The past can be very important for those living in the present. My research experiences as an archaeologist have made this very apparent to me. Echoes from the distant past can reverberate and affect the lives of contemporary communities, and interpretations of the past can have important ramifications.
Adult migrants often struggle to learn the language of their new country. In receiving societies, this is widely seen as evidence that migrants are lazy, lack the required will power or, worse, actively resist learning the new language as an act of defiance towards their new community. Unfortunately, most of those who point the finger at migrant language shirkers vastly underestimate the effort involved in language learning.
In today’s world where the majority of developed countries tend to favor monogamous relationships, what should we think about polygamy? David P. Barash, author of Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy, reveals a few facts about polygamy that’ll give you some food for thought.
Towards the end of his lecture on ‘techniques of the body’, delivered to a meeting of the Société Française de Psychologie in 1934, the sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss discussed the methods of breathing practiced by Daoist priests and Yogic mystics. Far from being instinctive, these techniques require a lengthy apprenticeship.
On leaving school, my advisor reminded me to always take time to think. That seemed like a reasonable suggestion, as I trudged off to teach, write, and, of course, think. But the modern academy doesn’t share this value; faculty are increasingly prodded to “produce” more articles, more presentations, more grant applications, and more PhD students.
Professor Sidney Mintz passed away on 26 December 2015, at the age of 93. “Sid” as he was affectionately called by his acquaintances, taught for two decades at Yale University and went on to found the Anthropology Department at Johns Hopkins. His best-known work, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, was published in 1985.
We are not the only species to have a culture. However, the speed at which human culture changes is extremely rapid and can lead to baffling and dislocating effects. How, then, can people make sense of these changes?
In order to hypothesize about the evolutionary origins of grammar, it is essential to rely on some theory or model of human grammars. Interestingly, scholars engaged in the theoretical study of grammar (syntacticians), particularly those working within the influential framework associated with linguist Noam Chomsky, have been reluctant to consider a gradualist, selection-based approach to grammar.
‘Mentalizing’ is the new word for making sense of oneself, others, and intersubjective transactions in terms of inner motivations. It can be fast and intuitive (implicit mentalizing), as in most informal and routine interactions, or slow and elaborate (explicit mentalizing), when one steps back to indulge in reflective thinking. “Why did she say that?” The thought is such an integral part of being human that it is most often taken for granted. Yet it is an evolutionary achievement.
In May 2015, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, a French-led international team announced the discovery of the oldest stone tools known yet. Dating back to more than 3.3 million years ago, these crude flakes, cores, and anvils represent the earliest steps in our evolution into a species reliant on, if not defined by, the use of tools and other manufactured objects. Coined the ‘pre-Oldowan’ or ‘Lomekwian’ after the site in West Turkana at which they were found, these tools are larger and cruder than the more recent Oldowan industry.
Today, when worlds collide with equal force and consequence as speeding cars on a California highway, can we imagine escaping the impact of even a single collision? Is the option of being miraculously air-lifted out of the interminable traffic log-jams available for us, even if we are spared physical injury? Just as avoiding California highways is an impossibility (given the systemic destruction of public transportation system), meeting head-on forces of neoliberal globalization with its unique technological, financial, and ideological structures is an inevitability.
Whether we know it or not, ritual pervades our lives, silently guiding our daily behavior. Like language, tool use, and music, ritual is a constituent element of what it means to be human, joining together culture, archaeology, and biology. The study of ritual, therefore, is a reflection on human nature and the society we inhabit.
In the days following the terrorist attack in Paris on 11 January, thousands of people took to the street in solidarity with the victims and in defense of free speech, and many declared ‘Je suis Charlie’ on social media around the world. The scene is familiar with what we have seen in several other countries in the aftermath of major terrorist attacks.
How far back in time European communities began to recognize and chart the movements of the sun, moon, and stars it is impossible to say, but for the mobile hunting bands of the Palaeolithic period, following large herds through the forests of Europe and returning to base camps when the hunt was over, the ability to navigate using the stars would have been vital to existence.
Although the number of Ebola cases and deaths has jumped dramatically in the short time since we wrote our December Briefing on the epidemic, there are signs of hope. Ebola is slowing down in areas where there was previously high transmission, in Liberia and in Eastern Sierra Leone for example.
Two of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in paleoanthropology occurred in 2010. Not only had we determined a draft genome of an extinct Neandertal from bones that lay in the Earth for tens of thousands of years, but the genome from another heretofore unknown ancient human relative, dubbed the Denisovans, was also announced. A one-hundred-year-old conundrum was finally answered: did we mate with Neandertals?