Oh So Anthropological

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Posts tagged Archaeology

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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.

 

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Filed under anthropology archaeology forensics dozier school for boys florida abuse

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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.

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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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Prehistoric Human Brain Found Pickled in Bog

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

THE GIST

- 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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A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity

Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.

For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe.

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Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Culture Pottery Danube Balkan

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YBC 4713 is a tablet showing a series of abstract problems. While some of the mathematical techniques learned in scribal schools were intended for use in the scribes’ later careers, many would never have been applied in practical situations.
Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection

YBC 4713 is a tablet showing a series of abstract problems. While some of the mathematical techniques learned in scribal schools were intended for use in the scribes’ later careers, many would never have been applied in practical situations.

Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Math Problems Babylon

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A photograph of the University of Pennsylvania Museum excavations at Nippur in 1899 or 1900. Nippur was the principal center of scribal training in the Old Babylonian period. The tablets excavated there provided the basis for recent research on mathematical education and curriculum.

Credit: John Henry Haynes, courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives

A photograph of the University of Pennsylvania Museum excavations at Nippur in 1899 or 1900. Nippur was the principal center of scribal training in the Old Babylonian period. The tablets excavated there provided the basis for recent research on mathematical education and curriculum.

Credit: John Henry Haynes, courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Dig Nippur Babylon Math

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Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate

When they excavated a Scythian burial mound in the Russian region of Tuva about 10 years ago, archaeologists literally struck gold. Crouched on the floor of a dark inner chamber were two skeletons, a man and a woman, surrounded by royal garb from 27 centuries ago: headdresses and capes adorned with gold horses, panthers and other sacred beasts.

But for paleopathologists — scholars of ancient disease — the richest treasure was the abundance of tumors that had riddled almost every bone of the man’s body. The diagnosis: the oldest known case of metastasizing prostate cancer.

The prostate itself had disintegrated long ago. But malignant cells from the gland had migrated according to a familiar pattern and left identifiable scars. Proteins extracted from the bone tested positive for PSA, prostate specific antigen.

Often thought of as a modern disease, cancer has always been with us. Where scientists disagree is on how much it has been amplified by the sweet and bitter fruits of civilization. Over the decades archaeologists have made about 200 possible cancer sightings dating to prehistoric times. But considering the difficulties of extracting statistics from old bones, is that a little or a lot?

A recent report by two Egyptologists in the journal Nature Reviews: Cancer reviewed the literature, concluding that there is “a striking rarity of malignancies” in ancient human remains.

“The rarity of cancer in antiquity suggests that such factors are limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues such as tobacco use and pollution resulting from industrialization,” wrote the authors, A. Rosalie David of the University of Manchester in England and Michael R. Zimmerman of Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Also on the list would be obesity, dietary habits, sexual and reproductive practices, and other factors often altered by civilization.

Across the Internet, news reports made the matter sound unequivocal: “Cancer Is a Man-Made Disease.” “Cure for Cancer: Live in Ancient Times.” But many medical experts and archaeologists were less impressed.

“There is no reason to think that cancer is a new disease,” said Robert A. Weinberg, a cancer researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and the author of the textbook “The Biology of Cancer.” “In former times, it was less common because people were struck down in midlife by other things.”

Another consideration, he said, is the revolution in medical technology: “We now diagnose many cancers — breast and prostate — that in former times would have remained undetected and been carried to the grave when the person died of other, unrelated causes.”

Even with all of that taken into account, there is a fundamental problem with estimating ancient cancer rates. Two hundred suspected cases may not sound like much. But sparsity of evidence is not evidence of sparsity. Tumors can remain hidden inside bones, and those that dig their way outward can cause the bone to crumble and disappear. For all the efforts of archaeologists, only a fraction of the human bone pile has been picked, with no way to know what lies hidden below.

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Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Paleopathology Cancer Tumors Disease

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No tablet bears the well-known algebraic equation, that the squares of the two smaller sides of a right-angled triangle equal the square of the hypotenuse. But Plimpton 322 contains columns of numbers that seem to have been used in calculating Pythagorean triples, sets of numbers that correspond to the sides and hypotenuse of a right triangle, like 3, 4 and 5.

Credit: Columbia University

No tablet bears the well-known algebraic equation, that the squares of the two smaller sides of a right-angled triangle equal the square of the hypotenuse. But Plimpton 322 contains columns of numbers that seem to have been used in calculating Pythagorean triples, sets of numbers that correspond to the sides and hypotenuse of a right triangle, like 3, 4 and 5.

Credit: Columbia University

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Ancient Tablet Algebra Equation Pythagorean Triangle