Friday, February 22, 2008

Feb. 21: Understanding the Past / Cannibalism and Creationism

Feb. 21: Reading assignments for Thursday, Feb. 21: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 9: “Understanding the Past,” Pp. 212-237 and Chapter 11, “Old Time Religion – New Age Visions,” pp. 278-310.

Understanding the Past...and Difficult Subjects (Cannibalism and Creationism)

Monty Python is at it again, talking about things that people would really rather not talk this case cannibalism and other nasty bits!

Today's assignment was to read the chapter in Ashmore and Sharer about how archaeologists try and understand the past through one of the three "schools of thought" in contemporary archaeology, Culture-History, Processualism, and Post-Processualism. The main thing to remember is that the Culture-History developed first, focused on historical explanations for culture change (what, when, where), and was the dominant approach up until the 1960s. Processualism was a materialist reaction which really began in earnest in the 1960s, as a dissatisfaction with the Culture-History school; processualism was an attempt to find laws of cultural change (how and why) through rigorous application of the scientific method. However it also could go only so far in grappling with issues of the human past, and so in the 1980s, it was critiqued itself in a new movement (actually a series of approaches) called postprocessualism, which tied to get at the individual's place in the human past and the attempt to learn about the ideology (meaning, symbolism, etc.) of past cultures. The outline of the chapter is found below.

We watched the second half of the videotape "Archaeology: Ancient America;" the first half we watched in Tuesday's class. The tape's first half was about the 9000-year-old Archaic culture of the U.S. Southwest, which would develop into the Anasazi, and then the Pueblo Indians. The second half was about the evidence for cannibalism found in some of the caves occupied during the times of the Anasazi, a matter of debate among archaeologists. We talked in class about the evidence, about the different types of cannibalism (ritual cannibalism, contingency cannibalism, and dietary cannibalism) and found that while cannibalism is nowhere near as common as popular imagination would believe, it has, and does happen in severe survival situations (contingency cannibalism as a result of the plane crash in the Andes, or the stories of the Wendigo in the Canadian subarctic) and in some ritual contexts in a few cultures (eating or biting the heart of a brave enemy to attain his courage in my tribe, the Ioway, or the former cannibalism of certain peoples in Papua New Guinea associated with the disease "kuru"). But there is no evidence of sustained dietary cannibalism of any group of people in a nonsurvival situation. Ultimately, this taboo is so embedded in human experience, it still brings up strong emotional reactions when discussed...even in scientists! ;-)

And in the last discussion of the day, we wrestled with the chapter in Feder about scientific creationism, and the evidence and social context of arguments for and against it. It was a tough discussion, I hope we will have more, but one we can't shy away from, whatever we ultimately decide to believe for ourselves about what we think we understand about the past. If anthropologists/archaeologists can't talk about taboo subjects, who can?


I. CULTURE HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION- Temporal and spatial syntheses of data- what, when, where

- A. Inevitable variation- all cultures change over time

- B. Internal factors:
--- 1. Cultural invention- new ideas arise within cultures
--- 2. Cultural selection- like natural selection
--- 3. Cultural drift- like genetic drift, tranmission incomplete so over time has a random effect
--- 4. Cultural revival- of elements that fallen into disuse

- C. External factors:
--- 1. Diffusion
--- 2. Trade
--- 3. Migration
--- 4. Conquest
--- 5. Environmental change

II. PROCESSUAL INTERPRETATION- Often based on data collected through culture history, test series of competing hypotheses- how and why

- A. Systems (synchronic)- interactions in system
--- 1. Feedback
--- 2. Negative feedback
--- 3. Positive feedback

- B. Ecological (synchronic)- interaction with its environment
--- 1. Cultural ecology: physical landscape, biological component, cultural environment
--- 2. Cultural adaptation
--- 3. Computer simulation

- C. Multilinear evolutionary concepts (diachronic)- over time, causality from either prime movers or multiple/multivariate factors
--- 1. Multilinear cultural evolutionary models
--- 2. Prime movers
--- 3. Multivariate strategy

III. POSTPROCESSUAL AND EMERGENT INTERPRETATIONS- original meaning of culture at level of individual, as decision-maker and meaning-laden context (cultural relativity)

- A. Decision-making models


- A. Combine all three

FEDER Chapter 11: "Old Time Religion- New Age Visions"
Scientific creationism: Noah’s ark, Footprints in time, Creationism through animatronics, Other guises of creationism
The Shroud of Turin- testing the shroud
Burial boxes of Jerusalem
New Age Prehistory
Current Perspectives: Religions Old and New

Reading assignment for next class, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 10: “Archaeology Today,” pp. 238-254 and Feder, Chapter 12, “Real Mysteries of a Veritable Past,” pp. 311-333.

1 comment:

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