It offends me as an archaeologist II

12 Nov

Part II: In which a leading candidate for the United States presidency claims that the Giza Pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain.


This story from the Washington Post includes Republican candidate Ben Carson’s quote from a 1998 commencement:

“Now, my own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson continued. “Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big — when you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time — to store that much grain.”

“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for a reason. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they had special knowledge and that’s how they were —’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.

Yes, archaeologists “think” that the Giza Pyramids were built as tombs for pharaohs. (Bonus question: what are archaeologists’ reasons for thinking that and how do they differ from Carson’s reasons for thinking they were grain silos?). Yes, there are people who think they were built by aliens, but these people are not “various of scientists.”

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty responded by not responding: “Does he even deserve a response? He doesn’t.” There’s something to be said for ignoring outrageous claims. On the other hand, we don’t want them to gain legitimacy by going unchallenged. I think it’s important for people (especially Americans) of all political and religious perspectives to reiterate that Ben Carson does not speak for us.

Changing Tides: Celebrating Women’s Valor on Veterans Day

10 Nov Featured Image -- 361

Originally posted on Welcome to the AAA Blog:

This Veterans Day, Americans will celebrate the sacrifice and heroism of those who served in uniform from World War I to the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us will thank our brothers, fathers, uncles, and perhaps even grandfathers for their patriotism and military service. Far fewer Americans will extend their arms to salute the many women who have bravely defended our nation’s freedom.

Unfortunately, women veterans are largely invisible in our nation’s narrative. Images of Vietnam veterans and heroic Iraqi combat veterans pervade our national imagery and the bravery of World War II veterans is celebrated in docudramas, shaping our cultural understanding of who is and is not a veteran. When Americans think of veterans, they rarely think of women.

Women comprise 15 percent of Active Duty U.S. troops and nearly 19 percent of Reserve forces, and the number of women entering the military is steadily…

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It offends me as an archaeologist

8 Nov

I frequently think about dialogue from the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. There’s a funny line applicable to almost any life situation imaginable. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from the 1997 episode “The Yada, Yada, Yada”:

Father Curtis: [in a confessional booth] Tell me your sins, my son.

Jerry: Well, I should tell you that I’m Jewish.

Father Curtis: That’s no sin.

Jerry: Oh, good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

We’re all capable of being offended on multiple overlapping levels: personally, professionally, spiritually… It’s often tempting to use a blog as a place to rant about things that offend us, and I resist the temptation to do that. Mostly. You can read back through previous posts to see that evolution denial really aggravates me. It aggravates me as an anthropologist, a scientifically literate person, an intellectually honest person, a father of school-aged children, etc. I’m comfortable blogging about evolution because, as much as people try to treat it as an opinion-based political issue, it is a scientific theory central to my research – one that I hate to see intentionally misrepresented.

This has inspired me to start an ongoing, occasional series called “It offends me as an archaeologist.” Even with that limitation, there is plenty to be offended by, though I will stick to archaeological topics and not post every time “someone on the internet is wrong.”

In August of this year I was offended (actually devastated and heartbroken) by the public beheading of Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-As’ad. He was an 82-year-old professor and antiquities expert who was murdered by ISIS because he would not reveal the location of even more artifacts for them to petulantly destroy. Al-As’ad was a hero who simply refused to go along with their infantile need to destroy all evidence of the world before Islam (which originated a mere 1500 years ago, leaving a lot of prior history to destroy).

Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus dating from the first century.

We should all honor the memory of Khaled al-As’ad. The fact that this elderly scholar proved threatening to a terrorist organization reveals his strength and their weakness.

Halloween is for Anthropologists

1 Nov Featured Image -- 353


Fascinating post, though I don’t think I’d like to live in “a culture more permissive and accepting of the supernatural.” Permissive, yes. Accepting? Not without empirical evidence.

Originally posted on The Geek Anthropologist:

By Emma Louise Backe

Halloween, it seems, was made for anthropologists. While many anthropologists devote their time in the field to studying supernatural belief systems, arcane rituals or traditions still infused with spiritual and symbolic significance, the Halloween season encourages Americans to uncover the skeletons in their closet and confront the ghosts that still haunt our culture. Although we often ignore the supernatural undertones of American culture, a Huffington Post/You Gov poll revealed that 45% of Americans believe in ghosts (Spiegel 2013), while 18% of adult Americans believe that they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost (Lipka 2013). On a more pernicious note, witch-related killings have begun to spike, particularly in parts of Florida. Quite apart from being one of the most religious countries in the developed world, the United States has often downplayed its belief in the supernatural. Much of the modernizing discourse…

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What Halloween Masks

31 Oct Featured Image -- 351


Thoughtful anthropological analysis of this holiday from Cindy Dell Clark and AAA.

Originally posted on Welcome to the AAA Blog:

October 31st is America’s curious anomaly.  On October’s last day, as trees defoliate and nature ebbs towards the deadness of winter, parents mark the day by lifting  prohibitions.  From sugar treats to stranger visiting, what is usually forbidden falls within kids’ reach.  That day children lampoon adults, dressing up in roles of mature power (princesses, firemen, astronauts, pirates); kids arrive at strangers’ doorsteps and ceremonially threaten the grown-ups within with a veiled threat, “trick or treat.”  Without further ado  adults  hand over candy, normally a controlled substance in children’s lives.

Remarkably moms and dads don’t resent the entailed power inversion.  They support it – helping with children’s costumes and following close enough behind as young ones ring doorbells. Parents say they enjoy seeing their kids range around the neighborhood to collect booty.   On this festival of inversion, when the small powerless become mighty and the big powerful do their…

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Scientists engage in civil disobedience, share copyrighted papers

27 Oct

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

I can’t say that I’m encouraging this activity as that would be encouraging scientists to break the law, but I will call your attention to a piece in The Atlantic describing a new development. Scientists, or anyone, can now request paywalled academic papers on Twi**er, and authors or others who have the paper (you surely have to use Twi**er to see the request) can respond by sending the pdf file to the requestor.  Added bonus: the hashtag is cat-related. An excerpt:

Most academic journals charge expensive subscriptions and, for those without a login, fees of $30 or more per article. Now academics are using the hashtag #icanhazpdf to freely share copyrighted papers.

Scientists are tweeting a link of the paywalled article along with their email address in the hashtag—a riff on the infamous meme of a fluffy cat’s “I Can Has Cheezburger?” line. Someone else who does have access to the article downloads a pdf of the paper…

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Bayira, an ancient Ethiopian skeleton, provides the earliest African genome

15 Oct Featured Image -- 346

Originally posted on Welcome to the AAA Blog:

John_Arthur_ Kathryn_Arthur_Matthew_Curtis in Ethiopia John Arthur, Kathryn Arthur and Matthew Curtis in Ethiopia

In 2012, an archaeological team funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Kathryn and John Arthur (both of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg) and Matthew Curtis (Ventura College and UCLA Extension), excavated Mota Cave in the Gamo Highlands of Southwestern Ethiopia and recovered a 4,500-year-old male human skeleton that has provided the first complete ancient human (Homo sapiens) genome sequenced from the African continent.  Jay Stock (University of Cambridge) conducted the skeletal morphological analysis and Andrea Manica (University of Cambridge) and Ron Pinhasi (University College Dublin) headed a team responsible for the DNA sequencing and analysis.  The results of this research were recently published in Science.

Mota Cave_5 Mota Cave

The archaeologists have given the ancient man of Mota Cave the name Bayira, meaning “first born” in the Gamo language.  Bayira’s skeleton and the archaeological…

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