Four Stone Hearth: The Anthropology Blog Carnival

8 minute read

Greetings and welcome to the anthropology blogfest, Four Stone Hearth. I can't seem to get a carnival going on time around here, so as usual I'm starting a day late. There are a lot of great posts in this edition, though, and I've been able to include a few last-minute additions, as well as a few of my own favorites from the last few weeks. So, here's the breakdown:

New World Archaeology

Brian Hoffman writes with an article on a southwest Alaskan site, Aniakchak.

Aniakchak is very near to the historic boundary between Unangan (Aleut) and Supiaq or Alutiiq (Pacific Eskimo) peoples. One of our research goals is to determine in what ways this boundary may have changed in the past. What we want to know is who lived in Aniakchak Bay? Were they more closely related to the people of the Aleutian Islands or the Kodiak Archipelago, or was their culture an amalgamation of regional traditions. In what ways did they interact with their neighbors to the east and west? Was there a sharp boundary between peoples or was there a lot of trade and contact? Did these borderlands change throughout the occupation of the site, or did they remain relatively stable and permanent? To answer these questions we look at everything from houses and harpoons to carved ivory and even quartz crystals.

The comments on the post are worth reading, too.

Cognitive anthropology

Eric Johnson wonders whether schizophrenia-associated genes were under selection because they increase shamanic visions:

What if, [Sapolsky] wondered, schizophrenia maintained itself in human populations because of selection for schizotypal personalites? As luck would have it, for a hundred years anthropologists had observed such individuals thriving in nearly every society they encountered: shamans.

I don't know -- I don't see the fitness payoff, but maybe it's worth exploring. Another post by Johnson looks into Robin Dunbar's work on pair bonding and group size:

Primates, and humans in particular, are such good social cooperators because we can empathize with others and coordinate our activities to build consensus. Rather than natural selection being a process of selfish individuals maximizing their own fitness, this "bonding brain" hypothesis suggests that natural selection, at least in primates, was a process of maximizing individual fitness through the promotion of the group as a whole.

Meanwhile, Greg Laden considers the anthropological angles on that recent boy/girl blue/pink article:

Why do I say this is a weak post-hoc argument? For the simple reason that a reversal of their findings could be equally well explained. The game sought by hunter-gatherers is distinguished from a green foliage-rich background by its reddish-brown hue. Most meat actually collected by male hunter-gatherers is not from shooting an animal dead with an arrow, but by wounding it and following an often very subtle blood (red) trail. And so on.

Yeah, it seems pretty weak to me, too.

Yann Klementidis notices that flap in the NY Times from Roy Baumeister:

There's an article in the NYT entitled "Is There Anything Good About Men? And Other Tricky Questions" By John Tierney. It describes a recent speech by Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist. There's a few interesting excerpts from the article in addition to the somewhat obvious differences between men and women. Throughout it, Roy Baumeister invokes an assumption of group selection which I'm ok with to some extent, but which may rub people the wrong way especially with a phrase like "enabled the species to survive"!


Eric Johnson of Primate Diaries writes about the recent paper by Christopher Scholz detailing East African droughts:

These cores suggest a series of megadroughts that occurred between 135,000 and 75,000 years ago that reduced Lake Malawi by as much as 95% and caused many lakes throughout Africa to dry up completely. Approximately 70,000 years ago the climate stabilized in the region and was more favorable for human populations.

Kambiz Kamraniblasts the press reports this week about the Achilles tendon and hominid running:

My second criticism is that Sellers is not the first to make the claim that the Achilles tendon is where all of ability to run comes from. So it bugs me that either he or the press is giving him all the credit for it. The first that I know of that talked about the importance of the Achilles tendon in bipedalism was my undergraduate physical anthropology professor, Adrienne Zihlman.

Yes, this is a sloppy one. Kambiz takes it down well, including references to Bramble and Lieberman, and pointing out that yes, chimpanzees do have an Achilles tendon.

Julien Riel-Salvatore writes about that toothpicking Neandertal:

Agger et al. (2004:403)) argue "that toothpicking behavior may represent indirect evidence for the evolution of the biological capacity for language." Briefly, this is due to the presence of cranial nerve V, the largest branch of which controls (among other things) lingual movement and makes the teeth and gums extremely sensitive to various irritants.

Anthropological genetics

Razib writes a meditation on the recent evolution of human populations:

[T]he patterns of cultural diffusion which seem to characterize the pre-modern world might very well serve as a map for the sweeping of mutants of large effect across Eurasia over the past 10,000 years. The genetic architecture for light skin color are radically different in East Asia as opposed to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. Similarly, the alleles for lactase persistence that are West Eurasian are found in the same broad swath of land where SLC24A5 seems to have made an impact: from Europe down into North Africa across the Middle East and South Asia.

He lays out an argument for why dispersals of expanding populations like the Indo-Europeans may have been important in spreading adaptations among other populations, even if they make up an absolutely small proportion of the ancestry of living peoples.

Political anthropology and science

Jake Young writes a unique historical perspective on the relationship of science, atheism and politics -- with a journey past John Dewey and William Jennings Bryan:

John Dewey faced a similar issue in the 1920s. In this case, the issue was whether they could mobilize a majority around a liberal program or gain widespread acceptance of evolution. I say either/or because this was this issue as Dewey saw it. The majority of Americans at the time were deeply religious and very suspicious of evolution. Dewey wrote his essay "The American Intellectual Frontier" in TNR to lay out his case for why he felt that confronting the majority of Americans over the issue of religion might endanger the liberalism.

Anthropology and torture

Savage Minds has a guest poster, Laura McNamara, who is writing a series about her work on ethnographic information, interrogation, and torture:

Ever since Sy Hersh published his three-part series on Abu Ghraib in 2004, anthropologists have been worried about the involvement of their counterparts in torture, or the use of ethnographic information in torture. But aside from a lot of people quoting Sy Hersh, over and over and over again, Ive come across no corroborating evidence of a link between anthropology and Abu Ghraib -- or even in plain old GWOT interrogation, for that matter.

Her posts so far are interesting, and I'll look forward to reading more.


Archaeozoo posts "Eating the Dead," examining the practice of mortuary feasts in the Aegean Bronze Age:

Memory is a social rather than an individual process and all memory is collective, structured by group identities. Eating and drinking has mnemonic power. Incorporated into a mortuary context where emotions and sensory stimuli due to food are combined with those of the experience of death, a much more powerful mnemonic device would be produced.

Oh, it gets a bit more gruesome than that!

Paleolithic archaeology

Tim Jones takes us into El Castillo cave, to see the 28,000-year-old paintings:

The first image we came to was a stencilled negative of a left hand in a red ochre surround, immediately familiar and alien at the same time, floating alone on a wall, maybe greeting you, maybe saying goodbye, or just a memento of someone long ago who wanted to leave something of themselves in a place where they thought that something would remain long after they had departed this world. My guide suggested that in some cases a type of sign language might have been inherent, and that could also be the case, especially in some cases where finger appear to be missing for the stencil or print - although I'm fairly sure that all the hands I saw in El Castillo had their full complement of digits.

Neolithic archaeology

Carnival majordomo Martin Rundqvist reviews a new children's book about the Swedish Neolithic:

The man excavates the well-preserved remains of a unique mortuary house full of cool finds from about 2400 cal BC (very late Corded Ware or Battle Axe Culture, if you must know). He produces a report, a monograph and a number of papers. And now he's turned all his data and 14 years of thinking about the site into a lavishly illustrated 62-page pop-sci book for kids! And he covers every imaginable aspect of the site, from discovery and documentation through architectural reconstruction, osteology and interregional cultural context to cosmological models and religious beliefs. Our shared archaeological hero Mats P. Malmer even makes an appearance. I stand in awe.

I wonder if we can start including "children's book treatment" as a line item in the "Broader Impact" part of our grants?

Next time: same time, different bat channel

The next edition of Four Stone Hearth will be hosted by Paddy K's Swedish Extravaganza. You can find the homepage for the carnival at Until next time,