Right away I have probably alienated the serious archaeologists and anthropologists among you by kicking off this 31st edition of the venerable Four Stone Hearth with everyone's favorite whip cracking tomb looter in all his wide screen glory. That's what you get when you let the amateurs take the carnival out for a spin. I know it's not all about the treasure - otherwise you would be taking your hard-earned PhD's right over to Odyssey Marine Exploration and dodging the Spanish Costa Guard - but still, doesn't your heart race a little faster when you read in the Malta Independent that the site of the fabled Land of Yam may have been discovered deep in the Libyan Desert? Or that Old Masters of Old School Graffiti have turned up "in a 10-story limestone building just as developers were converting it into luxury condominiums?" It's all good, friends, even if we laypersons generally don't have the first clue how to sort out the serious scholarship from the spurious showmanship. Luckily, this blog carnival and its well-informed contributors stand ready to make sense of it all, bringing you the very best in archaeology and anthropology blogging (broadly defined) of the last fortnight.
Here at Walking the Berkshires, we have myriad interests besides strolling briskly about the rounded hills of home, and these include much of an historical, even hysterical nature. With that in mind, a few months ago we launched Cabinet of Curiosities, the carnival that celebrates the weird and wondrous stuff one tends to accumulate and the stories behind it. It occurs to me that you, dear readers, with your interest in the human past, might have a few things not left in situ that you'd care to blog about and share in a forthcoming edition.
Four Stone Hearth is helpfully arranged around the cardinal points of archaeology, socio-cultural anthropology, bio-physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. I must say it was tempting to organize #31 along those lines, much like the biblical Adam calling all the living creatures of God's creation whatever popped into his head, saying; "Be thou socio-cultural anthropology" and that was its name. Still, I'm a lumper, not a splitter, and besides we were in grave danger of being a three-stone hearth (still a sturdy tripod, but not a fully quadratic edition) until I looked again at An Interview with Ann Weaver at John Hawks Weblog and realized that here was at least one example of linguistic anthropology (broadly defined). John is inspired by The Voyage of the Beetle, a book both he and his bright, 7-year-old daughter enjoyed, to contact its anthropologist author Ann Weaver. The result is an engaging interview, including Ms. Weaver's encouraging advice for students to
"stick with anthropology. It won't make you rich, and it is in fact hard to find a full-time job in the field, especially when higher education is relying more and more on adjuncts, but it's the most interesting subject in the world, and it opens a thousand doorways into new insights."
I love her already, and as the father of another bright, 7-year-old daughter, I'm going to go right out and buy this book.
Anthropology's not all fun and games, though. Well, maybe it is, even in the contentious culture wars where faith and reason vie for hearts and minds and checkbooks, says Tim Jones of Remote Central as he alerts us to a planned Creationist Theme Park coming soon to the northwest of England. Unless, that is, Arthur should arise from Avalon in Britain's hour of need and smite "Jonah's Log Flume" and the "Wall of
Death Jericho Roller-coaster" like so many Philistines. That would certainly put a damper on such "re-creational" designs, but otherwise if Euro-Disney is too crowded you might care to drop in for a mess of potage at the "Pillar of Salt" food court. But don't expect any chips with your loaves and fishes.
Brian Switek of Laelaps turns the mirror on the "sapiens" bit in the scientific nomenclature of our species and explores "What We Think About Who We Are (Redux)." Dizzying in scope, he tackles everything from Genesis to violent tendencies in human males and other living apes, and at the bottom of it all is the desire to show that
"science does not crumble when taxa are reassigned or a new fossil shows up where it was not expected; it only furthers our understanding. If a hypothesis is shown to be false, then that is one more thing that we now understand to be wrong, therefore improving our knowledge and understanding. Some will continue to consider this a source of weakness, but as we are not gods the constant desire to improve our understanding of nature is the best that we can hope for."
Writing at Anthropology.net, Aaron Filler, MD and PhD, discusses new research that suggests that an exaggerated lumbar curvature in human females may represent a beneficial evolutionary adaptation for bipedal pregnancy. Dr. Filler also discusses the evidence, however blasphemous, of a human ancestor for the apes. Terry Toohill offers a post In Defense of Human Evolution, guest blogging at at Remote Central. Just what it means, evolutionarily speaking, to be human is central to both posts, which reminds me, good generalist that I am, of a philosophy class in college where we pondered that old chestnut; "When is a Chair Not A Chair?" Paint it red? Still a chair. Break off a leg? Um, yeah, I guess. Chop it up into kindling? Hmm, definite lack of chairness.
By now the archaeologists among you may have drifted off, so without further ado let us marvel at an an Early Aztec Pyramid found in Tlatelolco, Central Mexico City brought to you once again by Tim Jones (Remote Central thus hits the carnival Trifecta). Not enough? How about two posts at Archaeoporn which critique scholarly articles on the Talpiot Tomb and its proposed identification with the family of Jesus? And even though this was covered in the previous 4SH, of all the Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2007, my favorite is Polynesian Chickens in Chile. What, you thought maybe they got there unassisted by crossing the South Pacific Land Bridge? Maybe they went the long way around, behind the map, to meet up with Columbus and hitch a ride on the Pinta?
Infanticide has been both condoned and stigmatized in human societies. Executed Today tells the story of Penelope Kenny and Sarah Simpson, who were the first people, man or woman, executed in Colonial New Hampshire. In 1739, they were hanged for “feloniously concealing the death of a[n] … infant bastard child.” This post is part of a themed set on the spectacle of public hanging in America.
Indigenous Issues Today examines "the current impacts climate change is having on indigenous people." Having attended the annual American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington D.C. and a panel titled “Witnessing, Communicating, Acting: Substantiating Anthropology’s Role in Confronting Global Climate Change”, the author observes that
"Rather then working on subjects that involved indigenous peoples (often as research subjects), anthropology and social science in general is now working with indigenous peoples in collaborative and on mutually beneficial projects."
And...cut. That's a wrap for this celluloid edition of Four Stone Hearth. My apologies if I did not treat these weighty subjects with the proper academic reverence. Too much holiday cheer, you see, and it's back to work in the morning. 4SH #32 will be at Testimony of the Spade on January 16th. You may send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And yeah, you film mavens, I'm not sure that Kevin Costner's "The Mariner" is all that indigenous, but I was going with the whole Global Climate Change, Water World thing. And Christian Bale in the crown of thorns goes with the Christ family tomb piece, not the bit about the Polynesian poultry. But you knew that.