Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Four Stone Hearth 112: Rallying the Anthropology Community

Okay, Anthropologists, what's our deal? We aren't as well represented online as some of the other sciences, but we are out there. And what's more, we're good. So why is it that only two of you responded to my call for posts for the anthropology blog carnival? Four Stone Hearth is a fantastic means of tying our community together—it introduces us to each other and helps us promote and discuss anthropology with members of the public. But it's about to die.

No, I'm not being melodramatic. Take a look at the announcement page—we are woefully short of hosts. We're also in need of a temporary administrator as Afarensis has just announced a hiatus. So what's stopping you? Can you volunteer to host? I promise that it's really easy: all you have to do is highlight interesting anthropology posts from around the web. And you don't even need to be a certified, card carrying anthropologist to host. Really. Anyone with an interest in anthropology can volunteer. And since you're here, you  must have an interest in anthropology, right?

But maybe the problem is the carnival itself. Is it time to simply let it go? Is it a waste of time? Can it be a cornerstone for our online community? I admit that I have a soft spot for the carnival because when I first started blogging, it was one of the ways I introduced myself to the web. It is really important to my development and my history online. I would like to save it. But we need to work together—as a community of anthropologists and anthropology supporters. Can we do it? How can we do it? Or perhaps this response is just indicative of the divisions within anthropology? Mull on that for a bit while you journey through this edition of Four Stone Hearth.**

Barbara King has a fascinating article discussing recent research on pointing behavior in captive apes:
The notion that small children intend with their acts of [non-verbal displays] to alter someone else’s mental state emerges from a very particular view of cognition—one that situates mental acts (such as representing and intending meaning) entirely within an individual’s head. That’s not, the authors say, the way things really work: “An act of pointing,” for example, “means what it means by virtue of the fact that it is used in some particular interactional situation to do some specific work.” Depending on “the people present, contingencies between the behaviors, the specific physical context, and so on,” a child’s point may mean two different things at two different times. On this view, which I share, cognition is distributed. Not confined to any single mind, it emerges in real-time as social partners interact and create meaning together.

And here is a way out of a dangerous trap. If we attribute the meaning of human pointing to individual psychological states in the head—but then deny these states to apes—that’s a double standard. Recognizing instead that events surrounding a point (by a child or ape) shape its meaning, we see that emergence of pointing depends on developmental (distributed) contexts.  

At This is Serious Monkey Business, Ashlee weighs the pros and cons of an ebola vaccine meant to protect African great apes:
Peter Walsh, a primatologist affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, has set up an initiative to establish a working vaccine for ebola to protect populations of African great apes from the viral disease. Ebola is responsible for killing one-third of the gorilla population and a sizable amount of chimpanzees in the last twenty years (Walsh et al. 2007). With that in mind, creating a working vaccine seems like a worthwhile solution: prevent these (critically, in some cases) endangered primates from losing group members by creating a vaccine that is responsible for killing up to a third of the population.

Kristina Killgrove of Bone Girl reveals the truth about "the vampire of Venice":
During the 16th century, as plague raged around Europe, many people were buried hastily, in mass graves. Without modern forensic knowledge, people didn't understand how the body decomposed. For example, as the bacteria present in the gut start consuming the internal organs, fluid can be produced and chest cavities can bulge and sink, making the bodies seem to sigh; as the skin dries out and recedes from the fingernails, they can appear to grow longer; and as the muscles go through stages of rigor mortis, bodies can seem to move. Mass plague graves were often reopened to inter more individuals, so seeing corpses that had changed since burial confused and scared the living. 

At Context and Variation, Kate Clancy dispels gender bias in medicine, telling female readers that if they're diagnosed with an iron deficiency without actually being tested for one, that they really need to get another opinion because it could be a sign of upper gastro-intestinal bleeding:
the main culprit for iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) in men is upper-gastrointestinal bleeding, so when men present with IDA the first thing they do is an endoscopy. When women present with IDA they give her iron supplements and tell her to go home because it's just her ladybusiness.  

Francis Deblauwe at Digging Digitally makes mention of some resources that have sprung up to track looted Egyptian treasures:
Also, an ad hoc website, Egyptological Looting Database 2011, has been thrown up to try to keep track of what (and to which extent) we know about looting in different regions of the country. Compared with The Iraq War & Archaeology, this site endeavors to be a bit more systematic.

At media/anthropology, John Postill looks at media use at different stages of the Egyptian revolution:
In the contemporary era when political actors (rulers, politicians, activists, journalists, citizens, etc.) have access to multiple media, when analysing a struggle it is crucial that we establish which media ensembles – or media mixes – came to the fore at which particular stages of the conflict. Although it is still early days to reconstruct the Egyptian uprising, it is already clear that indeed different stages have seen different constellations of media-related activity in Cairo and other sites of conflict. To illustrate this point, let us retrace the steps of the still unresolved dispute by means of a timeline drawn from Al Jazeera, the BBC, Wikipedia, and other sources.

Greg Downey of Neuroanthropology discusses the importance of free people—those communities who refuse to modernize and cast aside their way of life:
Although the thought may be mind-bending to us, some people in small groups around the planet opt out completely of a material, social and economic reality that many of us think is inevitable. Offered the option of joining us, they emphatically demonstrate they want no part of our world; they just prefer to be left alone.  What we do to them, those who withdraw or opt out, says more about us than it does about them. 

Eric Michael Johnson discusses primate experiences with death in a guest post at The Prancing Papio:
There is something intensely animal about our relationship with the dead. As an atheist I don’t feel particular reverence or awe at the site of a cadaver. It mostly just creeps me out. But even religious believers, those who should be comfortable with the idea that a dead body retains no trace of the person they once knew, also seem to have trouble letting go of what St. Paul called “confidence in the flesh.” In funerary observances around the world cadavers are regularly touched, kissed, washed, anointed with oils, bedaubed with ceremonial makeup, carted to sacred ground, entombed with their clothes or belongings, and generally treated in death as if their body were going on a different journey than miasmic decay.

This is the tip of the iceberg for anthropology writing.  Please feel free to suggest additional links in the comments—while we discuss the future of the carnival.

**I usually try to tie these together creatively, but since I stepped in to host a day before this edition was scheduled to go live, my creative juices fell short.


  1. I should be able to host March 16 - whom do I email? You? Afarensis?

  2. Afarensis still holds the keys to the kingdom at this point, so reach out to the Hominin. Contact info should be on the blog. Thanks for taking a round, KK!

  3. As a newcomer to the anthropology blogging scene (and an undergrad to boot), I've been silently following along for the last year or so, but just started writing recently. (And I'm still working on the speaking-up, leaving comments. Case in point: I've had this post open in a tab for days now, comment half-written!)

    As someone just beginning to get involved it what seems to be a growing community, I think it would be a shame to see the carnival go - and it can't possibly be time to stop.

    I love the blogging community. I'm not sure how many of us I represent or can fairly speak for - but the lack of initiative might not have anything to do with the worthiness of the carnival... Whether it's primary purpose is to showcase articles r just as a community forum... Is the amount of response a fair way to judge its impact?

  4. I thought about hosting, or at least submitting a post for quite some time now, but I somehow just missed it the last few times.

    But I just saw that there's a Four stone hearth on April 13th (which is my birthday), so I really would like to host on that day.

  5. @noellejt: I hope you'll keep writing—and commenting! I'm not sure whether response is fair means of judging the carnival's impact, but I don't know of any other metric to use at the moment. I think the issue is that if the anthropology community isn't participating, then there is no carnival. We need anthropology bloggers and anthropology supporters to host, and readers to recommend posts. Otherwise we're left with empty hosting slots, and hosts who need to go out and hunt for content. Anything that makes the process difficult will not help keep the carnival alive.

    @Eric: Thanks!