anthropologic

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The Most Dangerous Island on Earth - North Sentinel Island

Throughout human history a typical theme has been the domination of more technologically advanced societies over “simpler” or “more primitive” ones. In fact in the past 500 years, European societies would come to dominate the world, spreading their culture, often through force of arms or outright genocide.  More often than not, the meeting of Old World peoples with New World natives tended to end very badly for the natives. Many cultures were wiped out, many more assimilated or adapted their cultures with European culture. Today there are few places where people living have not in some way been touched by the modern world. One notable exception is North Sentinel Island, located in the Bay of Bengal.

Officially North Sentinel Island is territory of India, part of the Andaman Islands. In reality the people of North Sentinel Island are their own people, free from any known government or modern organization.  Apparently, the Sentinelese are very much happy to keep it that way. Throughout their entire known history, the Sentinelese have been known to viciously fight against any trespass or incursion on their small island. Going back to ancient times the Indians called the island “Cannibal Island”, and told many tales of the dangerous and ruthless natives who inhabited it. Those tales were passed on to the ancient Greeks after the invasion of northern India by Alexander the Great, and thus the infamous legends of the island were mention by Ptolemy. Marco Polo recieved word of the island during his travels to China, writing about the islanders, “They are a most violent and cruel generation who seem to eat everybody they catch.” 

Since then, every expedition to island has been met with extreme hostility, and as a result the island has been left untouched to this day. Throughout the 16th-18th centuries many an explorer or shipwrecked sailor met their end on the island at the hands of the Sentinelese. In 1867 a British merchant ship shipwrecked on the island, and its surviivg 110 man crew spent several days fighting off the islanders with guns and swords. Many were killed and wounded in the battle before rescue. This prompted an expedition of reprisal by the Royal Navy who landed marines on the island a short time later. Most of the Sentinelese had disappeared into hiding, knowing that they couldn’t fight a battle against such overwhelming force. In the end the British left in frustration with two elderly Sentinelese and four children.

Today the idea of angry natives attacking shipwrecked sailors or explorers might be something you’d only see in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, however Sentinelese resistance to the outside world continued so that even in the 20th century people tended to steer clear of the island. In 1974 a film crew from National Geographic landed on the island in modern boats in an attempt to make contact with the islanders with peace offerings of a box of coconuts, a baby doll, and a live pig. The Sentinelese met the crew fully armed and ready for war. As a result, a the National Geographic director took an arrow to the knee, the pig was mutilated alive, and the crew was forced to bug out under a hail of arrows and spears. 

In 1981 the cargo ship Primrose shipwrecked on the island, and the Sentinelese immediately surrounded the ship, shooting at the crew with bows and several times attempting to board the ship. The crew not only radioed for help, but asked for an urgent airdrop of firearms so they could defend themselves. The drop was delayed by weather but the crew were able to fend off the attacks with a pistol, firefighting axes, and flare guns. They were rescued after a week long siege. The Sentinelese dismantled much of the ship and used the scrap iron for arrow and spearheads. It’s remaining hull can still be seen from google earth.

The only known man to peacefully visit the island was an anthropologist named Trilokinath Prandit in 1991, who several times landed on the island with gifts which he left upon the beach.  When he did meet the natives they shot arrows at him and waved their genitals at him. However at one point he was able to make peaceful contact with some of the natives. However as as he left the island, the natives had a change of heart and began shooting arrows at him once more, he hasn’t been back since.

Today North Sentinelese Island is protected by the Indian Government and it is illegal to land there. The reasons for this are to keep the Sentinelese culture intact, and prevent the spread of disease from the island. Note that in history native peoples often suffered deadly diseases after making contact with newcomers. Another reason for creating a 3 mile exclusionary zone around the island is because in 2006 two drunk fisherman landed on the island and were murdered. Thus the Indian Government set up the contact ban to protect outsiders from the Sentinelese as much as protecting the Sentinelese from the outside world. In 2004 an Indian Coast Guard helicopter flew over the island to see if the Setinelese were OK after the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, and to offer help if needed. The helicopter found that the Sentinelese were not only OK after the tsunami, but didn’t want anything any aid at all as they fired arrows at the helicopter.

 Today we still no nothing about the language, culture, and ethnicity of the Sentinelese Islanders. The only pictures we have of them are from the occasional illegal drone which buzzes over the island, and is typically met with a hail of arrows. It seems that despite seeing things such as ships, helicopters, and robotic drones, the Sentinelese don’t want fuck all to do with the modern world.

Art Historian: To modern audiences, this 5000-year-old stone sculpture may appear grotesque, even disturbing, but we must always bear in mind that ancient cultures had very different aesthetic sensibilities; to its contemporaries, this object was likely regarded as beautiful.

Stone-Carver From 3000 BC: I’m gonna make this thing creepy as hell.

The Significance of the Peach in Greshami Culture

Consider the peach. It’s delicious. It’s covered in fine fuzz. It’s generally yellow and red or pink. Inside it, around a porous pit, is an edible and popular fruit-flesh that can be consumed raw, or cooked into pie and cobbler, and so on.

But to the Greshami, the peach is far more than a fruit. It’s even more than a way of life. To the Greshami, the peach is God.

From the dawn of Greshami culture as recorded in their history (which is written entirely on leather-tanned peach skins), the peach has been revered as the sole source of food for the Greshami people. Limited in trade by their isolation (until recently, see below), the Greshami developed over ages to subsist solely on the peach. Peaches, like potatoes, contain nearly every protein and mineral necessary for human development, with the exception of fatty acids, which the Greshami ingest in minimal portions from the fatty air that surrounds their region.

As the sole food, the peach has long been revered as their god. That they follow the peach harvest with the utmost solemnity is a given, but the more curious nature of the Greshami is how they’ve incorporated this godly fruit into the rest of their culture:

When the Greshami are born, they are taken from their mothers and immediately given a peach from which to suckle. That peach nectar is the always the first flavor to touch their lips, and in their last rites, it is administered again as they die in the same manner. Their mantra, recited each morning and night, and upon the onset of death, translates roughly as “From the Peach we came and to the Peach we go, for the Peach is life, and life is Peachy.”

The linguistics of the Greshami also show reverence for the fruit. “Hello” in Greshami is “ZnZni-Zni” which literally means “Peach be upon you.” This invocation is a blessing of good fortune. Goodbye is “HuHu-Ha” meaning “Parting is the pits,” also a benevolent though melancholy statement.

The peach pit itself is the currency of the Greshami. This has led to extreme class disparity, as those who have the most peaches to eat get the most pits from those peaches and can afford even more peaches. However, charity is also important to the Greshami, and a rich tribesman who ignored the hungry would be ostracized instantly and permanently. To deny a hungry person a peach, among the Greshami, is total anathema because it is to deny them access to God, a religious offense.

Greshami contact with the European world has been fairly problematic. They were first recorded into European history when explorer and ethnographer Richard F. Burton encountered them by chance when one of their peach peeling ceremonies spilled over into his camp. The Greshami run while peeling peaches so that the skin can be scattered and enrich the land. One boy, known only as Znizne (Peach eater) ran into Burton, who he led to the nearest encampment, a village known as Znu-Az-Zni (Peachville). Burton was given the ritual greeting peach, which he consumed on the spot, much to the pleasure of the Greshami. Unfortunately, Burton had no peaches of his own and was unable to reciprocate, leading the Greshami to consider European culture childish, as children were the only ones in their world who did not carry peaches (the concept of an “Adult” or “Child” does not actually exist in Greshami culture, there are simply those who have peaches and those who have yet to carry their own). As such, the Greshami are very kind to visiting Europeans, who they look down upon with a kind condescension. They are quite helpful to anyone they meet, giving them peaches and conferring upon them the blessing to the young or unfortunate, translated, “May you one day eat a peach so delicious that it blows your dick off.” Note that this is a wholly positive blessing to the Greshami.

The Greshami are a dwindling culture. The Orange-folk of the south and the northern Applemongers (both known to the Greshami as “GuZni” or “Non-Peach people” intermittently declare war on this peaceful tribe. According to Margaret Mead, “The Greshami are a pleasant folk, but a doomed folk. When they are attacked, they merely pelt their attackers with rotten peaches. Their birth rate is low, and they never accept outsiders to replenish their stock. I do not expect they shall live to see the 21st century, no, nor even the 1990s.”

The Greshami number only in the hundreds now, but they still thrive. And they have begun to explore the regions outside of their native land (Gresham in Atlanta, GA, near Melvin’s Used Appliance Sale and Repair). Recently they stumbled upon the local Wal-Mart SuperCenter and their access to its produce section has provided the “XiZni Unu” or “great Peach feast” weekly, when it was previously only celebrated each season. The manager of the aforementioned Wal-Mart has welcomed the Greshami and is currently learning their language:

“The Greshami language is beautiful. They don’t say “I Love You” in Greshami, they say “Znizi zi Zni, Xuzni Hu Zniznu” which means “Your company is as delicious to me as a peach,” and I think that’s beautiful.

For those who are in or starting college:

Take “Cultural Anthropology” and “World Religion” courses for electives. It will shatter your little glass bubble and make you think before you comment on other cultures or groups.

Most of the intolerance and poor decisions made by a group toward another group is done out of ignorance. Understanding our neighbors in the world could help prevent so much tragedy and misunderstandings, and make the world a more peaceful place.

Knowing is half the battle; educate yourself with legitimate sources and open your mind.

Language is what eases the pain of living with other people, language is what makes the wounds come open again. I have heard that anthropologists prize those moments when a word or bit of language opens like a keyhole into another person, a whole alien world roars past in some unassigned phrase. You remember Proust so appalled when Albertine lets fall “get her pot broken.” Or you hear a Berliner say “squat town”—and suddenly see sunset, winter, lovers cooking eggs in a grimy kitchen with the windows steaming up, river runs coldly by, little cats go clicking over the snow.
—  Anne Carson, Plainwater: Essays and Poetry
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hello my finals are next week and this is what i have been up to in the past couple of weeks… actually studying… lol…
(studying and getting my heart pulled back into haikyuu hEAVEN HELP ME I LOVE OIKAWA TOORU)
on another note, i got my results back for my second anthropology midterm and ya girl got an A+!! now if only i could get those kinds of grades in physiology and microbio 🤔

beaureqard  asked:

pls disragard these questions if you arent feeling like explaining anthropology that is probably not within your specific field, but i have questions and somehow youre the most accessible source for answers about ancient-ass humans. so: why are humans so much hardier than other animals? like if you break a horse's bone that horse is kaput, but people bounce back from shit like missing limbs. how are we so cool? also, how prevalent (and when) was pursuit predation? also, thanks! have a nice day

OH no worries, this is something I teach every year and it’s REALLY COOL. There’s footnotes and works cited below the jump if you want them, and I can point you at some other work if this is something you’re interested in reading about.

Humans are ridiculously resilient. The reason for this has a lot to do with the tradeoffs we made for endurance rather than speed. Human walking is really energy efficient (it’s really just controlled falling) compared to a horse’s galloping, and we have pretty well-muscled legs. Our plantigrade feet mean that there’s not as much energy when we spring off compared to an animal that runs on their toes, but at the same time, we spend a lot less energy moving around. 

Our muscles and leg anatomy have a lot to do with it, too. Let’s look at a horse’s leg compared to a human’s.

Horses in particular have a hard time with broken legs because they have a LOT of mass resting on on those legs. Horses’ legs are basically built to go fast- their leg bones are actually quite light, and below the ankle there’s… well, basically nothing. Just tendon and skin- there’s no big muscles to stabilize or cushion the bone. This means that there’s less weight to drag around so the horse can escape a predator more quickly, but it comes with a major tradeoff- if a horse breaks their lower leg, it tends to shatter. In the wild, this is going to make the horse extremely easy to pick off. But like I said up there, humans- unlike horses- don’t run on our toes. Our ankle bones are chunky and strong, and our lower legs are cushioned with muscle and fat. 

But our healing ability goes beyond just basic anatomy! Our group dynamics also play into this, too. If a horse breaks a leg, what can the other horses do about it? The injured horse still has its biological needs to fulfill; it has to eat, drink, and evade predators. It has to keep moving- it can’t lie down for a few weeks and let the leg heal. But that’s not true of humans and our closest relatives! I’ll use Neanderthals for this example because I like them a lot, but the same goes for early modern humans, too. 

Let’s say that some Neanderthals are out on the hunt, and Thog gets knocked against a tree trunk by a mammoth and she breaks her leg. Because Thog’s a member of a social species, it’s not the end of the world for her or her group. The rest of her crew can keep hunting and Thog can limp back home, where her grandfather looks after her and her younger sister brings her water. She’s able to rest and keep weight off the broken leg, which means that so long as she keeps whatever wounds there might be relatively clean, sepsis is less likely. Group living means that you don’t have to be self-sufficient; no hominin is an island. Part of why we’re so successful is that our ability to care for each other ensures better group survival. If your reproductive-age individuals are also providers, group care means that you’re less likely to lose them

We know from looking at Neanderthal skeletons that they were injured frequently and were able to shake it off and survive; even elderly individuals with severe arthritis are often found in group contexts, suggesting they weren’t left behind. And we are talking serious injuries here- not just broken legs, but head and neck trauma, too. There’s a famous paper* that says that most Neanderthal injuries came from close contact hunting (due to them being mostly head and neck injuries rather than lower body injuries), but more up-to-date research notes that actually, Neanderthals could- and did- get hurt pretty much everywhere**. 

As to when pursuit predation came into effect, the best guess we have is “probably sometime around two million years ago, practiced by Homo erectus/ergaster.” One way we can tell this is by diet. Mandibles are very quick to adapt to dietary pressures, so by comparing mandibles to things with known diets, we’re able to tell what’s going on. Add that to dental wear and morphology studies and chemical analysis of subfossils’*** teeth and we can get a pretty good picture of who’s eating what. What we see with the H. erectus/ergaster complex of species is that they’re eating a wide variety of very tough foods; their jaws and molars suggest that they were eating root vegetables, tough meat, tubers, bone marrow, honey- really, anything they could find. We also know that they were eating a fairly high calorie diet compared to their predecessors; this was necessary for brain development- and we know that these calories came from meat. As average brain mass increases, so does evidence of meat-eating. Brain development is expensive- you have to put a lot of nutrients into it- nutrients that are really hard to get from plants alone. One way to feed the family is by hunting- though realistically this didn’t happen all that regularly. Rather, it’s more likely that hunting supplemented gathering, as it does with many forager groups today; hunting takes a lot of energy and can be dangerous.

Archaeology also points to the “around two million years ago” date based on stone tool deposits and fossil prey species. One good example of this is Kanjera in Kenya; it’s a site by Lake Victoria that has good evidence for persistence hunting. There’s quite a lot of gazelle and antelope skeletons that aside from stone tool marks, don’t have a lot of damage. It looks like these were brought to the site for butchering- and they would have had to be hunted because hyenas, lions, and other predators and scavengers will actually eat those bones. Gazelles are a lot faster than humans, and the hominins of the time didn’t really do projectiles; rather, it’s more likely they ran the gazelles down until they were exhausted, then dragged them back to this lakeside camp site to process and eat. It’s likely that this strategy helped fuel the migration of Homo into Asia; once you’re able to hunt big game, your movement is less restricted by the availability of small animals, scavenged meat, and seasonal plants; you can follow herd animals and just chase one whenever you need to eat. However, the exact role that hunting and scavenging played in the development of the Homo genus is something that archaeologists and physical anthropologists do not agree on- when you’re trying to figure out what a species eats and how they got their food, you gotta realize that this can vary heavily by what’s available, what predators are in the area, your own group’s composition, and myriad other factors that can affect food acquisition. 

One thing we do know for sure: Persistence hunting works. Our species is super good at it, even today. If you’d like to see some persistence hunting in action, it’s actually still used by San groups in Africa.

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