The Being a Woman Playlist from Dr. Anth Talks is focused on the biological, cultural, and social needs of women.
Between March 2, 2021 and April 19, 2021, I published 15 short videos on my Dr. Anth Talks Channel. Each week, 2 short videos are published on topics related to being human in a complex world.
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My state legislature, along with those of some other states, continues to cut funding to higher education. Anthropology is one of the subject areas that is on the bubble.
My institution requested that I create, for a campus careers day, a presentation on careers that require Anthropology. The video shown below provides a sampling of those careers.
However, Anthropology is for more than just a career. Anthropology courses provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to live in a globalized, inter-connected world no matter what their career goals may be.
As an Anthropologist, I try to create activities and projects for students in my college classes that encourage them to learn more about themselves and others. Last semester, I decided to take that a step further by having the students do a Capstone Project that would also serve the community.
On the first day of class, the students are randomly assorted into groups. The name of each group is that of one of the world’s remaining foraging populations. Their first activity is to learn about the group and share that information with their fellow group members. They will sit with their group members throughout the semester and do activities with their group.
The Capstone Project is the final group activity. Each group is assigned a different aspect of a current refugee crisis. Using an anthropological perspective, they must research that crisis. From their research, they create a slide presentation that will be shown to the class during the final exam period. All students evaluate each presentation as part of their final exam grade.
During the semester break, I select from the information the groups have gathered to create a blog page devoted to that refugee crisis. The page is part of a new blog devoted to Refugee Crises. Each semester, students will study a new crisis and new pages will be added to the blog.
This Capstone Project provides students with a tangible result that helps embed in their memories the most important theme of Anthropology: Build Bridges, Not Walls.
Last Fall, I encouraged everyone to watch the Netflix series Cleverman. This fall, the second season dropped. It continues to be a great series with a strong anthropological focus.
Season 2 focuses on forced acculturation. Forced acculturation is a process driven by the group in power and is enacted on a group that is to be stripped of all power and cultural identity. In the United States, white men in power did this to slaves and to the First Nations. Forced acculturation continues to be used by those in power to maintain their control.
If you have not yet watched Season 1, set aside a 12-hour stretch because you will find it hard not to binge through Season 2. Each season has six episodes. I look forward to there being a Season 3 of Cleverman.
As an anthropologist, I’ve read a few ethnographies. They are generally fairly dry and academic. I’ve also read a few ethologies of primate behavior, which tend to be much more entertaining. I recently finished a book that manages to successfully blend both ethnography and ethology: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin.
Martin does an excellent job of incorporating the data gleaned from participant-observation (she moved into the habitat of Park Avenue East and interacted on a daily basis with the women there) with the behavioral insights informed from research done by primatologists on the other great apes (humans are a type of great ape) and monkeys. Her scientific study of New York City women in the 0.1% shows that even the wealthiest women living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world are really not far-removed from our primate cousins.
Primates of Park Avenue is an enjoyable, fast read that demonstrates how an anthropologist with an interest in primatology views her fellow humans. Frankly, there is a little chimp/bonobo in all of us.
While reading The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, the author discussed the concept of ‘pathological science.’ ‘Pathological science’ results from scientists who cling to their ideas even when there is plenty of evidence against them. For instance, Kean discusses the idea that megalodon sharks might still be circling the deep oceans even though there is no evidence for this, while there is evidence that those sharks died out at least one million years ago. Yet, some scientists are pathologically attached to the idea that the megalodon lives.
I realized that ‘pathological science’ was the perfect term to describe what happened over the past 25 years with the rise of mtEve and the demotion of Neanderthals to non-H. sapiens status. There was/is little evidence to support mtEve as a concept, but it so excited many otherwise respectable scientists, not to mention the media and the general public, that mtEve swept away anyone who disagreed that she was the mother of all modern humans. This was a pathological science creation event par excellence. If this non-existent entity had been named mtMable, the rush to embrace her probably would not have occurred.
The name ‘mtEve’ fed into the creation stories many scientists were raised with; even if they no longer believed the stories, the concepts still manifested at an unconscious level. For the media and the general public who did/do still believe these creation stories, mtEve provided immediate validation that humans were special. Humans were not just another animal; not just another result of evolution. Pathological scientists also want ‘modern’ humans to be viewed as special, distinct, better than any preceding humans who were ‘archaic’ and different, more like an animal, less intelligent. Given the location of mtEve (Africa) and the poorly-derived date of mtEve (it varies a great deal, but many use 250,000 years ago), Neanderthals were relegated to the ‘archaic’ heap.
I have spent the past two-plus decades fighting against this pathological science, only to see it become accepted dogma even in textbooks. This is disturbing. If scientists can be so swept away by their emotions that they totally ignore evidence, is it any wonder that respect for science is softening? Fortunately, science is eventually self-correcting. It’s taken too long, but it is finally becoming clear that Neanderthals were no less ‘modern’ than so-called ‘moderns.’ There was no creation event 250,000 years ago in which mtEve popped into being and begat the first modern human. For 25 years, I asked for evidence of how speciation occurred between ‘archaics’ and ‘moderns’ and was shown no evidence. I was not surprised since there was and is no such evidence: mtEve was a creation of pathological science.
Robert G. Bednarik’s chapter, “The Expulsion of Eve” in his book The Human Condition, is a precise and detailed refutation of mtEve and the concept of ‘modern’ and ‘archaic’ humans. He slices and dices the ‘evidence’ (morphological, genetic, lithic, and cultural) until there is nothing left but hot air. While Bednarik does not use the term ‘pathological science’, it is clear from his analysis that mtEve proponents were and are acting pathologically. “…the Eve supporters have led the study of hominin origins on a monumental wild-goose chase.”
In Part 1, I concluded that the relationship of >power = >possessions =>intelligence = >human leads many of those with numerous possessions and great power to view those with neither as somehow sub-human. This attitude applies not only to the present, but to the past.
Archaeology is the study of the material culture (possessions) of past peoples. While many archaeologists are primarily interested in finding out how the average person lived, others are more concerned with the elites. This is to be expected when one considers what the general public prefers to view in museums. Commonly, one does not wait long hours in line to see how the workers who built Tut’s tomb lived, but rather the material possessions of Tut. One does not brave crowds to look at the few possessions of the sailors who crewed a ship that sank, but rather the cargo of that ship. How many tourists travel to France to tour 17th century slums rather than Versailles? In our view of the past, the wealthy are more real, more intelligent, more human because they are the ones with the most material culture to be found by archaeologists.
If material possessions carry great weight in our view of the past, then it is no surprise that the further back in time we go and the less material culture we find, the less intelligent we think our ancestors were. Of course, this ignores the fact that much of material culture decays. Therefore, the further back into the past we delve, the less material culture there is that would be, could be, preserved. Somehow, we manage to ignore this and assume that what we find is all our ancestors had. When we travel back to the ‘dawn’ of material culture around 2.5 mya we find only stone tools and a few fossilized bones with signs of cut marks. We think: ‘They had so little, they clearly weren’t very intelligent. They probably couldn’t even speak.’ This ignores the fact that by this point our ancestors had been bipeds for over 2 million years and that bipedality is related to language ability.
This also ignores the fact that much of culture is immaterial, intangible. As I said in Part 1, the focus on possessions has led many to assume and treat modern foragers who necessarily, due to their lifestyle, have few possessions, as sub-human, even as animals that can be killed with impunity. If modern foragers are viewed this way, how much less human must our ancient ancestors be?
It seems to be a given by the general public, and even by many anthropologists, that ‘modern’ humans came into existence around 100,000 years ago. That is, there was a speciation event. However, I have yet to read anywhere what caused this speciation event. There is no real evidence. It makes no sense. And yet, it is believed to be true. The date of 100,000 ya appears to have been chosen because the site of Klasies River Mouth in South Africa dates to about 100,000 ya and has a few skeletal pieces that some paleoanthropologists believe look ‘modern.’ By ‘modern’ they mean more gracile. Also, the Klasies people ate a lot of shellfish, which is considered a more modern behavior. However, the earliest bipeds have been found in what would have been a marshy environment, so it is probable that our ancestors have been eating shellfish for millions of years. The earliest non-lithic material culture is also found in sub-Saharan Africa and dates to about 80,000 ya. This is viewed as more evidence of modernity. Add in other gracile skeletal material of about the right age and voila! Modern humans popped into existence. The idea that no one used bones and shells for tools and decoration until around 80,000 ya is ludicrous. These materials will decay rapidly in most environments, so it is not surprising that they do not show up until later in human ancestry.
Now, why is the date of 100,000 years so important? Because if ‘modern’ humans did pop into existence around that date, that would mean that Neanderthals were not human. For some reason, it is critically important to a lot of people, many anthropologists included, that Neanderthals not be ‘us.’ They would rather make the unsupported claim that a speciation event occurred and that Neanderthals are a different species than to accept the more logical deduction that there was no speciation event and that Neanderthals are simply a population of modern humans.
Years of effort and reams of paper have been devoted to ‘proving’ that Neanderthals were subhuman. One of the methods used was to point out that Neanderthals had a very limited material culture compared to so-called ‘modern’ humans. But, surprise! More and more research is showing that Neanderthal material culture and ‘modern’ material culture were very similar. In fact, it may turn out that Neanderthals were the first European artists, not the ‘moderns.’
Will we finally admit that Neanderthals were fully as modern as any other group alive at that time? Does it take clear evidence of plenty of material culture to admit a population to full humanity? Or could we at last realize that material culture is only one limited aspect of being human, and one that is easily lost to time. Having more possessions does not make a person more intelligent or more human.