161-180 of 263 Results



Laura Sterponi and Jenny Zhang

Literacy has been in the purview of anthropological inquiry since the late 19th century. In fact, while linguistics repudiated written language as derivative and secondary (Saussure), it has been anthropology that has chiefly contributed to the establishment of literacy as a domain worthy of investigation. Whether through historical analysis or ethnographic methods, anthropologists have consistently attempted to elucidate literacy’s effects on human cognition and societal organization. Early formulations conceptualized literacy as a technology and connected the acquisition of writing to a significant enhancement of cognitive capacities at the level of the individual and to the inception of democracy at a societal level. This view was subsequently criticized and, in the 1980s, replaced with a socioculturally situated perspective which theorized literacy as a cultural practice expressed in manifold cultural activities and at the same time shaped by political, economic, and ideological conditions. Attempting to overcome both technological determinism and cultural relativism, theoretical formulations of the last few decades have advanced a techno-cultural articulation and an expansion toward multimodality. As theories of literacy have come to affirm plurality, complicating linear trajectories and teleological narratives underpinning alphabetic ascendancy, literacy education has turned into a more complex and controversial focus of inquiry. On the one hand, literacy researchers have taken to examining a wide range of contexts beyond schools, thus displacing schooled literacy from center stage. On the other hand, they have acknowledged that schooled literacy continues to have a very powerful function in society. Scholarship at the intersections of literacy and disability and of literacy and race illuminates the functioning of schooled literacy as a mechanism for the maintenance and reproduction of a social order predicated on racial hierarchies and ableism. The methodological toolkit of cultural and linguistic anthropologists equips them well to achieve rich documentation of literacy practices on the ground and to shed light on the political and economic forces that shape textual activities locally and globally. In advancing the literacy research program, anthropologists can be instrumental in deepening our understanding of literacy as a transnational phenomenon and as an international enterprise. Building on the important work that has brought to light the ways certain conceptualizations and implementations of literacy align with systems of oppression and inequity, anthropologists are also well positioned to advocate refashioning and repositioning literacy as an instrument and objective of social justice and community empowerment.


Literature and Anthropology  

Andrew Brandel

Literature is often understood to be one of anthropology’s most recurrent and provocative companions in thought. The relationship between the two has taken a number of different and variously interrelated forms. Perhaps the most familiar of these is the theorization of the anthropologist’s status as a writer; this work tends to take its cue from certain strands of postmodernism and invokes literary techniques as tools through which to address concerns around representation and the evocation of lived experience. A second important, if often overlooked, area of research involves the study of concrete literary practices including reading, writing, performing, sharing, and listening, whether by means of ethnographic fieldwork or anthropological modes of textual analysis. Finally, there are the myriad relationships that anthropologists have maintained with particular literary figures or texts, which have proven essential to their thinking and to their lives.



Nicholas Taylor

The Lupemban is an industry of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) that is found across the Congo Basin and on its plateau margins in central Africa. It takes its name from the site of Lupemba that was discovered in 1944 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, then the Belgian Congo). The Lupemban’s distinctive toolkit of elongated lanceolate bifaces, core-axes, points, blades, and other small tools coincides with the equatorial forest belt and is suitable for constructing hafted implements, which has led to speculation it was a special and specific prehistoric adaptation to rainforest foraging. Although poorly dated across most of its geographic range, radiometric dates for the Lupemban at Twin Rivers (Zambia) show it is at least ~265 ka years old, placing it among the oldest known expressions of the regional MSA. As such, the Lupemban bears on 21st-century debates about the evolution of complex cognitive abilities and behaviors that characterize the emergence of Homo sapiens at or before 300 ka bp. In spite of the Lupemban’s potential importance for understanding the evolution of technology, human–environment interactions, and cognition in early Homo sapiens, the industry remains enigmatic and poorly understood. Logistical, ecological, and political challenges continue to impede fieldwork in central Africa. Moreover, at sites including Gombe Point (DRC), severe soil bioturbation by tree roots has caused the vertical displacement of buried artifacts, which corrupts the basic integrity of stratigraphic sequences. This problem is known to be widespread and means that after 100 years of research, central Africa still lacks a refined Stone Age cultural sequence. Consequently, very little is known about spatiotemporal variability within the Lupemban, or its specific environmental or cultural adaptations. At the site of Kalambo Falls (Zambia), the industry is found in secondary but stratified context, which, as of the early 21st century, offers the best glimpse into Lupemban technology and its potential evolutionary significance.


Senegambian Macrolithism in its West African Context  

Demba Kebe

In West Africa, macrolithic sites are chronologically situated between the Middle and Late Neolithic periods, inclusive (4000 years bp–2000 years bp). In Senegambia, they are principally found in the volcanic region of the Senegalo-Mauritanian sedimentary basin, which forms an important stock of raw materials. However, macrolithism uses a variety of rocks, which attests to the diversity of raw material supply sources and bears witness to the mobility of Neolithic communities and their complex relationship with the natural environment. Out of this diversity of sources and mobility of populations arose the commercial network that procured “ad hoc materials.” Thus, understanding lithic tools requires researching the rocks most appropriate for tool making. Because of this, macrolithism can be understood as an identity and economic marker at the interface between Neolithic human groups and their environment.


Magical Practice  

Timothy de Waal Malefyt

The word “magic” refers to a broad range of beliefs and practices that include animism, charm(s), divination, enchantment, fantasy, fetish, glamour, illusion, miracles, the occult, shamanism, sorcery, spells, the supernatural, superstition, taboos, trickery, and witchcraft. Magic―once thought a core feature of “primitive societies,” abandoned by more rational, bureaucratic and progressive beliefs―is, in fact, thriving in contemporary life, and central to practices of capitalism as well as to everyday behaviors. Magic is practiced in fields of finance, government, law, medicine and health, technology, advertising, marketing, sports, the gaming industry, and theatrical performances, among other institutions. When situations allow for the assemblage of a “magician,” “rite,” and “representation” within these complex social networks and when professional skills, ideas, conditions, contexts, media, and meanings align, magic acts as an agent of change. Magic is also practiced in everyday situations in which people need to feel a sense of control in circumstances where it’s lacking, such as performing well under competitive conditions or during times of crisis with indefinite outcomes. Consequently, they rely on magical thinking—in the forms of superstitions, wishful thinking, and taboo avoidance—which is often accompanied by charms, amulets, or acts of faith to guide them through uncertainty. Conjuring terms such as “fate” and “luck” to ward off illness or improve one’s chances at getting a hit in baseball, are, in fact, ways of expressing ambiguities and dealing with conflicts of temporal existence that all humans face in one form or another. Magic structured in institutions and practiced in everyday situations is a prime example of contradiction in contemporary life. Objective knowledge of facts is increasingly understood as contingent rather than permanent, leaving room for uncertainty, mystery, the unknown, and seemingly nonrational alternatives. Scientific evidence becomes as valid as alternative facts. Documenting recent developments, it is suggested that rationality and magic are not mutually exclusive. Rather, rational behaviors and practices are suffused with magic. Magical beliefs and specific rituals complement practical knowledge so as to enhance knowledge as a way to secure success. All of these ways of thinking and social practices have something at stake, in that risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity of outcome are prevalent, and hence call on magical practices to bring about change.


Malthusian Thought  

Glenn Davis Stone

Robert Malthus’s 1798 Population has proven to be one of the most influential publications in history. Challenging ideas popular among Enlightenment writers, including the perfectibility of human institutions, he argued that since population could grow exponentially and agriculture only linearly, there was an inherent and irresolvable imbalance in nature that unavoidably led to population being checked by mortality among the poor. The policy implication was that aid to the hungry would only create more misery. The most famous “proof” of the theory came in Ireland in the 1840s, and Malthus’s policy recommendations were followed. However, Ireland was setting food export records during the famine, and agriculture has grown much more rapidly than population ever since. The basic tenets of Malthus’s have been debunked, but it continues to be influential, especially in the form of neo-Malthusianism, largely because of the interests it serves.


Managing Heritage Sites and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica  

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero

The dynamic between indigenous descendant communities, archaeologists, and other heritage professionals in Mexico and Central America embodies a distinct regional history of relations between native peoples and the state. In contrast to the United States and other regions, where indigenous polities have a history of legal sovereignty, the legacy of Spanish colonialism has created few parallel avenues for native Mesoamericans. Linguistic, cosmological, and social continuities between living and ancient indigenous populations have long been an emphasis of Mesoamericanist anthropology. Nevertheless, laws for the management of heritage in those countries often marginalize descendant communities from the use and stewardship of the material traces left behind by their ancestors. The ethical dimensions of this dynamic are further complicated by the fact that many activities that are criminalized by existing heritage laws are, in fact, consistent with long-standing traditions of landscape use and material recycling in these societies. Lacking the sovereignty principle that shapes interactions between indigenous communities and archaeologists in the United States, a more inclusive practice of heritage in Mesoamerica involves new kinds of pragmatic dialogue and accommodation.


Maritime Archaeological Research in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Bruno E.J.S. Werz

Maritime archaeology in sub-Saharan Africa is still in its early development stage. An extensive literature survey indicated that relatively few projects of this nature have been undertaken in these parts. Even fewer warrant the adjective “scientific,” based on the dearth of peer-reviewed academic publications that have appeared to date. Based on the survey, it seems that most research is undertaken in South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia, and the emphasis therefore lies with these countries.


Maritime Archaeology of the Post-Ancient World (1400–1946)  

James P. Delgado

Maritime archaeology is a relatively new aspect of anthropological inquiry into the past and examines humanity’s interaction with the aquatic world. It specifically examines the archaeological remains of human interaction with the world’s waters. These are primarily shipwrecks, or sunken craft of all types and sizes, ranging from antiquity to the modern era. It includes the contents of shipwrecks, usually cargoes, but also personal effects such as baggage or ships’ equipment. Historic submerged resources in maritime archaeological research include now-inundated former ports, harbors, and settlements of the modern era and modern human-made artifacts that are preserved because they now rest under water, such as aircraft, particularly those associated with naval aviation. The means by which these sites have been and are now interpreted has changed from a 20th-century approach of treating them as adjuncts to history and historical narratives to an anthropological approach in which they are interpreted as aspects of human societies and behavior. This includes ships and seafaring as key players in developing regional and global economies and their role in cultural exchange, colonial endeavors, warfare, and technological advances. The development of a theory of maritime archaeology, which examines the topic from both a submerged and nonsubmerged approach, evolved in the later 20th century and is now the dominant anthropological approach to assessing maritime and marine resources regardless of the context of where a site is located.


Markets and Corporations  

Keir James Cecil Martin

Corporations are among the most important of the institutions that shape lives across the globe. They often have a “taken for granted” character, both in everyday discourse and in economic or management theory, where they are often described as an inevitable outcome of the natural working of markets. Anthropological analysis suggests that neither the markets that are seen as their foundation nor corporations as social entities can be understood in this manner. Instead, their existence has to be seen as contingent on particular social relations and as being the outcome of long processes of historic conflict. The extent to which, at the start of the 21st century, corporations satisfactorily fulfill their supposed purpose of managing debt obligations in order to stimulate economic growth is particularly open to question. This was traditionally the justification for the establishment of corporations as separate legal actors in economic markets. Some 150 years on, other sociocultural relations and perspectives shape their boundaries and activities in a manner that means that their purpose and character can no longer be assumed on the basis of such axiomatic premises. Instead, their actions can be explained only on the basis of historic and ethnographic analysis of the contests over the limits of relational obligation that shape their boundaries.


Matauranga Maori and Environmental Research: The Interface of Māori Knowledge and Anthropology  

Marama Muru-Lanning

In a world where scholarship is constantly evolving and adapting, Mātauranga Māori is emerging in Aotearoa–New Zealand as a unique and legitimate knowledge source. The word Mātauranga is composed of two parts: mātau, which means to know, be acquainted with, or understand, and the suffix ranga, which turns the word from a verb into a noun. Mātauranga Māori is knowledge passed down intergenerationally from Polynesian ancestors, linking kin across time and space. It is knowledge that belongs to Māori from their earliest beginnings in Hawaiki to descendants living contemporary lives in Aotearoa–New Zealand and in other parts of the world. Guiding and informing Māori lives, Mātauranga Māori is a continuum of ancestral knowledge that binds people. Importantly, relationships between whānau (family), marae and hāpori (communities), and hapū (sub-tribes) are melded through shared experiences and practices of Mātauranga. Shaping the Māori world, Mātauranga Māori is comprehensive and includes creation stories, genealogy, history, oratory, the creative arts, environmental and technological knowledge, and local traditions specific to places and communities. Additionally, it contains the meanings and values of other significant Māori concepts such as kaitiakitanga (guardianship), rangatiratanga (leadership), mana (authority), mauri (life force), whanaungatanga (relatedness), tikanga (customs and protocols), and whakapapa (genealogy). Mātauranga Māori has historically been excluded from New Zealand’s mainstream curriculum, but this is changing as its value and potential become recognized by the state. The body of knowledge offers new ways of seeing the world, and many scholars, both Maori and non-Māori, believe it may be used to address some of the critical issues we face as a global society. Along with the desire for Mātauranga to be included in Aotearoa–New Zealand’s mainstream education, a domain previously dominated by Western science, there is a deep concern that Māori knowledge will be appropriated to benefit “others” who do not whakapapa to the original Mātauranga sources. This is an issue that Māori communities and Māori researchers must address going forward.


The Medieval Archaeology of Somaliland  

Jorge de Torres Rodriguez

During the medieval period, Somaliland and the rest of the Horn of Africa went through a number of important processes that laid the foundations of many of the historical dynamics of the 20th and 21st centuries in the region. These transformations included the consolidation of Islam, the expansion of international trade networks, the movement of the Somali people to the west, and the emergence of a score of Muslim principalities that progressively consolidated their control over significant territories and populations. Although the general outline of the period is well known through a number of Ethiopian, Arabian, and European texts, material evidence for this period is still scarce, especially in Somaliland where research had been discontinued until the 2010s due to political reasons. Research conducted during the 2010s has shown the coexistence of a network of permanent settlements with a rich nomadic culture, expressed in coastal trading posts, inland gathering places, and funerary monuments. Permanent settlements varied widely in size and functions, but showed a remarkable uniformity in terms of architecture, urbanism, and material culture. Nomadic gathering sites, on the contrary, show significant differences but share a common feature: their role as fixed nodes in an otherwise fluid landscape, where groups of different backgrounds could interact safely. Both types of sites were deeply involved in a complex trade system that connected the Horn of Africa with the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, India, and China, with Somaliland playing a key role in the import, export, and transport of commodities and goods. Nomads, urban dwellers, and foreign merchants collaborated in the maintenance of this key economic activity that, unlike in other regions of east Africa, did not lead to the emergence of urban centers by the coast. The western region of Somaliland shows clear similarities with nearby regions of Ethiopia, and was probably soon under the control or influence of the Muslim sultanates that ruled the region. On the contrary, the central region remained mostly a nomadic area until well into the 13th century. At this moment, the increase of trade around Berbera, the arrival of Islam, and the progressive influence of the Muslim states altered significantly the balance of the region, leading to the emergence of permanent settlements and deep changes in its social and economic parameters. Further to the east, the territory seems to have stayed a nomad’s land, far away from the Muslim states’ influence, although active relationships were established between the Somali clans and the Sultanate of Adal during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 16th century, the complex balance established in previous centuries suffered a series of major setbacks due to the disturbance of the maritime trade routes by the Portuguese, the defeat of the Sultanate of Adal against the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia, and the Oromo expansion from the south. The network of permanent settlements was almost completely dismantled and state structures disappeared in the region until the 20th century, with most of the population embracing the nomadic life that has become the traditional Somali lifestyle into the 21st century.


Megalithism and Territoriality in Eastern Adamawa Plateau  

Etienne Zangato

The megaliths of the northwestern part of the Central African Republic consist of monuments built with numerous large knapped stones crested on a mound. They appear at the beginning of the first millennium cal bc underlining a socioeconomic change that needs to be better characterized. During the following millennia, the archaeological record attests to an intensification of the building of monuments, together with a diversification of their form and function. Appendages such as funeral chambers begin to appear at this stage. These features have led scholars to explore the relationship of these monuments in the social dynamics and symbolic systems of their communities. The emergence of megalithism in a society marks major shifts in their cultural, economic, and political development, as the scale of these works requires significant coordination of materials and resources. In the Eastern Adamawa Plateau, these massive stoneworks allow the excavation and pinpointing of the development iron metallurgy, the diversification of funerary practices, the political development of villages and of the centers of ceramic production.


Mental Illness  

Bianca Brijnath, Samantha Croy, and Josefine Antoniades

The anthropology of mental illness involves the study of human distress in context, which in turn shapes the way in which distress is understood and treated. Anthropology provides theoretical foundations and an ethnographic approach that attends to the lived experience of mental illness as well as capturing the intersections of the cultural, social, political, economic, historical, and ecological in the everyday. Much work in the field has contributed to an appreciation of similarities and differences across societies and cultures, with increasing recognition of the dynamic and fluid nature of understandings and practices associated with mental health in an interconnected world. Analyses of how the dominance of Western psychiatry and pharmaceutical interventions shape understandings and approaches to treatment show that these can be at once lifesaving and limiting; other work highlights the vast resources across human cultures for coping with mental distress. Studies that emphasize the sociostructural as well as the cultural raise questions of whether mental distress should always be pathologized and whether solutions may lie in improvement of the conditions in which people live. Anthropologists’ acquaintance through their fieldwork with the lives of people with mental illness and their families and communities allows them to provide critical insights into the enduring problems in the field as well as possibilities for hope and recovery. The discipline’s theoretical resources provide tools for understanding the sociality of what might otherwise be considered as deeply personal. Necessarily interdisciplinary, the anthropology of mental illness reveals the complexity of mental illness as human experience and underscores how a singular monocultural approach to addressing the challenge of mental illness is insufficient.


The Middle Stone Age of South Africa  

Gregor D. Bader, Viola C. Schmid, and Andrew W. Kandel

The African Middle Stone Age (MSA) is the period in human history spanning roughly from 300,000 until 30,000 years ago. Here, we focus on the archaeological record of South Africa, with occasional glimpses at neighboring countries (Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia). During this time, modern humans evolved in Africa and brought forth a number of key innovations, including art and symbolism, personal ornaments, burial practices, and advanced methods of tool production using different raw materials such as stone, wood, or bone. The MSA is subdivided into several substages based on regional chrono-cultural differences, such as MSA II or Mossel Bay, Still Bay, Howiesons Poort, Sibudan, and the final MSA. Previous research has tended to concentrate on just two of those stages, namely, the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, as they were considered to be pinnacles of innovation. In the past years, however, assemblages from other periods have gained increasing attention. Some of the major research questions include the nature and timing of both the onset and end of the MSA. The focus on diachronic cultural dynamics not only related to the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort techno-complexes and the increasing awareness of regional diversification during different phases, especially during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (57,000–29,000 years ago), but also to the inherent problems arising from them.


Migration, Displacement, and Dispossession  

Nina Glick Schiller

Debates about migration, whether led by politicians or scholars, often approach migration as a relatively new challenge and categorize it as a “destabilizing force,” ignoring the fact that the world’s past and present has been built by human movement. Humans have always migrated. Individual and population mobility as well as settlement are part of humans’ shared history. To integrate migration into an understanding of humans’ shared past, present, and emerging possible futures, several concepts prove useful including migration regime, displacement, dispossession, conjuncture, colonization, border-making, nationalism, and racialization. Deployed together, these concepts identify moments in human history in which migration has been understood to be part of the human experience and when, where, and how migrants have been stigmatized, and those who move defined as culturally or biologically inferior. By coupling the concept of migration regimes with an analysis of changing modes of dispossession and displacement over millennia, scholars can illuminate the intersection of the economic and political transformations of governance structures as well as the varying concepts of “the migrant” and “nonmigrant,” and “native” and “foreigner.” Anti-immigrant ideologies preclude discussion of the broader economic and political restructurings that underlie both increased human movement and anti-migrant sentiments. They also deflect attention from a set of questions that are at the heart of the anthropology of migration: Why do people leave familiar terrains, family, and friends? How do they manage to move and settle elsewhere? How do they relate to the life they left behind? These are questions that can equally be asked of people who move to another region of a country or travel across political boundaries. To answer these questions migration scholars have explored the linkages between forms of human mobility and processes of dispossession, displacement, and resettlement. In these investigations, social networks prove to be central to mobility and settlement. Since the 15th century, changing Western theories about human migration and the origins of political and social boundaries reflected transformations in political economy. Globe-spanning migration regimes used violent force, border formation and dissolution, documents, surveillance, and criminalization to allow the migration of some and disallow the movement or settlement of others. During that period, marked initially by colonialism and slavery, and then by nation state building and anticolonial struggles, migration scholars including the anthropologists took varying positions on the significance of mobility and stasis in human life. By the beginning of the 21st century, the accumulation of capital by dispossession emerged as a process increasingly central to a historical conjuncture marked by both heightened migration and anti-immigrant nationalism. Political struggles for social and environmental justice began to merge with movements in support of migration. This political climate shaped a new engaged anthropology of migration.


Mining and Indigenous Peoples  

Nicholas Bainton

Anthropologists have been studying the relationship between mining and the local forms of community that it has created or impacted since at least the 1930s. While the focus of these inquiries has moved with the times, reflecting different political, theoretical, and methodological priorities, much of this work has concentrated on local manifestations of the so-called resource curse or the paradox of plenty. Anthropologists are not the only social scientists who have tried to understand the social, cultural, political, and economic processes that accompany mining and other forms of resource development, including oil and gas extraction. Geographers, economists, and political scientists are among the many different disciplines involved in this field of research. Nor have anthropologists maintained an exclusive claim over the use of ethnographic methods to study the effects of large- or small-scale resource extraction. But anthropologists have generally had a lot more to say about mining and the extractives in general when it has involved people of non-European descent, especially exploited subalterns—peasants, workers, and Indigenous peoples. The relationship between mining and Indigenous people has always been complex. At the most basic level, this stems from the conflicting relationship that miners and Indigenous people have to the land and resources that are the focus of extractive activities, or what Marx would call the different relations to the means of production. Where miners see ore bodies and development opportunities that render landscapes productive, civilized, and familiar, local Indigenous communities see places of ancestral connection and subsistence provision. This simple binary is frequently reinforced—and somewhat overdrawn—in the popular characterization of the relationship between Indigenous people and mining companies, where untrammeled capital devastates hapless tribal people, or what has been aptly described as the “Avatar narrative” after the 2009 film of the same name. By the early 21st century, many anthropologists were producing ethnographic works that sought to debunk popular narratives that obscure the more complex sets of relationships existing between the cast of different actors who are present in contemporary mining encounters and the range of contradictory interests and identities that these actors may hold at any one point in time. Resource extraction has a way of surfacing the “politics of indigeneity,” and anthropologists have paid particular attention to the range of identities, entities, and relationships that emerge in response to new economic opportunities, or what can be called the “social relations of compensation.” That some Indigenous communities deliberately court resource developers as a pathway to economic development does not, of course, deny the asymmetries of power inherent to these settings: even when Indigenous communities voluntarily agree to resource extraction, they are seldom signing up to absorb the full range of social and ecological costs that extractive companies so frequently externalize. These imposed costs are rarely balanced by the opportunities to share in the wealth created by mineral development, and for most Indigenous people, their experience of large-scale resource extraction has been frustrating and often highly destructive. It is for good reason that analogies are regularly drawn between these deals and the vast store of mythology concerning the person who sells their soul to the devil for wealth that is not only fleeting, but also the harbinger of despair, destruction, and death. This is no easy terrain for ethnographers, and engagement is fraught with difficult ethical, methodological, and ontological challenges. Anthropologists are involved in these encounters in a variety of ways—as engaged or activist anthropologists, applied researchers and consultants, and independent ethnographers. The focus of these engagements includes environmental transformation and social disintegration, questions surrounding sustainable development (or the uneven distribution of the costs and benefits of mining), company–community agreement making, corporate forms and the social responsibilities of corporations (or “CSR”), labor and livelihoods, conflict and resistance movements, gendered impacts, cultural heritage management, questions of indigeneity, and displacement effects, to name but a few. These different forms of engagement raise important questions concerning positionality and how this influences the production of knowledge—an issue that has divided anthropologists working in this contested field. Anthropologists must also grapple with questions concerning good ethnography, or what constitutes a “good enough” account of the relations between Indigenous people and the multiple actors assembled in resource extraction contexts.


Modern Human Behavior  

Pamela R. Willoughby

In evolutionary terms, a modern human is a member of our own species, Homo sapiens. Fossil skeletal remains assigned to Homo sapiens appear possibly as far back as 300,000 or 200,000 years ago in Africa. The first modern human skeletal remains outside of that continent are found at two sites in modern Israel, the Mugharet es Skhūl and Jebel Qafzeh; these date between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But this just represents a short, precocious excursion out of Africa in an unusually pleasant environmental phase. All humans who are not of direct sub-Saharan African ancestry are descended from one or more populations who left Africa around 50,000 years ago and went on to colonize the globe. Surprisingly, they successfully interbred with other kinds of humans outside of Africa, leaving traces of their archaic genomes still present in living people. Modern human behavior, however, implies people with innovative technologies, usually defined by those seen with the earliest Upper Paleolithic people in Eurasia. Some of these innovations also appear at various times in earlier African sites, but the entire Upper Paleolithic package, once known as the Human Revolution, does not. Researchers have had to split the origin of modern biology and anatomy from the beginnings of modern cultural behavior. The first clearly evolves much earlier than the latter. Or does it?


Multimodal Anthropology  

Nat Nesvaderani

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Since the 2010s, there has been an enthusiastic call for the use of multimodal methods in anthropological research. This call dovetails with the democratization of media production technologies that make the collection of data and the distribution of findings more accessible, particularly to audiences outside of academia. Some of these “modalities” include social media, digital mapping, video games, soundscapes, graphic novels, AI technologies, and critical archival practices. The contemporary field of multimodal anthropology has developed from longer-established fields of visual anthropology and media anthropology, which have participated in the production, dissemination, and study of images since the advent of the camera. Anthropologists were among the first to use new audio and visual technologies in their research activities in the early 20th century. These experimental filmmakers developed the tradition of ethnographic filmmaking, a cinematic genre that for decades was nearly synonymous with the field of visual anthropology. Newer multimodal methods strive to redefine and expand what counts as knowledge in ways that move beyond racist, colonial, and ableist legacies in the field of anthropology. Like the field of media anthropology, multimodal anthropology acknowledges and embraces the central role that media places in everyday life for anthropologists and interlocutors alike. Notably, the initial excitement for multimodal methods has been closely followed by an ambivalence among scholars who account for how new digital media tools often fall short of creating the hoped-for social and political change. The ethical use of new online platforms requires scholars to remain cautious of the ways in which popular digital technologies are often subsumed in contemporary forms of racial capitalism and white supremacy through ongoing issues of data-centered extraction and exploitation. Scholars working with multimodal methods are called to embrace the potentials of this new field while being aware of its limitations. Such awareness requires scholars to center the contributions of intersectional feminist and decolonial approaches when engaging in multimodal anthropology.


Musical Bows in the Rock Art of Southern Africa  

Joshua Kumbani and Oliver Vogels

Rock art is ubiquitous in southern Africa. It can be assumed that playing musical bows was a similarly widespread cultural tradition in prehistoric southern Africa. But discerning musical performances from other uses of the bow in the rock art is not trivial. Qualified arguments for musical performances therefore rest on the ethnographic record. Depictions of musical bows have been identified only in two rock art collections from South Africa and Namibia. In South Africa musical bows are known from the Maloti Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, and Maclear District in the Eastern Cape Province. In Namibia, the musical bows have been identified mainly in the mountainous massif called Dâureb (its local Damara name) or Brandberg (its foreign Afrikaans name) and the surrounding region in northwestern central Namibia. The occurrence of musical bows in the rock art sheds light on some of the musical instruments that were used in the past and their playing techniques. This is important in music archeological studies, which involve the analysis of music-related artifacts or sound-producing artifacts and their cultural background from the archeological record, or the investigation of the effects of sound in past societies. Rock art is an important source that can be used in music archeological studies. Ethnographic information also gives another depth in describing musical bows and allows one to differentiate contemporary music cultures from the past. There are some notable similarities and differences between the musical bows from South Africa and Namibia. These similarities and differences come in the form of the technical aspects of how sound is produced (organology) by the musical bows and playing techniques, exhibiting distinct music cultures. What stands out is that in most cases the string is turned away from the player, which is different when a bow is used for shooting, as well as the use of a tapping stick to play the bow. The musical bow depictions in Namibia do not have resonators, whereas most of those depicted in South Africa do. However, the musical bows in Namibia are braced or have a string that divides the bow string into two sections (tuning noose), whereas none have been recorded in South Africa.