Guest Blog: Evernote and Anthropology

We here at the Wenner-Gren Foundation are fascinated by the new  technologies that anthropologists are constantly tinkering with, bricoleur-style, alongside their tried-and-true research practices. From iPad-mounted rigs for ethnographic filmmaking to apps for digital audio recording, we’ve come a long way from Malinowski’s spartan Trobriand tent.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about one little app in particular: Evernote, a piece of notemaking/archiving software that first appeared on the scene as a beta in 2008 and since has become something of a cult item for the digitally-inclined anthropologist. Today, we welcome guest blogger Danielle Carr, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Carr studies the somatization of trauma and is currently working on an ethnography of Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for depression and PTSD, and has become something of an “evernote evangelist” in her own words. Let’s turn it over to her to learn more about Evernote’s use in anthropological fieldwork and her experiences with the product.

 

I never intended to become an Evernote evangelist. I’ve long held that  when someone establishes intense eye contact and tells you excitedly that something will absolutely change your life,  the best policy is to nod and continue your adequate existence, bereft as it may be of juice cleanses or Infinite Jest or gel insoles. When the first of my friends began preaching the starry-eyed  gospel of Evernote to me, I humored them. I smiled over coffee as they waxed rhapsodic about infinite syncing across devices, much as I imagine Marco Polo’s friends smiled over the 13th century equivalent of brunch as he spluttered about this wonderful new trading route that they simply must try. Reader, I admit it: I was patronizing.

I didn’t think more of it until I began preparing for fieldwork. I had been advised to keep a running word document of field notes, to save everything else in folders, and to back the whole caboodle up daily, nay, twice daily. Perhaps this strategy works for Bowflex-bodied ubermenschen, but as my file organization tends to quickly descend into a situation resembling a Bosch painting of Russian nesting dolls, I was apprehensive.  It was in this dark moment of despair that I gave Evernote a try. That, it turns out, is how they get you.

My friends, I write to you a reluctant convert. I know how this sounds, but hear me out. Here are three reasons Evernote was the perfect tool for my participant-observation based project.

1.       It allows you to create any sort of archival file.

The most groan-inducing aspect of ethnographic research is that you must keep assiduous track of every picture, audio recording, or scan you encounter. Normally, this would require uploading all the files from your sundry devices and weeping quietly as you label them by hand each night. Evernote allows you to make any sort of file (be it a scan, recording, picture, or video) and label it from within the application. Each file is saved in a “note”, or an entry resembling a notecard, to which you can add as many types of files or text as you like. The program then syncs all files across any device linked to your Evernote account. I carry an iPad during active fieldwork, and label all the notes as I create them. At the end of the day, I switch to my laptop and add tags to the notes, and write additional comments in each note.

2.       It creates your archive for you.

Ethnographic research requires that you remember not only what you learned, but when you learned it, since you are yourself a character in the emerging narrative. Evernote’s design allows you to input data in bite-sized chunks as you come across it, merging the textuality of a blog with the archival sensibilities of citation management software.  Each note you create is collated into “notebooks” and you can keep as many running as you wish. Each note is automatically inserted into this archive, which allows you to build a very precise narrative. In my case, I keep one notebook with websites, articles, and academic articles related the field I am studying, and in another I keep the documentation I am myself collecting, including my field notes.

3.       It syncs across all of your devices.

While this feature may not work so well for fieldwork in rural areas without wi-fi, using two devices has been ideal for my purposes and Evernote allows me to switch between them as desired. During the day, I carry a small satchel with an iPad, spare consent forms, and a notebook. I keep running notes on pen and paper, using the iPad if I need to take a photo or a recording, and write everything up at night using my behemoth of a laptop. Using an iPad for fieldwork is the topic for another blog post, and my own deep ambivalence and guilt about owning said iPad is another still, but speaking from the strangling embrace of the global capital’s tentacles I must admit: only having to tote one device that automatically organizes all of my data has been dreamy.

There are a few considerations worth mentioning. Using any program to organize your data binds you, in sickness and in health, to their platform. You can ameliorate this by keeping your data backed up elsewhere, as you can download any file you collect in Evernote and save it wherever you like. The other issue is that Evernote is free unless you go above a certain monthly upload limit. I have used it for two months now without being forced to shell out the five bucks monthly, but it is worth bearing in mind. There’s also the issue of confidentiality. While there have been no Evernote-hacking scandals to date, it’s probably best to anonymize your data before you put it in their system.

At the heart of these concerns, of course, is the question of ethnography’s complicity with neoliberalism. I don’t pretend to know the answer on that one, but I do think it is an issue digital projects and methods must bear actively in mind as we incorporate new tools. Considering our position in the nexus of research, technology, and capital may not be the most important conversation for anthropology, but it is a necessary one all the same. And so, dear reader, I share with you the system I’ve cobbled together that seems to be working well for me.  I remain open to comments of all sorts. Though not to comments about juice cleanses. As Levi-Strauss once commented (probably), you have to draw the line somewhere.

Are you interested in guest-blogging for us? You don’t have to be a grantee! Send your pitches to dsalas@wennergren.org.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Maria Theresia Starzmann

Maria Theresia Starzmann explains archaeological artifacts to students

Maria Theresia Starzmann is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at McGill University. She originally was awarded the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2008 as a Ph.D. student at the State University of New York – Binghamton, to aid research on ‘Embodied Knowledge and Community Practice: Stone Tool Production at Fıstıklı Höyük,’ supervised by Dr. Reinhard W. Bernbeck. After analyzing the technological organization of stone tool production at this 6th millennium BCE site in southeastern Turkey, Dr. Starzmann applied for and was granted the Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2013 to develop and present a series of workshops for schoolchildren living in proximity to the research site. In this post, Starzmann shares her experiences educating young people about Neolithic lifeways.

Seen from the present, the ancient world often appears foreign to us. Looking at a Late Neolithic site, the contemporary reader may expect to find functionally differentiated stone tools—an archaeological ‘tool kit’ similar to the implements in a North American kitchen drawer. The absence of such artifacts often comes as surprise: as my research at the site of Fıstıklı Höyük in Southeastern Turkey has shown, Late Neolithic villagers lived with a relative paucity of material items. Up until the late 20th century, this scarcity has led archaeologists to describe the Late Neolithic societies of the Middle East as ‘primitive.’

Against such an ‘othering’ of past social groups, my dissertation research set out from the understanding that the past is more than an impoverished mirror image of the present. Seeking to share my alternative reading of the Late Neolithic past, I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. The idea was to offer a series of workshops for school children in Turkey, providing local students with an opportunity to explore the ancient world in their own terms. In developing the workshop materials, I believed it particularly important to counter a reading of ancient cultures as ‘primitive.’ The scarcity of artifacts documented at Fıstıklı Höyük, for example, is better understood as the basis for sharing things than as indicative of a primitive lifestyle. Against this background, Late Neolithic communities appear in a different light: while they may have lacked a relatively hierarchical social organization, group cohesion seems to have been established by collective work in the context of ‘communities of practice.’

Mina Eroğlu gives a presentation to 5th-graders at Ilgi Okulları in Şanlıurfa

With these ideas in mind, I returned to Şanlıurfa, where I had carried out my dissertation fieldwork. Two colleagues, both of who had previous experience working in educational projects, accompanied me. Nilgün Çakan, a social anthropologist from Berlin, Germany, and Mina Eroğlu, an archaeologist from Ankara, Turkey, were engaged project partners and precious travel companions throughout our stay in Turkey.

Together, we visited a local elementary and middle school, Özel Şanlıurfa Saraç İlgi Okulları, for the duration of two weeks, where we conducted several workshops with 10-12 year old students. Prof. Evangelia Pişkin of Middle Eastern Technical University (METÜ), who kindly agreed to take on an advisory role in the project as well as establish the contact to the local school, supported the preliminary organization of the workshops. At the school, Mr. Halil Sarac and Mr. Mehmet Tokgöz were attentive and helpful in coordinating the workshops and providing the necessary technical equipment.

In organizing the project, it was crucial that the workshops were interactive. This meant that we provided the space for children to respond to questions and prompts as well as to as ask their own questions. Each workshop was conducted as a conversation with the children. In an instructional session, we first explained some of the basics of archaeological work. Starting from how to acquire an excavation permit to the actual excavation process, we also introduced the students to the documentation, analysis, and curation of artifacts. We had brought with us a small study collection of archaeological artifacts—pottery sherds and stone tools—that the students analyzed.

Based on the archaeological materials, the students were quick to draw comparisons between ancient cultures and contemporary village life in Turkey. Many students told us about traditional cooking and building methods not only to be found in archaeological textbooks but also in rural areas in Turkey: they mentioned the use of the tandır oven for baking bread, or of mud-brick for the construction of the beehive-shaped houses that can be found in the area of Harran, just 20 km south of Şanlıurfa. There was also distinct sense among the children that the past was in many ways different from the present and characterized in particular by the lack of modern technologies. This lack was not perceived in a negative way, however; rather, as one student put it, “People back then were more intelligent, because they didn’t have TV.”

Reconstruction drawing of Fıstıklı Höyük prepared by Bryan DePuy

The workshop also included an in-class exercise: inviting the children to travel back in time, we asked them to imagine a typical day in the Late Neolithic village of Fıstıklı Höyük. What would a day in the life of a 11-year old boy or girl have been like at Fıstıklı Höyük? In which ways was past life different from your life today, and in which ways would it have been similar? In answering these questions, the children relied on reconstruction drawings of Fıstıklı Höyük that Toronto-based artist Bryan DePuy had contributed to the project. The images depict Late Neolithic village life—men, women, and children are busy fishing, cooking, and making pottery or stone tools—and they also give a hint about the nature of past social relations.

In their stories, many children actively engaged the idea of a ‘sharing economy,’ with one student stating that “life back then was better, today people are egoists.” This sentiment corresponded to a general understanding among the children that in Late Neolithic societies there might have been more room to accommodate people who “had different talents.” That these talents needed to be passed on between the generations was also of concern to the students: in the reconstruction drawing of Fıstıklı Höyük we see adults sitting with children, leading several students to suggest that “knowledge was shared between father and son.” But according to the students, the status of parents or village elders was not established by way of coercion. Instead, “older people had more authority, because they were more experienced,” and someone who stood at the top of the social hierarchy of the village, maybe a ‘sheikh,’ was “not someone powerful, but someone smart.”

Nilgün Çakan listens to a student reading her story about Neolithic life

To Mina, Nilgün, and myself, these answers demonstrated that our project was about much more than teaching children about cultural heritage. Initially conceived of as a way of bringing ‘home’ my dissertation work, the workshops soon unfolded into a genuine conversation in which the students shared their ideas about a different world. The children’s stories are beautiful accounts of the possibilities of a world that is inclusive of diversity, communal ways of living, and sharing. The project thus opened up new spaces for talking about history and for learning from each other. Or, as student Doğa put it in her story about living a day in a Late Neolithic village, “I am sure, I could teach [the people from the past] a few things and most likely they would be able to teach me a few things as well.”

 

As per her request, we have included Starzmann’s summary of her project in Turkish.

Türkçe özet:

Şanlıurfa-Türkiye’de bulunan bir ilköğretim okulunda organize ettiğimiz bir seri atölye çalışmasının hedefi, bölgenin Geç Neolitik dönemi ile ilgili bildiklerimizi öğrencilerle etkileşimli bir şekilde paylaşabilmekti. Arkeologların ne iş yaptıkları ile ilgili basit açıklamalar içeren bir sunumdan ve küçük bir etüdlük eser kolleksiyonunun çocuklarla birlikte analiz edilmesinin ardından çocukları, bir Geç Neolitik köyü olan Fıstıklı Höyük’te gündelik hayatı keşfetmeye ve geçmişe dair kendi yorumlarını ortaya koymaya teşvik ettik. Çocuklarla yaptığımız konuşmalar sırasında eski dünya ve kadim hayatlar rengarenk bir şekilde yeniden hayat buldu. Bunun da ötesinde, çocukların “sorunlu” bazı arkeolojik buluntular üzerine yaptıkları yorumlar, halihazırdaki arkeolojik modellere yeni bakış açıları getirdi: örneğin, arkeologların genelde karmaşık toplumsal organizasyonun yokluğuyla tanımlamaya meyilli olduğu Geç Neolitik dönem toplulukları konusunda çocuklar, “paylaşım ekonomisi” ve komünal yaşam ile karakterize olmuş bir kültür olasılığı üzerinde durmayı tercih ettiler.

 

Interview: Felix Riede

A dramatic reconstruction of some of the activities that went on at or near Krogsbølle 14,300 years ago, by the artist Sune Elskær. © Danish Heritage Agency/Kulturstyrelsen.

Felix Riede (@ARCHAEOfelix on Twitter) is faculty member of the Department of Culture and Society at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and the editor-in-chief of the Danish Journal of Archaeology. Interested in questions of environment, climate and cultural change, Dr. Riede received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant from the Foundation in 2012 to aid research on ‘Excavation of a Campsite from the Hamburgian Culture Near Krogsbølle, Eastern Denmark’. We reached out to Riede to learn more about this early European hunter-gatherer site and what it can teach us about folkways long vanished from the historical record.

 

Could you begin by telling us a bit about the project that received WGF funding?

I was so fortunate as to receive a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for a project with the rather unglamorous title Excavation of a campsite from the Hamburgian culture near Krogsbølle, eastern Denmark. Behind this prosaic title hides a very exciting project, however. The iconic so-called Hamburgian culture of northern Europe is associated with the first movement of hunter-gatherer people into the newly deglaciated, desolate and deserted landscapes of northern Europe some time after 12,500 years BCE. How did people cope with moving in regions where the details of the resource distribution were unknown and where the nearest relatives were far away? Foragers are known ethnographically to rely on a range of coping strategies including mobility, storage, economic intensification or diversification as well as social networking to handle such challenges. But questions remain about how exactly these prehistoric pioneers did so. The ethnographic record furnishes an important interpretative frame of reference, but given that we have next to no ethnographic accounts of true pioneer foragers, only the archaeological record can really reveal significant insights about past pioneering behaviors. A final twist to this project rests in the observation that the archaeological culture that follows the Hamburgian in northern Europe has a striking different material culture. It is possible to hypothesize that the Hamburgian disappeared abruptly possibly due to some form of demographic collapse. What is unclear, however, is whether climatic warming or cooling trends played a role in this collapse, and what role fluctuations in the primary resource base of the Hamburgian culture – reindeer – had.

 

The nearest road to the site was funnily enough named ‘Sletten’, Danish for ‘The Steppe’, which nicely alludes to what the environment was like at the site some 14,300 years ago.

What makes this site unique/interesting?

Sites of the Hamburgian culture are exceedingly rare, especially at the very northern edge of its range. In Denmark, for instance, there really are only four such locales as well as a few and largely uncertain surface finds, and this alone makes Krogsbølle, located on the northern outskirts of the town of Nakskov, interesting and important. In addition, the last time a locale from the Hamburgian culture has been investigated in Denmark was in the 1980s! The site we are now excavating has actually been known for a couple years, but lack of funding has prevented local museum authorities from excavating there. In the meantime, ploughing has continued to damage the site; excavating this important site and recovering the artifact material was one key priority of the project. It is also worth mentioning that preliminary investigations had indicated the possibility of two finds-bearing layers where the lower of the two may preserve intact spatial patterns that reflect activities carried out at the site or even traces of shelters. The preservation of such ‘latent’ patterning is extremely rare in this time period.

 

What were some of the challenges that presented themselves during the course of this work, and how did you adapt to them?

The main challenge we encountered was that the local soil turned out to be considerably harder than we anticipated. This made it impossible to dig manually through the topsoil and very hard to even carefully excavate the layers beneath. After a few days of trying, we finally decided to switch to a coarser machine-aided approach to strip key areas of topsoil, all in square meters, all of which was dry-screened through 3mm mesh. This was quite laborious and meant that we could excavate rather fewer squares than we had hoped. We did, however, firmly re-locate some of the excavation areas from earlier investigations conducted by the local museum, to retrieve a range of fantastic lithic artefacts, to document the site stratigraphy, and to take samples for dating it.

Of course we also faced the usual trials and tribulations of fieldwork with scorching heat and torrential summer rain. Especially our final day in the field – as always the busiest of all – was cut short by a massive thunderstorm rolling over us. Going around an open field clearly elevated above the general landscape carrying a long rod – to take final levels throughout the excavation field – suddenly seemed like a very bad idea indeed!

 

Two (broken) examples of late Hamburgian (Havelte phase) points from Krosgbølle. They both clearly fall within the range defined as Havelte points, but are at the same time quite different in their design. This difference is not at all random. In fact, points practically identical to both of these variants can be found at other sites. Do they indicate strict rather then general contemporaneity?

So far, what has surprised you the most about the site?

Working with the material from Krogsbølle two main surprises popped up. One relates to the artifacts we recovered. When I took a closer look at them and compared them to material from other sites of this culture, I was struck by an interesting duality of diversity and similarity. Let me explain what I mean: Hamburgian artifacts are really well-made, reflecting highly skilled flint-knappers as well as rather strict conventions about exactly how things should look like. In the periods just after the Hamburgian, we can similarly recognize clear conventions about size and shape of, for instance, projectile points. In the Hamburgian we can single out several projectile point variants, so overall the armatures show a fair bit of diversity. Yet, within these variants, the ways in which these are made are exceedingly similar. They are to all intents and purposes identical – and this has implications both for the organization of craft production, but also for the time scales involved. I am currently considering the possibility that all the Danish sites from this period, for instance, represent no more than one human generation and perhaps much less, as little as a few seasons of occupation. Breaking up an archaeological culture whose overall chronological span is often listed as 500-700 years to the actions and movements of individuals is radical and challenging.

The second surprise came when we conducted some coring in areas around the nearby lake. The wet and waterlogged deposits of such ancient lakes often preserve organic remains either of purely natural or even of human or cultural origin. Natural materials can give important clues about local environments and local environmental changes, whilst finds of organic material such as animal bones or even bone, antler or wooden tools are very rare indeed. Previous investigations by the local museum concluded that no remains of the ancient lake and hence no organic material were preserved there, but we found quite the opposite. Whilst we did not, so to say, hit jack-pot – we did not find any organic materials directly related to the settlement we are excavating – we did find the almost completely preserved skeleton of a seagull. We had this seagull dated by our colleagues of the radiocarbon laboratory at Aarhus University and analyzed for the maternally inherited mtDNA by colleagues at the Centre for GeoGenetics at Copenhagen University. It turns out that the gull is at least as old as the human occupation at Krogsbølle and this makes it not only the by far most complete ancient gull from northern Europe, but also by far the oldest – by several millennia! The genetic investigation has not yet been able to pinpoint the species; it could be one of three: Larus argentatus (the European herring gull), Larus fuscus (the lesser black-backed gull) or Larus glaucoides (the Iceland gull). This work is on-going and we know that some aspects of the gull genome can discriminate between the species. DNA preservation is excellent in our specimen, so I am confident that we can determine its species in due time. At any rate, it will, together with our other investigations of the ample pollen and other plant remains in the ancient lake layers, provide important information about the environment when these pioneering hunter-gatherers rested here.

The recovered bones of our gull, genus Larus, arranged in approximate anatomical order.

How has the Danish Heritage Agency reacted to your findings?

As the project progressed the Danish Heritage Agency heard of them and contacted us with an eye towards including the site in one of their dissemination projects. With funding by the A.P. Møller Foundation, the Danish Heritage Agency has embarked upon an ambitious project that takes the museum out into the landscape. The project includes landscaping and restoring selected sites and monuments, and erecting information displays in Danish, German and English. You can read more about this great project here. The local authorities vent along with the proposal and earlier this year we unveiled the information displays as well as a micro-exhibition in the local tourist information center. For the information display they also had an artist make the following ‘dramatic reconstruction’ of the kind of behaviors that may have taken place around the site. Despite its lack of standing architecture and thus its seeming anonymity, Krogsbølle is a great site for this project because it tells such an exciting story and because it is located at a busy cycle path used by both locals as well as tourists day in day out. Unfortunately, the area where the site is located is also, by Danish standards, quite deprived and suffers from steady emigration. We hope that showing how it once was one of the most attractive places to stay, local folks in particular can positively use this bit of cultural heritage.

 

What’s next for this research? How much work still needs to be done? How could this project or its findings expand in the future?

We have finished excavation for now, but know perfectly well that more material is to be found – both on the dry land as well as in what remains of the ancient lake. We are also still in full swing with the analysis of the stone tools, especially comparing them to another recently excavating Hamburgian site in northern Germany and a rather sensational site from Scotland, far away from the ‘territory’ of the Hamburgian as traditionally conceived. We are also still waiting for the final absolute dates for our stratigraphy (using optically stimulated luminescence – a method to date sand grains) and of the environmental analysis. In the meantime, we are working on a couple of preliminary reports and I am busy presenting our preliminary results at scientific meetings, conferences and, well, on the internet. Luckily, our efforts to attract follow-up funding from some smaller private foundations here in Denmark have been successful, so in principle we could also return to the field in the years to come. The latest chapter that has already begun is that the local authorities are considering building a rainwater basin a few hundred meters from our site, right where the southern edge of the ancient lake was located. If this plan is realized, we will stand by and look for fossils as well as artifacts.

Away from the field, our analysis of the morphology, technology and diversity of the stone tools and their culture-historical context may well radically change our perception of this culture, potentially with important implications for both our general understanding of culture change in the deep past as well as for general models of pioneer colonisations.

Wenner-Gren President and Collaborators Revise Timeline of Human Origins

New Synthesis of Research Links Changing Environment with Homo’s Evolutionary Adaptability

Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them.

A large brain, long legs, the ability to craft tools and prolonged maturation periods were all thought to have evolved together at the start of the Homo lineage as African grasslands expanded and Earth’s climate became cooler and drier. However, new climate and fossil evidence analyzed by a team of researchers, including Wenner-Gren President Leslie Aiello, Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Richard Potts, and Susan Antón, professor of anthropology at New York University, suggests that these traits did not arise as a single package. Rather, several key ingredients once thought to define Homo evolved in earlier Australopithecus ancestors between 3 and 4 million years ago, while others emerged significantly later.

The team’s research takes an innovative approach to integrating paleoclimate data, new fossils and understandings of the genus Homo, archaeological remains and biological studies of a wide range of mammals (including humans). The synthesis of these data led the team to conclude that the ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago. Additional information about this study is available in the July 4 issue of Science.

Potts developed a new climate framework for East African human evolution that depicts most of the era from 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago as a time of strong climate instability and shifting intensity of annual wet and dry seasons. This framework, which is based on Earth’s astronomical cycles, provides the basis for some of the paper’s key findings, and it suggests that multiple coexisting species of Homo that overlapped geographically emerged in highly changing environments.

“Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors,” said Potts, curator of anthropology and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo.”

The team reviewed the entire body of fossil evidence relevant to the origin of Homo to better understand how the human genus evolved. For example, five skulls about 1.8 million years old from the site of Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, show variations in traits typically seen in African Herectus but differ from defining traits of other species of early Homo known only in Africa. Recently discovered skeletons of Australopithecus sediba (about 1.98 million years old) from Malapa, South Africa, also include some Homo-like features in its teeth and hands, while displaying unique, non-Homo traits in its skull and feet. Comparison of these fossils with the rich fossil record of East Africa indicates that the early diversification of the genus Homo was a period of morphological experimentation. Multiple species of Homo lived concurrently.

“We can tell the species apart based on differences in the shape of their skulls, especially their face and jaws, but not on the basis of size,” said Antón. “The differences in their skulls suggest early Homo divvied up the environment, each utilizing a slightly different strategy to survive.”

Even though all of the Homo species had overlapping body, brain and tooth sizes, they also had larger brains and bodies than their likely ancestors, Australopithecus. According to the study, these differences and similarities show that the human package of traits evolved separately and at different times in the past rather than all together.

In addition to studying climate and fossil data, the team also reviewed evidence from ancient stone tools, isotopes found in teeth and cut marks found on animal bones in East Africa.

“Taken together, these data suggest that species of early Homo were more flexible in their dietary choices than other species,” said Aiello. “Their flexible diet— probably containing meat—was aided by stone tool-assisted foraging that allowed our ancestors to exploit a range of resources.”

The team concluded that this flexibility likely enhanced the ability of human ancestors to successfully adapt to unstable environments and disperse from Africa. This flexibility continues to be a hallmark of human biology today, and one that ultimately underpins the ability to occupy diverse habitats throughout the world. Future research on new fossil and archaeological finds will need to focus on identifying specific adaptive features that originated with early Homo, which will yield a deeper understanding of human evolution.

Pauline Tapfuma is the 2014 Wadsworth African Fellow!

Each year, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awards the Wadsworth African Fellowship to an African student to receive a international-level anthropological education at a South African university. We would like to extend our congratulations to the recipient of the 2014 fellowship, Pauline Tapfuma of Zimbabwe, who will be pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Cape Town.

I was born in 1986 in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. I graduated with the Degrees of Bachelor of Arts General Degree (Archaeology, History and Geography) and Bachelor of Arts Special Honors from the University of Zimbabwe in 2010. Upon graduation, I enrolled for an interdisciplinary Master’s Degree in Heritage Studies at the same institution from September 2010 to December 2011. I was the top student in my class and I got a University Book Prize for that. Currently I am working for National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe as a Curator of Archaeology.

I have an interest in generating knowledge which can empower humanity through archaeology and anthropology. For my PhD, I would like to place archaeological objects at the center of archaeological inquiry in Southern Africa. In particular, I would like to study within a combined framework of material culture theory and artifact studies the objects excavated from the World Heritage Sites of Great Zimbabwe and Khami with the hope of addressing new questions ranging from the organization of production to the elite commoner relationships at the sites.

I also choose to study at the University of Cape Town in South Africa because I will benefit from the experience and expertise of Dr Chirikure, one of the few researchers working on artifact studies in Southern Africa. In addition, he runs a world class laboratory equipped with new generation optical microscopic facilities which are essential for my project.

We wish Pauline the best of luck with her education!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jessica Barnes

Discussion with farmers in Fayoum

Jessica Barnes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environment & Sustainability at the University of South Carolina. In 2007, while a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Farming Fayoum: The Flows and Frictions of Irrigation in Egypt,’ supervised by Dr. Paige West. We welcome her to the blog to share her experiences working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant and returning to the field to share her insights with the community.

Over the past years, I have become increasingly comfortable talking about my work in academic contexts. Presentations at the AAA meetings no longer scare me, talks to other colleagues are fun rather than alarming, lectures to undergraduates are not a cause of anxiety. I feel a sense of belonging in the academic world. It is a familiar cultural space in which people “think through” ideas, “work with” certain theorists, say “right?” a lot, and do a funny rotating motion with the thumb and forefinger of one hand as they talk. In my research site within Egypt, I feel a different sense of belonging. I am comfortable walking through the fields with farmers who I have known for years, talking with irrigation engineers, meeting with government officials in the water ministry, and hanging out with international consultants who run water projects. Yet giving a formal presentation about my ethnographic research in these spaces? To be honest, the thought initially terrified me. Would anyone find it interesting? Would it seem abstract and irrelevant? Would it be politically sensitive? Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I had the opportunity and encouragement this summer to step outside of my comfort zone and bring the results of my academic research to my fieldwork site. It ended up being an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.

During my doctoral fieldwork in Egypt, in 2007-8, I conducted ethnographic research on water with farmers, irrigation engineers, government officials, and international donors in Fayoum Province and Cairo. This work culminated in a book, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke University Press, September 2014). In the book, I argue that Egypt’s water is not a given object of management, but rather, is made as a resource by day-to-day practices that take place across multiple scales. Some of the most active political contestation around water, I propose, occurs not in the realm of international treaty negotiations and large dam projects that has received so much attention in the literature, but rather, around these everyday practices of making the resource in quantity and quality, space and time.

In my engagement project, which I conducted in May-June 2014, my goal was to share the results of my work with people in Egypt who have an interest in the Nile, and to open up some spaces for discussion. Arriving in the midst of the presidential election, it was a fascinating time to be in Egypt. The “CC” graffiti all around Cairo and Fayoum by the time I left reflected the optimism of many about the newly elected President Sisi, but also, the marginalization of many others. While people’s political positions seemed to be deeply divided, a constant refrain I heard was concerns about poverty, livelihoods, and governance of the nation’s resources – issues that my work, with its focus on one of Egypt’s most fundamental resources, speaks to.

Audience at event hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile

I gave my first presentation in Fayoum Province to a group of 20 farmers. I started my talk by explaining that what led me to this research topic was an observation that much of the literature on the Nile gives scant consideration to farmers, even though it is farmers who use 90% of the river’s water. In my opinion, to understand more about what is happening to the water of the Nile, we have to look to the sites where water is actually being used on a day-to-day basis. This idea resonated with those present, who are well aware that they are often marginalized when it comes to water management debates. We had a lively discussion about the practices of farm-level water management that I discuss in the book. I also talked about some of water management practices that are taking place at other scales, which most farmers are not so familiar with. For example, I explained how in times of high Nile flows, when the Lake Nasser reservoir gets too full, the Ministry of Water uses a spillway to divert water into the desert. The evaporation of this water from the desert is a powerful illustration of the irony that while many farmers face water scarcity, in some parts of Egypt the problem is actually one of excess.

Live twitter feed by Nahdet el-Mahrousa during my event

I gave my next two talks in Cairo. The first was hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile and Nahdet el-Mahrousa; the second by the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the American University of Cairo. Each event attracted audiences of around 30 people, comprising Egyptian and international researchers, development practitioners, journalists, irrigation engineers, activists, civil society representatives, academics, government officials, and students. Many of these people work on water-related topics and are familiar with Nile issues. Being based in Cairo, however, most of them only have a limited knowledge about the day-to-day practices of water management along canals and in the fields. This was the part of my work that I think they found especially interesting. Many were also unfamiliar with ethnographic research and were struck by my different approach to looking at these issues. My argument that charging farmers for irrigation water and educating farmers are not the best approaches for dealing with water scarcity sparked particularly heated discussion.

Overall, this was a valuable challenge for me to think about the parts of my work that might be relevant to non-anthropologists. I was pleasantly surprised at the interest people expressed and at the vibrancy of the discussions that my work generated – discussions from which I learned a great deal. The engagement project inspired me to continue these sorts of interactions as I move forward in my next ethnographic study of food security, wheat, and bread in Egypt.

Interview: Nomi Stone

Wound Kit, War Simulation.

Nomi Stone is a published poet and doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at Columbia University. In 2011, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Human Technologies in the Iraq War’. Recently, we spoke to Stone to learn more about her fieldwork in the US-built “Middle Eastern” mock villages used for combat training, and the complex lives of the people used to anthropologically construct “the adversary” in the 21st-century American warscape.

 

Let’s begin with a brief summary of your WGF-supported project.

As an entry point, I offer a scene from the field: a young American Major asks “Ahmed” to remove his shirt and applies a mock wound to the Iraqi role-player’s back and ribs. The insects simmer around the pots of fake blood, and a wasp nearly nicks Ahmed’s new welt. “Rowena”, a local woman who is assisting with the make-up, belly-laughs: “The bees like blood. Beaucoup blood, baby!” In forests, fields, and deserts across America, in what has been called a “hidden archipelago of mini-cities”[1] American soldiers arrive to train their bodies and imaginations for war, before deployment. To habituate the American soldier, Middle Eastern role-players, many of them recent refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, are salaried for their labors and repetitively act-out the contingencies of war. To this end, role-players embody a spectrum of cultural roles and modes: the Mayor; the Villager; the Interpreter; the Local Proxy Soldier; the Mourning Mother. They are called upon to simulate bargaining, fighting, and even dying, like the adversary.

In a new contribution to contemporary scholarship on war, my project explores the ethical, epistemological, and affective ramifications of collaboration and mediation in theaters of the 2003 Iraq War.  I focus on individuals I call “human technologies”:  local wartime proxies, mediators, host nation interlocutors, translators, and pre-deployment role-players employed by the US military as embodied repositories of Middle East knowledge. Drawing on 26 months of fieldwork, my cross-regional, multi-site research spans the extended Iraq warscape, from mock Middle Eastern villages above described; to the Iraqi refugee neighborhoods of Amman, Jordan; and crisscrossing through elite political and military institutions of Washington DC and its satellites.  Focusing in particular on the 2003 Iraq War context, I examine the US military employment of human techne, like Ahmed, within a 21st century posthuman technoscape, and the ramifications of the outsourcing of particular labors to these wartime intermediaries.

Like in the case with my previous research, I am writing a collection of poetry in tandem with pursuing ethnography.  As I write my dissertation, I am writing poems on the lifeworlds of the Middle Eastern role-players who inhabit the simulacra.  From the outset, I have invoked the anthropologist self and the poet self in tandem to read these haunted spaces. I draw upon the lens of the anthropologist to think about, for example, how “authenticity” is referenced by the military through the construction of the sets.  Which gestures – a prayer rug; Arabic graffiti; the call to prayer; and in some simulations, even odors designed to mimic mass graves – generate a sensory apparatus for both the training soldiers and the Middle Eastern role-players inside?  Meanwhile, it is my poet-side who inflects these spaces with the affect, emotion, and sensation that a cursory observer perhaps would not glean. In this recent interview, I further discuss the crucial link for me between ethnography and poetry.  Also, there are several poems at the end of the interview from my new manuscript on the simulations.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Alicia McGill

Alicia McGill is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at North Carolina State University. In 2008, while a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, she was awarded Wenner-Gren’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Students, Teachers, and Community Leaders Negotiating National and Local Heritage Ideologies in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Bradley Levinson. Five years later, she became one of the very first recipients of the WGF Engaged Anthropology Grant, which enabled her to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country to share the results of her original research.

I received a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant (EAG) to present the results of my cultural heritage-based dissertation research in Belize in summer 2013. In my dissertation research, I examined how constructions of heritage are promoted through public venues including archaeological practice, tourism, and education and how these shape the cultural production of young citizens, specifically in two Belizean villages (Crooked Tree and Biscayne). Through my work, I learned about state efforts (especially in education) to emphasize certain forms of archaeological heritage and cultural diversity over others to reinforce national identity. I also observed ways that messages about the past are interpreted and negotiated by community members as they navigate contemporary identity politics. My research connected with many public issues, especially education policy, archaeological practice, and heritage management, which is why I applied for an EAG.

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In Memoriam: George Armelagos

L-R: Brooke Thomas, George Armelagos, Alan Swedlund, Alan Goodman.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. George Armelagos, the Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. Dr. Armelagos received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1968 and was a major contributor to 20th-century biological anthropology, notably in the fields of paleopathology, bioarchaeology, and evolutionary medicine.

Dr. Armelagos was a long-time friend and contributor to the Foundation, supervising numerous grantees and participating in several Wenner-Gren Foundation symposia, including one, “Health and Disease of Populations in Transition”, which he co-organized with University of Massachusetts colleague Alan Swedlund.

In 2005, Dr. Armelagos received the Viking Fund Medal in recognition of his influential role in the development of biological anthropology. He was the most recent recipient of the award, which has been awarded to distinguished scholars in the field since 1946.

From the 2005 Viking Fund Medal:

Dr. Armelagos is a biological anthropologist whose contributions and numerous publications span the broad field of Anthropology. His special interests lie in the interaction of biological and cultural systems within an evolutionary context. Through his research in the 1960s and 1970s with Sudanese Nubia, Dickson Mounds, and elsewhere, he revolutionized the study of ancient disease in human populations by promoting an epidemiological approach and highlighting the evolutionary and ecological factors that are instrumental to the disease process. He has also done influential work on the evolution of food choice and the impacts of the agricultural transition on human populations in terms of health and disease. This work has resulted in a general theory of the evolution of human disease and the epidemiological transitions that have taken place throughout the course of human history. Through his work he has also encouraged a new generation of skeletal biologists to think about disease in prehistory in complex theoretical ways and back it up with good, empirical research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joanne R. Nucho

Joanne R. Nucho with students, Beirut

JOANNE R. NUCHO is a postdoctoral scholar in anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. In 2010, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Producing the Neighborhood without the Nation: ‘Trans-Municipal’ Urban Planning in Lebanon,’ supervised by Dr. William Michael Maurer, aiming to study the relationship between urban infrastructure and cultrual politics and identity in post-Civil War Beirut. She recently received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up her research with a return to the city to conduct a filmmaking workshop.

I conducted my dissertation research between 2010-2011 in a working class neighborhood outside of Beirut, Lebanon called Bourj Hammoud. Bourj Hammoud is an area full of workshops, mostly small-scale shoe and clothing manufacturing as well as jewelers. It is also a bustling commercial center where many Beirut-dwellers come to shop. Bourj Hammoud is known throughout the greater Beirut area as an “Armenian quarter,” it is, in fact highly diverse with members of various Lebanese sects as well as migrant workers living and working there. My dissertation focused on the ramifications of various urban planning initiatives as well as infrastructures and social service institutions on the formation of sectarian identity and a sense of belonging. During the course of my dissertation research, I used photography and videography to document the ways in which people accessed resources and services like education, medical care, electricity and water in various ways, both through sectarian institutions as well as informal networks.

One of Nucho's students

My plan during my fieldwork research was to make an ethnographic video documenting the networks that people navigate in order to access the services so vital to everyday life. However, while filming, I quickly realized the potential for the process of filmmaking to be much more collaborative in nature. At the time, I taught English at a local social service center to a group of young adults. After I arranged some documentary film screenings at the center, the students expressed interest in making their own films, and it was with this group that I realized the potential for ethnographic filmmaking to serve both as a collaborative research methodology, as well as a means for these young people to conceptualize the ways in which urban infrastructures perpetuate sectarian forms of belonging and facilitate discussion within the community through a screening series.

Still from a student film on public and private transportation

I returned in December 2013 to conduct a filmmaking workshop in Bourj Hammoud with 8 students. The workshop was designed to provide technical training in videography and basic editing skills. However, and perhaps more importantly, I envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues raised by the various film projects. Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian served as a guest lecturer and allowed us to use her studio space, which enabled us to meet outside of the regular hours of the social service center where I had initially planned to conduct the workshop. Many of the workshop participants worked or attended classes, so flexibility in meeting hours was crucial. We spent the first several sessions on a number of individual assignments whereby each student documented a typical day in their lives. This initial exercise proved to be invaluable both in terms of allowing the students to become more accustomed to shooting handheld video, as well as encouraging conversations about the role of urban infrastructures in creating a sense of meaning and belonging in various social worlds. For example, one of the students documented two journeys across town using different modes of transportation. In one journey, she took a private, informal “van” service and in another, she took a semi-private “bus.” Filming her journey across town and back made her reconsider all of the ways that peoples’ daily experience of transportation, whether in a private car, a van, a bus or on foot, changed profoundly their experience of the city. Navigating her way across Beirut by bus, using routes that were not printed on a map through neighborhoods that she was not necessarily familiar with was a very social experience that involved asking bus drivers and other passengers for ways to connect to other locations. Our conversation around this preliminary exercise helped demonstrate how the camera was much more than a recording device or a mode of documentation. Rather, it could enable moments of reexamination where the mundane was interrupted by looking again, or “freezing time” through the camera’s lens.

Still from a student film about the family history of a workshop owner in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon.

Once the students were comfortable using the cameras and were familiar with basic editing techniques, they collaborated to produce 3 films in the remaining weeks. Each group selected a different topic – informal electricity services, the history of a local shoe workshop, and the memories of an eighty-year old resident of Bourj Hammoud. After each group screened some of their rough footage, we discussed how the films could visually communicate the connections between urban space and urban infrastructures and a sense of belonging to a particular community or even a sense of identity. The two films that dealt with various histories helped challenge some assumptions about Bourj Hammoud as a monolithic Armenian neighborhood, even as they highlighted the history of the first generation of Armenian refugees of the genocide in former Ottoman lands who initially urbanized the area. We compiled many of our thoughts from these discussions into a booklet about how the filmmaking process profoundly transformed the students’ experience of their neighborhood.

Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian, who assisted Nucho with the project.

At the end of the workshop, the students and I organized a screening of the three edited films in Bourj Hammoud. The screening was a great success, and many of the students felt encouraged to continue to make more films and distribute them online. Rosy Kuftedjian has agreed to serve as an ongoing coordinator for the students, allowing them to store and access the equipment in her studio. I also plan to continue my organizing role in the workshop with participants that I maintain long-term correspondence with who would like to continue their filmmaking practice. I hope to return to Lebanon by the end of 2014. The students also expressed interest in training other students in filmmaking techniques. We are collectively planning to show their films in different venues in the greater Beirut area. Thus, the workshop will have an ongoing impact, with the participants continuing to make and share their work with a wider public.