Is “Indiana Jones” a Psychological Hazard for Male Archaeologists?

     My son Christopher graduates next month with a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology.  I think that this happened because we made him a sandbox as a child, and he seemingly has not grown out of it, as most of us do after age 8.  Only now he is more geeky.  So instead of digging for plastic soldiers and banana peels in the sand, he looks for shards (pieces of pottery, I’m told), and sherds (pieces of glass) on Caribbean islands.  And mostly what he really finds are really old chicken bones. 

       Completely consistent with archaeological geekiness are Christopher’s long disputations about archaeological ethics.  This seems to be a hazard of the major, and includes rants against treasure hunters, mumbling about stratigraphic context, expressions about the need to involve locals in research, the nature of local museum collections, and the importance of being able to converse in local languages.  And of course, as Durkheim might say, every chicken bone is sacred.  This is fine, and I can relate.  We sociologists too like to believe that we are important enough to harm someone, and therefore need ethics, just like doctors and soldiers.  We are not as fascinated by chicken bones, but to each their own.

      So at least until two weeks ago, Christopher seemingly was seemingly headed toward a standard academic career in boring archaeology, which as far as I can tell is not that different from being a young civil engineer, medical lab tech, or other standard fare.  But then he confused us by insisting that for the graduation ceremony, his sister must provide him with a fedora to replace the mortarboard, and a whip.  It turns out that like to many male graduates of archaeology, he thinks his degree and expertise in chicken bones makes him into some kind of Indiana Jones, rather than just another drudge.  In fact, he deludes himself into believing he has a resemblance to this guy, even though his chief archaeological mentor is female professor specializing in (among other things) underwater archaeology a totally cool sub-discipline which Indiana Jones has never even attempted (can Indy even swim?).  And anyway, what does Indy know about with sherds, shards, ethics, or chicken bones?  Is Indiana Jones really that great of a role model for archaeologists?  

      So I asked a couple male archaeologists, about how I could cure Christopher of his Indiana Jones fetish.  Oddly, they did not consider this a problem.  In fact, they just looked at me quizzically, as if to say, why wouldn’t he be like Indiana Jones?  The unspoken response was, “isn’t every archaeologist kind of like Indiana Jones—particularly the really cool part?”  They will acknowledge that Indy as portrayed in the movies is a treasure hunter and a fraud, but they blame this on the writers, not Indy himself.  Like Christopher, they fantasize that indeed, archaeology is just like the movies rather than the sandbox and the lab. And even when the film-maker makes bloopers, like asserting that Indy learned Aymara (or was it Quechua?) while riding with Pancho Villa, they blame the filmmaker and point out that Indy really really rode with Hiram Bingham.  The fictional non-existent Indy never gets the blame.  No, even archaeologists like Cindy Van Gilder blame poor Steven Spielberg, a mere film-maker, for the bloopers and politically incorrect story lines. 

     Out of frustration, I went to the Archaeological Institutes of America web-site.  I figured they would have a dignified response to the claptrap of Indiana Jones “the archaeologist.”  But no, there it got even worse.  They elected Harrison Ford, an ACTOR, to the Board of Directors in 2009.  They even gave him a major award—an occurrence that only one lonely and ignored archaelogical blogger, Dr. Tim McGuiness, has the good sense to protest. 

      So what is it about archaeology that makes them take the fictional Indiana Jones so seriously?  After all, Ford played Han Solo in Star Wars, and was an outstandingly cool alpha male there too, but he was not elected to NASA’s board of directors.  Agatha Christie was never given a special position at the British Home Affairs office because her characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple outdid Scotland Yard’s detectives.  Nor do any criminal justice types assert that Dirty Harry was a good thing, “except for the part the writers got wrong.” Nor has the American Criminological Society given Clint Eastwood their highest honors

      Nor is the Air Force going to give a medal to Tom Cruise and place him on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for acting in “Top Gun.”  They have far more restraint than that. And hey, I know about such restraint, since I’m a sociologist, and we can legitimately claim America’s number one actor, none other than Ronald Reagan himself, as one of our very own (Sociology BA, class of 1932 Eureka College).  Note we can even do this without resorting to Reagan’s FICTIONAL film work in his well-known movie, Bedtime for Bonzo, or in any other high profile role he may have had in Washington DC.  Ronald Reagan is, by training, one of us!  But, modestly, we sociologists for over 60 years resisted the temptation to elevate the world’s best-known actor to the Board of Directors of the American Sociological Association.  ASA even resisted the obvious temptation to give Reagan a major award, preferring instead to attract the attention of the world through the elegance of our regression equations, and sophisticated interpretations of post-modern meaning.  Why can’t the AIA in particular follow our dignified lead, and modestly admit that Indiana Jones is ONLY A MOVIE CHARACTER, just like Ronald Reagan was ONLY A MOVIE CHARACTER.  (Ok, so maybe Reagan was more than a movie character—but Indy ain’t!)

       None of the of course addresses the basic problem of how to deal with a Indiana Jones wannabe in the family.  Is this some kind of permanent disorder?  Or is it treatable? Perhaps someone out there in the Ethnography.com community has some advice to offer?

Why is Queen Nefertiti’s Bust in Berlin, and not Egypt?

Last weekend, I visited The Egyptian Queen Nefertiti this weekend on a trip to Berlin’s Neues Museum. “New” being a museum built in the mid-nineteenth century, bombed during World War II, and finally re-opened in 2009 after reconstruction following German Reunification.

The bust of Nefertiti is the Neues Museum’s best-known artifact. The Nefertiti statue is of Egypt’s Queen during the period of approximately 1370 BC-1330 BC. The statue is known for the skill that the sculptor Thutmose put into it, the well-preserved coloration, and the beauty of Nefertiti herself.

The bust remained buried until discovery by German archaeologists in 1912 when they excavated the Thutmose’s workshop. The German team was digging under license at the time from the government of Egypt, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, which in Egypt at the time was dominated by the British. (But the antiquities department was at that time under the French as a result of the strong interest in Antiquities established there under the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte who had occupied Egypt 100 years earlier.)

If that last paragraph makes immediate sense to you—pat yourself on the back! The point of the paragraph is to point out that the Nefertiti statue was obtained under some version of legal/extra-legal/colonial license at a time when it seemed that every European power had its finger in the Egyptian pie at a time when Antiquities were attracted quite strong interest in Europe. Anyway the statue made its way to Berlin by 1913, where it was eventually put on display at the New Museum.

So the Nefertiti statue was brought to Berlin just before the World Wars. Berlin itself of course became the center of German militarism first in World War I, and later in World War II. Much of Germany’s antiquities were removed by the Nazi government during the war (1939-1945), and much of what was left behind was shipped to the Soviet Union as the spoils of war in 1945-1946. The Nefertiti statue itself was discovered by the occupying American forces in a salt mine, and put on display in West Berlin where they ruled. The Soviets who occupied East Berlin where the Neues Museum and Museum Island is found of course objected—but by then Nefertiti was another pawn in Cold War rivalries. Not until the final restoration of the New Museum in 2009, was the statue returned to the Neues Museum, 70 years after it had left. And that of course is where I saw it last weekend.

In the process of this history, the Nefertiti bust has become an important symbol for Berlin. The sculpture is of course well-preserved, and the Germans do this because they believe that such ancient artwork should be held in trust for all of humanity.

 

But of course here is were the disagreement starts. The modern Egyptian government regards the 1912 as looting, and has requested the statue be returned to Egypt for display there. Egypt never allows antiquities to leave the country (which is why much of King Tutankhamen’s treasure is still in Egypt).

 

And so Nefertiti remains in Berlin at least for the time being, and international treasure, rather than an Egyptian national treasure. This is contested of course, as many museums around the world have found out. How responsible are they for the conditions under which their trophy pieces are obtain decades, or even a century ago?

My Mass Grave Rediscovered!

In 1994-1995 I helped finance and dig a mass grave on the Rwanda-Tanzania border.   This happened because the refugee assistance agency I worked (TCRS) removed bodies from the Kagera River from June 1994-June 1995. Tanzanians were hired to first clean up the bodies that were there from earlier months when the genocide was occurring, and after that to make a “net” to catch any other bodies which might float down the river from whatever source.  The “Body Project” during this time took 917 bodies (or so) out of the river. 311 came out in June-July, 1994, which is when the genocide was still going on. But then 606 more victims came down the river after the genocide was “over” and caught in the net we made. These were fresh bodies who often arrived with their hands tied behind their back, and a bullet in the head. We asked one of the Rwandan border guards from the new government who the floaters might be, and he said they were either victims of the genocide committed by the former government, or perhaps had committed suicide. It was clear from what he said that there was to be no blame for the new government.

We tried to imagine the gymnastics involved with tying your hands behind your back, shooting yourself in the head, and then jumping in the river. Somehow it didn’t compute.

Anyway, we made reports to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who passed the reports up to Geneva, where there was finally some view that perhaps things were not as peaceful as the new Rwandan government asserted. This was important at the time because the international community very much wanted the refugees to return to Rwanda so that they would not have to pay to succor them in the large Tanzanian refugee camps established in 1994.

Which caused us to wonder: Who was sending us these bodies, and what were they trying to say to us and the world? Here is what I wrote in January 1995 after a particularly busy December when 80 new victims came floating down the river:

So who is sending bodies to TCRS’s “body project” so faithfully? Is it the new Rwandan government? A revitalized Interahamwe militia [from the old government]? Both? I still do not know. However, my own conclusion after six months of collecting and burying 700 bodies is that both sides like the polarizing effects that bodies in the river creates among the 400,000 Hutu refugees in nearby Ngara refugee camps. The Hutu militants of course want the population to remain the refugee camps so they can organize a resistance movement. The Rwandan government on the other hand is avoiding the politically untenable consequences of…the millions of Hutus outside Rwanda returning. Seemingly, the bodies in the river serve both parties. Certainly, this would explain the ambivalence both sides have for the continuing appearance of bodies in the Kagera River.

Bob 2

In the strange world I lived in at the time, 917 bodies did not seem all that much—after all the death toll from the genocide and its aftermath is typically estimated at 800,000. At many of these sites in Rwanda, there are today massive memorials, and a national holiday when respects are made there. Forensic anthropologists sometimes go to evaluate how the victims, who were killed by the former Rwandan government. They evaluate how they died, and seek to identify victims, most of whom were from the minority Tutsi group who were the target of the genocide.

TCRS made a memorial too—a monument with words in four languages (English, French, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda) which was dedicated in 1996 just before I left Tanzania, and then forgotten. After all, our memorial was a couple of kilometers inside Tanzania, and the victims probably included a lot of victims from the new (and current) government of Rwanda. So our memorial had weeds grow up around it. No memorial services, and no archaeologists. No on has ever contact me, either, even though I published about it in my 2001 book Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan. As for victims, only one has ever been identified—Ngirabatware son of Rubashurwelere whose Rwandan i.d. was sticking out of his pocket, and given to me in August 1994 still smelling of his death. For what it is worth, he is a Hutu, not Tutsi.

Bob 1

Our memorial was rediscovered in 2009, according to press reports, and there are plans to create a memorial there as well, according to later reports.  So my mass grave was lost and found in a period of 14 years. In the process, though, the memorial has become a “genocide” memorial—which means that the fact that so many of the victims were post-genocide execution victims, and arrived in Tanzania after the genocide ended is forgotten.

As for Ngirabatware, the Hutu victim we buried, I have never heard from his family, despite publishing his name in my book (p. 195).   He was born in 1957 and is from Cyabinbungu prefecture. He had four daughters born between 1980 and 1992. Maybe they are still in Rwanda wondering what happened to their father.

Why Does Anthropology Worry about Jared Diamond when they have Nigel Barley?

The Anthropology blogosphere (including Ethnography.com, SavageMinds.org, anthropologyreport.com and even National Public Radio) has recently lit up with critiques of Jared Diamond’s new book The World Until Yesterday.  Jared Diamonditis seems to be a regular affliction of anthropology, re-emerging every time that the esteemed Professor of Geography (and Physiology) publishes a new tome of big picture history.  The manner that Diamond does this is something that anthros really don’t seem to like.  This is because besides his own field of Geography, Diamond borrows data liberally from all four fields of anthropology to make big generalizations in a manner a cultural geographer, comparative historian, or field ecologist might. But oh yeah, Diamond is a geographer by departmental affiliation, and a field ecologist by training and predilection.

It also seems to bother anthros that Diamond also on occasion—though not always—wanders off the reservation and lets his political views seep into his analysis.  And since these political views don’t typically jibe with those of the anthros, particularly when it comes to oil companies, well you get the idea.  But then there is a counterpoint, someone finally ends up pointing out that since no anthro since Eric Wolf has done such big picture stuff in Europe and the People without History published way back in 1982, anthro has no right to complain.  And so it goes back and forth until the next big tome from Diamond comes out, and Jared Diamonditis flares up again.

Ok, that’s my two paragraphs for the current “controversy.”  In response, I want to write about an anthropologist—an ethnographer actually—who I think is greatly undervalued in anthropology, Nigel Barley.  Barley describes well what anthropologists do best in The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut published in 1984.  This is the book I point students to when they want to understand field work, ethnography, and cultural anthropology.  As a sociologist, this is one of the anthro books I truly admire, because it reflects well on my own field experiences in Tanzania.  Oddly, I find few anthropologists who have read it, much less heard of it.

The Innocent Anthropologist is a memorably written story of Nigel Barley’s experience doing fieldwork among the Dowayo in rural Cameroon in the early 1980s.  The strength of the book is that it includes the personal problems that emerge with the frustrations, boredom, tribulations, and mis-interpretations that inevitably emerge in the context of “doing ethnography.”  In this sense the book is much different than the dispassionate, theoretical, and methodologically rigorous ethnography typically assigned undergraduates.  In such ethnograpny in  the ethnographer somehow ends up erudite, insightful, and making references to Bourdieu and Baudrillard while drinking the local brew.  Nothing wrong with this, but let’s face it, it is not the sort of thing that a 19 year-old taking your Intro to Cultural Anthro course for General Education credit identifies with.

Barley also does a great job explaining the nuts and bolts of doing ethnography in a remote Cameroonian village.  There are empathetic descriptions of coming-of-age rituals, ancestor cults, gender relations, the agricultural cycle, and a well-written nod to Malinowski.  There are also empathetic passages describing boredom, cross-cultural frustrations, and hilarious language learning errors.  And what students will really remember is Barley’s explanation of how the mechanic at the dentist’s office removed his two front teeth.  Such an account would never make its way into a standard ethnography (sorry, no spoiler here–you need to get the book!). And of course such tales, which are really the center of the ethnographic experience are left out by the likes of the ever-dignified Professor Malinowski.

But the scene from Barley’s book I spend most of my time mulling about is at the very end, and has little to do with Africa, but everything to do with ethnography, culture, and the human condition.  Barley spent a year and a half in Cameroon being bored, sick, confused, and frustrated while ostensibly “doing ethnography.” Oddly though, after returning to England, he still wants to tell everyone he meets about this wonderful world he encountered in Cameroon—something that he quickly discovers no one really cares about.  Or worse, they treat him like a raving lunatic because he approaches everyday problems with a vigor and habitus appropriate to a Cameroonian village, rather than that of a staid tweed-jacketed English lecturer.

So Barley returns to England, where he finds out that life is—as it had always been, despite his field work in the Cameroon. People ask him how Cameroon was, complain about the English weather, and then launch off into conversations about the more mundane things of life, like what was on television the previous evening, or the doings of the local football team.  Most mundane is the friend who complains because Barley left a sweater at his apartment some two years ago—could he please pick it up some time?  Like, who cares about a sweater when you have been dealing with ancestor cults, goat farts (sorry no spoiler on that one either!), shamanistic ritual, and have lost your two front teeth!?!?

But this indeed is how the big adventures of life often end: In a question about a forgotten sweater.  This happens whether we are ethnographers, archaeologists, or any other kind of long-term traveler who becomes embedded in a new culture.  Certainly it happens to my undergraduate students who leave home for Chico State the first time, and then return to the parents at Thanksgiving or Christmas brimming with tales of college life, only to be told by their parents to be sure to eat enough lettuce and clean up their room.  Indeed such dissonance happens to anyone returning from a adventure in which they embed themselves in a culture different from their own.  And this indeed is the great ethnographic lesson Barley teaches my undergraduates.  What is more, it is a lesson every bit as big as what Jared Diamond makes with his massive tomes.

Oh, despite his frustrations, whining, and moaning, did I mention that Barley returned to the Cameroon a few months later?  He was indeed hooked on field work and the need to experience new cultures, as we hope our students will—after all the complaining and lost teeth, he was back in Cameroon as quickly as he could.

It has long mystified me that The Innocent Anthropologist is not a staple of Intro to Cultural Anthropology courses.  It is well written, funny, empathetic, theoretical, and easy to read.  And students are happy to read it—the whole thing.  Most importantly, it is a fantastic introduction to what ethnographers do, why they do it, and what an anthropological viewpoint has to say about not just a small place in Cameroon, but the human condition.  I have used this book in my undergraduate social science classes a number of times, and it has always worked well to get students dreaming about the possibilities of culture and travel—i.e. the things that I would expect a good Intro to Cultural Anthropology course to do.  And the neat thing is that it can do it by celebrating what anthropology does best—while leaving poor irrelevant Jared Diamond out of the story.

Another year, another round of blogging…

It is no surprise to anyone that has read this blog in the past that am an applied anthropologist, particularly work that I consider directly applied.  By that I mean the use of anthropological theory and method as a tool to move the goals of an organization further. Applied anthropology that focuses on studying the culture of organizations or focuses on assessments I think of as indirectly applied anthropology.  The primary difference being that with indirect applied work, the primary goal is to create what could be considered an academic product or publication. In direct applied work, cultural anthropology is just one discipline among many to move a larger goal forward, often resulting on a specific product, strategic direction, or other development goal. Just my particular bias, but when I refer to applied anthropology, I am referring to direct work.

With this is in mind I watched with interest a few months ago the reaction of academic anthropology when the governor of my state, Rick Scott of Florida, proclaimed that anthropology should no longer be taught given it was a not a valuable discipline. My interest was not in Gov Scott however.  Those of us living in Florida have grown somewhat use to being the main source for the various “news of the weird” columns you read.  Hardly a week seems to go by without the state government debating nonsensical legislation, some crank publicly threating to burn a Koran or a guy legally adopting his 40-something year old girlfriend.  It is not just retirees and the homeless that move here for the great year-round weather, it turns out that bat-shit crazy people like nice weather and low rental prices as well.

Indeed, what caught my interest was how quickly applied anthropologists, (along with archaeologists and physical anthropologists) were trotted out to exclaim the value of anthropology. Of course that response was led by the University of South Florida, one of the few Ph.D programs in the country to focus on applied work. But what was not mentioned in any of that was small detail that the last major change to the code of ethics prior to the military issue was over applied anthropologists working in industry.  People tend to forget that a lot of those people that are examples of anthropology’s value: working in major corporations, commercial think tanks and design / strategy firms were being dismissed by most as having sold out at best and were unethical moneygrubbers at worst.  I would still argue that if a prospective Ph.D student expressed an intent to work in industry, or worse horrors – the military – they are not going to be accepted into many Ph.D programs.

But it did one thing, it put a bug into my ear about blogging again: About applied anthropology, where I think it can go, where I hope to see anthropologists working in the future and of course anthropologists in the national security and policy issues.

Stay Tuned.

Now Avaliable: Anthropologists in the SecurityScape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity

[caption id="attachment_889" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Anthropologists in the SecurityScape"]Anthropologists in the SecurityScape[/caption]

It has landed for all your holiday needs.  I have a chapter in the new book “Anthropologists in the SecurityScape” now available from Amazon.

Description

As the military and intelligence communities re-tool for the 21st century, the long and contentious debate about the role of social scientists in national security environments is dividing the disciplines with renewed passion. Yet, research shows that most scholars have a weak understanding of what today’s security institutions actually are and what working in them entails. This book provides an essential new foundation for the debate, with fine-grained accounts of the complex and varied work of cultural, physical, and linguistic anthropologists and archaeologists doing security-related work in governmental and military organizations, the private sector, and NGOs. In candid and provocative dialogues, leading anthropologists interrogate the dilemmas of ethics in practice and professional identity. Anthropologists in the SecurityScape is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand or influence the relationship between anthropology and security in the twenty-first century.

Editorial Reviews

“These close studies move us past dogmas to data in discussion of relations between anthropology and the military.”
James Peacock, University of North Carolina

“When their governments wage wars, what can scholars do? For anthropologists in particular, what are the practical, ethical and civic responsibilities that come with scholarly knowledge of other cultures? As the blast radius of 9/11 rolled outward, serving as the pretext for liberations that turned into occupations, the erosion of civil liberties at home, and an explosion of extra-judicial killings abroad, it also fueled heated and adversarial responses among American anthropologists to these urgent questions. This volume expands the debate, presenting the voices of smart, principled scholars and practitioners who explain how and why they work in professional settings that are alien or suspect to most academic anthropologists. Conceived and executed in a spirit of even-tempered, open-minded and empirically-informed conversation, this volume constitutes a vital resource for anyone curious about the diverse roles and locations of ‘security anthropologists.’ It also opens a substantive dialogue around concepts of public engagement, professional vocation and moral complacency which are of pressing concern for the discipline’s future.”
Keith Brown, Associate Professor, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

“A gripping read through a charged yet respectful high-stakes conversation about the position of anthropological work in the security sector. Anthropologists in the SecurityScape is packed with personal stories from anthropologists working in a wide range of roles both in and around the military and other defense and security institutions. The contributors’ distinct voices shine through: teachers and trainers, humanitarian workers and intelligence analysts, religious scholars and cultural resource managers along with many others. They reveal the tensions faced in their encounters with those in the “securityscape” as well as with colleagues in the anthropological community. This book excels in achieving the dialogical potential of anthropological work. It promises to challenge and extend understanding of the motivations and realities of engagement – as well as non-engagement – with the security sector. More broadly, it raises questions relevant to anthropological work with consequential institutions of all kinds. Anyone invested in informing a public anthropology is sure to learn from this book.”
Melissa Cefkin, Author of “Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter

“This engaging and important casebook explores the dynamics of how, when, why and under what conditions and with what risks, anthropologists have engaged with the large and expanding security apparatus of the United States. The collection is broad, interesting and could not be more timely.”
Paul Rabinow, University of California, Berkeley

The A-hole: A True Human Universal?

As a member of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, I recently became aware of a new development in a controversy currently underway on the island of Kaua’i regarding the disturbance of some Native Hawaiian burials for the construction of a private residence.  The practice of archaeology has been particularly contentious in the islands since the convergence of three historical events: 1) massive development and construction, particularly associated with the tourist industry; 2) the passage of federal and state antiquities protection laws mandating the involvement of archaeologists in cultural resource management; 3) the revitalization of Native Hawaiian culture, and its members’ mobilization in protection of their homeland and heritage.  Arguably these three, often divergent, interest groups came of age in the 1960’s and have been locked in a dance of conflicting and converging interests ever since. (*1)

One of the developments of this structure of the conjuncture (a la Marshall Sahlins) was the establishment of Island Burial Councils that are empowered by State law to determine the final disposition of any human remains that are discovered.  In the case mentioned above, a group of Native Hawaiians, known as Kanaka Maoli Scholars, have protested the handling of the review and recommendations of the Kaua’i – Ni’ihau Burial Council with regards to a property located at Naue (http://mailevine.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/open-letter-by-kanaka-maoli-scholars-against-desecration/).  Kanaka Maoli Scholars argue that the State Historic Preservation Division approved a Burial Treatment Plan against the clear objections of the Burial Council, thus allowing building permits to be issued illegally, and concrete foundations to be poured on known gravesites.  Meanwhile, the homeowner has filed a civil suit against members of the Native Hawaiian community alleging trespassing and harassment, among other things.

Whatever breaches of process may or may not have occurred in the course of managing this particular site (and since I currently live on the Mainland, I have no inside information from either side of this mess), I can tell you that most of the archaeologists that I know who work in Hawai’i consider it a tremendous privilege to be included in any aspect of stewardship of this amazing cultural legacy, and many experience daily life like an E.R. doctor: in a never-ending state of triage racing to save patients from the disease “development-fever.”  All the while under-staffed, with too few resources, and constantly challenged by the politicization of the process.  There is no universal archaeological site healthcare in the United States, and all too often the decisions regarding which patients to save and rehabilitate, and which to simply “patch-up” and send on their way, are made by the interests of capital.  Bound by our own Hippocratic oath, most archaeologists would truly love to save and cherish every patient, seeing each and every one of them thrive. (*2)

Well, gentle reader, as many of you know, much of modernist anthropology has been preoccupied with the search for human universals.  In my opinion these efforts usually end in one of two ways, either the “universal” reached turns out to be amazingly narrow in scope, or mind-bogglingly broad in scope.  There does seem to be one that keeps cropping up, however, and that is illustrated by the latest opinion expressed in the Naue controversy.  As part of their campaign to draw public attention to what they feel is the unfettered desecration of their ancestors’ burials, Kanaka Maoli Scholars sent copies of their recent protest letter (see link above) to a variety of constituents, including high ranking executives at the company owned by the homeowner.  One of these employees, in an inadvertent case of “I’m rubber, you’re glue, when you act like an asshole, it looks bad for you,” has provided more evidence for one of the most convincing universals ever promulgated… the “assholes, every community has at least one, and s/he will usually self-identify within the first 24 hours of contact” universal.

This guy responded to the letter of concern sent to him by the Kanaka Maoli Scholars with a single line.  He asks, “So how do you know the people buried out there weren’t assholes??”  Wow – a whole new principle to guide historic preservation (and with any luck, human resource decisions at his firm).  Maybe the asshole is a kind of human universal – after all, we all have them, but it takes a special Homo sapiens to talk out of his.

********

(1) To read a series of powerful essays relevant to Native Hawaiian sovereignty, colonialism, and academia, read Haunani-Kay Trask’s, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i (1999).

(*2) There is no question, as with medical doctors, there are some archaeologists who are in the business for what profit there is to be had, and others who are simply not as competent as one might wish.

Something about Homecomings and The Innocent Anthropologist by Nigel Barley

 One of my favorite anthropology books is The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley.  It is a memorably written story of Barley’s experience doing fieldwork in rural Cameroon.  The strength of the book is that it includes the personal problems that emerge out of the frustrations, boredom, tribulations, and mis-interpretations that emerge in the context of “doing ethnography.”  In this sense it is much different than the dispassionate, theoretical, and scientific ethnography typically assigned undergraduates in which the ethnographer somehow always ends up being always erudite, and insightful.  Barley’s explanation of how the mechanic at the dentist’s office removed his two front teeth is particularly memorable—and would never make its way into a standard ethnography (sorry, no spoiler here–you need to get the book!).

The scene from Barley’s book I have been mulling since my return from Germany to California three weeks ago, though, is at the very end of the book.  Barley spent a year and a half in Cameroon before returning home to England. He returns to England, where he finds out that life is—as it had always been. People ask him how Cameroon was, complain about the English weather, and then launch off into conversations about the more mundane things of life.  The friend who complains because he left a sweater at his apartment some two years ago—could he please pick it up some time?—provides the greatest homecoming dissonance for Barley.  Like, who cares about a sweater when you have been dealing with ancestor cults, goats, shaman, and have lost your two front teeth!?!?

But this indeed is how adventures which are big for us as individuals often end, in a mundane question about a forgotten sweater.  This happens whether we are ethnographers, archaeologists, or any other kind of long-term traveler.  I suppose that such dissonance happens to soldiers and anthropologists returning from Iraq as well.

 
It has long mystified me that The Innocent Anthropologist is not a staple of Intro to Cultural Anthropology courses.  It is well written, funny, empathetic, easy to read, and a fantastic introduction to what ethnographers do, and why they do it.  Students I have had read the book generally appreciate it, even if they never leave the US.

Indiana Jones and the Myth of the Moundbuilders (Big Time Spoiler Alert)

The hat. The whip. That crooked, knowing smile. For Indy fans, any excuse to be in the big-screen presence of their idol is a cause for celebration. Yes, as an archaeologist who was a teenager in the late 80’s, of course I have a soft spot for Henry Jones, Jr., but for the record, I have never, ever been tempted to purchase a fedora, and it takes more than the mere mention of the word “archaeology” to sell me on a movie.

In Lucas & Spielberg’s latest collaboration there were plenty of small pleasures for the archaeologically inclined. For example, there is a hilarious scene where Indy crashes through the university library on a motorcycle, and then a student, without so much as blinking at his unusual entry, approaches him to ask a question, the reply to which is the advice to read V. Gordon Childe. (If that’s not hilarious to you, skip ahead to the next paragraph). We also see Dr. Jones in the classroom lecturing on the famous European site Skara Brae. And, of course, there are the usual sets with funky, cool ruins – I particularly admired the locking/unlocking mechanism on one of the temple doors.

My crowd (two other anthropology professors, myself and a bunch of archaeology students) laughed even harder at the references to life in the academy. See the example above, and feel a professor’s incredulity at how certain students will plague you with questions in any setting – the grocery store, the ladies room, a funeral… Additionally, after a particularly intense action scene, Indy’s young sidekick says to him, “I thought you were a teacher!” This time the reply is, “I am (hesitation), part-time.” This was greeted with howls of amusement in our part of the theater. We gasped in horror, however, when the Dean comes to tell Indy that he has been let go (over a Cold War controversy) and agitated whispers ran up and down the rows: “Omigod! Doesn’t he have tenure?! WTF!”

Another area of satisfaction for long-term followers of the franchise will be the relationship between Indiana and his long-lost love Marion Ravenwood. Kudos to Lucas-Speilberg for bringing back this character and letting her be impetuous, charming, assertive, and competent, all while looking her age. She gets to be a mom too, shouting advice to her son about his fencing technique as he battles a Soviet agent in a ridiculously “unlikely setting.” When asked if he hasn’t had plenty of women since they had parted (Indy chickened out a week before their wedding), Indy replies, “Yeah, and they all had the same problem, none of them were you.” Awwwww. Yay! He realizes that her smart-ass, take-no-prisoners, give-as-good-as-you-get attitude is exactly what he wants in his life and it is impossible not to feel a great sense of righteous balance restored to the universe when they marry at the end.

Now, one eyebrow went up the first time that the words Mesoamerica and then “in Peru” came in quick succession. It came back down a hair when Indy speaks to a local near Nazca and tells his sidekick that the language is “Quechua – a pre-Inkan language.” This trust was ultimately betrayed when the movie’s writers, however, bought into one of the oldest and most offensive of the myths colonizers told about the cultures of the New World: their accomplishments came from being taught by more advanced outsiders. Sigh. So painful. So racist. So unnecessary. That’s right, this movie (complete with a nod to Roswell) explicitly suggests that the peoples of the Americas were taught the skills of agriculture and irrigation by aliens.

This patently offensive idea undermines the accomplishments of New World civilizations and, frankly, is disturbingly hard to kill. Over the last 500 years Europeans and Americans have sought nearly any explanation for the complexity of native cultures in the Americas. Possible influences have been sought in a lost tribe from Israel, European wanderers, and even Atlantis. In the twentieth century extremely popular versions of this vein of thinking have included the idea that the Olmec civilization developed under the influence of priest-kings who came from ancient Egypt, and of course, Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, in which ancient cultures around the world are given inspiration and innovation by aliens.

One of the pieces of evidence that is most commonly cited in this less than rigorous scholarship is the presence of pyramids all over the world. If a pyramid is broadly defined as a building that is wider at the bottom and tapers to the top, it is hardly a mystery as to why this structure would be common. Any small child with a block set will tell you that it is very difficult to make the top wider than the bottom. Ditto for sandcastles. More compelling than my ad hoc engineering arguments, however, is the steady accretion of knowledge from around the world of local, indigenous culture histories. Thousands of archaeologists, working on thousands of sites, analyzing millions of artifacts have allowed us to see that pyramid building in Egypt, for example, is a process, developed out of long-standing traditions related to tombs. In Mesopotamia, pyramids are temples, with their own long trajectory of development that can be traced in the archaeological record.

In the New World, there is clear evidence in Mesoamerica and South America (which is where Peru is by the way, Indy) of the indigenous development of pyramid building traditions. Similarly, in North America, the largest, pyramid-shaped earthen structures of the Mississippian period do not appear suddenly, with no precedent, rather they are part of a long tradition of earth mound building that stretches over thousands of years into the Archaic period in eastern North America. There is absolutely no reason to revert to theories of alien intervention unless you are predisposed to think of Native Americans as dull, lazy, conservative people who lack the initiative, creativity, cleverness, and cultural complexity to be responsible for the archaeological remains we can empirically document in their homelands.

It is precisely these narratives of inherent inferiority that fueled (and later justified) colonial seizures of land, genocide, and the continued oppression of native peoples in the Americas. As long as there are lingering doubts in the public’s mind as to the worth of these first peoples and their cultures, the magnitude of the destruction wrought by Europeans on these continents is downplayed and eased in the dominant culture’s consciousness. Shame on you, Lucas & Spielberg, for fanning those flames! Would it have been so hard for the crystal skulls in the Indiana story to be an indigenous technology? The Soviets could still have been looking for them because of their legendary power. There still could have been an awesome climax in which the temple of the lost city was destroyed because the final skull had been returned.

Ironically, the few times that we hear Indy lecturing or talking to students he seems to be discussing diffusionism. At one point he even tells the students that they will be discussing migration versus exodus next. Maybe this was the archaeological consultant on the movie’s way of crying for help…

*******************************************************************

To read more about these issues in North America try The Mound Builders, by Robert Silverberg, 1986. Or even Cynthia L. Van Gilder and Douglas K. Charles, 2003. “Archaeology as Cultural Encounter: The Legacy of Hopewell,” in Method, Theory, and Practice in Contemporary Archaeology.

Indiana Jones and the Myth of the Moundbuilders (Big Time Spoiler Alert)

The hat. The whip. That crooked, knowing smile. For Indy fans, any excuse to be in the big-screen presence of their idol is a cause for celebration. Yes, as an archaeologist who was a teenager in the late 80’s, of course I have a soft spot for Henry Jones, Jr., but for the record, I have never, ever been tempted to purchase a fedora, and it takes more than the mere mention of the word “archaeology” to sell me on a movie.

In Lucas & Spielberg’s latest collaboration there were plenty of small pleasures for the archaeologically inclined. For example, there is a hilarious scene where Indy crashes through the university library on a motorcycle, and then a student, without so much as blinking at his unusual entry, approaches him to ask a question, the reply to which is the advice to read V. Gordon Childe. (If that’s not hilarious to you, skip ahead to the next paragraph). We also see Dr. Jones in the classroom lecturing on the famous European site Skara Brae. There are also the usual sets with funky, cool ruins – I particularly admired the locking/unlocking mechanism on one of the temple doors.

My crowd (two other anthropology professors, myself and a bunch of archaeology students) laughed even harder at the references to life in the academy. See the example above, and feel a professor’s incredulity at how certain students will plague you with questions in any setting – the grocery store, the ladies room, a funeral… Additionally, after a particularly intense action scene, Indy’s young sidekick says to him, “I thought you were a teacher!” This time the reply was, “I am (hesitation), part-time.” This was greeted with howls of amusement in our part of the theater. We gasped in horror, however, when the Dean came to tell Indy that he had been let go (over a Cold War controversy) and agitated whispers ran up and down the rows: “Omigod! Doesn’t he have tenure?! WTF!”

Another area of satisfaction for long-term followers of the franchise will be the relationship between Indiana and his long-lost love Marion Ravenwood. Kudos to Lucas-Speilberg for bringing back this character and letting her be impetuous, charming, assertive, and competent, all while looking her age. She gets to be a mom too, shouting advice to her son about his fencing technique as he battles a Soviet agent in a ridiculously “unlikely setting.” When asked if he hadn’t had plenty of women since they had parted (he chickened out a week before their wedding), Indy replies, “Yeah, and they all had the same problem, none of them were you.” Awwwww. Yay! He realizes that her smart-ass, take-no-prisoners, give-as-good-as-you-get attitude is exactly what he wants in his life and it is impossible not to feel a great sense of righteous balance restored to the universe when they marry at the end.

Now, one eyebrow went up the first time that the words Mesoamerica and then “in Peru” came in quick succession. It came back down a hair when Indy speaks to a local near Nazca and tells his sidekick that the language is “Quechua – a pre-Inkan language.” This trust was ultimately betrayed when the movie’s writers, however, bought into one of the oldest and most offensive of the myths colonizers told about the cultures of the New World: their accomplishments came from being taught by more advanced outsiders. Sigh. So painful. So racist. So unnecessary. That’s right, this movie (complete with a nod to Roswell) explicitly suggests that the peoples of the Americas were taught the skills of agriculture and irrigation by aliens.

This patently offensive idea undermines the accomplishments of New World civilizations and, frankly, is disturbingly hard to kill. Over the last 500 years Europeans and Americans have sought nearly any explanation for the complexity of native cultures in the Americas. Possible influences have been sought in a lost tribe from Israel, European wanderers, and even Atlantis. In the twentieth century extremely popular versions of this vein of thinking have included the idea that the Olmec civilization developed under the influence of priest-kings who came form Ancient Egypt, and of course, Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, in which ancient cultures around the world are given inspiration and innovation by aliens.

One of the pieces of evidence that is most commonly cited in this less than rigorous scholarship is the presence of pyramids all over the world. If a pyramid is broadly defined as a building that is wider at the bottom and tapers to the top, it is hardly a mystery as to why this structure would be common. Any small child with a block set will tell you that it is very difficult to make the top wider than the bottom. Ditto for sandcastles. More compelling than my ad hoc engineering arguments, however, is the steady accretion of knowledge from around the world of local, indigenous culture histories. Thousands of archaeologists, working on thousands of sites, analyzing millions of artifacts have allowed us to see that pyramid building in Egypt, for example, is a process, developed out of long-standing traditions related to tombs. In Mesopotamia, pyramids are temples, with their own long trajectory of development that can be traced in the archaeological record.

In the New World, there is clear evidence in Mesoamerica and South America (which is where Peru is by the way, Indy) of the indigenous development of a pyramid building traditions. Similarly, in North America, the largest, pyramid-shaped earthen structures of the Mississippian period do not appear suddenly, with no precedent, rather they are part of a long tradition of earth mound building that stretches over thousands of years into the Archaic period in eastern North America. There is absolutely no reason to revert to theories of alien intervention unless you are predisposed to think of Native Americans as dull, lazy, conservative people who lack the initiative, creativity, cleverness, and cultural complexity to be responsible for the archaeological remains we can empirically document in their homelands.

It is precisely these narratives of inherent inferiority that fueled (and later justified) colonial seizures of land, genocide, and the continued oppression of native peoples in the Americas. As long as there are lingering doubts in the public’s mind as to the worth of these first peoples and their cultures, the magnitude of the destruction wrought by Europeans on these continents is downplayed and eased in the dominant culture’s consciousness. Shame on you, Lucas-Spielberg, for fanning those flames! Would it have been so hard for the crystal skulls in the Indiana story to be an indigenous technology? The Soviets could still have been looking for them because of their legendary power. There still could have been an awesome climax in which the temple of the lost city was destroyed because the final skull had been returned.

Ironically, the few times that we hear Indy lecturing or talking to students he seems to be discussing diffusionism. At one point he even tells the students that they will be discussing migration versus exodus soon. Maybe this was the archaeological consultant on the movie’s way of crying for help…

Originally posted on May 23, 2008 on Ethnography.com by Cynthia Van Gilder.

Time to back an association for the rest of us

It is clear to me that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is rapidly becoming (already has become?) irrelevant to and un-supportive of the needs of anthropologists working in corporate, military, and other contexts where the methods are used as part of a deep, day-to-day hands-on practice. But the rift between applied and academia is an old one. I think its time to seek other options, namely to back an association independent of the AAA. It’s not to reject the AAA, it has its place, but the control of a vocal minority to press an ideological and political agenda over one of science, methods, professional practice, scholarship and open-hearted exploration has made the AAA incompatible with the professional realties of many in the practicing community. There are certainly many precedents. For example, the American Board of Forensic Anthropology: Not part of the AAA, it actually offers professional certification of its members. I know a number of archaeologists that don’t belong or go to the AAA meetings, because they have a national organization that meets their needs more closely.

I have in the past belonged to the National Association of Practicing Anthropologists (NAPA), a sub group of the AAA. Should NAPA spin out as its own organization? A very good alternative is  EPIC, which is rapidly becoming the conference of choice for anthropologists who do a wide breadth of work in applied work in corporate settings. I have never been a member of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SFAA), so I can’t speak to their activities or attitudes of inclusiveness with regards to the contexts of practicing anthropology.  Perhaps SFAA presents a viable alternative.

My thinking, however,  is that EPIC should be the epicenter of this new association.  It understands the needs of corporate work, for example, that many of us work under non-disclosure agreements. The conference also recognizes that anthropology is not the only place to get insight and inspiration. It welcomes papers and presentations from professionals in a wide range of allied fields from design to engineering and art. It is also an atmosphere that I suspect would welcome those in the military and intelligence communities based on an interest in uniqueness of the work, not the ideology of it.

What do you think? I can’t be a member of the AAA anymore if the voice vote making secret and proprietary research unethical passes (since I don’t think I or my colleagues are unethical for working for large companies). It’s really time for an alternative. I had a friend who used to tell me that there is little point in trying to date someone who doesn’t want to date you —  it leads to restraining orders at best. Let’s quit trying to change the AAA and recognize that evolution exists, even in professional organizations. We are a different profession, have different needs, and need a different code of ethics.

Choices, choices!