Engaged Anthropology Grant: Philip W. Scher and ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’

Philip W. Scher is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. In 2011, he received the Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’. He then received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his Caribbean fieldsite and share his research with local educators.

In 2012 I spent six weeks conducting research in Barbados as part of a much larger project begun in 2008-2009. Much of my fieldwork involved interviews with educators in Barbados as I sought to gain insights from them as to the role of history and historical knowledge in the formation of Barbadian identities and Barbadian economic and social policies. During many of these interviews teachers expressed an interest in developing training that would allow them to understand the latest intellectual developments in the scholarship of heritage and bring that information to their students and fellow teachers. In the wake of the newly designated World Heritage Site of Bridgetown and its Garrison stakeholders wanted to think strategically about how historical sites are engaged by local constituents, about oral histories of local residents in these spaces regarding who worked there, who built them and who maintains them today and about intangible cultural heritage as a key element in safeguarding these important spaces.

With this in mind, then, two of my colleagues in Barbados, Dr. Tara Inniss of the Department of History at the University of the West Indies and Dr. Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society planned a workshop and lecture that would introduce local educators to some of the basic ideas of heritage studies.  Our hope was to focus on the people who participated in or observed past events in the World Heritage Property and whose memories and perceptions of these spaces are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. The variety of perspectives generated by such interviews should prove to be an interesting addition to the written historical record and may offset the general perception that these historical sites are preserved either in the interests of the former colonizers or tourists or both. As the workshop began to take shape it was decided, based on feedback, to focus on one specific intangible cultural practice that many in Barbados feel is in danger of disappearing: the Barbados Landship.

Briefly, the Barbados Landship and its partner the Tuk Band are the most commonly seen Barbadian expressive cultural forms at public ceremonies, days of commemoration, visits by dignitaries etc. The Landship is both a Friendly Society of the type quite common in the Caribbean and its diaspora, as well as a performance tradition. It is known for its unique uniforms, parades, and carefully choreographed dances. During the heyday of the Landship, in the late 19th and early 20th century a large number of Landships existed across Barbados and many younger Barbadians today can point to one or another family member that had been involved in some way, most proudly as captains.

Landships are noteworthy because the organization was founded on a creolized replication of the ranks, discipline and orders of the British Navy. Members are known by ranks, are dressed in naval uniforms and march and perform “maneuvers” to the music of the Tuk Band, a fife and drum ensemble.

The Landship presents a unique challenge in the safeguarding of cultural heritage as it is universally touted as being a fundamental aspect of Barbadian identity, yet it has very few practitioners left. The question we wanted to address in our workshop and in the lecture and discussion was: is Landship capable of being maintained? If so, what are the mechanisms by which the tradition may be carried on, if not, what other ways may the tradition be remembered?

The workshop and lecture took place over a three-day period from February 16th to February 19th of 2015. The workshop was held at the University of West Indies and was open to anyone interested in the subject. The lecture and discussion session took place on the grounds of the Barbados Museum. The workshop lasted several hours and was attended primarily by scholars and those interested in heritage tourism, but also by key figures in the Landship movement itself.   The themes ranged from the historical and political context of Landhsip to the UNESCO conventions on safeguarding intangible heritage. The lecture gave an analytical and theoretical framework for understanding Landship in the broader context of heritage studies and was based on my previous research into these issues. The lecture was free and open to the public and was well attended and followed by a lively discussion.

In general the two activities produced a focus on what we began to define as heritage relevance. That is, many were concerned not only with heritage as a set of cultural practices that could be preserved in some kind of static way, but in creating opportunities around traditions that increasingly kept such activities relevant to younger Barbadians; and not simply as aspects of the expansion of heritage tourism products.

The generous support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant provided us with the opportunity to begin to develop a conversation about heritage in the Caribbean that expands beyond both economic utility or simple preservation tactics and school programs. This conversation, we hope, will continue and will add sophistication and nuance to government policies about the future of Barbadian culture and heritage. The grant has also fundamentally improved my own thinking about the subject of Caribbean heritage and resulted in an article about Landship that includes many of the ideas generated in the workshop.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Benjamin Valentine and “Fostering Multi-Vocal and Interdisciplinary Approaches in Indian Archaeology Through Broader Engagements with Indus Civilization Migration”

Benjamin Valentine is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Isotopic Perspectives on Migration and Identity: A View From the Harappan Hinterland,’ supervised by Dr. John Krigbaum. Last year, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research on this ancient Indian civilization with a diverse group of experts and laypeople.

Writing about the enigmatic nature of the Indus (or Harappan) Civilization, John Keay wrote in India: A History (2000), “Here too was a society with a distinct and extensive culture but, barring some not very helpful bones, no people, indeed without a single name.” His puzzlement is in many ways justified, but his characterization of the bones is due for an update. Although the South Asian peoples who authored one of the earliest urban societies left behind very few burials and skeletal remains, the bones that have been discovered are yielding surprising insights on the ways that individuals contributed to patterns of interregional interactions during the third millennium BC. By analyzing archaeological human tooth enamel for isotopes of strontium, lead, and oxygen, I have helped fill in the missing life‑histories of migration and mobility for individuals in the Indus Civilization cemeteries at Harappa (Pakistan), Farmana (India), and Sanauli (India). I have had the privilege of developing new models of early urban interaction using new analytical methods on some very old bones, but the bones cannot speak back to me and offer up their own interpretations. As a Wenner‑Gren Engaged Anthropology grantee, I was able to return to India and find out how my fellow academics and laypersons alike found meaning in the biogeochemical data.

I travelled to visit my colleagues in the Indian cities of Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Delhi and spoke with diverse audiences to share the results of my work. I gave formal talks, participated in more casual fora, and solicited individualized feedback in the hopes of learning new ways to enrich the isotopic narrative. Likewise, I spoke with physical scientists, established archaeologists, students, and laypersons with each group offering a unique perspective and sense of how to proceed with the research. I shared my hypothesis that an ancient institution of fosterage helped to connect disparate peoples and discussed the potential impacts of this practice on broader cultural trajectories of continuity and change. The responses were variable, but several themes emerged. Some people perceived a new kind of legitimacy and command of the past in the application of multi‑disciplinary scientific methods. For others, the scientific narrative deserved no special weight. In considering the individual‑level data generated by isotope analysis, many people dwelled on what the personal experiences may have been like for the ancient migrants, their birth communities, and the receiving societies. Often, the inference of emotions in the distant past (typically revolving around familial separation) appeared to influence perceptions of the fosterage hypothesis as more or less credible. To various degrees, many I spoke with found elements of modern or historical practices in archaeological behaviors and vice versa.

Whether speaking with colleagues in the Archaeological Survey of India and the academy or more general audiences in the Center for Art and Archaeology in Gurgaon and elsewhere, the grant program also gave me an important platform for stimulating new dialogues on topics that to some have seemed obscure or inaccessible. Physical scientists at IIT Gandhinagar in Ahmedabad and laypersons alike seemed to appreciate the new perspectives on an old subject. Of course, many of the most engaged responses came from students at the Institute of Archaeology in Delhi and Deccan College in Pune. The biogeochemical methods that I used for my doctoral research remain uncommon in Indian archaeology, and students were quick to grapple with both the practical and theoretical implications of isotopic techniques for the disciplinary status quo. In this, I am hopeful that my Engaged Anthropology experience has helped to foster a more multi‑vocal archaeology and broadened the ways that people can engage with the past.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Hiba Bou Akar and “Talking Sectarianism: Community Workshops on Urban Planning, the Built Environment, and the Fear of the Religious Other in Beirut’s Suburbs”

Hiba Bou Akar is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Middle East Studies at Hampshire College. In 2009, as a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Rebuilding the Center, Expanding the Frontier: Reconstructing Post-War(s) Beirut, Lebanon’ supervised by Dr. Teresa P. Caldeira. She received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and host a series of workshops designed to impart her research to local scholars and the community that hosted her.

Between 1975 and 1990, Beirut was synonymous with war, chaos, and violence. The city endured a long civil war where sectarian divisions among Christians, Shiite, Sunnis, and Druze played a major role. While the 1990s were seemingly a peaceful period of reconstruction, sectarian violence returned to the city in 2008, bringing back with it the specters of the civil war. Beirut, often described as divided between a Christian East and Muslim West along the “green line,” has been dissected since by hundreds of “green lines,” transforming many a neighborhood in a new logic of contestation and war. My Wenner Gren-funded dissertation research (2009-2010) examined the spatial production of three of Beirut’s peripheries-turned-frontiers by investigating the spatial practices that have shaped them as frontiers of sectarian violence and feverish urban growth. My dissertation study showed how, since the 1990s, spatial contestation, conflict, and war have occurred less through manifest violence (of rifles, tanks, and canons) and more through the production of a spatial order of political difference within what I call the spatial and temporal logics of the war yet to come. Instead of approaching war as a temporal aberration in the flow of events, with a beginning and an end, the study has focused on how war, violence, and their anticipation have become governing modalities of Beirut’s southern peripheries, regulating their urban growth and poverty, marginality and violence. Key actors in the production of these geographies are the main Lebanese religious-political organizations including the Shiite Hezbollah, the Sunni Future Movement, and the Druze PSP, and Christian Maronite religious-political groups. Examples of these practices include contradictory urban planning policies, discriminatory property laws, uneven provision of infrastructure, and the militarization of everyday life.

Nowadays, as a result, many of these peripheries-turned-frontiers neighborhoods —especially lower income areas— are in dire environmental conditions. They suffer from poor infrastructure, lack of tenure security, congestion, pollution, the destruction of the few remaining green spaces, and a fear of the religious Other living across the street. They are also characterized by political stalemate and the fragmentation of decision-making powers. Several community groups are currently organizing to raise local awareness around the significance of improving the living conditions in these contested peripheries. They are also working to garner the support of public agencies, religious political organizations, and aid organizations to bring about social change.

During the summer and winter of 2014, with the help of an Engaged Anthropology Grant (EAG), I started the process of sharing my work with a number of these community groups and residents by holding several informal meetings in two of my research sites. The participants came from diverse political spectrum. The meetings were vibrant with discussions and debates about the history and politics of the area. We also often discussed the possibilities of thinking of the built environment as common grounds to work across political and sectarian dividing lines to improve the areas’ living conditions.

In addition to sharing my research findings, my aim was to use the knowledge I acquired during my field research, building on my expertise as an urban planner and my experiences a long term resident of the area to help formulate and inform on-ground interventions. The EAG grant gave me the opportunity to become involved with one non-governmental organization (NGO) in particular that is focused on urban planning issues. One of their projects focuses on improving the conditions of The Old Saida road. This road emerged in May 2008 as a bloody battle line between the Druze part of Choueifat and its neighboring Shiite Sahra Choueifat. With years of neglect and conflict, the road has become unsafe for the thousands of people who use it and live alongside it. This NGO, among others, has been successful in initiating small-scale awareness campaigns in Choueifat and surrounding areas around driving safety, building regulations, garbage disposal, etc. As they move to take on larger issues, efforts are underway to build coalitions and collaborations to build a vision for possibilities for intervention.

During the first phase of our work together, we organized several meetings/workshops to brainstorm about how to approach the issue: discussing what is feasible, who are the entities that we need to target, etc. So far my engagement has been in two capacities: First, I shared my work findings and data to explain the multitude of reasons that have transformed Choueifat into a contested frontier of violence and urban growth, and the impact of these practices on the deteriorating living conditions. Second, I shared my knowledge about urban planning interventions in contexts of conflict, informality, etc. We also had discussions on the practice of urban planning in Lebanon and the possibilities for community organizations to participate in shaping planning policies. My task was to also raise awareness about the politics of proposed planning interventions explaining the implications of each proposed project on disadvantaged populations.

What became clear in these workshops is the need to work towards building an institutional support network that could provide expertise, funding, and political support to help them formulate and realize concrete interventions. Since planning institutions practice in Lebanon does not yet have the tools that would allow for community input, we decided to initiate a participatory planning workshop that would include relevant entities (municipalities, residents, political parties, experts, public agencies, private planning practice, etc.) to discuss and agree on feasible projects to implement. The two-day workshop will be held in Choueifat in August 2015. For that purpose, I approached the UN-Habitat’s Beirut office to seek its support. For the past four years, UN-Habitat has been working on reforming urban planning practice in Lebanon and was excited to support such a project. I am also in conversations with the urban planning academic community at the American University of Beirut to ask for their input. If such workshop proved successful, UN-Habitat proposed to use it as a model for other area facing similar problems. With the NGO’s input, I am currently in the process of putting together a detailed proposal for UN-Habitat. Meanwhile, we are preparing the groundwork for the workshop (discussion points, schedule, invitees, strategies, etc.). The workshop will hopefully be the first step towards opening up dialogue for social change in these contested areas.

Roosbelinda Cardenas and ‘Articulations of Blackness: Reconstructing Ethnic Politics in the Midst of Violence’

Roosbelinda Cardenas is Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies at Hampshire College. She received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on  ’Remaking the Black Pacific: Place, Race, and Afro-Colombian Territoriality,’ supervised by Dr. Mark David Anderson, and in 2013 received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and share her research with the community that hosted her. 

Returning to the field is like jumping on a moving train.  After doing my best to clumsily get up to speed, I quickly tried to find a reliable reference point to orient myself.  With the privileges of hindsight and perspective gone, the pace of events was both confusing and exhilarating.  Nonetheless I managed to resist the allure of fresh ethnographic data.  Instead of scribbling field notes incessantly and searching for my voice recorder at the first sign of an engaging conversation, I focused on being in the moment.  I called old friends and asked them to meet me simply to catch up.  Then, after a week of updating contact information and tracking people down, I began the work of planning my engagement activities in earnest.

I had proposed to hold workshops in the three communities where I conducted dissertation research from 2008 to 2010.  These communities were: 1. the rural inhabitants of a legally recognized “comunidad negra” that holds a collective land title in the Southern Pacific; the black residents of an urban shantytown in Bogotá where a large concentration of internally displaced people (IDPs) reside; and a group of leading black activists from two organizations that work for the defense of Afro-Colombians’ ethnic rights to territory. My purpose was to share with them a handful of insights that I had gathered throughout my dissertation work and which I thought would be most useful in furthering their strategies to remap racial and territorial politics in Colombia.

In the rural black community–the Community Council of the Lower Mira River–the timing was particularly auspicious.  The Colombian government was in the process of implementing a sweeping land restitution law to return millions of hectares that had been unlawfully taken from their rightful owners in the midst of the armed conflict.  Although a number of land restitution cases were already under way, the Bajo Mira’s was the first ethnic-specific case that had been presented to the courts and all eyes were on them.  I met with the team of young government representatives who were busy gathering evidence in the field.  In addition to meeting with them to share my insights and written work, I agreed to produce a short report that would be included with the dossier that they were preparing for the courts.

I also met with members of the Community Council board to hold the workshop that I had originally planned.  Although they humored me by sitting patiently through my presentation and activities, it was clear that their attention was elsewhere.  My presentation was focused on an analysis of what I called “green multiculturalism,” or the coupling of multicultural recognition and green capitalism.  I had intended to lead a conversation that would both identify and push the limits of “environmentalism” as the most viable political strategy to protect their territorial rights.  I still think it is an important conversation, but the timing was not the right one.  After decades of being held hostage in their own lands by the criminal advance of the drug trade and other capitalist ventures of global scale, the land restitution process held promise as a tool to protect their territories.  If the government asked them to embody the 21st Century version of the noble savage before deeming them worthy of territorial protection, they were ready to comply.  This did not mean that they were unaware of the deal they were striking or vigilant of the ways in which it might compromise their political vision, but simply that they were taking advantage of an expedient strategy that held newfound promise to change a situation that was no longer bearable.

In Cazucá, the shantytown of IDPs on the outskirts of Bogotá where I have worked for nearly ten years, spirits were high.  I did not prepare a presentation for the group of grassroots activists that I met with there.  Instead of starting the conversation with my own insights, I facilitated a workshop that was based on their own experiences of being black and displaced.  Ten people with a range of experiences as IDP activists attended.  Some were recent arrivals and others were old timers who had literally paved the neighborhood roads with their own hands; there were young mothers and older men; and they hailed from every corner of “black Colombia’s” geography.  For the people of Cazucá, the timing of the workshop was very different than for the members of the Lower Mira River’s black community.  I had the distinct sense that they finally felt “settled” both literally and figuratively.  They had bought homes and started businesses and were no longer on the move.  This meant that they were much more receptive to a critical analysis of their political strategies.  With the hindsight from their grassroots activism, they were eager to start thinking about how to move forward.

 

The last workshop–with national-level black activists from two major organizations–was the most difficult one.  Unsurprisingly, it was nearly impossible to get all of them in the same room at the same time.  Added to this, were the political differences between the two organizations and the internal turmoil that they were each experiencing.  After much insistence, I finally managed to schedule two separate sessions with the most experienced members of each organization.  I was particularly nervous preparing for these two sessions.  What new insight could I, a foreign white researcher, contribute to a struggle that they knew all too well?  But despite my anxiety, when I finished delivering my presentation, I felt satisfied.  On the one hand, it felt like the culmination of a very long process to which I had committed much of my adult life.  On the other hand, their reactions, which were incisive and receptive, confirmed that critical analysis is an essential part of politics.  Our debates were heated, our memories were rich, and I believe that in the end, our analysis was fruitful.  It was not often that these activists–my friends–took time out from their busy schedules to reflect upon the work that they did.  They were proud of themselves, and they felt inspired to move forward.  We talked about risks and obstacles, but also silently celebrated the victories both small and large.  On the way home, “Maria Elena” a central character in my dissertation said to me “it’s very nice, to have your life’s work laid out in front of you like that.”

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sarah Hillewaert and “Working Towards the Promotion of Young Women’s Education and Professional Development in Lamu (Kenya)”

 

Lamu waterfront. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sarah Hillewaert is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. In 2009, while a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Language, Space, and Identity: Linguistic Practices among Youth in Lamu, Kenya,’ supervised by Dr. Judith T. Irvine. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to the Kenyan archipelago and share her research with the community that hosted her.

I received the Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology grant to return to my fieldsite in Kenya and organize activities informed by the results of doctoral research conducted between 2007 and 2010. My dissertation investigated the relation between notions of moral personhood and changing linguistic and material practices among young people living in Lamu (Kenya). Lamu is a Muslim town located on an island by the same name, situated off the coast of Kenya. Formerly a successful center for trade and Islamic scholarship, Lamu is now marginalized within the national and global economy and faces increasing poverty. With the announcement of the construction of Africa’s biggest international port in the area, inhabitants of the town hope for new employment opportunities and for a restoration of the trade city’s former glory. At the same time, this multi-billion project forms a clear threat to the archipelago’s eco-system and the local fishing industry that has supported local families over the last decades. In my dissertation, I analyzed the different ways in which young people renegotiate what it means to be a virtuous person in this rapidly changing society. In particular, I looked at the different ways in which young people in this Muslim community negotiate the expectations of elders, their own respect for local norms and values, and their desire for change and development – through language, bodily comportment and social interaction.

One unexpected outcome of my research was the insights it provided in the social lives of young Lamu women: the struggles they face, and the range of ways in which they endeavor to negotiate new social positions. As a rather conservative Muslim town, Lamu has always upheld somewhat strict norms of social interaction between men and women, and for a certain period in history the town’s women lived in complete purdah or segregation. Nowadays, women move openly through town and increasingly pursue higher education and employment. Over the last decade, early marriages have been on the decline and education and professional employment of young women are on the rise. However, with these changes came new challenges: stigma surrounding women’s professional employment and public interactions with men, rising divorce rates and an increasing number of single mothers, to name but a few. When I applied for the Engaged Anthropology Grant, I intended to organize a series of workshops addressing issues surrounding girl education and women employment, in which young women and community leaders would actively participate.

Upon receiving the grant, extensive conversations with local informants showed that, while education was important to discuss, there was a strong desire to facilitate discussions on the broader social issues that result from the changing economic context and women’s greater involvement in the workforce. While international organizations frequently provide information on e.g. neo-natal care, nutrition or single motherhood, few address these issues from an Islamic perspective. Based on these discussions, we designed a series of workshops, each framed around a lecture given by a prominent (Kenyan) female Muslim scholar followed by group discussions. Topics included (1) single motherhood (2) marriage and divorce (3) child rearing and education (4) health, nutrition and fitness (5) pregnancy and neo-natal care (covered over two days). Speakers included well-known scholars from within Lamu as well as invited speakers from Mombasa, Kenya’s largest coastal city. My informants, together with local aid organizations (such as the Kenyan Red Cross) and community leaders (including the education officer at the National Museums of Kenya and local Muslim scholars), created a list of 60 invitees, based on these women’s active participation in community organizations, their position as community leaders, or their status as active community members, with a preference given to young women.

We scheduled the workshops during the second and third week of July, which coincided with the third week of the holy month of Ramadan. Because it was Ramadan, workshops took place early in the morning from 8-12, to enable women to attend and return home in time to prepare meals for the breaking of the fast. I initially did not have high hopes for attendance: not only do people sleep in late during Ramadan, but the political climate in Lamu at the time also was less than positive. Lamu’s neighboring villages of Mpeketoni and Hindi had been hit by murderous attacks (in which approximately 100 people lost their lives). Not only did one of our invited speakers cancel her trip to Lamu out of fear for additional attacks, I assumed many women would refrain from leaving the house due to the rising tensions in the town. Against all odds, the workshops were a huge success. Not only did all invitees attend, but the speakers candidly spoke about the topics at hand and lively discussions followed the lectures. And on several occasions these conversations continued well beyond the designated time.

Due to the success of the initial lectures, we opened up the last two workshops on neo-natal care such that pregnant women could. Those days over 80 women participated. We concluded the workshops series with an iftar dinner (or breaking of the fast) for those participants who attended all 6 days. During this dinner, plans were discussed, not only for a continuation of similar kinds of workshops in the future, but also for the start of a women’s center in Lamu. The latter would combine a women’s fitness space with a counseling center, providing women with a safe communal space to work out and socialize as well as allowing them to seek support for family matters, without the social stigma attached to seeking professional help. While the workshop series somewhat deviated from the initial proposal, the outcome far exceeded our expectations. The manner in which socially sensitive issues, including divorce, polygamy, and family planning, were discussed was innovative for Lamu, to say the least. The gratitude I received from organizers, scholars and attendees was heartwarming and motivates me to pursue similar projects in future.

Symposium #152: “Fire and the Genus Homo”

The 152nd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Fire and the Genus Homo” has just recently wrapped in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

FRONT ROW: Laurie Obbink, Sarah Hlubik, Meg Thibodeau, Vera Aldeias, Carolina Mallol, Ran Barkai, Xing Gao MIDDLE ROW: Nira Alperson-Afil, Leslie Aiello, Simon Holdaway, Amanda Henry, Michael Chazan, Jill Pruetz, Paul Goldberg TOP ROW: John Gowlett, Richard Wrangham, Harold Dibble, Randall White, Dennis Sandgathe, Francesco Berna, Fatima Pinto

 

Organizers’ Statement

 

“Fire and the Genus Homo

Francesco Berna (Simon Fraser University)

Dennis Sandgathe (Simon Fraser University)

We have come to recognize that the nature of human adaptations must be viewed in the context of bio-cultural evolution. For the last 2.5 million years, at least, hominins have evolved both biologically and culturally with these two facets irretrievably entangled. Fire use must be seen as one of the most important of the technological components of this interplay: it has very likely had major effects on our biological evolution, which in turn likely led to other major technological changes, such as the development of clothing and artificial shelter and changes in hominin diet. In fact, the biology, micro-environment, and behavior of modern humans are deeply entangled with fire-use to the point that the survival of our species has come to essentially depend on it.

 

While there has always been general interest among anthropologists and archaeologists in the role fire played in human evolution, in the last 10 years new hypotheses and archaeological finds in Africa and Eurasia have sparked a renewed interest in trying to further our understanding. In the 1980s and 1990s the focus of this kind of research was more on trying to recognize the oldest evidence for hominin use of fire.  Recent interest has shifted to the questions about how and when fire use became an established and integral part of all hominin cultures. The first evidence for hominin use of fire does not necessarily mark the point at which hominins learned how to make it and it became inextricably part of hominin technological repertoires. Recent discoveries suggest that the history of hominin use of fire is more complex than previously hypothesized and that anthropologists and archaeologists should be more critical of potential evidence of hominin use of fire.

 

Based on current bio-anthropological, phylogenetic, and/or archaeological data we believe we could identify four general models for the role played by the use of fire in the evolution of the Genus Homo. These are alternative views on the timing and nature of the adoption of fire use:

  1. Homo erectus was fully adapted to a cooked food diet and had controlled use of fire by or shortly after two million years ago (the “cooking hypothesis”).
  2. Gradual or intermittent use of fire began during the Early Stone Age (i.e., by groups of Homo erectus and early H. heidelbergensis).
  3. Hominins (H. heidelbergensis?) used it first and used it in the process of colonizing higher latitude regions of Europe and Asia at the end of the Lower Pleistocene or during the early Middle Pleistocene.
  4. Humans had complete control of fire only with the appearance of H. sapiens at the onset of the Late Stone Age/Upper Palaeolithic.

 

Thus, work on the evidence of early fire use is clearly necessary to help answer the fundamental anthropological question: “How did humans become human?” This symposium is designed to bring together scholars who are conducting leading research on the origin of the controlled use of fire and its cultural and biological significance to the genus Homo.

 

Researchers have begun to collect, review and employ new types of archaeological and biological data and have started to pose new questions about the role of fire in human evolution. There is also a notable increase in the number of researchers who are focused specifically on questions of prehistoric fire use. In past decades most analysis of Palaeolithic fire residues was simply one of many issues individual archaeologists might address in the course of interpreting a site. This was typically done in isolation from data from other sites and from other researchers who may have an interest in the topic, and it was not often directed towards bigger questions of prehistoric fire use.

 

While access to new data is an important part of the process of assessing the relative merits of these different models, the goal of the symposium is not just to discuss data collection techniques or the interpretation of individual archaeological sites. Rather, the aim is to collectively review the old and the newer data, revise methodological approaches, discuss integrated, up-to-date scenarios for hominin development of fire technology, and develop a theoretical and methodological framework for future research. The objectives of the symposium include:

 

  • Discussing best possible approaches to select and integrate data collection: what types of data are particularly important for understanding prehistoric fire use and what is the importance of disseminating these data? Should (and can) certain standards of data collection be established? Are there other types of data that we should be collecting?

 

  • Developing a common understanding of what is meant by the terms ‘occasional,’ ‘habitual,’ and ‘controlled’ use of fire. These terms have become rather entrenched in the literature, but their actual meaning remains ambiguous: different researchers may have slightly different intentions with their use and different understandings of their implications.

 

  • Developing anthropological and archaeological methodological criteria by which researchers could identify when humans started to use fire occasionally or habitually, and when they developed the technology to create it. These issues have implications for the development of hominin migration/distributions, diet, bio-cultural evolution, and the onset of ‘modern behavior.’

 

  • Examining the role that cooking may have played in the bio-cultural evolution of the Genus Homo.

 

  • Addressing questions about the function of fire in pre-modern human adaptations (e.g., specific fire applications, degree of reliance); the role of fire in Late Pleistocene adaptations (Neanderthals and early Anatomically Modern Humans); and the role of fire in the emergence of modern behavior.

Meet Our 2015 Wadsworth International Fellows: Suvanthee Gunasekera

The Wadsworth International Fellowship provides the opportunity for students in countries where anthropological education is underrepresented to receive world-class training at a university abroad. In the final post of a series meeting this year’s cohort (here’s the first and second) we meet Suvanthee Gunasekera. A native of Sri Lanka, Gunasekera pursued her undergraduate degree in Zoology at the University of Colombo and will begin work on a doctorate in Biological Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlain.

Although we never see them with the naked eye, microorganisms play an important role in shaping human biology. My fascination with human evolution and variation was ignited during my undergraduate studies in Zoology at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was intrigued by the role of microorganisms in the development of human physiology, and by how the immune system detects and responds to infectious agents.

An interest in the interactions between humans and pathogens was the stimulus to undertake an epidemiological study to detect Human papillomavirus (HPV) in oral and pharyngeal cancer patients where the results of the study suggested HPV as a strong aetiological agent in developing oral and pharyngeal cancer in Sri Lanka. This aroused my curiosity of how infectious agents cause cancers, how such pathogens are transmitted and why they are expressed so variably in infected humans. The project also prompted me to try understand the biological differences in human populations and to investigate the manner in which they have evolutionarily diverged at the level of the immune response.

Soon, it came to my realization that the field of Biological Anthropology would best suit my research goals. Now, it is my desire to be one of the few fortunate individuals studying host-pathogen interactions to better understand human evolution and to produce basic research that can be applied not just to Biological Anthropology/Human Evolutionary Biology, but can also be useful in the development of products and strategies to reduce the global burden of infectious disease. With a particular emphasis on questions relating to human immune system diversification and co-evolution with pathogens, I will conduct research that combines immunologic, genetic, cell biology and bioinformatic techniques to better understanding human evolution. I believe that examining how past pathogen outbreaks and life experience affect present day immune function variation in humans will not only enlighten the study of human evolution, but also help deepen the connection between Anthropology and fields concerned with modern day disease challenges in humans.

NYAS @ WGF, October 26th: “Persistence between the Longue Durée and the Short Purée: Archaeological Perspectives on Colonialism and Indigeneity in New England”

The second installment of this season’s New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section Lecture Series will take place this coming Monday, October 26th, at our offices. We welcome Stephen W. Stillman, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Historical Archaeology Graduate Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, along with discussant Bradley Phillippi, Professor of Anthropology at Hofstra University.

An anthropological understanding of colonialism and indigeneity in the Americas requires confronting several important questions about the connections between time, materiality, place, and people. How do archaeologists and other anthropologists measure culture change and continuity and at what scale, and why is the question framed in that way? How do people engage their pasts to live through their present and anticipate their future, and why has that been harder to visualize for archaeologists than for cultural anthropologists? What are the implications of these concepts and interpretations on pressing political and heritage issues today? This presentation will explore some potential answers to these questions, using an example of a collaborative archaeological project since 2003 between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, a Native American community in Connecticut that has occupied its reservation lands since 1683. I argue that a notion of “persistence” may provide some relief to these questions (or more appropriately perhaps, dilemmas), not only as both an interpretive and a lived practice that resolves some tensions of the “longue durée” of indigenous history and the “short purée” of colonialism, but also as a perspective growing out of on-the-ground community engagement with indigenous communities today.

As always, the 7:00 PM lecture will be preceded by a reception at 6:00 PM. Registration with NYAS is not required.

Meet Our 2015 Wadsworth International Fellows: Elif Irem Az

The Wadsworth International Fellowship provides the opportunity for students in countries where anthropological education is underrepresented to receive world-class training at a university abroad. In the second of a series of posts introducing this year’s new cohort of fellows (here’s the first), we meet Elif Irem Az of Turkey, whose work concerns militarism, gender and violence and will be studying for a doctorate at Columbia University.

During my undergraduate studies in Political Science and International Relations at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, my compulsory courses largely focused on quantitative research methods and grand theoretical narratives, which usually disregard the experience and subjectivity of both the subjects of the study and the researcher. As a result of my disappointment towards the mainstream research practice within political science as well as of my active involvement with the feminist movement(s) in Turkey, in the later stages of my undergraduate education, I gravitated towards sociocultural anthropology, a discipline which takes into account the significance of self-reflexivity and textuality.

I enrolled in the Master of Arts program in Cultural Studies at Sabancı University in the fall of 2012 with a full scholarship and teaching assistantship, and received my master’s degree in September 2014. Owing to my experience at Sabancı University, teaching is of great value to my academic life.

My master’s thesis entitled Military Masculinities in the Making: Professional Military Education in Contemporary Turkey was on military masculinities and professional military education in contemporary Turkey, and I have ongoing interests in militaries, militarism, gender and violence.

The connections between the body/self and labor in Turkey are central to my current research interests. In my doctoral work, I plan to focus on the intersections of the ongoing rural transformation in Aegean Turkey, national and international agricultural regulations of the neoliberal era, public discourses and policies on coal mining, and mineworkers’ understandings of the body as the self and as labor, and of life and death. Finally, I hope the interplay between fieldwork, ethnographic writing and fiction to be a fundamental concern of my research and writing.

White Activists in Indigenous Australia: Discussion on Anti-Racism, Solidarity and Humanism