'. 

My poor attempt at a biface (hand axe)...
The purpose of the experiment was to challenge hypotheses about the origins of teaching and language, using the medium of stone knapping. We were looking at Theory of Mind, which is 'thinking about thoughts', or the ability to theorise about the mental states of another; expressed in levels of intentionality. This theory of mind ability strongly indicates a language ability, and this is what was to be measured by the experiments.

Myself, knapping flint this time (for fun!)

It was an interesting experience that made us think about the way in which language and teaching could have developed (and it made us all appreciate how difficult stone knapping is!). If you would like to read more about this subject, then check out Cory's Academia page here. If you would like to read my short essay on the origins of stone tools then you can find it here.



Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

22/03/2015

Yesterday was the Oxford Brookes Science Bazaar 2015! This event showcases all sorts of scientific things in a fun way to interact with the public, and I volunteered to assist Prof. Jason Danely at his anthropology stall. 

The stall was called 'Healing Wings', and we spent the day making origami paper cranes with visitors. I know this doesn't sound like your traditional science activity (I bet you were thinking rockets and slime, right?), but we were part of a zone that dealt with healing and medicine. As anthropologists, we cannot ignore the contribution of cultural practices when it comes to healing, and what better way to display this then with paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of spiritual healing.

If you don't know, it is a Japanese belief that if you can make 1000 paper cranes (千羽鶴 - senbazuru) , you will be granted a wish by the crane. Usually this is associated with asking for long life or recovery from illness or injury, which makes them popular gifts for loved ones. 

Paper cranes were made by Japanese people after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is a famous story of Sadoko Sasaki, the girl who was diagnosed with leukemia after the bombings and tried to make 1000 paper cranes, but sadly died before she could finish. This inspired people to strive for peace, and a statue of Sadoko Sasaki holding a golden crane was erected at the Hiroshima Peace Park.


When considering medicine, I think that it is important to include the multitudes of cultural beliefs that make up a huge part of so many peoples' lives. For example, for many Chinese people, western medicine is a relatively new concept, and so you find many people may seek new medicines, but also seek traditional healing (e.g. acupuncture). It has been argued that these treatments, whilst they may have been proven to be "ineffective" in a medical sense, can still make a significant impact on peoples' health. It is the meaning placed on the activity or treatment that has been observed to produce physiological effects (similar to the effects seen when placebos are used). It could be argued therefore that the cultural and spiritual side of healing is an essential part of our being, and we should embrace them wholeheartedly.



As for the bazaar, it was a great success and I believe that Prof. Danely's stall attracted a lot of attention (hurrah for anthropology!). If you would like to know more about Prof. Jason Danely and his work then click here, he has written a very interesting book called 'Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan', you should have a look (click the book title).
Prof. Danely (left) and myself at the Oxford Brookes Science Bazaar 2015.
Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

Anthropology at the Oxford Brookes Science Bazaar 2015

Yesterday was the Oxford Brookes Science Bazaar 2015! This event showcases all sorts of scientific things in a fun way to interact with the public, and I volunteered to assist Prof. Jason Danely at his anthropology stall. 

The stall was called 'Healing Wings', and we spent the day making origami paper cranes with visitors. I know this doesn't sound like your traditional science activity (I bet you were thinking rockets and slime, right?), but we were part of a zone that dealt with healing and medicine. As anthropologists, we cannot ignore the contribution of cultural practices when it comes to healing, and what better way to display this then with paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of spiritual healing.

If you don't know, it is a Japanese belief that if you can make 1000 paper cranes (千羽鶴 - senbazuru) , you will be granted a wish by the crane. Usually this is associated with asking for long life or recovery from illness or injury, which makes them popular gifts for loved ones. 

Paper cranes were made by Japanese people after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is a famous story of Sadoko Sasaki, the girl who was diagnosed with leukemia after the bombings and tried to make 1000 paper cranes, but sadly died before she could finish. This inspired people to strive for peace, and a statue of Sadoko Sasaki holding a golden crane was erected at the Hiroshima Peace Park.


When considering medicine, I think that it is important to include the multitudes of cultural beliefs that make up a huge part of so many peoples' lives. For example, for many Chinese people, western medicine is a relatively new concept, and so you find many people may seek new medicines, but also seek traditional healing (e.g. acupuncture). It has been argued that these treatments, whilst they may have been proven to be "ineffective" in a medical sense, can still make a significant impact on peoples' health. It is the meaning placed on the activity or treatment that has been observed to produce physiological effects (similar to the effects seen when placebos are used). It could be argued therefore that the cultural and spiritual side of healing is an essential part of our being, and we should embrace them wholeheartedly.



As for the bazaar, it was a great success and I believe that Prof. Danely's stall attracted a lot of attention (hurrah for anthropology!). If you would like to know more about Prof. Jason Danely and his work then click here, he has written a very interesting book called 'Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan', you should have a look (click the book title).
Prof. Danely (left) and myself at the Oxford Brookes Science Bazaar 2015.
Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

28/02/2015

The production and use of stone tools was a crucial point of our ancestral evolution, allowing early hominin to harness greater control over their environment, so understanding when they were first produced and used is an important step. In this essay I want to first look at the original evidence of stone tool use and where they come from, then look at how this evidence has changed and hopefully answer the question of when and where the first stone tools were made and used.


Finds made by Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, led archaeologists to believe that they had discovered the first stone tools (see figure 1), chronologically dated to around 1.85mya (Toth & Schick, 2013). Today, the geographical distribution of finds related to the Oldowan now includes much of northern and southern Africa, southwest Asia and southern Europe, which encompasses several hominin species and habitat types. So identifying the initial responsible hominin is still problematic, and the strongest links seemed to connect to Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis in the Olduvai gorge (Wynn et al, 2011).

Figure 1: Oldowan Tools From Tanzania

Later discoveries were made at Gona, Ethiopia, in the form of flakes and cobbles, that pushed the dates further back to around 2.5-6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). This time period suggests that they were produced and used by species of hominin at the time, including Australopithicus africanus and aethiopicus. However another possible candidate is Australopithicus garhi, found in Bouri, Middle Awash, alongside cut marked animal bones; and although there were no stone tools at the site, they correspond with roughly contemporary sediments at Gona (Toth & Schick, 2013). This changed the perspective of early hominin abilities, as there seemed to be an astonishing level of skill in the tools made by what were previously seen to be 'specialised apes', therefore questions were raised as to whether stone tool manufacture was in fact older still (de la Torre, 2011).

It was argued that the tools found at Gona were too advanced to be the first attempts by early hominin, and a discovery made at Dikika, an area close to Gona, seemed to support this theory. Two fossilised bones of large herbivores were found with what looked like cut marks from stone tools (see figure 2), which would mean that they were in use 800,000 years before previously thought (Dominguez-Rodrigo et al, 2010). This caused considerable excitement, due to the fact that the hominin species at that time was Australopithicus afarensis, a species previously thought too primitive to use stone tools, and supporting analysis of the hand of A. afarensis shows short fingers capable of fine-scale manipulation needed for tool use (Braun, 2010).

Figure 2: Cut marked bones, with scans, from Dikika Ethiopia

However, there is a strong possibility that the marks on the bones were caused by crocodiles, as they correspond equally to the tick shaped nicks that Nile crocodiles and Griffon vultures can create (Domínguez-Rodrigo, 2012). Another cause could be 'trampling', in this case the substrate movement of the fossils, which causes patterns of damage, mostly in lithics and bone, that make it extremely difficult to differentiate them from tools used for butchery (Nielsen, 1991), rendering hypotheses using such evidence questionable.

In conclusion, due to the lack of direct evidence from the Dikika site, the date still officially stands at 2.5-6mya, originating in eastern Africa, with archaeological evidence centered around the Middle Awash. That isn't to say that stone tools weren't used up until this point; as argued by Pitt Rivers, Oldowan tools were probably preceded by stone tools similar to those used by modern chimpanzees, we just don't have sufficient evidence to fully support this theory (Panger et al, 2002).

Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

References:

Braun, D.R. (2010). Australopithecine Butchers. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 828.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2010). Configurational approach to identifying the earliest hominin butchers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(49), pp. 20929-20934.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2012). Experimental study of cut marks made with rocks unmodified by human flaking and its bearing on claims of∼ 3.4-million-year-old butchery evidence from Dikika, Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(2), pp. 205-214. 

McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860. 

Nielsen, A.E. (1991). Trampling the Archaeological Record: An Experimental Study. American Antiquity, 56(3), pp. 483-503.

Panger, M. A., Brooks, A. S., Richmond, B. G., & Wood, B. (2002). Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of hominin tool use. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 11(6), pp. 235-245.

de la Torre, I. (2011). The Origins of Stone Tool Technology in Africa: a Historical Perspective. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), pp. 1028-1037.

Toth, N. & Schick,K. (2013). African Origins. In C. Scarre (ed) The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. Thames & Hudson: London pp. 46-83.

Wynn, T., Hernandez-Aguilar, R. A., Marchant, L. F., & Mcgrew, W. C. (2011). An ape's view of the Oldowan revisited. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 20(5), pp. 181-197.

Image references:

Figure 1: http://lithiccastinglab.com/images/olduancoresgroup.jpg

Figure 2: McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

When and Where Did Hominin Begin to Make and Use Stone Tools? - A short Essay

The production and use of stone tools was a crucial point of our ancestral evolution, allowing early hominin to harness greater control over their environment, so understanding when they were first produced and used is an important step. In this essay I want to first look at the original evidence of stone tool use and where they come from, then look at how this evidence has changed and hopefully answer the question of when and where the first stone tools were made and used.


Finds made by Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, led archaeologists to believe that they had discovered the first stone tools (see figure 1), chronologically dated to around 1.85mya (Toth & Schick, 2013). Today, the geographical distribution of finds related to the Oldowan now includes much of northern and southern Africa, southwest Asia and southern Europe, which encompasses several hominin species and habitat types. So identifying the initial responsible hominin is still problematic, and the strongest links seemed to connect to Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis in the Olduvai gorge (Wynn et al, 2011).

Figure 1: Oldowan Tools From Tanzania

Later discoveries were made at Gona, Ethiopia, in the form of flakes and cobbles, that pushed the dates further back to around 2.5-6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). This time period suggests that they were produced and used by species of hominin at the time, including Australopithicus africanus and aethiopicus. However another possible candidate is Australopithicus garhi, found in Bouri, Middle Awash, alongside cut marked animal bones; and although there were no stone tools at the site, they correspond with roughly contemporary sediments at Gona (Toth & Schick, 2013). This changed the perspective of early hominin abilities, as there seemed to be an astonishing level of skill in the tools made by what were previously seen to be 'specialised apes', therefore questions were raised as to whether stone tool manufacture was in fact older still (de la Torre, 2011).

It was argued that the tools found at Gona were too advanced to be the first attempts by early hominin, and a discovery made at Dikika, an area close to Gona, seemed to support this theory. Two fossilised bones of large herbivores were found with what looked like cut marks from stone tools (see figure 2), which would mean that they were in use 800,000 years before previously thought (Dominguez-Rodrigo et al, 2010). This caused considerable excitement, due to the fact that the hominin species at that time was Australopithicus afarensis, a species previously thought too primitive to use stone tools, and supporting analysis of the hand of A. afarensis shows short fingers capable of fine-scale manipulation needed for tool use (Braun, 2010).

Figure 2: Cut marked bones, with scans, from Dikika Ethiopia

However, there is a strong possibility that the marks on the bones were caused by crocodiles, as they correspond equally to the tick shaped nicks that Nile crocodiles and Griffon vultures can create (Domínguez-Rodrigo, 2012). Another cause could be 'trampling', in this case the substrate movement of the fossils, which causes patterns of damage, mostly in lithics and bone, that make it extremely difficult to differentiate them from tools used for butchery (Nielsen, 1991), rendering hypotheses using such evidence questionable.

In conclusion, due to the lack of direct evidence from the Dikika site, the date still officially stands at 2.5-6mya, originating in eastern Africa, with archaeological evidence centered around the Middle Awash. That isn't to say that stone tools weren't used up until this point; as argued by Pitt Rivers, Oldowan tools were probably preceded by stone tools similar to those used by modern chimpanzees, we just don't have sufficient evidence to fully support this theory (Panger et al, 2002).

Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

References:

Braun, D.R. (2010). Australopithecine Butchers. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 828.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2010). Configurational approach to identifying the earliest hominin butchers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(49), pp. 20929-20934.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2012). Experimental study of cut marks made with rocks unmodified by human flaking and its bearing on claims of∼ 3.4-million-year-old butchery evidence from Dikika, Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(2), pp. 205-214. 

McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860. 

Nielsen, A.E. (1991). Trampling the Archaeological Record: An Experimental Study. American Antiquity, 56(3), pp. 483-503.

Panger, M. A., Brooks, A. S., Richmond, B. G., & Wood, B. (2002). Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of hominin tool use. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 11(6), pp. 235-245.

de la Torre, I. (2011). The Origins of Stone Tool Technology in Africa: a Historical Perspective. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), pp. 1028-1037.

Toth, N. & Schick,K. (2013). African Origins. In C. Scarre (ed) The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. Thames & Hudson: London pp. 46-83.

Wynn, T., Hernandez-Aguilar, R. A., Marchant, L. F., & Mcgrew, W. C. (2011). An ape's view of the Oldowan revisited. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 20(5), pp. 181-197.

Image references:

Figure 1: http://lithiccastinglab.com/images/olduancoresgroup.jpg

Figure 2: McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

16/02/2015

Today, many anthropologists conduct fieldwork by travelling to (if necessary) a chosen destination to live with people and conduct ethnographic research by practicing 'participant observation'; staying in area long enough to be considered 'natural' by the natives (Eriksen, 1995, pp.27). Bronislaw Malinowski is regarded as a founder of modern anthropology for his promotion (not necessarily creation) of these 'intensive personal fieldwork' methods that "revolutionized the content and practice of anthropology" (Wax, 1972, pp.2-3). Herealised that one could not create an accurate picture of peoples' lives from the comfort of an armchair, that one must physically live and observe people to truly understand them, which changed the face of anthropology completely. In light of this, I will be looking at what the point is of carrying out such fieldwork.

The way in which fieldwork is carried out obviously differs between anthropologists, due to differences in working style, location, risks, and many more factors. In his ethnography: "Japanese Working Class Lives, An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers", Roberson chose the Shintani Metals Company to conduct his research on the lives of factory workers in Japan, after having not much idea what to do. However, Roberson's approach wasn't to simply observe the people at work, he actually asked to work with them, eventually working full weeks from 08:00 until 17:00 or more, in addition to writing up his research notes. This may seem like it could be counterproductive to his research, Roberson even says he started asking himself "is this Anthropology? Are you really going to write about this?!" (pp.25). Nevertheless it is then revealed that this participation allowed Roberson to get much closer to the workers, as he was considered a fellow colleague, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for his research (Roberson, 1998).
However, fieldwork can never be perfect. The very nature of fieldwork itself leaves it vulnerable to flaws and oversights, whether they are down to the anthropologists themselves, or uncontrollable external conditions. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to defamiliarise oneself, but is a skill that can provide new perspectives without the limits of one's own cultural experience and ways of thinking. It can be hard to change oneself to allow conformity to social regulations and rules, but may be the key to gaining the trust of a group of people (which is a huge part of fieldwork; if people don't trust you, you won't learn anything), as we see that MacClancy had this issue during his fieldwork in Ulí Alto, where the natives' main problem was his formality. They wanted to see him more emotionally involved, even going as far as to say he should have maintained a girlfriend there (MacClancy, 1988, pp.239). Another main issue with fieldwork is the question of ethics, whether it is the privacy of people's information, or even whether the people's safety is at risk. We see that in an attempt to make public the outrageous actions of the American military against South American refugees, Bourgois disregarded the privacy rights of his subjects and host country to make his statement to the media for the suffering people (Bourgois, 1990). 

So we can see that fieldwork in its nature is a tricky thing to get right, but that doesn't make it any less important when trying to understand one's research subjects. It's for this reason that since Malinowski's initial foundation of effective fieldwork methods, the process has changed and indeed improved. The emergence of multi-sited ethnography has potentially improved the perspectives available to anthropologists conducting fieldwork as "one learns more about a slice of a world system" giving a "definite sense of doing more than just ethnography" (Marcus, 1995, pp.113-114). Also, a re-evaluation of the way anthropologists conduct fieldwork in relation to their subjects of study has highlighted the benefits of collaborative ethnography. This approach allows anthropologists to "probe the deep mysteries of the human species" by pulling together different anthropological traditions (academic, applied etc.) to gain a much deeper understanding (Peacock, 1997, cited in Lassiter, 2005).

In conclusion, I personally believe that fieldwork is anthropology's main component. Without fieldwork, there would be very limited understanding in regards to different cultures, as it is the act of 'participant observation' that allows an anthropologist to truly learn about a culture through experience. What do you think? Is fieldwork truly the most important part of anthropology? If not, then what is? Please leave your comment below...

Thanks for reading!



Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

References:
Bourgois, P. (1990). Confronting Anthropological Ethics: Ethnographic Lessons from Central America. Journal of Peace Research 27(1), pp.43-54.

Eriksen, T.H. (2010). Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. London: Pluto.

Lassiter, L.E. (2005). Collaborative Ethnography and Public Anthropology. Current Anthropology 46(1), pp.83-106.

MacClancy, J. (1988). Going Nowhere: From Melanesia to the Mediterranean. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford XIX(3), pp. 233-240.

Marcus, G. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24, pp.95-117.

Peacock, J.L. (1997). The Future of Anthropology. American Anthropologist 99(1), pp.9-17.

Roberson, J.E. (1998). Japanese Working Class Lives: An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers. London: Routledge.

Wax, M. (1972). Tenting with Malinowski. American Sociological review 37(1), pp.1-13.

Anthropology Fieldwork: A Short Comment

Today, many anthropologists conduct fieldwork by travelling to (if necessary) a chosen destination to live with people and conduct ethnographic research by practicing 'participant observation'; staying in area long enough to be considered 'natural' by the natives (Eriksen, 1995, pp.27). Bronislaw Malinowski is regarded as a founder of modern anthropology for his promotion (not necessarily creation) of these 'intensive personal fieldwork' methods that "revolutionized the content and practice of anthropology" (Wax, 1972, pp.2-3). Herealised that one could not create an accurate picture of peoples' lives from the comfort of an armchair, that one must physically live and observe people to truly understand them, which changed the face of anthropology completely. In light of this, I will be looking at what the point is of carrying out such fieldwork.

The way in which fieldwork is carried out obviously differs between anthropologists, due to differences in working style, location, risks, and many more factors. In his ethnography: "Japanese Working Class Lives, An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers", Roberson chose the Shintani Metals Company to conduct his research on the lives of factory workers in Japan, after having not much idea what to do. However, Roberson's approach wasn't to simply observe the people at work, he actually asked to work with them, eventually working full weeks from 08:00 until 17:00 or more, in addition to writing up his research notes. This may seem like it could be counterproductive to his research, Roberson even says he started asking himself "is this Anthropology? Are you really going to write about this?!" (pp.25). Nevertheless it is then revealed that this participation allowed Roberson to get much closer to the workers, as he was considered a fellow colleague, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for his research (Roberson, 1998).
However, fieldwork can never be perfect. The very nature of fieldwork itself leaves it vulnerable to flaws and oversights, whether they are down to the anthropologists themselves, or uncontrollable external conditions. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to defamiliarise oneself, but is a skill that can provide new perspectives without the limits of one's own cultural experience and ways of thinking. It can be hard to change oneself to allow conformity to social regulations and rules, but may be the key to gaining the trust of a group of people (which is a huge part of fieldwork; if people don't trust you, you won't learn anything), as we see that MacClancy had this issue during his fieldwork in Ulí Alto, where the natives' main problem was his formality. They wanted to see him more emotionally involved, even going as far as to say he should have maintained a girlfriend there (MacClancy, 1988, pp.239). Another main issue with fieldwork is the question of ethics, whether it is the privacy of people's information, or even whether the people's safety is at risk. We see that in an attempt to make public the outrageous actions of the American military against South American refugees, Bourgois disregarded the privacy rights of his subjects and host country to make his statement to the media for the suffering people (Bourgois, 1990). 

So we can see that fieldwork in its nature is a tricky thing to get right, but that doesn't make it any less important when trying to understand one's research subjects. It's for this reason that since Malinowski's initial foundation of effective fieldwork methods, the process has changed and indeed improved. The emergence of multi-sited ethnography has potentially improved the perspectives available to anthropologists conducting fieldwork as "one learns more about a slice of a world system" giving a "definite sense of doing more than just ethnography" (Marcus, 1995, pp.113-114). Also, a re-evaluation of the way anthropologists conduct fieldwork in relation to their subjects of study has highlighted the benefits of collaborative ethnography. This approach allows anthropologists to "probe the deep mysteries of the human species" by pulling together different anthropological traditions (academic, applied etc.) to gain a much deeper understanding (Peacock, 1997, cited in Lassiter, 2005).

In conclusion, I personally believe that fieldwork is anthropology's main component. Without fieldwork, there would be very limited understanding in regards to different cultures, as it is the act of 'participant observation' that allows an anthropologist to truly learn about a culture through experience. What do you think? Is fieldwork truly the most important part of anthropology? If not, then what is? Please leave your comment below...

Thanks for reading!



Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

References:
Bourgois, P. (1990). Confronting Anthropological Ethics: Ethnographic Lessons from Central America. Journal of Peace Research 27(1), pp.43-54.

Eriksen, T.H. (2010). Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. London: Pluto.

Lassiter, L.E. (2005). Collaborative Ethnography and Public Anthropology. Current Anthropology 46(1), pp.83-106.

MacClancy, J. (1988). Going Nowhere: From Melanesia to the Mediterranean. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford XIX(3), pp. 233-240.

Marcus, G. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24, pp.95-117.

Peacock, J.L. (1997). The Future of Anthropology. American Anthropologist 99(1), pp.9-17.

Roberson, J.E. (1998). Japanese Working Class Lives: An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers. London: Routledge.

Wax, M. (1972). Tenting with Malinowski. American Sociological review 37(1), pp.1-13.

04/08/2014


[Photo credit: www.literalis.net]
A few weeks ago I asked whether anyone wanted to send anything that they would like posted as a guest post. I received a few replies, and here's one from Maria Carrillo who can find here on Facebook

Connecting to Family and Religion While in College - Maria Carrillo


"With the coming of fall semester only a few weeks away comes the beginning of a new college. Living away from their parents, already living out of the home, or planning to commute, college students will be embarking on an adventure and developing what I call their own student identities. Part of their identity will be reflected in how they dress, activities they participate in, and perhaps most importantly what they choose as a major and field of study. Despite their age, sex, or even cultural background, all will be exposed to new ideas, ways of thinking, and topics that may put into perspective or question their current beliefs. Despite their course of study and years it may take to finish, a degree students will learn to become critical thinkers and analyze educational information presented to them. How does the process of critical analysis of information spill into their personal lives and analysis of their own personal beliefs?


Through a series of ethnographic interviews conducted as part of my thesis project, I found that family can be a key player that aids in the reinforcement of culture and spirituality during students college years and a silent force that brings students back to some of their core beliefs years after graduating. I also found that the skills of critical analysis that students develop in college, for analyzing research and information, are not always applied to their life. I believe this is an example of the process of compartmentalizing that permits students to develop new identities during and after college.  


While not the case across the board, students tend to put personal beliefs, specifically religious, spiritual beliefs on the “back burner” of their thoughts while in college. The view their family has of them is still important to them even while pursuing their own desires. It is important that as individuals they can develop an individual identity while still maintaining some connection to their family and culture. When asked about their current religious beliefs students would almost automatically refer to “how they were raised,” their family’s beliefs, and how despite their lack of time, they maintained these relationships. When engaged in discussions about their religious and spiritual beliefs students will often bring up ideas of family, time, and critical analysis. Perhaps even more interesting is the question of whether or not individuals revert back to beliefs or adapt changes post higher education. 


The college years are typically marked by the ability an individual has to explore their identity without large outside influence. They may lack a comfort with the idea of having to defend their beliefs. As they become increasingly exposed to new ideas in college, students realize that their beliefs are not the only ones out there. This realization could be part of what prompts students to hold back and listen to others. They realize they are no longer in their home community and now have to pass to form part of a larger community where everyone feels differently. I believe that can be said about the student experience at any age and exploring religious and spiritual beliefs is one part of that."


I'd like to say a big thank you to Maria for the wonderful information and all the work she put into this post, please feel free to leave comments below.


Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

Connecting to Family and Religion While in College - Guest post from Maria Carrillo


[Photo credit: www.literalis.net]
A few weeks ago I asked whether anyone wanted to send anything that they would like posted as a guest post. I received a few replies, and here's one from Maria Carrillo who can find here on Facebook

Connecting to Family and Religion While in College - Maria Carrillo


"With the coming of fall semester only a few weeks away comes the beginning of a new college. Living away from their parents, already living out of the home, or planning to commute, college students will be embarking on an adventure and developing what I call their own student identities. Part of their identity will be reflected in how they dress, activities they participate in, and perhaps most importantly what they choose as a major and field of study. Despite their age, sex, or even cultural background, all will be exposed to new ideas, ways of thinking, and topics that may put into perspective or question their current beliefs. Despite their course of study and years it may take to finish, a degree students will learn to become critical thinkers and analyze educational information presented to them. How does the process of critical analysis of information spill into their personal lives and analysis of their own personal beliefs?


Through a series of ethnographic interviews conducted as part of my thesis project, I found that family can be a key player that aids in the reinforcement of culture and spirituality during students college years and a silent force that brings students back to some of their core beliefs years after graduating. I also found that the skills of critical analysis that students develop in college, for analyzing research and information, are not always applied to their life. I believe this is an example of the process of compartmentalizing that permits students to develop new identities during and after college.  


While not the case across the board, students tend to put personal beliefs, specifically religious, spiritual beliefs on the “back burner” of their thoughts while in college. The view their family has of them is still important to them even while pursuing their own desires. It is important that as individuals they can develop an individual identity while still maintaining some connection to their family and culture. When asked about their current religious beliefs students would almost automatically refer to “how they were raised,” their family’s beliefs, and how despite their lack of time, they maintained these relationships. When engaged in discussions about their religious and spiritual beliefs students will often bring up ideas of family, time, and critical analysis. Perhaps even more interesting is the question of whether or not individuals revert back to beliefs or adapt changes post higher education. 


The college years are typically marked by the ability an individual has to explore their identity without large outside influence. They may lack a comfort with the idea of having to defend their beliefs. As they become increasingly exposed to new ideas in college, students realize that their beliefs are not the only ones out there. This realization could be part of what prompts students to hold back and listen to others. They realize they are no longer in their home community and now have to pass to form part of a larger community where everyone feels differently. I believe that can be said about the student experience at any age and exploring religious and spiritual beliefs is one part of that."


I'd like to say a big thank you to Maria for the wonderful information and all the work she put into this post, please feel free to leave comments below.


Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

10/05/2014



Many People still don't know an awful lot about anthropology, so by highlighting some of the most famous anthropologists I hope I can give you a little more insight into the subject. This list is by no means exhaustive, and only includes 10 of the biggest names (and this list isn't ordered in any way). 


I have also included a little information as to why these anthropologists are famous (their famous works etc.), just to provide a little background, and to point you in the direction of some research/texts to look out for if you are interested in the subject.

10. Marcel Mauss (1872-1950)

Mauss was the nephew of Emile Durkheim, the "founder of modern sociology," and followed in his uncle's footsteps by assisting him with his well-respected sociological projects. The idea of religion analyzed with a social perspective led Mauss to become a great proponent of "social ethnology" (the comparative, usually first-hand, study of cultures and their social structures). His fame, in particular, comes from his theories regarding gift exchange among groups throughout the world. His work, "The Gift," described the intrinsic bond forged between giver and recipient: Much more than just an object, a gift is a magical and moral link between people. The gift becomes an obligation, whether bad or good, and reciprocity serves as a basis of social relationships

9. Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

American anthropologist Clifford Geertz earned fame for his work on symbolic, or interpretive, anthropology. He made a name for himself analyzing not just the form of cultural objects, but what they meant to specific groups of people. Geertz's field work led to his theory that "things" within a culture can possess important symbolic meaning and contribute to perspectives about the surrounding world. He became a proponent and pioneer of the use of "thick description" to explain his research methods. The process aims to describe actions and subjects while recognizing their context and deeper meaning.

8. Paul Farmer (1959-)

Paul Farmer has made a name for himself beyond the realm of cultural anthropology. He is an avid human rights activist and physician, fighting to provide health care for the world's poorest people. In a subfield of cultural anthropology known as medical anthropology (examining cultural, social and other factors to discover their influence on overall health), Farmer has become something of a celebrity. Farmer has also worked on controlling infectious diseases and promoting basic human rights in Peru and Russia. Being a physician and medical anthropologist has offered Farmer unique insight into understanding native healers, while offering his own treatments. Additionally, Farmer has received many illustrious awards, including the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award.

7. Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942)

Malinowski was a Polish anthropologist, and one of the most important of the 20th century, often being dubbed 'the father of modern anthropology'. Malinowski stressed the importance of fieldwork and in particular the concept of participant observation, marking the shift from the era of so called 'armchair anthropologists. After spending several years studying the indigenous people of the Trobriand Islands, Melanesia, Malinowski published his main work in 1922, titled 'Argonauts of the Western Pacific'. This title has become one of the most widely recognised texts in anthropology, and his ideas about immersion being the best way to observe a culture are still poignant today.

Malinowski during fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands

6. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881)

Though he began his professional life as a lawyer, his interest and research in the Iroquois and other Native American peoples overtook most of his time. He developed a particular interest in the way that related people (specifically indigenous groups) interact and refer to each other and how that affects relationships and overall society (also known as kinship systems). Morgan's travels and field work brought him to theorize that social evolution could be classified in three stages, "savagery," "barbarism" and "civilization," laid out in his 1877 book, "Ancient Society". He suggested that human social progression parallels surpluses of food and advancements in collecting that food.

5. Eric Wolf (1923-1999)

Wolf's work, influenced by Marxist ideals, earned him the attention of certain faculty members, and he was eventually sent to gather data in rural sections of Puerto Rico. His research later took him to Mexico and Europe, where he observed peasant societies in those regions. Besides his argument that culture needs to be studied with a global perspective, he also stressed that culture, including that of non-Western people, is dynamic and doesn't stay the same for long. In his book, "Europe and the People Without History," Wolf theorized that as European society grew, affecting natives throughout areas such as Africa and the Americas, the latter aboriginal communities' behaviors and practices changed as well. Wolf argued that as powerful, capitalistic nations expanded into new lands, the expansion unavoidably caused a chain reaction within the native people and eventually changed their habits and ways of relating to each other. 

4. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009)

Claude Levi-Strauss is one of the most famous, respected and important social anthropologists of all time. He's known as the "founder of structuralism" and made a name for himself far beyond academia and his circle of anthropologists. Applying the theories of structural linguistics to the field of anthropology, Levi-Strauss gained fame for a new way of thinking called structuralism. The idea he put forth was that worldwide unconscious structures, or laws, exist in everything that we do (for example, kinship, mythologies and rituals), providing a means for comparing and analyzing cultures. His formidable four-volume work, "Mythologiques," examined the structure and duality of primitive tribes' myths throughout the Americas and their influence on culture. His other notable works include "Tristes Tropiques" ("A World on the Wane") and "Le Pensee Sauvage"("The Savage Mind").

Claude Levi-Strauss, founder of structuralism

3. Ruth Benedict (1887-1948)

One of the first women to earn international recognition for her work in anthropology and folklore, Ruth Benedict made huge strides in her research regarding culture and personality. Benedict studied tribes in the American Southwest, which served as the basis for her hugely popular book, "Patterns of Culture." She emphasized that understanding primal cultures could help us understand modern man, and she also explored the connection between culture and individual. 

2. Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

If there's such a thing as a rebel anthropologist, Margaret Mead is probably the closest thing the U.S. has produced. Her easy-to-follow style of writing, controversial research regarding sex and outspoken personality only heightened her fame, especially beyond the world of anthropology. Her research brought her to the South Pacific, specifically Samoa, where she suggested that culture, not just biology, impacts adolescent behavior (published in her first book, "Coming of Age in Samoa"). Mead's startling observations of Samoan children, and the ease with which they entered adulthood, drew her to the conclusion that teenage angst and stress had more to do with external factors than anything going on internally. Mead continued to return to Samoa for research, also collecting information in Papua New Guinea and Bali. This breadth of information led her to publish more than 30 books and hundreds of other works. 
Her openness about her own methodologies as well as her addressing of sensitive research topics such as sexuality, made her one of the most talked about anthropologists and read authors in the world.

One of the most talked about anthropologists, Margaret Mead

1. Franz Boas (1858-1942)

Boas (1858-1942) eventually became known as "the father of modern cultural anthropology". He helped establish an anthropology department at Columbia University that nurtured some of the world's brightest students (including Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead), demystified outdated beliefs and advanced theories that helped develop entirely new ways of observing and analyzing the human race. Unlike some of his peers at the time, Boas made note of research with an eye to other sciences, including linguistics, ethnology and even statistics. He spent time in the field, studying the Eskimos of the Canadian Arctic and Native Americans along the northern Pacific coast. 
Boas was a pioneer within the field of anthropology, emphasizing that an individual is only as important as his or her social group, and that every cultural setting affects people differently, even those of the same descent. He refuted the notion of Western civilization's superiority with his theory of relativism. He was also able to practically apply his theories in the form of disproving racist beliefs of the time.


So there you have it, 10 of the most famous anthropologists of all time. There are many, many more noteworthy Anthropologists that deserve to be part of this list, but I fear the list would be far too long to read! I hope you've enjoyed this information which I believe is essential knowledge for any aspiring Anthropologist.

[Image Credits:

Featured ImageBy Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Malinowski - By Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Levi-StraussBy UNESCO/Michel Ravassard (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
MeadBy Edward Lynch, World-Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Please don't forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

10 Famous Cultural Anthropologists



Many People still don't know an awful lot about anthropology, so by highlighting some of the most famous anthropologists I hope I can give you a little more insight into the subject. This list is by no means exhaustive, and only includes 10 of the biggest names (and this list isn't ordered in any way). 


I have also included a little information as to why these anthropologists are famous (their famous works etc.), just to provide a little background, and to point you in the direction of some research/texts to look out for if you are interested in the subject.

10. Marcel Mauss (1872-1950)

Mauss was the nephew of Emile Durkheim, the "founder of modern sociology," and followed in his uncle's footsteps by assisting him with his well-respected sociological projects. The idea of religion analyzed with a social perspective led Mauss to become a great proponent of "social ethnology" (the comparative, usually first-hand, study of cultures and their social structures). His fame, in particular, comes from his theories regarding gift exchange among groups throughout the world. His work, "The Gift," described the intrinsic bond forged between giver and recipient: Much more than just an object, a gift is a magical and moral link between people. The gift becomes an obligation, whether bad or good, and reciprocity serves as a basis of social relationships

9. Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

American anthropologist Clifford Geertz earned fame for his work on symbolic, or interpretive, anthropology. He made a name for himself analyzing not just the form of cultural objects, but what they meant to specific groups of people. Geertz's field work led to his theory that "things" within a culture can possess important symbolic meaning and contribute to perspectives about the surrounding world. He became a proponent and pioneer of the use of "thick description" to explain his research methods. The process aims to describe actions and subjects while recognizing their context and deeper meaning.

8. Paul Farmer (1959-)

Paul Farmer has made a name for himself beyond the realm of cultural anthropology. He is an avid human rights activist and physician, fighting to provide health care for the world's poorest people. In a subfield of cultural anthropology known as medical anthropology (examining cultural, social and other factors to discover their influence on overall health), Farmer has become something of a celebrity. Farmer has also worked on controlling infectious diseases and promoting basic human rights in Peru and Russia. Being a physician and medical anthropologist has offered Farmer unique insight into understanding native healers, while offering his own treatments. Additionally, Farmer has received many illustrious awards, including the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award.

7. Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942)

Malinowski was a Polish anthropologist, and one of the most important of the 20th century, often being dubbed 'the father of modern anthropology'. Malinowski stressed the importance of fieldwork and in particular the concept of participant observation, marking the shift from the era of so called 'armchair anthropologists. After spending several years studying the indigenous people of the Trobriand Islands, Melanesia, Malinowski published his main work in 1922, titled 'Argonauts of the Western Pacific'. This title has become one of the most widely recognised texts in anthropology, and his ideas about immersion being the best way to observe a culture are still poignant today.

Malinowski during fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands

6. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881)

Though he began his professional life as a lawyer, his interest and research in the Iroquois and other Native American peoples overtook most of his time. He developed a particular interest in the way that related people (specifically indigenous groups) interact and refer to each other and how that affects relationships and overall society (also known as kinship systems). Morgan's travels and field work brought him to theorize that social evolution could be classified in three stages, "savagery," "barbarism" and "civilization," laid out in his 1877 book, "Ancient Society". He suggested that human social progression parallels surpluses of food and advancements in collecting that food.

5. Eric Wolf (1923-1999)

Wolf's work, influenced by Marxist ideals, earned him the attention of certain faculty members, and he was eventually sent to gather data in rural sections of Puerto Rico. His research later took him to Mexico and Europe, where he observed peasant societies in those regions. Besides his argument that culture needs to be studied with a global perspective, he also stressed that culture, including that of non-Western people, is dynamic and doesn't stay the same for long. In his book, "Europe and the People Without History," Wolf theorized that as European society grew, affecting natives throughout areas such as Africa and the Americas, the latter aboriginal communities' behaviors and practices changed as well. Wolf argued that as powerful, capitalistic nations expanded into new lands, the expansion unavoidably caused a chain reaction within the native people and eventually changed their habits and ways of relating to each other. 

4. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009)

Claude Levi-Strauss is one of the most famous, respected and important social anthropologists of all time. He's known as the "founder of structuralism" and made a name for himself far beyond academia and his circle of anthropologists. Applying the theories of structural linguistics to the field of anthropology, Levi-Strauss gained fame for a new way of thinking called structuralism. The idea he put forth was that worldwide unconscious structures, or laws, exist in everything that we do (for example, kinship, mythologies and rituals), providing a means for comparing and analyzing cultures. His formidable four-volume work, "Mythologiques," examined the structure and duality of primitive tribes' myths throughout the Americas and their influence on culture. His other notable works include "Tristes Tropiques" ("A World on the Wane") and "Le Pensee Sauvage"("The Savage Mind").

Claude Levi-Strauss, founder of structuralism

3. Ruth Benedict (1887-1948)

One of the first women to earn international recognition for her work in anthropology and folklore, Ruth Benedict made huge strides in her research regarding culture and personality. Benedict studied tribes in the American Southwest, which served as the basis for her hugely popular book, "Patterns of Culture." She emphasized that understanding primal cultures could help us understand modern man, and she also explored the connection between culture and individual. 

2. Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

If there's such a thing as a rebel anthropologist, Margaret Mead is probably the closest thing the U.S. has produced. Her easy-to-follow style of writing, controversial research regarding sex and outspoken personality only heightened her fame, especially beyond the world of anthropology. Her research brought her to the South Pacific, specifically Samoa, where she suggested that culture, not just biology, impacts adolescent behavior (published in her first book, "Coming of Age in Samoa"). Mead's startling observations of Samoan children, and the ease with which they entered adulthood, drew her to the conclusion that teenage angst and stress had more to do with external factors than anything going on internally. Mead continued to return to Samoa for research, also collecting information in Papua New Guinea and Bali. This breadth of information led her to publish more than 30 books and hundreds of other works. 
Her openness about her own methodologies as well as her addressing of sensitive research topics such as sexuality, made her one of the most talked about anthropologists and read authors in the world.

One of the most talked about anthropologists, Margaret Mead

1. Franz Boas (1858-1942)

Boas (1858-1942) eventually became known as "the father of modern cultural anthropology". He helped establish an anthropology department at Columbia University that nurtured some of the world's brightest students (including Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead), demystified outdated beliefs and advanced theories that helped develop entirely new ways of observing and analyzing the human race. Unlike some of his peers at the time, Boas made note of research with an eye to other sciences, including linguistics, ethnology and even statistics. He spent time in the field, studying the Eskimos of the Canadian Arctic and Native Americans along the northern Pacific coast. 
Boas was a pioneer within the field of anthropology, emphasizing that an individual is only as important as his or her social group, and that every cultural setting affects people differently, even those of the same descent. He refuted the notion of Western civilization's superiority with his theory of relativism. He was also able to practically apply his theories in the form of disproving racist beliefs of the time.


So there you have it, 10 of the most famous anthropologists of all time. There are many, many more noteworthy Anthropologists that deserve to be part of this list, but I fear the list would be far too long to read! I hope you've enjoyed this information which I believe is essential knowledge for any aspiring Anthropologist.

[Image Credits:

Featured ImageBy Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Malinowski - By Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Levi-StraussBy UNESCO/Michel Ravassard (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
MeadBy Edward Lynch, World-Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

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