November 10, 2010

Four Stone Hearth – The Abnormal Edition

Clay tablet in a broken envelope
Giustiniani Hestia from
Seyffert, Dictionary of
Classical Antiquities
,
1894

Welcome to the 105th edition of Four Stone Hearth, the anthropology web carnival featuring abnormal posts for the period October 27 to, well, today. I thank those who suggested the abnormally interesting posts that I included in this abnormal edition. While all the suggestions were great, there weren’t as many as I expected. So I went with what I had and added a couple of my own suggestions but none of my own posts. I’m more of an anthropology user than an anthropology provider.

Bio-Physical Anthropology

Rosemary Joyce of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives posted “Putting a Finger on Sexy Neanderthals.” She discussed the media coverage of a recent paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), "Digit ratios predict polygyny in early apes, Ardipithecus, Neanderthals and early modern humans but not in Australopithecus.”

What fascinates me about the coverage, in addition to the complete misunderstanding of what the study actually says, is the way press coverage narrows the focus to the poor benighted Neanderthal.

Rosemary also provided a helpful summary of what the paper actually says.

In “Absolutely Confabulous,” Neuroskeptic told us of a paper on - how shall I say this – confabulation. No kidding!

Suppose I ask you to tell me what happened yesterday. As you reply, yesterday's memories will probably trigger all kinds of associations with other memories, but you'll [be] able to recognize those as irrelevant: that wasn't yesterday, that was last week.

A confabulating patient can't do that, this theory says, so they end up with a huge jumble of memories; the confabulated stories are an attempt to make some sense of this mess. See above for my attempt to confabulate a story linking the three random concepts of a cat, a fire engine and a chair.

Why does this happen? Head over to Neuroskeptic for at least one possible explanation.

This discussion trigger one of my memories of a Mark Twain quotation, “When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, & soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter.” Sure, this isn’t really to the point but that’s the way it is with memories.

Archaeology

Brendon Wilkins of Digging the Dirt lampooned possible (likely?) cuts in funding for historical monuments in the UK.

First on the list is Stonehenge, which will be phased out over the course of 2011, and will be bulldozed to create a level playing field for the 2012 Olympics. Low maintenance Woodhenge however, will enjoy a brief reprieve. Benefiting from the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ effect, it will be merged with Sutton Hoo, and will now be known as Woo Hoo.

The post is satire but the concern is real and not just with regard to UK monuments.

Judith Weingarten, Zenobia: Empress of the East, reviewed Rex Winsbury’s Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination.

Facts about Zenobia are thin on the ground. Fiction abounds. Zenobia lived, strutted the stage, and battled in mid-third century CE, surely the worst documented period in the history of the Roman Empire. Every bit of information about her is contentious, fragmentary, or biased -- and often all three together.

She concluded, “You have to read this book, well-written, clear, and quite thorough. Then, we can go on arguing, probably forever.” But before you read the book, I suggest you read Judith’s review.

Grrl Scientist explained “How the penguin got its tuxedo” at Punctuated Equilibrium. Quoting Jakob Vinther, she writes,

"Insights into the colour of extinct organisms can reveal clues to their ecology and behavior," said Mr Vinther. "But most of all, I think it is simply just cool to get a look at the colour of a remarkable extinct organism, such as a giant fossil penguin."

While not directly anthropological content, this post and the research on which it was based relies heavily on archaeology, broadly speaking, and addresses important questions regarding evolution.

Socio-cultural Anthropology

Krystal D'Costa at Anthropology in Practice asked in "Fan Identity and Team Choice,"

How does one become a fan? Choose an allegiance? Decide that you’re going to wear bright green, or purple and gold, or paint your face orange and black?

Some of the answers are abnormally interesting.

Linguistic Anthropology

Geoffrey K. Pullum posted “Translating the untranslatable” on Language Log. Commenting on a Jason Wire's “20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World” on the Matador Network., Pullum wrote,

You might expect (since I yield to no Language Log writer in the fierceness of my hatred for things-people-have-no-words-for genre of writing about language) that I would hate it like poison. But in fact I rather liked it. I just want to point out, however, that not a single one of the words shows any of the promised untranslatability.

Complex meanings that resist word for word equivalence do not make for untranslatability. But they do make an interesting post. Geoffrey’s conclusion is both humorous and instructive. Check it out.

And so it ends for this two-week period. Afarensis himself will host the November 24th Four Stone Hearth at Afarensis: Anthropology, Evolutions and Science. It’s not too early to send him suggestions.

Posted by Duane Smith at November 10, 2010 11:27 AM | Read more on Archaeology |

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