Some mysteries don't need to be solved. They need to be laid to rest.
In spring of 2017, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game employee was going about his 'do you have a license to hunt that thing' duties, in the wilds outside the city of Mountain Home, Idaho. As he kicked through the grass and dust of the high desert plains, he came upon partially buried human skeletal remains. The Fish and Game employee called in the cops, who in turn, cordoned off the area around the find as a crime scene. The condition of the bones was such that they could have been the remains of a double homicide that'd taken place in recent decades, or old enough to belong to settlers who would have been passing through the area as far back as the 19th century, as part of their trek down the Oregon Trail.
Five days after the bones were discovered, the police returned to where the bones had been discovered. They brought archaeologists with them to assist in the delicate task of extracting the remains from the earth and, since they were there, help look for any other remains that might be hanging around the area.
They found more.
There was no way to identify the bones as belonging to one society or another--not a single cultural artifact was found in the area. With no clues as to who the bones may have belonged to, the cops had the bones shipped off to a lab for carbon dating. Read the rest
Andy from How To Make Everything went out in the Utah desert, gathered up volcanic glass, then through trial and error learned how to make an Aztec-style edge weapon.
The episode includes an interesting history lesson from anthropologist Gilbert Tostevin at University of Minnesota, who shows Andy how Aztecs used a haft embedded with smaller obsidian pieces to make formidable weapons.
Archaeologists excavating a Hittite city on the border of Turkey and Syria found a broken jug that, upon restoration, revealed a smiley face. At 3,700-years-old, it could be the oldest smiley face drawing ever found. From Smithsonian:
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According to Zuhal Uzundere Kocalar at Turkey's state-run news service, the Anadolu Agency, the researchers did not notice the smiley face until restorers put the fragments of the round, off-white jug with a small handle and short neck back together.
“We have found a variety of cubes and urns. The most interesting of them is a pot dating back to 1700 BC that features an image of a 'smile' on it,” Nicolo Marchetti, an archaeology professor at the University of Bologno in Italy, tells Kocalar. “The pot was used for drinking sherbet [sweet drink]. Most probably, [this depicts] the oldest smile of the world.”
Why do so many people just leave their shopping carts in the parking lot after unloading groceries instead of rolling them to the receptacles? Sure, one answer is laziness. But it's actually more interesting than that, involving what kind of cart user you are and how your motivation aligns with two general categories of social norms. You may be someone who always returns the cart, never returns it, only does so if it's convenience, feels pressure to return it from either a cart attendant or someone waiting to park in the spot where your cart is parked, you have children and they get a kick out of returning it. From Krystal D'Costa's "Anthropology in Practice" column in Scientific American:
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Social norms fall into two general categories. There are injunctive norms, which drive our responses based on our perception of how others will interpret our actions. This means that we're inclined to act in certain ways if we think people will think well or think poorly of us. And there are descriptive norms, where our responses are driven by contextual clues. This means we're apt to mimic behaviors of others—so what we see or hear or smell suggests the appropriate/accepted response or behavior that we should display.
Supermarkets can try and guide our behavior with receptacles or cart attendants, but they’re competing with our own self-serving goals, which in this case may be staying dry, keeping an eye on our children, or simply getting home as quickly as possible, and we’re being guided by the ways others behave on top of that.
Here's a fascinating story about advances in forensic anthropology based around a creepy case of an archaeologist who had several open coffins full of human remains in his home. He said they were all legally taken from ancient Guatemalan sites, but new forensics methods showed that some of the bones were pretty new and of different races than the archaeologist claimed. Read the rest
Gabriella Coleman is the "hacker anthropologist" whose book on the anthropology of Anonymous is among the best books on hacking I've ever read; her new paper in Current Anthropology, From Internet Farming to Weapons of the Geek, poses a fascinating question: given that hackers are as well-paid and privileged as doctors, lawyers and academics, how come hackers are so much more political than other members of the professional elites? Read the rest
Gabriella Coleman, the anthropologist whose first book, Coding Freedom, explained hacking culture better than any book before or since; and whose second book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, told the inside story of Anonymous with technical and social brilliance, appeared on the Theory of Everything podcast (MP3) to discuss the ways that free software hackers and the more business-friendly open source world have fought, reconciled and fought again. Read the rest
Meredith from Simply Secure writes, "Artificial Intelligence is already with us, and the White House and New York University’s Information Law Institute are hosting a major public symposium to face what the social and economic impacts might be. AI Now, happening July 7th in New York City, will address the real world impacts of AI systems in the next next 5-10 years." Read the rest
In Workarounds to Computer Access in Healthcare Organizations: You Want My Password or a Dead Patient?, security researchers from Penn, Dartmouth and USC conducted an excellent piece of ethnographic research on health workers, shadowing them as they moved through their work environments, blithely ignoring, circumventing and sabotaging the information security measures imposed by their IT departments, because in so doing, they were saving lives. Read the rest
Design studio Kurzgesagt's latest fantastic "In a Nutshell" animation explores the origin of humanity and "What Happened Before History."
In South Africa, scientists have unearthed a humanoid species from what appears to be a burial chamber hidden deep inside a system of caves. They discovered 15 partial skeletons, with evidence leading researchers to believe the hominids had enough intelligence to conduct rituals. This is the single largest discovery of its kind ever in Africa, and scientists claim it will change our ideas about our human ancestors. More on the findings in the journal Elife.
The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong. The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived - but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.
Here's the abstract:
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Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology. H. naledi has humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist.
After eight years, the US army's $725 million Human Terrain System, a controversial social science program ostensibly established to help the military understand the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but criticized as a tool for propaganda and psyops, has ended. At CounterPunch, San José State University anthropology professor Roberto J. González published a fascinating history and critique of the program. From CounterPunch:
HTS supporters frequently claimed that the program would increase cultural understanding between US forces and Iraqis and Afghans–and therefore reduce American and civilian casualties. The program’s leaders insisted that embedded social scientists were delivering sociocultural knowledge to commanders, but the reality was more complex. HTS personnel conducted a range of activities including data collection, intelligence gathering, and psychological operations. In at least one case, an HTS employee supported interrogations in Afghanistan (Weinberger 2011).
The program also served a more insidious function: It became a propaganda tool for convincing the American public–especially those with liberal tendencies–that the US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were benevolent missions in which smart, fresh-faced young college graduates were playing a role. It appeared to demonstrate how US forces were engaged in a kinder, gentler form of occupation. Department of Defense photos portrayed HTS personnel sitting on rugs while drinking tea with Afghan elders, or distributing sweets to euphoric Iraqi children. Here was a war that Americans could feel good about fighting.
Human Terrain System (Army.mil)
(photo: Spc. Jason A. Young / Army) Read the rest