Oh So Anthropological

Your source for all things Anthropology

Posts tagged Anthropology

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In honor of Halloween, let’s talk death…

Who am I kidding? We’re anthropologists, we always talk death. 

On that note, I thought I’d share with you NPR’s article “Burial Rights: Who Owns Dead Bodies, Anyway?" with a special guest appearance by our very own Nancy Scheper-Hughes.

"Who Owns the Body? The closest next of kin, at least in my humble anthropological and therefore naturally iconoclastic view." - Nancy Scheper-Hughes 

Filed under anthropology death bodies physical anthropology archaeology nancy scheper-hughes grief burial

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Florida to exhume bodies buried at former boys school

Marianna, Florida (CNN) — This weekend, Florida will begin digging into its tragic past as anthropologists start unearthing what they believe are the remains of dozens of children buried on the grounds of a former reform school.

 The exhumations at the Dozier School for Boys — which closed in 2011 — are the culmination of years of controversy surrounding the reform school and a mythology that has taken on a life of its own.

 Rightly or wrongly, the Florida Panhandle town of Marianna — just west of Tallahassee — has become synonymous with the school and its dark past.

Some of those who were once sent to Dozier — now senior citizens — have come forward with stories of abuse at the school, including alleged beatings, torture, sexual abuse, killings and the disappearance of students, during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

On the school grounds buried deep in the woods lies a small unkept patch of land with 31 white crosses. Rusting away with time, they mark the final resting place for the unknown students that the state has confirmed were buried there.

 Nearly 100 children died while at the school, according to state and school records, many as a result of a tragic dormitory fire in 1914 and a deadly flu epidemic in 1918.

 The poorly-kept state records cannot account for what happened to 22 children who died at the school. And, no one knows who is buried where.



Filed under anthropology archaeology forensics dozier school for boys florida abuse

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So I realize that this blog is lacking the ‘personal touch’ because I spend most of my time on my personal blog, but I’m always happy to chat or answer any questions you may have! Even if it takes me a while to respond as some of you have discovered. I promise I’m never intentionally ignoring you! Often times I check my inbox, intend to respond later, and forget. 

Anyways, here is a little blurb about myself for those of you who are curious! 

I am entering my final year of undergrad with a major in anthropology and a mixed focus of cultural/physical because I find it near impossible to untangle the two.

I spent last semester studying abroad in New Zealand and assisting a grad student with the identification of fragmented cremated human remains. Currently, I am also employed in the physical anthropology labs on campus where I lead students through the bone curatorial process (from dissection to our osteology collection), teach lab safety, guide any projects that the labs have going on at the time, and conduct my own personal research/projects. I’m also particularly psyched right now because I just got hired as the TA/grader for the Human Skeletal Biology course this fall. 

Filed under personal anthropology

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While studying in New Zealand I assisted a grad student with the identification of cremated human bone fragments. This frontal bone was one of my favorites! It is calcined and warped with the added bonus of cribra orbitalia.

Reblogging from my personal blog to share with my fellow anthropology obsessed <3 

Filed under anthropology archeology paleopathology fire

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Archaeologists Officially Declare Collective Sigh Over “Paleo Diet”

In a rare display of professional consensus, an international consortium of anthropologists, archaeologists, and molecular biologists have formally released an exasperated sigh over the popularity of the so-called “Paleo Diet” during a two-day conference dedicated to the topic.

The Paleo Diet is a nutritional framework based on the assumption that the human species has not yet adapted to the dietary changes engendered by the development of agriculture over the past ten thousand years. Proponents of the diet emphasize in particular the negative effects of eating large quantities of grain and its numerous by-products, which can lead to hypertension, obesity, and various other health problems. Instead, the Paleo Diet posits that a reliance on lean meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables while minimizing processed food is the key to health and longevity.

The nutritional benefits of the diet are not what the grievance is about, said Dr. Britta Hoyes, who organized the event. She agreed that a high-carbohydrate diet can have a detrimental effect on long-term health, as many studies have demonstrated. Instead, the group’s protest is a reaction to the biological and historical pediments of the diet, in particular the contention that pre-agricultural societies were only adapted to eat those foods existing before the Neolithic Revolution.


Anthropologists are so sassy and I love it. Read the rest of the article for some premium anthropological sass.

Filed under anthropology archaeology paleo paleo diet agriculture bioarchaeology survival adaptation

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Excerpts from Savage Minds Interview: Sarah Kendzior

Read the full interview -> here

RA: Earlier you mentioned an adviser who sees anthropology as something that should not be removed from public life–as something that can benefit the public.  Do you share a similar vision of the discipline?  What’s your take on the role of anthropology in public life?

SK: Anthropology benefits the public. Unfortunately, it is blocked from the public, and anthropologists who engage with the public – people like David Graeber – tend to be shunned by other anthropologists, to the point where they lose their jobs. This makes younger anthropologists afraid of public engagement, even though they have valuable insights to share.

Anthropologists complain about politics and the media, but they rarely engage with either. Then they wonder why their voices are not being heard. The most obvious way anthropologists can increase their influence is by writing online. I don’t mean writing in places like Anthropology News — where you have to pay an exorbitant membership fee to leave a comment – but on real blogs, on Twitter, on mainstream media sites, and in open access journals. Publishing reprints of paywalled articles is also a good idea, and is usually legal after a period of time. I did an interview about the benefits of reprinting journal articles online with Academia.edu, which you can read here.

Anthropologists tend to forget that tenets basic to our discipline – for example, that race is a social construct and not a biological determinant of behavior – come as revelations to a lot of people. Issues of racial and religious discrimination are among the many areas where anthropologists can have a powerful voice.

I recently wrote an article for Al Jazeera, “The Wrong Kind of Caucasian”, that had a complicated premise but a simple conclusion: do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnic background or country of origin. It was read by half a million people and shared on Facebook 57,000 times. I got letters from people saying I had changed their preconceptions and that they were going to keep an open mind about race, ethnicity and immigration. It felt good to make a difference at a politically heated time.

Academics justify the paywall system by saying the public is not interested in academic research. I argue that the public has had no opportunity to decide for themselves, since access to research has always been blocked. But I have faith in the ability of non-academics to understand and appreciate academic work. Given our current political and economic situation, anthropology may be of particular interest. More than any other discipline, it tackles issues of power and corruption, paying attention not only to the powerful, but to the struggling and marginalized.

Except, of course, when it comes to the struggling and marginalized anthropologists. Rarely have I seen a group more oblivious to their own hypocrisy than the “enlightened” anthropologists ignoring the adjunct crisis. You would think such incredible structural inequality would be interesting, at least, to the anthropological mind. I know it is interesting to me.

RA: Above, you highlighted the fact that many anthropologists complain about their voices not being heard, yet ironically they often don’t engage much with politics or the media.  To me, this persistent disengagement paves the way for attacks on social science by the likes of Tom Coburn and Florida Governor Rick Scott.  We’ve essentially dug our own grave when it comes to public engagement–it’s easy to discount a highly insular, often silent discipline that few people have ever heard anything about.  So, in order to wrap up this interview I am going to ask you two simple questions that I hear all the time from non-anthropologists:  1) Anthropology?  What the hell is anthropology?; and 2) What are you going to do with that?

SK: You are right that academics’ lack of public engagement opens the door to political attacks. I wrote an article about this for Al Jazeera called Academic funding and the public interest.

I’m not going to answer “What is anthropology?” No one cares about our ontological debates. But here is how I would explain cultural anthropology to a layperson:

All of the social sciences – history, political science, economics, etc – study how people behave, form groups, and build a society. Each social science has its own way of figuring this out. Anthropologists believe the best way to find out what someone is thinking is to ask them. We respect that people in another community understand their own way of life better than outsiders do. We observe a community for a long period of time so that we don’t come away with hasty generalizations. We are careful when we write about others to put their words and their views before our own.

When you study anthropology, you learn about people and places that you might not otherwise. Anthropologists write about everyone – powerful and powerless, rich and poor, all races and nationalities. They explore how political decisions affect ordinary people, and how ordinary people influence politics. They look at how public perception is shaped, how social trends emerge, and how movements are formed. They ask what people expect from life, and what happens when they don’t get it.

Anthropology has a reputation for being exotic. But the point of anthropology is that exoticism fades when you get to know someone. Bigotry and prejudice fade too, which is why anthropologists used to be influential in reshaping ideas about race and ethnicity.

Anthropologists are interested in why people believe lies. For example, a large percent of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya. For an anthropologist, it would not be enough to note that this is factually incorrect. They want to know why so many people believe it is true.

Anthropologists understand that the world often doesn’t run on facts, but on dreams and delusions, hopes and fears, imagination and ambition. They don’t dismiss anything as unimportant.


Now onto your second question — what are you going to do with that? First of all, higher education and the economy are both such disasters that you cannot assume any major or degree will guarantee you a good, secure life. STEM, liberal arts, law – no profession is safe. Industries are disappearing or being restructured out of existence. Practical training you get in college will likely be useless ten years from now. There are no safe bets.

So what is the point of an education? The point is to think critically, become an informed citizen, gain some specialized knowledge, gain broader insight into the world, and communicate well. Some people will say they don’t need to go to college to do this. I actually agree with that. But since college is a prerequisite for most jobs, you might as well get a solid education.

The best education is a broad education with an emphasis on primary sources, debate, and writing skills. I recommend that people study anthropology, but they should also study history, literature, religion, art, science, economics, sociology, political science, and other subjects. The constant assertion of disciplinary superiority is self-defeating. If the social sciences want to win the battle against people who want to defund us, we need to band together. We also would benefit intellectually if we read work outside our discipline and showed tolerance for alternate approaches.

I study Central Asia, a region of the world that is so understudied that there is a very small body of anthropological literature. As a result, most anthropologists draw not only from anthropological studies, but from the work of sociologists, historians, geographers and others. We also tend to read and cite non-academic work, since data on Central Asia is so limited. We have a supportive research community and no one’s knowledge is dismissed out of hand because of their background.

I also study the internet, and so I read broadly in communication, sociology, humanities and other fields. Yet when I write an article for an anthropology journal, I am expected to cite only other anthropologists. When I co-wrote a mixed-methods article with a quantitative communications scholar, and we got it published in the top communications journal, I was told by some anthropologists to leave it off my CV, because it showed I was interested in something other than anthropology. This is ridiculous. There is no need for this insecurity masked as insularity.

Anthropology is struggling as a discipline because anthropologists bank on a lofty reputation that they don’t really have while simultaneously shielding their work from the public. The public is not going to believe you have something worthy to say when you refuse to let them in on the conversation. Don’t be so afraid, anthropologists. You of all people should know the world is not what it seems.

Filed under Anthropology Public media academia cultural anthropology interview sarah kendzior savage minds good read while I disagree with a few statements I still think this is an important point of view collaboration

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Prehistoric Human Brain Found Pickled in Bog

(One of the pieces of a 2,600-year-old brain after removal from the skull)


- One of the world’s best preserved prehistoric human brains was recently found in a waterlogged U.K. pit.

- The brain belonged to an Iron Age man who was hanged and then decapitated, with his head falling in the pit shortly thereafter.

- Scientists believe that submersion in liquid, anoxic environments helps to preserve human brain tissue.

The Story

A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.

The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.

"The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties," lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. "Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging."

"The head was then carefully severed from the neck using a small blade, such as a knife," added O’Connor, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bradford. "This was used to cut through the throat and between the vertebrae and has left a cluster of fine cut marks on the bone."

The brain-containing skull was found at Heslington, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. O’Connor and her team suspect the site served a ceremonial function that persisted from the Bronze Age through the early Roman period. Many pits at the site were marked with single stakes. The remains of the man were without a body, but the scientists also found the headless body of a red deer that had been deposited into a channel.

The condition of the brain is remarkable for its age.

"In the air, even in the chill of a hospital mortuary, brain tissue very quickly decays to liquid before muscle and other soft tissues show much evidence of decay," O’Connor said.

She and her colleagues suggest that a fortuitous series of events — for the brain and science, not the victim — led to the organ’s preservation. Shortly after the man was killed, his head must have been placed, or fallen into, the waterlogged pit that was free of oxygen. While other soft human body parts may not preserve well under such conditions, the wet environment appears to be perfect for keeping brains “fresh,” “due to the very different chemistry of brain tissue,” O’Connor said.

The researchers don’t think the violent way the man was killed aided his brain’s preservation. While severing his head separated it from the rest of his body, including the bacteria-filled gut, the decapitation “would also have produced a gaping wound that would have been open to immediate infection from micro-organisms involved in putrefaction.” The quick burial in conditions not suited for microbial activity likely prevented that from happening.

In addition to describing this unusually well preserved brain, the journal paper provides the first in-depth study of other prehistoric human brains and soft human tissues discovered by scientists. They include the body of the 5,000-year-old Tyrolean “Ice Man,” the Inca mummies of the high Andes, the tanned bog bodies from across Northern and Western Europe, good condition bodies sealed in lead coffins — such as the St. Bees man, and crypt burials at places like Spitalfields Church, London, where bodies with surviving brain tissue were found.

Glen Doran, chair of the anthropology department at Florida State University, told Discovery News that two aspects of the new study immediately struck him as “notable.”

"First," he said, "such preservation is testimony to the amazing preservation in wet sites. Truly amazing things come out of the muck."

"The second, he added, "is the absolutely stellar analysis brought to bear on this special find."

Based on this discovery and other known prehistoric, intact human brains, he agrees that rapid burial in an aqueous environment, as well as near-continual submersion, are essential to human brain tissue preservation.

"The cranium is well designed to protect the brain in life and can, under the right circumstances, remain on duty long after the normal expectation of service," he said.

The researchers don’t think the violent way the man was killed aided his brain’s preservation. While severing his head separated it from the rest of his body, including the bacteria-filled gut, the decapitation “would also have produced a gaping wound that would have been open to immediate infection from micro-organisms involved in putrefaction.” The quick burial in conditions not suited for microbial activity likely prevented that from happening.

(Source: news.discovery.com)

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Physical Anthropology Brain Prehistoric Iron Age Science human brain human ancestry

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In my lab, we use bean bags to place skulls and other bones on to ensure their safety, so I told my lab students that if they wanted extra hours they could make us some more bags. However, the catch was that they had to be physical anthropology or archaeology related because all of our other bean bags are made out of fun skeleton fabric. This cute skull bean bag was one of the results! This one is mine because I asked her to make me one as well when I saw how cute they were!


In my lab, we use bean bags to place skulls and other bones on to ensure their safety, so I told my lab students that if they wanted extra hours they could make us some more bags. However, the catch was that they had to be physical anthropology or archaeology related because all of our other bean bags are made out of fun skeleton fabric. This cute skull bean bag was one of the results! This one is mine because I asked her to make me one as well when I saw how cute they were!

Filed under anthropology labs skull fabric

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Anthropologists for Hire

Fieldwork is one of those extraordinarily-difficult-to-bracket experiences, as it blithely ignores any sort of compartmentalization of practical issues, professional demands, family, work, even time. Most conversations I’ve had about the hardship of fieldwork have invariably been cognizant of the sorts of practical-professional-personal negotiations involved—which often can become frustrating, overwhelming. In this post, I consider how such circumstances compel certain sorts of research decisions, serving as the often unspoken frameworks for the questions we ask and the projects we choose.

Fieldwork for my dissertation research followed a fairly classical/conventional trajectory, but for the break I took at the 6-month mark so as not to be away from my husband for a continuous year. India was far, tickets were expensive, but this was workable, still. I lived in Hyderabad, studying women’s activist organizations and their responses to Hindutva. I thoroughly enjoyed the vagrancy that fieldwork in an urban setting demands—and realized it was easiest to do this sort of work when one was away from family, so that it was informants and leads that set my pace and defined my agendas, not the realities of child- or parent-care. But it took the year and much stubbornness and persistence besides to move out of what Geertz has called one’s “ghosthood” into a more recognized position in a network, from which information was more accessible, and fieldwork as an experience much more enjoyable.

Our first baby arrived on the heels of the tenure-track job at a teaching-focused institution with a 3-3 load and neither research money nor any assured sabbaticals, but with research requirements to meet at tenure review nonetheless. Summers were all the dedicated time there was, but summers are hard in India, India was half the world away, childcare was not ever easy to organize, and getting there and back in time to teach again with research planned in between was beginning to sound exhausting, near-impossible, and almost not worthwhile.


Filed under Anthropology Fieldwork Dissertation Hire Employment Family Ethnography

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Gorilla moms use ‘baby talk’ with infants

LEIPZIG, Germany, June 12 (UPI) — Mother gorillas use a sort of “baby talk” in their facial and hand gestures when communicating with their infants, European researchers say.

Eva Maria Luef from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, filmed 120 hours of footage of gorillas at Leipzig Zoo and two wild animal parks in Britain, the BBC reported Tuesday.

The footage showed adult female gorillas used more tactile gestures than they used with other adults when playing with infants and would “touch, stroke and lightly slap” the young gorillas, Luef said.

"The infants also received more repetition," Luef said.

This motherly communication, or “non-vocal motherese,” helps the infants learn the repertoire of signals they will use as adults when communicating with the rest of the gorilla group, the researchers said.

"It also shows that older animals possess a certain awareness of the infants’ immature communication skills," Luef said.

The research has been published in the American Journal of Primatology.

(Source: upi.com)

Filed under Anthropology Primatology Primates! Gorilla BABEHZ Motherhood Communication