Why did you choose go to sleep last night at the particular time you did?
Maybe you were just plain tired. But, chances are, there were other factors involved in that decision, as well. Where you hoping to get a certain number of hours of rest before you had to get up and go to work? Maybe it just felt like time to crawl into bed, because your friends and family were, too. If you stayed up later, would you feel like you were doing something wrong? Do your sleep patterns change when you've spent time in another country?
Sleep, and the physical cycles that drive it, aren't just about biology. The patterns and expectations surrounding sleep have varied greatly throughout human history and from place to place. Sleep is cultural. If you want to understand the science of sleep, you have to learn both biochemistry and anthropology.
That's the message at the heart of Jessa Gamble's The Siesta and the Midnight Sun. This is a book about how circadian rhythms work. But it's also a book about how the invention of the clock and the long arm of Western colonialism changed the way human beings relate to the world around them in a really fundamental way.
Read the rest
"To put it very simply, the experiments show that when people think they are drinking alcohol, they behave according to their cultural beliefs about the behavioural effects of alcohol." — Anthropologist Kate Fox, writing for the BBC
. (Via Ed Yong) — Maggie
Confused about what we do and don't know about the relationship between humans and Neanderthals? This video by Lynn Fellman will get you up-to-date on the basics—including some of the questions that haven't been answered yet. It doesn't cover everything, but it is a nice primer on recent research and how that research was done.
EDIT: Bad news: Autoplay continues to be the devil. The good news: If you go to Lynn Fellman's website to view the video there, it doesn't autoplay. So follow the link and enjoy.
Image: Neanderthal Silhouette, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from erix's photostream
Egyptian mummies were coiffed for the afterlife with the help of animal fat-based hair gel
. Bonus moment of cultural weirdness: The article linked here seems to ignore the fact that styling the hair of the dead isn't just some odd thing the ancient Egyptians did. In fact, it's a common facet of modern Western burial practices. (Via Rowan Hooper)
It's August of 2011, do you know when your Apocalypse is?
There are 1000s of people who think that something important—if not the end or the world, then something—will happen on December 21, 2012. These speculations spring from a well-seasoned cultural melting pot, but a key ingredient is the writings and beliefs of both ancient and modern Maya people. In fact, the folks promoting the 2012 movement often frame themselves as experts in Maya traditions.
Here's the thing, though: There are actual experts in ancient Maya traditions, and actual experts who study the culture and religion of modern Maya living today. These archaeologists and anthropologists have, inadvertently, created some of the pop culture legends that spawned the 2012 movement. But, until very recently, they've largely ignored that movement. This is starting to change, however. Last January, archaeo-astronomers held a symposium on the 2012 phenomenon and those papers were recently published in The Proceedings of the International Astronomy Union. Meanwhile, a new scholarly book, collecting essays on the 2012 phenomenon by Mayanist researchers, is set to be published soon.
One of the researchers featured in that book is John Hoopes, an archaeologist and one of my former professors when I was an anthropology student at The University of Kansas.
Hoopes does field research, digging at archaeological sites in Costa Rica and other parts of Central and South America. But, as a side project, he's also developed some expertise in the way archaeology—and, particularly, pseudo-archaeology—influences pop culture in the United States and Europe. I spoke with him about where 2012 myths come from, why scientists need to study and address pseudo-science movements, and why he thinks the 2012 phenomenon owes as much to H.P. Lovecraft and Aldous Huxley as it does to the ancient Maya.
Read the rest
One traditional way to kill a lot of bison: Run them off the edge of a cliff. Now, anthropologists are studying the landing patterns of buffalo at a Montana kill site by recreating the hunt ... with the help of some old truck tires. (Via Alex Witze)