"The “Anthropology for Beginners” blog by Suman Nath is one of the most user/reader friendly sites relative to such an endeavor." - Global Oxford

"This blog contains lots of study materials on Anthropology and related topics" - University of Kassel

University of Houston includes Anthropology for beginners in their recommended reading list.

This is a humble endeavour to collect study materials on anthropology and then share it with interested others.
How to use:
1. One can see materials by clicking "Blog Archives" which is arranged chronologically.
2. Or can search in the search box provided by using key words.

I have not tried to be exhaustive, but its just elementary materials which will help newcomers to build up their materials better.
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Watch the introductory video to get an overview of the youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY9DOnD0Uxo
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Best, Suman

Monday, 13 December 2021




Worldview  is the set of cultural and psychological beliefs held by members of a particular culture; the term was borrowed from the German Weltanschauung. It is a concept derived in part from the WHORFIAN HYPOTHESIS, which posited that highly habituated forms of language structured thought and thus, as Edward SAPIR (1929a: 210) argued, "The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds not merely the same worlds with different labels." The term fell out of use, or was replaced by "ideology," as anthropologists realized that all members of a society did not in fact share the same cultural values and points of view, and that the creation and contestation of cultural belief systems were never static (Hill & Mannheim 1992).


The concept of world view is closely tied to an ambitious effort made in the early 1950s by a group of scholars at the University of Chicago, guided by Robert Redfield. In Redfield’s book The Folk Culture of Yucatan (1941), he expressed an embryonic concern with the concept of world view. Redfield’s encounter with an Indian culture which was at grips successively with Spanish and modern urban cultures aroused his interest in the evolutionary process and in sociocultural change. He was impressed by the incurable wound inflicted on the Indian past and, throughout his career, thought of primitive culture as a broken thing, persisting here and there and striving to defend itself. This view caused Redfield to stress the positive aspects of the primitive condition and to see any evolution therefrom —in spite of reconstructive attempts—as essentially disruptive and negative. In approaching modern urban culture via the peasant culture which is its rural counterpart, Redfield sought to rediscover the purity of folk culture and, indeed, to reimpose it by a concern with the good life and by an interest in the cause of peace and understanding among nations. In its final metamorphosis, influenced by the theories of orientalists, the concept of world view merged with the concept of “Great” and “Little” traditions, which contains a more balanced evolutionary view of the loss of purity. Redfield’s original concern with levels of understanding among individuals who hold diverse world views developed into the study of interactions between high and low, intellectual and lay, urban and village cultures within a great civilization.

Theoretical development

In a seminal paper, “World View and Social Relations in Guatemala,” Sol Tax (1941) distinguished world view from social relations, although he suggested that perception of the latter enters into the “mental apprehension of reality” that is world view. Tax observed that Guatemalan Indians, who do not acculturate to Ladinos or to each other, continue to have a primitive world view, although they appear to have had a “civilized” type of impersonal, market-oriented system of socioeconomic relations since pre-Columbian times. The first explicit elaboration of the concept occurred in Redfleld’s article “The Primitive World View” (1952). Here he clearly emphasized the individual: self is the axis of world view, which is the way a man in a particular society sees himself in relation to everything around him. Redfield was primarily interested in world views that characterize whole peoples and have been generally developed without the assistance of the specialized philosopher; he distinguished these from a “cosmology,” or the systematic reflections of the specialized thinker. He hypothesized that there are certain universal elements of world views. Every world view distinguishes (a) part of the self from another part, thus establishing, as it were, a dialogue within the self; (b) a human nature from that which is nonhuman; (c) classes and categories of the human, i.e., social persons (e.g., groupings of persons who are intimate and similar, others who are far and different); and (d) an entity called nature and another described in shorthand as God, within the nonhuman. Further, every world view includes (e) an orientation of the self in time and space by means of major natural phenomena; and (f) a similar orientation to life crises in human existence. The first explicit elaboration of the concept occurred in Redfleld’s article “The Primitive World View” (1952). Here he clearly emphasized the individual: self is the axis of world view, which is the way a man in a particular society sees himself in relation to everything around him. Redfield was primarily interested in world views that characterize whole peoples and have been generally developed without the assistance of the specialized philosopher; he distinguished these from a “cosmology,” or the systematic reflections of the specialized thinker. He hypothesized that there are certain universal elements of world views. Every world view distinguishes (a) part of the self from another part, thus establishing, as it were, a dialogue within the self; (b) a human nature from that which is nonhuman; (c) classes and categories of the human, i.e., social persons (e.g., groupings of persons who are intimate and similar, others who are far and different); and (d) an entity called nature and another described in shorthand as God, within the nonhuman. Further, every world view includes (e) an orientation of the self in time and space by means of major natural phenomena; and (f) a similar orientation to life crises in human existence.

In its current connotation, worldview is seen as a combination of the following information which social scientists can gather from the field (E. M. Mendelson 1956):

1.       Cognitive systems at the level of the scientific world view

2.       Natural (biology, chemistry, physics)

3.       Social (psychology, sociology, communications, history, cosmology)

4.       Parasocial (theology, comparative religion)

5.       Attitude systems at the level of any world view (mineral, animal, vegetal, human, para-natural)

6.       Action systems at the level of direct behavioral observation (medicine, agriculture, technologies, ritual, etc.)

Further reading: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/world-view

Further reading for research:

Bunzel, Ruth 1952 Chichicastenango: A Guatemalan Village. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

Durkheim, Emile; and Mauss, Marcel (1903) 1963 Primitive Classification. Translated and edited with an introduction by Rodney Needham. Univ. of Chicago Press. First published as “De quelques formes primitives de classification” in Volume 6 of Annee socio-logique.

Geertz, Clifford 1957 Ethos, World-view and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols. Antioch Review 17:421-437.

Guiteras-Holmes, Calixta 1961 Perils of the Soul: The World View of a Tzotril Indian. New York: Free Press.


Horton, Robin 1960 A Definition of Religion and Its Uses. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 90, no. 2:201-226.

Kluckhohn, Clyde 1951 Values and Value-orientations in the Theory of Action: An Exploration in Definition and Classification. Pages 388-433 in Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils (editors), Toward a General Theory of Action. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Leslie, Charles M. 1960 Now We Are Civilized: A Study of the World View of the Zapotec Indians of Mitla, Oaxaca. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne Univ. Press.

Mendelson, E. M. 1956 World-view. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Chicago.

Mendelson, E. M. 1958 The King, the Traitor, and the Cross: An Interpretation of a Highland Maya Religious Conflict. Diogenes 21:1-10.

Mendelson, E. M. 1959 Maximon: An Iconographical Introduction. Man 59:57-60.

Mendelson, E. M. 1965 Los escandalos de Maximon. Seminario de Integracion Social, Publication No. 19. Guatemala City: Ministerio de Educacion.

Redfield, Robert 1941 The Folk Culture of Yucatan. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Redfield, Robert 1952 The Primitive World View. American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 96:30-36.

Redfield, Robert 1953 The Primitive World and Its Transformations. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1957.

Redfield, Robert 1955 The Little Community: Viewpoints for the Study of a Human Whole. Univ. of Chicago Press. A paperback edition, bound together with Peasant Society and Culture, was published in 1961 by Cambridge University Press.

Redfield, Robert 1956 Peasant Society and Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Civilization. Univ. of Chicago Press. A paperback edition, bound together with The Little Community, was published in 1961 by Cambridge University Press.

Tax, Sol 1941 World View and Social Relations in Guatemala. American Anthropologist New Series 43: 27-42.



Thursday, 9 December 2021

Cultural Dimensions of health - Introduction



Cultural Dimensions of health



Cultural Dimensions of health. 1

Introduction: 1

Background: 1

Culture in population health: 3

Sick role model: 4

Cultural Competence and Responsiveness in health care practices: 4

Cultural Competence: 5




Anthropology studies human health problems and healing systems in their broad social and cultural contexts. A specialised branch of anthropology, i.e, medical anthropology has engage in both basic research into health and healing systems and applied research aimed at the improvement of therapeutic care in clinical settings or community public health programs in prevention and disease control. Drawing from biological and social sciences, as well as clinical sciences, medical anthropologists have contributed significantly to the understanding and improvement of human health and health services worldwide. As a result, the growth of the subdiscipline in recent years as reflected in publications and meetings, training programs, and influence outside of anthropology has been remarkable. Medical anthropology is not characterized by a single theoretical paradigm. For example, ethnographic description and analysis of religion and healing systems are as old as anthropology itself, while new approaches like critical medical anthropology are the product of more recent intellectual trends. This has sometimes led to intense debates within the field such as those between clinically applied medical anthropologists (interested in making cultural knowledge useful to the aims of medical practitioners) and critical medical anthropologists (interested in the phenomenology and political economy of biomedicine). But, even though the scope of intellectual inquiry is very diverse, it is possible to identify five basic approaches: biomedical, ethnomedical, ecological, critical, and applied. These approaches share three fundamental premises:

1.           illness and healing are fundamental to the human experience and are best understood holistically in the contexts of human biology and cultural diversity

2.           disease represents an aspect of the environment that is both influenced by human behavior and requires biocultural adaptations

3.           the cultural aspects of health systems have important pragmatic consequences for the acceptability, effectiveness, and improvement of health care, particularly in multicultural societies


The developed world has transformed from industrialized societies organized around the production of goods by machines into technocracies: societies organized around evolution through the development of sophisticated technologies and the global flow of information through these technologies. Thus, Davis- Floyd has labeled its dominant health care paradigm “the technocratic model of medicine” to highlight biomedicine’s precise reflections of technocratic core values. The technocratic model emphasizes the separation of mind and body and metaphorizes the body as a machine and the patient as an object (“the gall bladder in 212”). The resultant mechanicity and often impersonal nature of biomedical care have been mitigated in recent years by increasing emphasis on humanism within biomedicine. The “humanistic model” stresses the importance of “mind-body connection,” defines the body as an organism, and sees the patient as a relational subject; it views the relationship between patient and practitioner as an essential ingredient of healing. While encompassing the relational values of humanism, most alternative healing methods are ideologically grounded in a third transnational paradigm, the “holistic model of medicine,” which recognizes mind, body, and spirit as a whole, and defines the body as an energy field in constant relation to other energy fields, demanding attention to energy-based healing—a radical departure from the mechanistic approach of biomedicine.

Illness and disease as cultural constructs:

Disease is distinguished from illness, which refers to a person's perceptions and lived experience of being sick or "dis-eased"   a socially disvalued state that includes disease but is not limited to it. In recent years, the disease illness distinction has been criticized because the process of separating biological "facts" from cultural constructions falsely suggests the superiority of the non-cultural biomedical model (Hahn 1995).  From an anthropological perspective, diseases have played a significant role in the evolution of both human biology and cultural systems. Infectious diseases, for example, represent challenges to survival and therefore act as agents of selection for biological or cultural adaptation. Livingstone's (1976) analysis of the history of the sickle-cell genetic trait in West Africa remains a classic example of this phenomenon. Here the introduction of SWIDDEN horticulture resulted in increased P. falciparum malaria, which, in turn, increased the frequency of the sickle-cell gene that gave resistance to that disease, in spite of the huge costs sickle-cell anemia otherwise exacts on the human body. A cultural-ecological approach to understanding disease emphasizes the fact that the environment and its health risks are largely created by culture (Inhorn & Brown 1997). Culture determines the social-epidemiological distribution of disease in two general ways. From a microsociological perspective, culture shapes individual behaviors (diet, exposure to contaminated water, sexual practices, etc.) that predispose people to certain diseases. From a macrosociological perspective, political-economic forces and cultural practices make people interact with their environment in ways that may affect health   either by exacerbating disease problems or protecting people from disease. The building of dams for the intensification of agricultural production, for example, can increase rates of schistosomiasis or malaria. 

In epidemiology there is a distinction between epidemic diseases, which occur at greater than expected amounts, often in outbreaks linked by time or place, and endemic diseases, which occur at a more constant rate in a population. Epidemics are usually characterized by high mortality rates and socioeconomic disruptions, and have been very influential in history (McNeil 1976). Endemic diseases, often characterized by high morbidity, can be so commonplace in a population that they are considered normal rather than an illness. Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, unicellular parasites, and so on often trigger immunological responses in hosts so that individuals build up a repertoire of immunities to endemic (childhood) diseases. Infectious diseases can also be contrasted with chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, etc.); these are sometimes called the "diseases of civilization" because of their increased prevalence in wealthy populations. Chronic diseases have multifactorial causes, partly linked to diet and exercise patterns. Many anthropologists see the rise of chronic disease as a reflection of the discordance between ancient genes and modern lifestyles (Eaton et al. 1988). 

Disease patterns change over historical time. Through a process of mutual adaptation of host and pathogen, an epidemic disease can become an endemic one within a single population. Armelagos and Dewey (1970) have identified three "epidemiological transitions" in human history. The first was a general decrease in health and increase in infectious-disease burden associated with the domestication of plants and animals (Neolithic Transition). The second was a decrease in infectious disease and an increase in chronic disease as a result of improved housing, sanitation, diet, and (to a lesser extent) medical care in Europe and the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. The third epidemiological transition is the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and the emergence of new diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Ebola viruses at the end of the century. These are not isolated phenomena. In 1992, the list of new diseases included 17 forms of bacterium, rickettsia, and chlamydia, 27 forms of virus, and 11 forms of protozoon, helminth, and fungus (Lederberg et al. 1992). In an ecological sense, these new diseases reflect evolutionary processes in which pathogens exploit new ecological niches created by environmental changes.

  Culture in population health:

Scholars like Hruschka (2009) argues that culture is a powerful determinant of health outcomes and disparities. In such accounts, culture can be either a barrier to health or a protective factor, it can stymie health interventions, reinforce and perpetuate behaviors that impinge on well-being and explain otherwise inexplicable population differences in health (Health Canada 1998; Young 1998; Kindig and Stoddart 2003; Eckersley 2006). Yet, among the frequent references to culture as a factor in health disparities, the precise mechanisms by which cultural factors influence health outcomes are rarely   clarified, and relatively few empirical studies in the epidemiological literature actually operationalize and measure putative cultural mechanisms in an attempt to assess their plausibility. This mismatch between culture’s assumed role in health disparities and the relative lack of empirical investigation has lead to recent calls for more careful definition and investigation of the pathways by which culture might impinge on health and well-being (Dressler 2006; Janes 2006; Kelly et al. 2006). As a precursor to this goal, this paper systematically reviews how population health scholars use culture as an account for health disparities. To give a background to the culture concept, I briefly trace its history and provide a working definition of the term. Then, using published articles as a lens, I document the historical increase in how epidemiologists (and more recently population health scholars) have used culture as an explanation, and in more detail how they use the term today. Finally, I identify key weaknesses in how culture is currently used by epidemiologists and population health scholars, and describe promising ways to define and evaluate culture’s influence on variations in health. Key points of the review are that:

1.       Culture is not self-evident and needs careful definition if it is to be used as a scientific explanation.

2.       Culture comprises a number of different mechanisms and pathways that can be hidden if we simply invoke ‘culture’ as an explanation.

3.       Cultural explanations are only hypotheses, and they require careful specification and testing against other proposed explanations.

4.       Because culture is learned, and can differ arbitrarily between groups, cultural explanations require in-depth study of a particular setting in conjunction with population-based quantitative studies.

The 20th century invasion of academic discourse by ‘culture’ equally affected population health and epidemiology (Trostle 2005). There are several important questions that need to be answered in order to understand the concept of culture in population health. How is culture used as an explanation for health outcomes, health disparities, and the differential success of interventions? How are such claims about culture’s influence evaluated? And to this end, how has culture been measured, how have cultural variables been analyzed, and how has an understanding of cultural pathways been used to improve interventions?

Sick role model:

Talcott Parsons (1951:436) described the "four aspects of the institutionalized expectations system relative to the sick role." He argued (in The Social System, 1951) that whilst disease involves bodily dysfunction, being sick—that is, being identified and accepted as ill—is a role governed by social expectations, of which he listed four. First, exemption from normal social role responsibilities: this exemption must be legitimated by some authority, often a medical practitioner. Second, exemption from responsibility for being ill, which means that the sick must be looked after. Third, since sickness is deemed undesirable, the sick are obliged to want to get better; and also, fourthly, to seek technically competent help and co-operate in trying to get better.

The concept draws attention to the social regulation of illness: to the mechanisms that guarantee the compliance of sick persons, help to restore them to health, and ensure that only the genuinely sick are exempt from normal responsibilities. It also provides a means of analysing the motivational factors involved in illness. Indeed, Parsons suggested that because of these motivational components (he was influenced here by Freudian theorizing), illness could be considered a special form of deviance, functional to the social system in directing deviant tendencies away from group formation, solidarity, and successful claims to legitimacy.

Critics have questioned the universality of Parsons's specification of the expectations governing the sick role, the extent to which illness is motivated, the model's relevance to long-term sickness, and his focus on what is functional for society. None the less, the concept of the sick role has been central to sociological thinking about health and illness, and its importance would be hard to overestimate.

Cultural Competence and Responsiveness in health care practices:

The increasing diversity of the nation brings opportunities and challenges for health care providers, health care systems, and policy makers to create and deliver culturally competent services. Cultural competence is defined as the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients.(1) A culturally competent health care system can help improve health outcomes and quality of care, and can contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities. Examples of strategies to move the health care system towards these goals include providing relevant training on cultural competence and cross-cultural issues to health professionals and creating policies that reduce administrative and linguistic barriers to patient care.

Cultural Competence:

Cultural competence in health care means delivering effective, quality care to patients who have diverse beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors. This practice requires systems that can personalize health care according to cultural and linguistic differences. It also requires understanding the potential impact that cultural differences can have on healthcare delivery. For example, race, socioeconomics, health literacy, and other factors can influence: How patients perceive symptoms and health conditions When and how patients seek care Patients’ expectations of care Patients’ preferences regarding procedures or treatments Patients’ willingness to follow doctor recommendations or treatment plans Who patients believe should participate in making healthcare decisions While cultural competence in health care initially referred to meeting the needs of people from distinctive ethnic and racial groups, it now also refers to meeting the needs of people with disabilities, those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and members of the LGBTQ community.

The Need for Cultural Competence in Health Care

Differences between healthcare providers and patients can affect communication. This can, in turn, impact both clinicians’ and patients’ decisions with regard to treatment. For example, a clinician may misinterpret a patient’s silence as a lack of interestin receiving care. As a result, the clinician may not order a diagnostic test, when in fact the patient’s response reflected their notion of respectful behavior.

When healthcare providers fail to recognize the differences between them and their patients, they may inadvertently deliver lower-quality care. Cultivating skills that improve cross-cultural communication can play an important role in delivering equitable care.

Additionally, building teams with healthcare professionals who reflect the diversityof the patient populations served can also improve cross-cultural communication. Diverse teams have a wider cultural knowledge base that they can share with one another. This makes them likely to respond with empathy to the unique cultural needs of patients.

Language accessibility is also key. Language barriers keep patients from accurately describing their symptoms and providers from explaining diagnoses. Language barriers can also create unsafe and inappropriate situations in other ways.

For instance, clinicians may rely on children to serve as interpreters, putting young people in the position of telling a parent they have cancer. As another example, clinicians may rely on abusive spouses to interpret for their battered partners. Both situations pose significant problems.

The need for Cultural Responsiveness in health care:

Cultural responsiveness is a new way of thinking about culture. It means being open to new ideas that may conflict with the ideas, beliefs and values of your own culture, and being able to see these differences as equal. For example, in many cultures spiritual beliefs are an important part of overall wellbeing.

It means being respectful of everyone’s backgrounds, beliefs, values, customs, knowledge, lifestyle and social behaviours. It helps you provide culturally appropriate care and support, so people are empowered to manage their own health.

Cultural responsiveness is important for all social and cultural groups, including:

·         Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

·         people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

·         refugees or displaced migrants

·         people at all life stages, including end of life

·         people with different abilities, including intellectual and cognitive disabilities

·         LGBTIQ people

·         people from priority populations and sub-cultures, such as the deaf and vision-impaired community.

Cultural responsiveness involves continuous learning, self-exploration and reflection. It draws on a number of concepts, including cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, cultural safety and cultural competence

Evidence shows that when there is a lack of cultural responsiveness, health outcomes are much poorer.2 Improving cultural responsiveness can not only remove barriers to accessing healthcare, but may also reduce inequitable health outcomes for marginalised and vulnerable groups.

In Australia, there is a movement towards cultural support planning in health, social and community services.

This includes:

·         language, such as translating and interpreting services

·         food preferences

·         access to health professionals of the same gender

·         religion and spirituality for palliative care and end of life.

Materials used:





Culture as an explanation in population health by DANIEL J. HRUSCHKA, 2009, Annals of Human Biology, MayJune 2009; 36(3): 235247

The Sick Role Concept: Understanding Illness Behavior By Alexander Segall: Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Jun., 1976), pp. 162-169


See also: http://sumananthromaterials.blogspot.com/2017/08/medical-anthropology.html


Monday, 29 November 2021

Human Bio-Cultural Evolution


Bio-Cultural Process of evolution. 1

Bio-cultural evolution as a tool mediated process of evolution: 1

Bio-cultural evolution as a society-culture mediated process of evolution: 3

Bio-Cultural Interface: 5



Bio-Cultural Process of evolution

Humans are perhaps the only species to have an elaborated cultural dimension. As the anthropological definition of culture especially by scholars like E.B. Tylor includes everything from tools and artifacts to the abstract conceptualization of after-life, there are ample evidences which suggest that human evolution is as much as a social and cultural phenomenon as it is biological. Between about 2 million years ago and 500,000 years ago, there were many important changes in hominin biological and cultural evolution. Among the most important was the routine use of patterned or nearly standardized stone tools—widely considered one sign that culture had emerged. Who made these tools? It is assumed, but not known for sure, that patterned stone tools were made by the first members of our own genus, Homo, because it is in our genus that we first see a number of trends that may have started because of habitual stone toolmaking and use: expansion of the brain; modification of the female pelvis to accommodate bigger-brained babies; and reduction in the teeth, face, and jaws. Even though stone tools are found at various sites in East Africa before the time early Homo appeared, most

most anthropologists surmise that members of early Homo species, rather than the australopithecines, made those tools. After all, early Homo had a brain capacity almost one-third larger than that of the australopithecines. But the fact is that none of the earliest stone tools is clearly associated with early Homo, so it is impossible as yet to know who made them.

As the figure (on the left) suggests, we can map the tools usage alongside of the different species of early homo around 2 to 1 Million Years. This clearly reflects the fact that there were existence of cultural aparatus for adaptation to the environmental challenges.

Bio-cultural evolution as a tool mediated process of evolution:

 As we can map between the early homo along with the stone tool assemblages, we can have roughly the following picture.

Therefore, as we can see a combination of the biological, especially the fossil evidences along with the artifact are all we have to imagine what might have been the past human’s lifeways. Although, it is difficult to pin-point how, early humans have adapted to their environment and came out of the challenges, archaeologists and palaeontologists have nevertheless gave us certain clues. Archaeologists have speculated about the lifestyles of early hominins from Olduvai and other sites. Some of these speculations come from analysis of what can be done with the tools, microscopic analysis of wear on the tools, and examination of the marks the tools make on bones; other speculations are based on what is found with the tools.

Archaeologists have experimented with what can be done with Oldowan tools. The flakes appear to be very versatile; they can be used for slitting the hides of animals, dismembering animals, and whittling wood into sharp-pointed sticks (wooden spears or digging sticks). The larger stone tools (choppers and scrapers) can be used to hack off branches or cut and chop tough animal joints.6 Those who have made and tried to use stone tools for various purposes are so impressed by the sharpness and versatility of flakes that they wonder whether most of the core tools were really used as tools. The cores could mainly be what remained after wanted flakes were struck off. Archaeologists surmise that many early tools were also made of wood and bone, but these do not survive in the archaeological record. Present-day populations use sharppointed digging sticks for extracting roots and tubers from the ground; stone flakes are very effective for sharpening wood to a very fine point. None of the early flaked stone tools can plausibly be thought of as weapons. So, if the toolmaking hominins were hunting or defending themselves with weapons, they had to have used wooden spears, clubs, or unmodified stones as missiles. Later, Oldowan tool assemblages also include stones that were flaked and battered into a rounded shape. The unmodified stones and the shaped stones might have been lethal projectiles.

Bio-cultural evolution as a society-culture mediated process of evolution:

There are many prominent approaches to the understanding of the evolution of human behavior:

Sociobiology: an approach that uses principles drawn from the biological sciences to explain human social behavior and social institutions.

Human behavioral ecology (HBE): a perspective that focuses on how ecological and social factors affect behavior through natural selection.

Evolutionary psychology (EP): a perspective focused on understanding the evolution of psychological mechanisms resulting in human behavior.

Dual-inheritance theory (DIT): the perspective that culture is evolutionarily important, that culture evolves in a Darwinian fashion, and that understanding gene–culture co-evolution is the key to understanding human behavior.

Contemporary evolutionary theory has developed new understandings of the complex relationships between organisms and biological patterns not fully encompassed by the four genetic evolutionary mechanisms of mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow. Within the framework of the extended evolutionary synthesis, there is recognition of how extra-genetic inheritances, developmental biases, and niche construction also contribute to evolutionary processes, all of which provide the foundations for recognizing the biocultural patterns that affect human evolution. The approach presented here is known as a constructivist approach, which emphasizes that a core dynamic of human biology and culture is processes of construction: the construction of meanings, social relationships, ecological niches, and developing bodies.

Jablonka and Lamb point out that explanations of human evolution have traditionally focused on only one system of inheritance—the genetic system—which relies on explanations at the level of genes. But human evolution also works in the epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic inheritance systems. One such system is the epigenetic system of inheritance: the biological aspects of bodies that work in combination with the genes and their protein products, such as the machinery of the cells, the chemical interactions between cells, and reactions between types of tissue and organs in the body. The epigenetic system helps the information in the genes actually get expressed, and therefore it impacts genes as well as the whole body by altering an individual’s physical traits. Offspring may inherit those altered traits due to the past experiences of their parents. In humans, epigenetic inheritance is more difficult to observe because of our long life spans, genetic diversity, and the fact that we don’t live in highly controlled environments. Epigenetic inheritance may be taking place, however, in historical variations in access to food, which can result in health effects on offspring.

Another such system is the behavioral system of inheritance: the types of patterned behaviors that parents and adults pass on to young members of their group by way of learning and imitation. Consider birds, for example. They must learn from their parents which foods to eat and which to avoid, since there are no genes telling them what to eat. In humans, we call these learned and patterned behaviors norms, customs, and traditions. Cross-cultural variability of human norms, customs, and traditions demonstrates the behavioral flexibility and plasticity of humans, something that has long shaped the adaptive possibilities of our species. We learn a wide variety of behaviors from authority figures and peers simply by observing and being corrected in everyday life. We also construct elaborate and formalized social institutions to mediate, manage, and control the behaviors of group members. These activities consume much of our energy, thought, worries, and creativity, but none of this activity is located in any specific genetic sequences. As a result, in humans there is also a symbolic system of inheritance: the linguistic system through which humans store and communicate their knowledge and conventional understandings using symbols. This system of inheritance is intimately tied to the behavioral system of inheritance. Symbols are rooted in our linguistic abilities. With some exceptions, all humans are capable of learning a language. This is enabled by a certain genetic make-up that only other humans share. The actual language we do learn from our parents and peers then helps shape the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. Symbols and the meanings people attribute to them are arbitrary and socially constructed and are not coded in the genes. Another foundation of the biocultural perspective is the shift in thinking about evolution that came with the introduction of developmental systems theory (DST): an approach that combines multiple dimensions and interactants toward understanding the development of organisms and systems and their evolutionary impact. DST focuses on the development of biological and behavioral systems over time rather than on genes as the core of evolutionary processes and rejects the idea that there is a gene “for” anything. Evolutionary processes are fundamentally open-ended and complex because they involve the ongoing assembly of new biological structures interacting with non-biological structures. In this sense development comes from the growth and interaction of several distinct systems: genes and cells, muscles and bone, and the brain and nervous system. All develop over the lifetime of the individual. Thus, evolution is not a matter of the environment shaping fundamentally passive organisms or populations, as suggested by natural selection theory, but consists of many other developmental systems simultaneously changing over time.

Human evolution is thus characterized by a complex set of interactions among the various biological systems occurring throughout an individual’s lifetime, all interacting with factors like human demography, social interactions, cultural variations, language, and environmental change. These processes make it more difficult to describe our evolution but do recognize the actual complexity involved in how human biocultural systems work. A critical aspect of our biocultural existence involves changing and constructing the world around us. A niche is the relationship between an organism and its ecology, which affects how that organism makes a living within a particular environment and leads to the construction of niches. The scale of niche construction and niche destruction can occur at the narrow local level or on a global scale and can change the kinds of natural selection pressures placed on the organisms involved. Many different types of organisms engage in niche construction.

Much of what we take as “natural” in a landscape is actually an artifact of human niche construction and its effects. That human influence over ecosystems is the defining dynamic of our world today leads a number of scholars to adopt the term Anthropocene: the geological epoch defined by substantial human influence over ecosystems. Human reorganization of ecosystems creates conditions for a co-evolutionary process in which humans, plants, animals, and microorganisms can mutually shape each other’s evolutionary prospects. Thus, niche construction creates a kind of “ecological system of inheritance.” These approaches go well beyond privileging genetic mechanisms as the main or sole force in evolution. They do fit well with the ways in which some researchers have long seen selection interacting with environments over the course of evolutionary time without reducing those processes to natural selection. See “Classic Contributions: Sewall Wright, Evolution, and Adaptive Landscapes.”

It would be unreasonable to assume that all of the details previously discussed are accepted in equal measure. But in terms of meeting the challenge of constructing a holistic biocultural perspective, which takes culture and biology equally seriously, these positions provide the basis for a productively complicated understanding of human evolution. The constructivist approach acknowledges that biocultural dynamics are open-ended and involve interactions between diverse forces and agents.

Bio-Cultural Interface:

We can imagine (if not reconstruct) certain cultural aspects as shaping much of what we are through foods we eat people we chose to mate. For example, Food taboos are generally part of being human, which involves imposing arbitrary symbolic divisions upon the natural world, and feeling somewhat arbitrarily that certain things are food and certain things are not food, in spite of the fact that both classes of things may be completely edible. The taboos are learned, not instinctual, because they change with the times, while still evoking diverse forms of repulsion or aversion. Not eating other humans is simply the food taboo that is most fundamental and universal. Most food taboos are more provincial: some peoples eat pig meat, others don’t; some peoples eat dog meat, others don’t; some peoples eat insects, or poisonous pufferfish, or Twinkies, or whatever weird things happen to be in their environment and might be nutritious, tasty, or fun to eat. This is not a biological universe, contrasting things that are healthy and filling and digestible against things that aren’t; but a symbolic universe, contrasting things that are considered proper and acceptable to be eaten against things that aren’t.

Symbolic boundaries are fundamental to human thought, but of course they are imaginary. Those boundaries are crucial to group identity, and they may be cast in terms of what is considered appropriate self-adornment, or how to communicate properly – that is to say, the “boundary work” of culture. In this case, however, the symbolic boundary lies not between those who wear saris and those who wear blue jeans, or between those who distinguish between the “S” sound and the “Sh” sound and those who don’t9 – but between those who count as human and those who don’t. The rule is: Animals eat people, people don’t.

Not only are there certain foods that you cannot eat, even though they are edible, but there are also certain people that you cannot marry or have sex with, because of incest taboo even though they may be really attractive and may love you. The people who are covered by the taboo may vary somewhat from place to place. As noted above, your first cousin may be either a preferred partner or a taboo partner. Your first cousin may even be both – your mother’s brother’s offspring and your mother’s sister’s offspring may be considered to be different relations, one a fine mate and the other incestuous. Non-blood relations may be covered by the same taboos as blood relations, such as your in-laws. The Bible’s incest prohibitions specifically cover a man’s stepmother, aunt (i.e., uncle’s wife), and daughter-in-law, even though they aren’t blood relations. There are several biological consequences of this form of incest, first, this opens up an avenue for genetic diversification and prevents inbreeding, second, because one has to find mate outside of his/her close group, one has to wait for a while which helps getting human the time needed for become physically and mentally mature, third, this stops indiscriminate sex and gives avenues for human mothers to rear their children before they pregnant again.

Emergence of the non-sexual bond between opposite-sex siblings, which is special to humans, for it creates a new kind of social relationship: a lifelong intimate interaction between opposite-sex individuals that is not sexual. This will be symbolically extendable in three ways: first, to other family members, and banning sexual relations with them, once there is a concept of the family; second, to other opposite-sex community or clan members, accompanying a broader conception of kinship than just the family, and forming the basis of exogamous marriage rules;23 and third, to other generations, where the offspring of those same taboo opposite-sex siblings will be cross-cousins, and may be symbolically special, but in the directly opposite way, as normative spouses.


Further reading: https://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780199947591/sr/ch9/outline/


Sunday, 28 November 2021

Branches of Biological Anthropology


Branches of Biological Anthropology


Biological Anthropology: 1

Branches of Biological anthropology: 1



Biological Anthropology:

Biological anthropology is the subdiscipline of anthropology that studies human evolution and human variation by using biological materials. It is also known as physical anthropology, which originally referred to the study of human biology within the framework of evolution and with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture. Physical anthropology is the original term, and it reflects the initial interests of anthropologists in describing human physical variation. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists, its journal, as well as many college courses and numerous publications, retain this term. The designation biological anthropology reflects the shift in emphasis to more biologically oriented topics, such as genetics, evolutionary biology, nutrition, physiological adaptation, and growth and development. This shift occurred largely because of advances in the field of genetics since the late 1950s. Although we’ve continued to use the traditional term in the title of this textbook, you’ll find that all the major topics pertain to biological issues.


Branches of Biological anthropology:

Paleoanthropology is the study of human evolution, particularly as revealed in the fossil record, is a major subfield of physical anthropology. Thousands of specimens of human ancestors (mostly fragmentary) are now kept in research collections. Taken together, these fossils span about 7 million years of human prehistory; and although incomplete, they provide us with significantly more knowledge than was available just 15 years ago. It’s the ultimate goal of paleoanthropological research to identify the various early hominid species, establish a chronological sequence of relationships among them, and gain insights into their adaptation and behavior. Only then will we have a clear picture of how and when humankind came into being.

Primatology is the study of nonhuman primates, has become increasingly important since the late 1950s (Fig. 1-9). Behavioral studies, especially those conducted on groups in natural environments, have implications for many scientific disciplines. Because nonhuman primates are our closest living relatives, identifying the underlying factors related to social behavior, communication, infant care, reproductive behavior, and so on, helps us to better understand the natural forces that have shaped so many aspects of modern human behavior. But sadly, an even more important reason to study nonhuman primates is that most species are now threatened or seriously endangered. Indeed, as you will learn, some are very close to extinction. Only through research will scientists be able to recommend policies that can better ensure the survival of many nonhuman primates and thousands of other species as well.

Osteology, the study of the skeleton, is central to physical anthropology. In fact, it’s so important that when many people think of biological anthropology, the first thing that comes to mind is bones (although they often ask about dinosaurs). The emphasis on osteology is partly due to the fact that a thorough knowledge of skeletal structure and function is critical to the interpretation of fossil material. Bone biology and physiology are of major importance to many other aspects of physical anthropology. Many osteologists specialize in studies that emphasize various measurements of skeletal elements. This type of research is essential, for example, to determine stature and growth patterns in archaeological populations. One subdiscipline of osteology, called paleopathology, is the study of disease and trauma in skeletons from archaeological sites. Paleopathology is a prominent subfield that investigates the prevalence of trauma, certain infectious diseases (such as syphilis and tuberculosis), nutritional deficiencies, and many other conditions that can leave evidence in bone (Fig. 1-10). This research tells us a great deal about the lives of individuals and populations from the past. Paleopathology also yields information regarding the history of certain disease processes, and for this reason it’s of interest to scientists in biomedical fields.

Forensic anthropology is directly related to osteology and paleopathology, and many people have become interested in it because of forensic shows on television. Technically, this approach is the application of anthropological (usually osteological and sometimes archaeological) techniques to legal issues. Forensic anthropologists help identify skeletal remains in mass disasters or other situations where a human body has been found. Forensic anthropologists have been involved in numerous cases having important legal, historical, and human consequences. They were instrumental in identifying the skeletons of most of the Russian imperial family, executed in 1918; and many participated in the overwhelming task of trying to identify the remains of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Anatomical studies are another area of interest for physical anthropologists. In living organisms, bones and teeth are intimately linked to the muscles and other tissues that surround and act on them. Consequently, a thorough knowledge of soft tissue anatomy is essential to the understanding of biomechanical relationships involved in movement. Knowledge of such relationships is fundamental to the interpretation of the structure and function of limbs and other structures in extinct animals now represented only by fossilized remains. For these reasons and others, many physical anthropologists specialize in anatomical studies. In fact, several physical anthropologists hold professorships in anatomy departments at universities and medical schools.

Dental Anthropology is the study of the development, eruption, number, size, morphology, modification, wear, and pathology of teeth, among other topics, in order to answer questions like dietary pattern, evolution of cusping and its relationship with diet and culture. Dental anthropology studies the teeth formula, cariogenesis, evolution of cusping and pathological development in order to reflect on the mechanisms of evolution.

Human genetics is the study of inheritance of human traits. It is used in biological anthropology in order to better understand the biological variations among contemporary human populations. Human genetics encompasses a variety of overlapping fields including: classical genetics, cytogenetics, molecular genetics, biochemical genetics, genomics, population genetics, developmental genetics, clinical genetics, and genetic counseling.

Population Genetics is the study of the genetic composition of populations, including distributions and changes in genotype and phenotype frequency in response to the processes of natural selection, genetic drift, mutation and gene flow. Biological anthropologists use the approach of population genetics to interpret microevolutionary patterns of human variation. Population genetics is the area of research that, among other things, examines allele frequencies in populations and attempts to identify the various factors that cause allele frequencies to change in specific groups.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Application of Archaeological Anthropology and Cultural Resources Management

Application of Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of human past through material remains. archaeologists study past humans and societies primarily through their material remains – the buildings, tools, and other artifacts that constitute what is known as the material culture left over from former societies. Archaeology, then, is both a physical activity out in the field, and an intellectual pursuit in the study or laboratory.

Nevertheless, one of the most challenging tasks for the archaeologist today is to know how to interpret material culture in human terms. How were those pots used? Why are some dwellings round and others square? Here the methods of archaeology and ethnography overlap. Archaeologists in recent decades have developed ethnoarchaeology, where like ethnographers they live among contemporary communities, but with the specific purpose of understanding how such societies use material culture – how they make their tools and weapons, why they build their settlements where they do, and so on. Moreover, archaeology has an active role to play in the field of conservation. Heritage studies constitute a developing field, where it is realized that the world’s cultural heritage is a diminishing resource, and one which holds different meanings for different people. The presentation of the findings of archaeology to the public cannot avoid difficult political issues, and the museum curator and the popularizer today have responsibilities which some can be seen to have failed.

Some of the major areas of application of archaeological knowledge are as follows:




Cultural Resource Management:

The economic growth in 1960s in Turley led to the construction of roads and buildings, which threatened and destroyed many archaeological sites and led to a new emphasison managing the cultural heritage (Cultural Resource Management, or CRM), either by preservation, or by recording and excavation prior to destruction.


Cultural resource management (CRM) is the theory and practice of managing, preserving, and interpreting cultural resources within a social and legal context. ‘Cultural resources’ refers to a wide variety of material and nonmaterial expressions of human social groups and cultures in the environment. The category includes archaeological remains, buildings and structures, landscapes and places, towns and neighborhoods, objects, historical documents, folk traditions, and other things associated with and valued by people.


Here the role the role of the archaeologist is to locate and record sites before they are destroyed by new roads, buildings, or dams, or by peatcutting and drainage in wetlands. In the USA a large number of sites are located and recorded in inventories every year under Cultural Resource Management (CRM) laws which were considerably broadened and strengthened in the 1970s. Proper liaison with the developer should allow archaeological survey to take place in advance along the projected line of road or in the path of development. Important sites thus discovered may require excavation, and in some cases can even cause construction plans to be altered. Certain archaeological remainsunearthed during the digging of subways in Rome and Mexico City were incorporated into the station architecture. In Britain, as in the USA, most excavations and surveys

are undertaken in the context of cultural resource management – the influence of the British “National Planning Policy Framework” has meant that expenditure on archaeology by developers has grown to c. £10 million ($15.4 million) annually.


Most of the civilised nations now have numerous legislations regarding the preservation of national heritage and archaeologists are employed to assess apriori on a) whether the place where construction activities will be undertaken has certain archaeological values or not, b) if it has then assessment of the nature of the site, c) if needed the entire site can be preserved, or recorded and then allowed the construction activities. Where as in countries like North America it is important for construction workers to seek permission of the archaeologists, as just been mentioned, in India the Archaeological Survey of India has the authority to declare a place as heritage and acquire it for preservation. Different state archaeology departments also actively engage themselves in declaring certain archaeologically important artefact as heritage.


Cultural Heritage:

In order to understand the CRM and the need for it, we also need a clearer perception of the term cultural heritage. Cultural Heritage (‘‘national heritage’’ or ‘‘heritage’’) refers to the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations.


Heritages are of two kinds, the physical object ranging from tiny beads to pyramids and non-objects like knowledge, custom, oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

Tangible Cultural Heritage:

Also known as Cultural property, the tangible cultural heritage includes the physical, or "tangible" cultural products. These include anything, from tiny artefact to large monuments or artworks. They are either movable or immovable heritage. Immovable heritage includes building so (which themselves may include installed art such as organs, stained glass windows, and frescos), large industrial installations, residential projects or other historic places and monuments. Moveable heritage includes books, documents, moveable artworks, machines, clothing, and other artifacts, that are considered worthy of preservation for the future. These include objects significant to the archaeology, architecture, science or technology of a specified culture. Click here for more details


Aspects and disciplines of the preservation and conservation of tangible culture include:



Archival science

Conservation (cultural heritage)

Art conservation

Archaeological conservation

Architectural conservation

Film preservation

Phonograph record preservation

Digital preservation


Intangible Cultural Heritage:


"Intangible cultural heritage" consists of non-physical aspects of a particular culture, more often maintained by social customs during a specific period in history. The concept includes the ways and means of behavior in a society, and the often formal rules for operating in a particular cultural climate. These include social values and traditions, customs and practices, aesthetic and spiritual beliefs, artistic expression, language and other aspects of human activity. The significance of physical artifacts can be interpreted as an act against the backdrop of socioeconomic, political, ethnic, religious and philosophical values of a particular group of people. Naturally, intangible cultural heritage is more difficult to preserve than physical objects. Click here for more details


Aspects of the preservation and conservation of cultural intangibles include:



oral history

language preservation


Further reading:

1.      Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn (2016) Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. New York: Thames and Hudson

2.      Deborah M.Pearsall (Ed.) (2008) Encyclopedia of Archaeology. California: Elsevier