Current Anthropology 1988

Abeles, Marc. Modern Political Ritual. Current Anthropology. June, 1988 Vol.29(3):391-405.

The purpose of the article is to provide an anthropological perspective on modern political rituals and it does so by using an ethnographic account of the custom of inauguration and commemoration as it took place in France with president Francois Mitterand. What the author is suggesting is that politics and religion are to some degree interrelated and thus are not entirely secular in nature. He begins by discussing a day in the life of the president, February 14, 1986 outlining the purpose of his visit to Nievre and the inauguration of a newly erected railway station, and that a train was established for the personal use of the president. Emphasis is placed on the presence of journalists and how they were used to better his chances in the coming elections by using carefully constructed sentences. Upon his arrival at the station a red carpet is put out and people applaud his arrival, he then cuts a symbolic ribbon and uncovers a plaque to commemorate the event. The president then speaks to the crowd and upon leaving stops to autograph a couple of copies of his recently published book.

Abeles points to the different stages of the presidents visit as a feeling of being a major ritual, one which combines words, acts and objects being manipulated, indicating a symbolic nature between politics, power and society. Within this context the inauguration is really a symbolic act, suggests the author, and this he believes is also followed by certain types of behaviour in which people express emotion and respect. The ritual under these conditions function to keep everything acceptable to all.

The pilgrimage to Solutre is presented as the religious dimension of the ritual. It is the conceptualizing of the annual journey made by the president that is linked with religion. Memories of the war and his escape from Germany and into hiding led to the annual pilgrimage and thus was an intimate ritual, this intimacy is what Abeles believes holds a religious dimension to the ritual.

One key factor of opposition to the article was Abeles= argument against secularization and taking the concept of interrelations between the political and religious, noting that the supernatural defines religion. Abeles, it is suggested, essentially points to the symbolic and ritualistic nature of the president’s performances and fails to see they are not religious. Overall it is felt that the article raises thought provoking questions in relation to ritual in a contemporary society, as the subject is too often neglected in anthropology. Abeles concludes by indicating that when we study the occurrences in our own societies it remains an important aspect to distance ourselves from the events which we have become accustomed to, thus the reason for treating his subject matter as an exotic ritual. He states one problematic area of his paper as being the modern and traditional contrast, for which he is criticized because he returned to the distinction drawn between the other and our own society. Questions raised are noted as fundamental and could be of benefit in aiding a healthy advancement of political anthropology.

CHARLENE HAYNES Okanagan University College (Diana French)

Abeles, Marc Modern Political Ritual: Ethnography of an Inauguration and a Pilgrimage by President Mitterand. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol. 29(3):391-396.

Regardless of the secularization of the political realm, politicians retain many aspects of religious ritual and symbolic behavior in order to reify their own political power. The author examines from an anthropological perspective two ritual actions by the President of the French Republic, Francois Mitterand. The first involves the president inaugurating a rail station, which Abeles argues contains symbols linking the president to his ancestors, personal past, and constituency, reifying his power base in the provinces while paying homage to the cities that (instrumentally) provide him with the financial capital necessary to support his programs in the provinces.

The second ritual behavior is the pilgrimage by the president with a coterie of “faithful” to the rock of Solutre, a site significant to the president because he and other members of the resistance movement during World War 2 were sheltered there and Mitterand himself married the daughter of one of his protectors. Abeles describes the casual dress of the president, as well as the walk itself as symbolic reifying elements that showcase a politician who is still connected with the land and the “common man” and whose physical health symbolically runs a parallel with his strength as a statesman.

Abeles believes that politicians must still legitimize their leadership abilities through “Showmanship”, and that this form of public display is still infused with the same elements of spiritual ritual and metaphor as were displays of divinely sanctioned rulers in the time of the doctrine of Divine Right. They reify the power of the politician by appealing to the masses and showing an individual whose purpose is broadened from the office they hold and takes on a more significant personal meaning for the electorate.

COMMENTS: Everyone was glad that Abeles wrote this piece. Some congratulated him on using the same rigor for modern society that would have been used to describe traditional societies, while others criticized him for discussing ceremony instead of ritual, or religion over metaphor and symbols. All seemed to believe that religion was not a part of these rituals and that while they were an appeal to the supernatural they were not infused with religious overtones.

BRIAN BLAKELY University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Baker, Brenda B. and George J. Armelagos. The Origin and Antiquity of Syphilis: Paleopathological Diagnosis and Interpretation. Current Anthropology Dec., 1988 Vol.29(5):703-737.

This is an analysis of three hypotheses that have claimed to explain the origin and subsequent spread of venereal syphilis throughout the world. The Columbian hypothesis is that syphilis originated in the Americas and was carried to Europe by Columbus’s crew in 1493. The rapid spread of syphilis throughout Europe at that time suggests the introduction of a virulent disease into a population that had not been previously exposed and had no immunity to it. Proponents of the diametrically opposed pre-Columbian hypothesis assert that venereal syphilis was present in Europe prior to Columbus’s voyage but was not distinguished from leprosy. The alleged epidemic resulted from the recognition of syphilis as a separate disease in the 1400’s.

A third hypothesis is that the agent of has evolved with human populations and was present in both the New and Old World at the time of Columbus’s discovery. This hypothesis also maintains that pinta, yaws, endemic (nonvenereal) syphilis, and venereal syphilis are four syndromes of treponematosis, a single disease caused by Treponema palladum, which evolved simultaneously with humans.

COMMENTS: Most responses gave the article praise for being an extremely useful and updated review of the information regarding the origins of syphilis. One respondent would more research done like this on the origin of HIV/AIDS.

REPLY: The reply included a series of gratifying remarks and a few more bits of evidence for all three hypotheses that they had uncovered since this draft of the paper had been written.

STEFAN LIWINCZUK University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Baker J. and George J. Armelagos. The Origin and Antiquity of Syphilis Paleopathological Diagnosis and Interpretation. Current Anthropologist December, 1988 Vol.29(5):703-745.

This article is a continuing assessment of the available data, both documentary and skeletal, to clarify the origins and dispersal of syphilis throughout the world. Baker and Armelagos argue that endemic non venereal treponematosis was originally present in the New World, and following its spread throughout Europe after Columbian contact, the disease transformed into venereal syphilis.

Baker and Armelagos reference three hypotheses to explain the origin and spread of venereal syphilis. The Columbian hypothesis subscribes to the idea that the crew of Columbus’ voyage returned to Europe with non venereal treponematosis which, transformed into venereal syphilis as it spread throughout Europe. Advocates of this hypothesis assert that syphilis in either its endemic or venereal form was not present in Europe at the time of Columbus’ voyage. Second, the pre-Columbian hypothesis asserts that venereal treponematosis did exist in Europe prior to Columbus’ voyage to the New World but, had yet to be differentiated from leprosy. Proponents of this hypothesis assert that insufficient knowledge of transmission vectors and symptomatology lead to incorrect diagnoses of both diseases. Furthermore, it was thought that improved hygienic practices were a significant factor in the transformation of syphilis from nonvenereal treponematosis to venereal syphilis. Third, the Unitarian hypothesis asserts that syphilis evolved in both New and Old World populations independently. This hypothesis asserts the etiological and epidemiological evolution of syphilis is through the Paleolithic, Neolithic and urbanization periods. For example, in the New World non venereal syphilis, Treponema is known as yaws, endemic syphilis or treponematosis or pinta.

Baker and Armelagos analyze documented data from both Old and New World skeletal remains, and discuss problems associated with the establishment of concrete criteria used to differentiate syphilis from leprosy. Current criteria for the differentiation of syphilis concentrate on the study of malformations present on the articular ends of bones, cranial osteophytes, and inflammatory lesions on the cranium, clavicle, and sternum. Similarly, all of these characteristics can be attributed to leprosy. European skeletal remains support the pre-Columbian hypothesis however; the limited numbers of skeletal remains still make this hypothesis circumstantial. American skeletal remains support the Columbian hypothesis.

Analytic interpretation of Biblical and Medieval texts, as well as documentation from Greek and Roman physicians and historians, provides evidence for both the pre-Columbian and Unitarian hypothesis. While documentation from the 16th century European epidemic of syphilis as a differentiated disease, as well as 15th and 16th Treatises on the management of victims of leprosy, supports both pre-Columbian and Columbian hypothesis.


The majority of the commentators acknowledge the Columbian hypothesis as being the best conclusion for the evidence put forth by Baker and Armelagos. Some commentators are critical of the lack of more recent immunological, osteological and documentary evidence from Marianas, Borneo, Australia, South Africa, South East Asia, Siberia, Czechoslovakia, Ontario and Pacific Northwest coast in Canada. Other commentators suggest the need for further study in areas such as transmission vectors and disease differentiation in childhood versus adulthood. Further suggestions include the need to address environmental issues such as humid versus cool arid regions, and the apparent random distribution of the disease versus the impact of urbanization on the disease.


Baker and Armelagos acknowledge the commentators’ general acceptance of the Columbian hypothesis, as well as comment on their interpretations of the data. The authors defended their interpretation of the data by briefly discussing why or why not they choose to use the data as part of their analysis. In sum, the authors addressed the commentator’s critical interpretation of the paper and concur with the need for more research.

JOYCE GIFFORD Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Bliss, Frank. The Cultural Dimension in West German Development Policy and the Contribution of Ethnology. Current Anthropology February, 1988 Vol.29(1):101-121.

Bliss expressed that West Germany’s development policy lacked any real effort to include ethnology as a tool. He stressed the importance of ethnological research to aid in successful development of target groups around the world. Bliss is a lecturer at the Institute for Ethnology at the University of Hamburg, Germany and his focuses of study are ethnology, culture change, and development.

Beginning with the history of traditional Western Germany Development Policy, Bliss pointed out the many short-comings of policy, such as lack of interaction by the development team with the target group to assess their basic needs. Attempts had been made to include ethnology beginning in the 1980’s, but had never fully been implemented. He followed with an explanation of the benefits of anthropological research in development stressing the importance, for example, of follow-up research to assess developmental project success. In this section, Bliss mentioned the research of Uwe Simpson, another individual encouraging the use of ethnology in developmental policy. Bliss concluded by restating the important contributions that ethnology could provide to Western Germany’s Development Policy, noting the possible difficulties in training ethnologists for each situation.

COMMENTS: Critical comments varied: Some felt that the subject of the article was not an original topic, and had been written about far too often in the past by British and American anthropologists. Several others wanted further probing and detail by Bliss rather than a simple statement of the problem.

REPLY: Bliss felt that development and ethnology could not be focused on enough. He felt that West Germany had a more difficult time including ethnology in their development policy, so could not be directly compared to those of Britain and the United States. Bliss further admitted the shortcomings noted in the comments and hoped to include those ideas in the future.

EMMA BISSONETT University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Bliss, Frank. The Cultural Dimension in West German Development Policy and the Contribution of Ethnology. Current Anthropology February, 1988 Vol. 29(1):101-122.

The West German government has been experiencing a lack of success in its development projects in Third World countries. It has been decided that the lack of consideration of “sociocultural” factors in its development policies may be at the crux of this problem. They are currently developing a set of “dominant” variables that may be applied to all cultural settings in order to streamline the process before projects may begin. Bliss, who has worked as a consultant to the Evaluation Department of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation, states that this policy has no chance of success as each situation encompasses a completely different set of variables.

Bliss declares that there are several major problems with this “dominant variable” approach:

… projects are set up where the state sees fit and are often lacking where people need help; the formulation of goals in relation to an analysis of needs is the result of standardized planning procedures and not of comprehensive on-site enquiries and discussion with the people concerned; important partners in the discussion remain unknown, interest groups are not taken into consideration, and knowledge of traditional (and general ecologically appropriate) use of resources is withheld from the project organizers; and… impossible to fulfill the basic demand of providing help towards self-help … (102).

Uwe Simson, who is a staff member of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation has been assigned the task of developing the “dominant” variables. He is trying to standardize methods of study of preliminary socio-cultural variables in order for them to be applicable to a broad range of projects. The three main factors Simson has identified are: 1) political leadership; 2) development of “forces of production”, and 3) ethnic diversity (104). Bliss argues that it is impossible to draw generalizations across cultures and only individual research of each culture before implementing development programs would be helpful in ensuring successful outcomes. The author instead recommends preliminary fieldwork and multidisciplinary work teams to improve the success of their development projects. He considers the cultural sciences, especially ethnology to be invaluable in these endeavours.


One commentator suggests to Bliss that he avail himself of the ample material of development studies done in the past because the concerns he voices in his article have already been addressed. Another accuses him of “shoddy journalism” (114) and suggests that discussion in greater detail of some of the core issues raised would be advisable. Another suggests that Bliss become acquainted with the extensive “development anthropology” done in the United States and Great Britain before forming a German counterpart. Concern is expressed that anthropologists not be too closely related to official policy when working in the implementation of development policy. Discussion of the possibility that anthropologists may find themselves revisiting the role of “trouble-shooter” for the development project much as they did for colonial administrations in the past was raised.


Bliss acknowledges the commentators and states that only open discussion of this problem can produce a useful result. He quotes Secretary of State Volkmar Kohler “… the distinction between ‘project success’ and ‘development success’ … has not yet been made sufficiently clear” (118). The role of cultural scientist/anthropologist in a project team requires a great deal of discussion. Bliss asserts that because of literature available in other countries on this subject, it is clear that West Germany must move quickly in order to “catch up” (119). He clearly rejects the idea of ethnologists forcing target groups into any position whatsoever and concludes by agreeing with one of the commentators that Simson’s three “dominant variables” need to be greatly expanded upon.

KARIN MEUSER Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Browner, C.H., Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano, and Arthur J. Rubel. A Methodology for Cross-cultural Ethnomedical Research. American Anthropologist Dec. 1988 Vol 29(5): 681-700.

The purposes of the article by Browner et al. is to examine the physiological dimensions of folk illness and to rationalize the use of herbal medicines. They define folk illness as an illness that causes signs or symptoms that do not conform to Western bioscientific diagnostics.

The cultures they refer to throughout their piece are all Latin American, however they have also studied American Jews and the Taiwanese. The illness they try to understand through Western medicinal practice is known as susto. The objective of studying this disease was to find symptoms that occur when people say they are suffering from susto. Latin Americans complained about ones “vital essence” or their soul disappearing. In an experiment using a control group and a group who claimed to have susto, it was proven that the sick group was more ill and was more likely to die. Individuals in this group also had lower hemoglobin levels and higher levels of parasite infestation. Browner et al. were unable to prove why the ill group was more likely to die before the control group; nevertheless, they were proven to die sooner.

Browner et al. state that their methodology works because their experiments could be easily repeated to test further hypotheses. They assert that their study is useful because it allows emic understandings to be “unprejudically compared with those of bioscience.”

COMMENTS: The majority of the commentators agreed that this study opened the door for further studies. They also agreed that Browner et al.’s method should be applicable to many different fields of study outside anthropology. Negative critiques found that there was a lack of a control group in one study in addition to the lack of “essentially organic” illnesses. Several reviewers also stated anthropology needs to study bioscience before we can come to a full understanding of folk beliefs and wellness.

REPLY: The reply by Browner et al. is direct and blunt, particularly when they disagree. “We are uncomfortable with Cerroni-Long’s recommendation that our approach be limited to problems recognized but not fully understood by bioscience.” “We do not understand why?.” “We are puzzled?.” “We are dismayed that some commentators have completely misread our basic argument.” Perhaps they misunderstood Browner et al.’s argument, but most of their concerns were focused on the detail of the article more than proving this study wrong.

BETTINA KEPPERS University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Browner, C.H., O. de Montellano, R. Bernard, and Rubel, J. Arthur. A Methodology for Cross-culture Ethnomedical Research. Current Anthropology December, 1988 Vol. 29(5):681-701.

Browner et al. begin this article by discussing the framework for medical anthropology in the early 1970’s. According to the authors, the guideline for medical anthropology would be based on a new understanding of the nature of health and illness. This understanding would emerge from the ongoing worldwide research of disease, disability, and human suffering; and that the medical establishment would provide jobs for trained medical anthropologists. The idea that medical anthropology would contribute to theory and practice caused great excitement. Browner et al. examine some differing views on the fundamentals of medical anthropology, thus proving its diversity. They also state the reluctance of exploring the connection between biology and culture.

The authors state that the methodological approach they use should show cross cultural comparisons that can be ethnographically valid. The critical issue for them is how to ask the same question in different settings and how to establish criteria which equivalence can be assessed. They began with a cross cultural comparative study of the normal and abnormal human physiological processes. They put caution to their approach because it does not apply to all areas of medical anthropology. They stated that throughout the past 15 years their method has become immense and thus encompasses many aspects of medical systems. The authors use bioscience to accumulate knowledge through a set of standardized, precise, and replicable methods and procedures. Their results show understanding to the structure of human organs and biological systems, normal and abnormal functioning, and the mechanisms of specific diseases. The authors explain how their approach differs from earlier attempts of cross cultural analysis in non-western medical systems. They also explain that within bioscience there has been little evidence to show any understanding to the biomedical phenomenon cross culturally. They purpose of the universalistic units of measurements used was to compare perceptions and responses to normal and abnormal human physiological processes in diverse ethnomedical systems. The reporting of these items processed through subjective filters, assessing the validity of the interpretations. The authors offer three analytical procedures: (1) identifying the phenomena in emic terms, (2) determining the extent to which the phenomena describes can be understood in terms of bioscientific concepts and methods, and (3) identifying areas of convergence and divergence between the phenomena described and bioscientific understanding.

Browner et al. present two case studies that project their analytical approach. The first case study “The Study of Folk Illness” examines the psychological, biological and socio-cultural dimensions of the Latin American folk illness syndrome susto. The objective was to discover the disorders that occur when a person suffers from susto, which resembles a benign psychiatric syndrome or hypoglycemia. They methodically investigated their procedures which resulted in the findings that susto is not a discrete illness within the bioscientific taxonomy of disease and that psychosocial stressors can contribute to ill health and early death in pre-industrial as well as in industrial societies. The second case study “An Assessment of Herbal Medicines” concerns the foundations for selecting Mexican herbal remedies. Again Browner et al. provided a full experimentation and analysis of their procedures. The evidence here stated that two distinct ethnomedical systems can reach similar therapeutic understanding through different analytic routes. The authors conclude this article by reiterating the point that comparing ethnomedical data produced in different cultural contexts is not only useful for cross cultural comparison reasons but it also enables us to understand the relatively invariant properties of diseases and physiological processes while clarifying the role that culture plays in their production and presentation.


The majority of the comments pertaining to this article state that Browner et al. were correct in articulating the potential of medical anthropology still remains unfulfilled and they are to be commended for their efforts. The positive comments also state that the article was well organized, important, and remained interesting. One of the negative comments by Benjamin states that the reason for lack of knowledge in medical anthropology is because of inadequate training. Students are taught about anthropological social theory and are some what left in the dark with regards to immunology and other areas of medical anthropology.


Browner et al. reply by thanking the commentators for the constructive criticisms. They also thank those who had suggestions for testing their methodology on other folk illnesses. The authors of this article agree with Kleinman that advances in medical anthropology will best come about with the use of multiple explanatory frameworks. The authors of this article clear up some confusion with regards to the chosen case studies. The case studies were chosen for teaching purposes only and the ethnomedical systems are fundamental cultural systems devised to make sense out of psychological and physiological phenomena.

ELIZABETH M. KERSHAW Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

David, Nicholas, Judy Sterner and Kodzo Gavua. Why Pots are Decorated. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol. 29(3):365-389.

In this interesting article the three authors argue that pots “are” persons because the decoration on pots is closely related human body concepts. They argue their case based on data that they gathered in northern Cameroon from two closely related groups, the Mafa and the Bulahay.

The begins by introducing the Mafa and Bulahay societies focusing on pottery production and decoration. Two different types of pot classes exist in the two societies; the large buff and the small black burnished pot classes. The uses of pottery varies from those that are produced for the market, or made to be sacred pots that will never be bought or exchanged.

Both persons and pots are adorned in exactly the same ways in Mafa and Bulahay society. Pots are decorated differently in accordance with their social significance and to represent people. All pots are like animals in that they have mouths, necks, bodies, bellies, navels and lower parts. The Mafa and Bulahay say that their pots represent God and living and dead members of the family. Sacrifices are made to the pots because they are believed to contain the spirits of those that have past away. The authors give special attention to the Mafa pot that represents twins. These pots, during sacrifices to the twin spirits are, as are the parents of the twins dressed with necklaces.

The color and motifs used to decorate pots are significant to the Mafa and Bulahay. Black is a beautiful color and is an invitation to the ancestors to partake in sacrifices and meals. The red color on the pots is intended to protect a weaker person against danger. Because twins possess power, a spiral motif made with bermuda grass is used on the pots as a protection for other people. Moustaches on male pots are made of pellets of millet grass by appliqué (a technique where pieces of clay are added after the pat shape has formed). This offers protection against the darker side of a potent spirit of nature. Finally, decoration on pots reminds the Mafa and Bulahay of symbolic themes and structures that are the premises on which the culture is built.

COMMENTS: Many of the commentators have positive comments, but each of them felt the paper could be improved. One commentator said that it was hard to pin down the implications of the article. Another commentator asks how we should interpret a cultural action if the members of the culture don’t find the action important? Yet another commentator said the paper is not set up in an adequate theoretical context, and that pots could not really help us identify an unknown ethnic group. Two commentators explain their own research on the Mafa spatial contexts of religious pottery and say that their research may be useful to complement this study of decoration.

REPLY: The authors first thank the two anthropologists who explained their own research in Mafa region for their data. They went on to say that whether or not natives know the categories or meanings they have attributed to the pots, native rejection does not disprove their analysis or vice versa. Essential to their fieldwork was the development of an interpretation of the Mafa symbolic code. Finally, they acknowledge that their attempt to link pot decoration with the general social structure needs work.

LAURIE SCHMITZ University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

David, Nicholas, Judy Sterner, and Kodzo Gavua. Why Pots are Decorated. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol. 29(3):365-389.

In this article, David et al. assert that most studies on pottery centre on deep symbolism and meaning, but overlook the basic question of why pots are decorated in the first place. As a result, they set out to answer this question by proving the connection between pots and people in the Cameroon societies of Mafa and Bulahay. In order to show this connection, a general overview of these groups is given, including kinship and marriage patterns. Then the authors provide information regarding pottery production. The Ngwazla, a particular caste of women, are responsible not only for pottery but also for midwifery and various other tasks that are considered to be both sacred and unclean. When discussing the connections between pottery and people, David et al. argue that both have been irreversibly transformed (by either fire or culture) from natural to cultural bodies. Other artifacts, in contrast, are made by merely modifying raw materials.

Diagrams of various pottery styles are included in the article, and this enhances the discussion. Decoration of pottery is discussed in detail, including washes, blackening oiling, engraving, stamping, and features. A discussion of body adornment follows, and similarities between the decoration of pottery and the decoration of people is emphasized in order to argue that pots are representative of people in Mafa and Bulahay societies. The main evidence for this argument comes from the link that David et al. assert between the addition of small bumps to pots and the ritual scarring of the skin to produce similar bumps. However, the use of red ochre on women for protection rituals is also linked to the red washing of pottery, as is the black oil used on both entities. It is interesting to note that the indigenous people questioned regarding these similarities recognize them as coincidences.

Yet another argument connecting pottery to the human form is the use of Mafa and Bulahay (as well as several other cultures the world over) people to use descriptive words for animal parts on pottery as well. For example, pots have a mouth, belly, arms, and neck. Also, male pots may have a stylized beard or penis and female pots sometimes have a vulva and breasts. The use of ceremonial plants for rope stamping of pots is also described in detail and therefore similar links are thought to exist here as well. Therefore, according to David et al. pots and the human body are both important media for expression.


It seems that Barley does not share the views of David et al., as he states that the paper uses “loose language”. Also, he points out that designs shared by people and pottery does not necessarily have any meaning or symbolism beneath them. Bedaux agrees with Barley, arguing that decoration on pottery does not always have symbolic implications. This view is also shared by Davis, who notes that “Although all symbols have style, not all style is symbolic” (380). Not all of the commentators share this view though, because DeBoer praises their preliminary yet convincing article. However, he does add that David et al. are not adequately situated in the “archaeological landscape”. In addition, Joyce points out that the people being studied do not find the connections between the two subjects relevant.


David et al. see the criticism by DeBoer as “chiding”. They also address Barley’s accusation of using looses terms and accept this criticism humbly. In response to Joyce, David et al. say that being unaware does not mean connections do not exist. Overall, they openly recognize that their research is still preliminary and therefore accept most criticism as constructive for future research.

PATRICIA GOOCH Okanagan University College (Diana E. French).

Dennett, Glenn and John Connell. Acculturation and Heath in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol.29(2 ):273-93.

Dennett and Connell’s article is framed around the fallacy of that traditional notion that the unacculturated societies health was more stable when they where able to live in harmony with their environment, “in a state of homeostasis”. Subsequently, upon acculturation, their homeostasis with their environment was upset, resulting in a disruption of their health and nutritional status. They dismiss this tradition claim, by re-examining the data from the Central Highlands in New Guinea at the time of first contact. The data revealed that morality rates were high and life expectancies short considering there were a wide range of direct population control practices in place.

Both of the authors stress the importance of duration and content of the acculturation process with regard to the changes in health and nutrition in the Central Highlands. Both feel there is no synchronic model that examines at all the variables involved in highlighting all of the changes that are seen in the health and nutritional status of acculturated societies, errors can be made and conclusions can be misleading.

The article is divided into both contributors and barriers to the acculturation process. Each section on its own reveals that both acculturation and the changes it brings to nutritional and health, are both extensive and varied and cannot be easily interpreted. This sentiment is expressed by the following quote, “The initial experience of acculturation was almost wholly beneficial to nutrition and other aspects of warfare, though it was also associated in the 1940s with epidemics of influenza and dysentery, to which the peoples of the Central Highlands were highly susceptible” (279).


Many of the commentators were in agreement with Dennett and Connell. The general consensus was that the traditional notion that unacculturated people’s health were not stable when they where able to live in harmony with their environment. However, some still found errors or oversights. For example, one fault seemed to be centred around the fact that the use of acculturation is too vague and required further explanation to ensure that the reader had a complete understanding of it’s complexities. Another flaw that some of the commentators pointed out were that the data used by Dennett and Connell only gave a “snap-shot” of a situation. This resulted in data from past studies on nutrition and health which did not take into account any of the long-term variables that are influenced by change in society or change in anthropological theory.


This section began with the authors’ recognition of all the commentators’ criticisms and state that they will use many of them in future research. It is set up in a manner that answers each of the criticisms. Each is handled in a manner that expresses gratitude for their peers’ opinions, and follows through with a detailed explanation as to why they still hold true to their original theory. However, it is made clear that in certain areas, such as the concept of homeostasis, further refinement is required in both theory and fieldwork situations.

EVA-MARIE C. KOVACS Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Dennett, Glen and Connell, John. Acculturation and Health in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea: Dissent on Diversity, Diets, and Development. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol. 29(2): 273-299.

This article examined the effect of acculturation on the health of the people in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Dennett and Connell challenged the common idea that acculturation brings a better life for a culture, by stating that although their health was far from ideal before contact, afterward their health actually worsened.

Before contact with outsiders, the people of the highlands were not immune to sickness, pain, disease, malnutrition, and high death rates for both infants and adults. They faced challenges in farming and hunting which led to malnutrition. They grew a low variety of crops, the main one being sweet potatoes. Despite their knowledge of the land and its resources, food shortages and famines were a common occurrence, and social taboos and religious rituals often led to improper nutrition. Poor hygiene was also a factor leading to health related problems in all aged highlanders. Warfare was an ever-present danger that led to a number of health problems and took its toll on life. All of these factors contributed to low fertility rates and high mortality rates among all ages.

After contact, the people of Papua New Guinea were introduced to a variety of cash crops, medicine, and new tools. Their health did not improve at first though because of new diseases and the problem of having to adjust to new cultural practices. Studies show that shortly after outside contact, the native peoples living conditions actually worsened before they improved.

This article was very hard to follow. Dennett and Connell had great points and examples, but at times, it was difficult to determine where exactly they stood on this issue.

COMMENTS: A number of professionals responded to this article with both positive and negative comments. William Clarke, from the University of the South Pacific, agreed with Dennett and Connell’s ideas of acculturation. He compared the Papua New Guinea situation to similar trends among Pacific Islanders and asked whether people’s diets today are more damaging to their health. He also stated that diseases people face, like cancer and heart disease, were rare years ago simply because people did not live long enough. Leslie Sue Lieberman, of the University of Florida, stated that the article made her rethink her ideas of acculturation. She discussed the hunger problem in America and the idea of food stamps.

CORTNEY HAHN University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Greenfield, Haskel J. The Origins of Milk and Wool Production in the Old World: A Zooarchaeological Perspective from the Central Balkans. Current Anthropology. August-October 1988 Vol29(4):573-593.

The origin of exploiting domestic animals for secondary products, milk, wool, and traction, is uncertain. Artifacts and epigraphic evidence indicates that secondary product use began around the late 4th to the early 3rd millennium B.C. in the Near East (Mesopotamian Uruk-Early Dynastic and Egyptian Old Kingdom period) and in Central Europe (Post-Neolithic and Bronze age). Greenfield hypothesizes that the use of secondary products from domesticated animals first became a major feature of European subsistence strategies in the Post-Neolithic.

Greenfield uses the zooarchaeological data from the Late Neolithic and Post-Neolithic of the Central Balkans to test his hypothesis. Zooarchaeological data includes the harvest and age profiles of animals such as cattle and sheep. Greenfield uses this evidence to form a relationship between secondary product uses and early domestication. Additional faunal samples from the Central Balkans are analyzed and indicate the use of domesticated animals. There is a significant change in the harvest profiles that indicate secondary usage, specifically the number of older animals increases. There is also evidence of changes in settlement distribution, social organization, and other aspects that can be associated with the exploitation of animals. Whether or not this change is indigenous or not is still under discussion.

COMMENTS: Some of the comments applaud Greenfield for getting so much information from such a small data set, while others feel that the lack of data is a serious fault of the article. One commenter felt that Greenfield controlled his faunal sample to be more supportive of his hypothesis.

REPLY: No reply from the author was given in this article.

KATHERINE ARNDT University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Greenfield, Haskel J. The Origins of Milk and Wool Production in the Old World. Current Anthropology August-October, 1988 Vol.29(4):573-594.

H. J. Greenfield presents zooarchaeological evidence in support of Sherratt’s hypothesis of animal domestication and exploitation (milk and wool) in the Post-Neolithic period. The chosen geographical locations for this testing were the upland and lowland areas of the Central Balkans. The bone samples used for analysis included faunal assemblages, which were supplemented by published archeological data for the selected area. The animals associated with domestication and exploitation in this study include sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs, which were used as a control group.

Faunal assemblages were recovered by hand from settlement areas. The areas of focus were middens and pits. The recovered bones consisted mainly of fragments and were not restricted to sieved fragments. By not limiting the samples to only sifted remains, Greenfield was able to maintain his sample sizes. To quantify his data Greenfield utilized the Number of Identified Species (NISP) measure. The NISP was selected in order to maintain consistencies between collected samples and literary samples. This measure was also suitable for counts of fragmented remains.

Each of the selected middens and pits were analyzed to determine the estimated level of attrition. Selecting only those areas with the lowest levels of deterioration. After being collected the zooarchaeological fragments were categorized based on development: very immature, sub-adult and adult. To maintain adequate sample sizes, there were no distinctions made between male and female remains. Also, bones that were considered immature were divided equally between the very immature and sub-adult groups rather than eliminating them from the samples.

An analysis of these samples was plotted onto three-pole graphs using Payne’s model as a baseline to provide a consistent interpretation of all samples. The three plots used, rated estimated levels of milk, wool and meat production by time period. The results indicated a shift from a higher rate of very immature remains in the Late Neolithic period to an increase in adult remains in the Post-Neolithic period. These results suggest, that there was an increase in secondary product (milk and wool) used in the Post-Neolithic period. To support these results Greenfield compared the amounts of bone fragments of pigs during this same time period. The comparisons indicated that on a three-pole graph pigs remained consistent and were related to meat production rather than secondary production.

Upon completion of the analyses, Greenfield concluded that over time the importance of cattle, sheep and goats varied while pigs remained stable during these time periods. The changes in the culling strategies suggest a shift from primary to secondary exploitation during domestication. Greenfield indicates that these results are not a complete test relating to diffusion or indigenous-origins models. However, the results indicate that major adaptive changes occurred during the Post-Neolithic period setting the stage for future patterns of European food production.


Greenfield has been commended for his well-developed research design and attempting to integrate scattered evidence into a cultural context. However, his work was also criticized for not having an unbiased hypothesis. The selected samples are small and can not be analyzed statistically and the tested geographical areas were too few.

CHRISTINA BAZELL Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Guyer, Jane I. The Multiplication of Labor: Historical Methods in the Study of Gender and Agricultural Change in Modern Africa. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol.29(2):247-272

Guyer examines gender roles and the division of labor for the Beti of southern Cameroon in Africa. She finds that women live under patriarchal control and the nature and practice of their work has changed relatively little from the precolonial period. They still farm with the same tools, crops and field types as they did previously, whereas men have shifted from forest clearing and cultivating to harvesting cocoa. Women are responsible for the daily diet, yet almost all technological advancements have been made for cocoa production, not food.

In the early 19th century, farming was done in a cycle, predominantly by men. The virgin forests were cleared, cultivated by men in the first season, by women in the second, and then allowed to grow back to a forest state. Cocoa was introduced late in the 19th century and soon prevented forests from regrowing because once it grew to a certain height, intercrops were not allowed to grow. Men were now responsible for the cocoa fields and women were responsible for food. Women responded to this new division of labor by expanding fields to cover both growing seasons.

Guyer points out that there are three different methodological approaches to studying the division of labor. One is cross-cultural which is evolutionary in time scale. Another focuses on an analysis of tasks, and the third emphasizes control of resources and differential value of labor. She believes that the important link to explore is the one between society and the concept of wealth, process of accumulation, and the political use of commodities, not the link between division of labor and material conditions.

Guyer uses rhythmic structures to explore Beti labor and assumes that certain tasks for each gender have priority, which may be a deterrent for subsequent actions. Other tasks assigned to a gender will fall into the same rhythm or the same time cycle, of the key tasks, either by technological innovation or by social processes.

COMMENTS: Criticisms focused on how Guyer wrote about the lives and languages of other cultures in terms of the life and language of our own society and called the article ahistoric. She is criticized for ignoring questions raised about the historical value of topics, such as crop history, since they cannot be answered through conventional documentation.

REPLY: Guyer replies on the issue of language by saying that one has to be careful not to separate “their” method or “our” method or “their” culturally specific view of the world from “ours.” Guyer defends historical time in the article. According to her, historical time has three meanings for the Beti; it refers to a particular era of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it acknowledges people’s own sense of the passage of time, and it implies that all ethnographic sources of the present must be integrated with a historical perspective.

JANELLE STAUFF University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Guyer, Jane I. The Multiplication of Labor: Historical Methods in the Study of Gender and Agricultural Change in Modern Africa. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol. 29 (2):247-272.

Guyer attempts to explain the historical method in the study of gender and agricultural change in modern Africa. Field research was carried out in Cameroon between 1975-1976, and in 1979. The article specifically addresses the division of labor, and focuses on the description of methodology.

The first portion of the paper deals with the ethnography and history of the Beti females who farm in southern Cameroon. The women studied employ the same crops, tools and field configuration as they did in pre colonial times. Comparatively, male labor is more ‘vertically-structured’, some examples provided by the author include tree cultivation, yam-staking, tomato cultivation, and the drying and stacking of cocoa.

The second part of Guyer’s article catalogues and provides a survey of the main traditions of work, focusing on the division of labor. The anthropological literature is divided into three general categories. The first utilizes a cross-cultural approach, thereby, evolutionary in time scale and naturalist in primary assumptions. The second approach follows the particularistic method and centers on the meaning and value of gender relations within a holistic culture. Finally, the third category applies the neo-Marxist model, which focuses on economy and society, with emphasis on labor value within a punctuated-evolutionary conception of time.

The final section reveals how the Beti ‘field rhythms’ facilitated change in their culture. Guyer suggests there exists three synchronized rhythms. The first and most important cycle included the clearing of the forests, which eventually lead to the creation of a series of small fields. The males were responsible for the clearing of trees, while the females domesticated the ground nut fields. The cultivation of more marketable crops, the acquisition of cleared land through male labor, and the introduction of multi year field occupation allowed the female Beti to expand their agricultural production.


The author does receive some praise for her article, especially for her analysis of the Beti rhythms of agriculture and its impact on social change. However, Carol Ember states that the intent of the paper is not entirely clear. She also suggests that the author fails in her attempt to create a rapprochement between the cross-cultural and particularistic paradigms. The most negative criticism charges Guyer with intolerance. Mathew Hill uses words and phrases such as ‘ignores’, ‘unsatisfying’, ‘mired’, ‘perplexed’, ‘deeply mired’, and ‘lack of sophistication’ in his negative review of Guyer’s paper (263).


Guyer responds to some of the negative comments she received from her strongest critics. She questions how her paper can provide ‘very interesting data’ and simultaneously is described with such negative language. The author addresses what she refers to as ‘misunderstandings’. She explains and operationally defines her concept of ‘measure’ in regards to the Beti rhythms. Furthermore, Guyer finds some of her criticisms puzzling and claims others to be based in philosophical difference.

JAY JOHNSON Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Lewis-Williams, J.D., and T. A. Dowson. The Signs of All Times: Entopic Phenomena in Upper Paleolithic Art. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol. 29(2): 201-240

The main argument presented in this article is that the art forms from the Upper Paleolithic can be better understood by looking at art in altered states of consciousness in modern aboriginal societies. The use of altered states allows the researchers to study art form from a neuropsychological standpoint. The method in which Lewis-Williams and Dowson use in order to prove that ancient art was derived from altered states was to analyze two specific groups that have produced art in altered states, and compare samples of their art work to that of art work from the Upper Paleolithic. Similarities have been shown through other ethnographic work that depictions from the Upper Paleolithic and modern shamanistic art.

In attempts to analyze the artwork, Lewis-Williams and Dowson looked at carved phosphenes and form constants. Phosphenes are geometric shapes, while form constants are culturally controlled items. These items were then grouped into three categories, entoptic forms, principles of perception and different stages in the development of mental imagery. The six entoptic forms studied were the basic grid, sets of parallel lines, dots and short flecks, zigzag lines, nested catenary curves, and thin meandering lines. There were seven principles of perception: replication, fragmentation, integration, superpositioning, juxtapositioning, reduplication and rotation. Lastly there were three stages of mental imagery. Stage 1: Entoptic forms were visualized primarily by themselves. Stage 2: Those that were witnessing these entoptic forms tried to make sense of them by elaborating them into iconic forms. Stage 3: The Iconic forms would present themselves.

Lewis-Williams and Dowson include a variety of pictures and diagrams to show similarities between the art forms of the two modern cultural groups and that of the upper Paleolithic group. The two cultural groups of shamanistic art was described by form and stage, which is then compared to the Upper Paleolithic art, which is analyzed in the same form in order to accentuate their point of commonalities

All the commentators appreciated the research on the rock art similarities, although there were some aspects of the work that required criticism. Cultural influences of the artwork were one of the major conflicts discussed by many of the commentators. As well many of the commentators described studies of child artwork that was done which was remarkable similar to that of Shamanistic art work. An anthropological approach was the only method by which Lewis-Williams and Dowson argued their theory, while a multidisciplinary approach would have been more beneficial. The scientific debate of refutability was inapplicable; therefore there was an absence of control of any variable. Lastly, although difficult to avoid the researchers formed an analogy between modern Homo sapiens and upper Paleolithic man.

In replying to the commentators, Lewis-Williams and Dowson states that some of the arguments that were made had been from a misinterpretation of information; as well they were unaware of research that would be published just prior to their publication. As for the argument of nonscientific methods, all datum that are collected was influenced by a theory, which postulates science. They made a conscious effort not to use numerical data because it did not produce persuasive results. Although the data could not be falsified, one must work in a manner that best fits the hypothesis. Falsification can be proven through neuropsychological research, but at present there is no data available. Finally Lewis-Williams and Dowson claim that any form of analogy when discussing archaeological perspective is skeptical.

KEVIN LOOK Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Lewis-Williams, J.D. & T. A. Dawson. The Signs of All Times: Entopic Phenomena in Upper Paleolithic Art. Current Anthropology April, 1988 Vol.29, No.2. 201-245.

Lewis-Williams and Dawson’s paper seeks to explain the reoccurrence of design elements in pre-historic art through understanding the way the human mind hallucinates. The two authors maintain that since the human brain has been the same for thousands of years that all people present and past hallucinate in similar ways, thus fundamental designs drawn from altered mental states come from within the structure of the human mind.
Lewis-Williams and Dawson break down the consistently found entopic symbols into six categories; basic grid, sets of parallel lines, dots and short flecks, zigzag lines, curves, and thin meandering lines. In looking at studies done on LSD and mescaline the hallucinatory experience is broken down into three stages. The first is where images, identical to those defined as entopic
imagery, appear alone and are simply present in the field of vision that are ummanipulatable by the mind. In stage two the entopic forms connect with subconscious symbolic meanings in the mind as the brain tries to decode the images. In stage three the images are no longer simply visual images but are real to the observer and in a rotating vortex creating what can also be seen in ancient art as spirals and interconnectedness of the ideas.
The connection between hallucination and reoccurring symbolic designs led to the analysis of possible causes and connections. This involved looking at several historical examples, identifying the entopic phenomena in their art and explaining its use through the culture’s subconscious connections. Included is also discussion of the Shamanistic influence and interpretation since in many cultures the spiritual and healing leaders are the ones responsible for the connection with the spiritual world with which the trance state is often connected.
The last question they attempt to ask is how people decided that three dimensional objects could be represented symbolically. They ultimately decided that it arose from the natural curiosity of the human brain, but also that the hallucinogenic experiences created new connections in the brain allowing for new forms of thought.

COMMENTS: The critiques of this paper asked several questions that were quite obviously ignored in the paper. For example, the pictures they compare are vastly different, and there are only so many geometric options for one to draw. Several reviewers criticized that the paper is too focused on only a small number of entopic phenomena out of the 30 now identified. Most of the 17 commenters agreed it was well written and an intriguing hypothesis to explain similarities in ancient art. The broad consensus seemed to be that as an exclusive cause for such a major phenomena the paper was not strong enough and the final question of how drawing came to represent 3 dimensional objects was unresolved.

REPLY: The authors express their concern that there were several large misunderstandings in their paper. They accept that poor wording in several sentences led to the inference that all rock art involves altered consciousness, when they meant to say that most do. Also they claim entopic phenomena and hallucination have not always coexisted as they seem to imply.

THERESA LARSON University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Renfrew, Colin. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol. 29(3): 437-441.

Renfrew’s review of the book Archaeology and Language is relatively short in nature, however, it thoroughly discusses its thesis in retrospect. He discusses the origins and the arguments concerning the origin of Indo-European languages. He uses various linguistic references to account for his hypothesis.

The article discusses how vague the interpretations of the origins of the Indo-European are. Renfrew acknowledges various models and hypotheses’ accounting for the languages, including the “family tree” model and the “wave” model. He discusses the values and problems accounted to each model respectfully. There is also account of nonlinguistic arguments, including that of a purely ‘cultural’ model, stating that the focus there is simply not well rounded. Renfrew offers his explanation using a sociolinguistic view point and argues that Indo-European origins result from three principal origins: Demography/Subsistence, Elite Dominance, and System Collapse.

Renfrew presents his argument in a clear straightforward manner, offering data that supports his thesis, as well as offering rebuttals to previous ideals and arguments. He concludes by addressing that Indo-European languages need refocusing using more modern ideals as well as using a more rounded approach to the focus in general.

BERNICE SAMPSON Okanagan University College (Diana E. French).

Rosenberg, Karen R. The Functional Significance of Neandertal Pubic Length. Current Anthropology August-October 1988 Vol. 29(4): 595-617.

Karen R. Rosenberg seeks to compare the pelvic morphology of Neandertal to a variety of past and present human groups. The pelvic structure of Neandertal has frequently been proposed as a distinctive feature of Neandertal because of its much larger size than those in contemporary humans. Such a large structure creates a relatively large birth canal in Neandertal.

In recent times, two hypothesizes have been proposed to explain this morphological difference. The first hypothesis Rosenberg labels as the “gestation length model”. This model suggests that Neandertal neonates were carried in the uterus for a longer period of time than contemporary humans, but developed at the same rate. Under this theory, Neandertal newborns would be much larger and more developed that modern human newborns and thus would require a larger birth canal. The second hypothesis can be labeled as the “accelerated-fetal growth model”. This model suggests that the gestation period for Neandertal was nine months, however, fetus growth was accelerated relative to contemporary humans and therefore was after nine months, much more developed and larger in size.

Rosenberg forms a third hypothesis stating that Neandertal infants were in fact much larger than human infants, however, were born at a similar gestation and development periods. Utilizing a study done over an eight-year period in Maryland hospitals that finds maternal body weight rather than height is most indicative of infant size, Rosenberg sets out to prove her hypothesis.

Rosenberg performs a series of extensive measurements of both Neandertal and modern human skeletal material from eight different human populations, groups she identified as tall and heavy, tall and light, short and heavy, short and light. Rosenberg measures the pelvic structure of her sample of the contemporary human groups and compares it to eight Neandertal specimens. In addition, Rosenberg also estimates the weight of each specimen by examining the hip joint

The conclusion is that Neandertal infants were no different in size relative to their mothers than contemporary humans. Both humans and Neandertal females with higher body weight have larger infants. Also, Neandertal infants were born at the same phase of maturity, suggesting that they would require a similar level of care after birth. These conclusions have morphological and behavioral inferences for links between humans and Neandertal.

COMMENTS: Positive comments reference Rosenberg’s use of functional analysis, the correlation of Neandertal to modern humans, and the methodology implemented. Some commentators faulted the study because it concerned primarily females and for not effectively explaining why male Neandertals had large pelvic structures. One commenter pointed out that some Neandertal specimens she analyzed were male specimens. Another critic cited that there are many factors that may influence the size of an infant at birth.

REPLY: Rosenberg replies, acknowledging that there are many factors which do contribute to the size of an infant at birth, however, contends that maternal body weight is an important variable. In response to the critique of her use of some male Neandertal specimens, Rosenberg states most Neandertal specimens available are male. Rosenberg also states that there are certainly many important factors that contribute to the large Neandertal pelvis and that these must be addressed in conjunction with reproductive demands.

ROSE CARLSON University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones).

Rosenberg, Karen. The Functional Significance of Neandertal Pubic Length. Current Anthropology August-October, 1988 Vol.29(4): 595-616.

Rosenberg’s research compares the pubic of Neandertals, early anatomically modern humans and recent humans. The author briefly describes two common anthropological theories, called the gestation-length model and the accelerated-fetal-growth model, both of which are concerned with finding the relation or correlation of Neandertal pubic length to birth canal size. The first model hypothesizes that Neandertal infants were born at a later stage in development and therefore were larger at birth, requiring larger birth canals and longer pubic length. The accelerated-fetal-growth model claims that Neandertal infants in the uterus developed at a faster rate, producing larger infants requiring larger birth canals. Rosenberg goes on to create her own unique hypothesis termed maternal-body-weight model, which suggests that maternal body weight is the vital determining factor of infant size, and consequently, birth-canal size. All three of these models assume that the ratio of the fertilized female’s pelvis to the infants’ head-size is the same for Neandertals as it is for modern humans. Rosenberg hopes that her model will provide an explanation as to why there is such a difference between the pubic lengths of modern humans as compared to Neandertals. Her assumptions that Neandertal heavy body stature and weight are responsible for the large size of the birth canal should then also be applicable to modern humans.

To gather her information, Rosenberg taps into a range of specimens, varying in stature: weight ratio, taken from Neandertal, recent human, and early anatomically modern human specimen groups. She performs many precise measurements using dial calipers accurate to 0.1mm. She includes measurements of the long bones to calculate stature, of the femoral-head diameter and acetabular height, both of which are used to determine the specimen’s weight, and measurements of the pubis and portions of the pelvic inlet. The results are neatly organized into graphs, charts, and tables. The result that acetabulo-symphyseal length is more strongly correlated with body weight than stature helps support Rosenberg’s proposed maternal-body-weight model. It is found that although relative weight, absolute weight, and body stature are important determinants in pubic bone length, none is more influential than the effect of absolute weight. The derived conclusion that Neandertal maternal-weight: infant- size relationship is analogous to that of modern humans continues to support Rosenberg’s maternal-body-weight model.


Rosenberg’s colleagues commend her efforts to shed light and bring forth evidence to confirm the assumptions of many anthropologists. She is also applauded for dispelling the original idea that Neandertals became extinct due to their inferior reproductive systems as compared to early modern humans. The aspect of Rosenberg’s work that is criticized is her attempt to extend her model to male Neandertals. She makes significant observations correlating the relationship between modern humans with a high absolute weight and increased pubic length, but then stretches her research to apply this model to male Neandertals. Also, Rosenberg uses only two female Neandertal specimens for her research, and this has been criticized for being too small of a sample group from which to draw such definitive conclusions.


Rosenberg responds to the comments with great confidence in her research. She begins by clearing up any misinterpretations other anthropologists have drawn by restating and clarifying her analysis of maternal weight to the length of pubic bone relationship in Neandertals. Rosenberg also acknowledges the likely weaknesses in her study and proposes future extensions on her research. For example, a newly found virtually complete right innominate and sacrum found in Kebara Cave in Israel, which is from the Mousterian levels, has not yet been analyzed for this project. This new specimen will be included in her subsequent research on Neandertal pubic length.

SUSANNE TANJA WENGENMEIER Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Sanders, William T. and Deborah L. Nichols. Ecological Theory and Cultural Evolution in theValley of Oaxaca. Current Anthropology February, 1988 Vol. 29(1) 33-75.

In this article, Sanders and Nichols examine pre-Hispanic cultural evolution in the Oaxaca Valley of southern Mexico, and attempt to explain that evolution in terms of ecological theory and cultural materialism. They assert that cultural change in Oaxaca occurred primarily because of population growth and the development of new methods of resource exploitation. This perspective is contrastive to a more systematic explanation that would view culture change as having many different causes, including the emergence of new ideologies and forms of political organization. Sanders and Nichols do not deny the validity of this type of approach, however they do suggest that the data available does not reject the ecological model either.

Having explained their theoretical position, the authors proceed to examine cultural change in the Oaxaca Valley. They begin by describing the natural environment and the contemporary agricultural systems of the valley. This is the basis from which they interpret and analyze data from the past, and attempt to correlate the archaeological evidence with ecological theory. The two important assumptions for this analysis are that the climate has not changed in the last 2000 years, and that the minimal agricultural yield required by contemporary farmers is the same as that needed by pre-Hispanic farmers. These assumptions are equally important for an opposing argument. Archaeological evidence suggests that some of the most fertile land in the Oaxaca was neither settled nor farmed in the early cultural period. Thus, population pressure on resources could not have been exclusively important for cultural evolution. This argument is the basis from which Sanders and Nichols begin their analysis.

An argument in favour of the ecological perspective must demonstrate the importance of efficient resource use by the pre-Hispanic cultures; for this reason the authors must address the fact that some prime land was not used. They first note that the most productive land was not concentrated in any particular area, so although some of it was not farmed, the general regions farmed were just as productive as those that were not. What’s more, the regions that were farmed had the lowest risk of agricultural failure, (i.e. because of high water tables). As populations increased, however; less preferable land was cultivated, which the authors interpret as meaning that the best land was being farmed at its maximum carrying capacity. At the same time, agricultural techniques in preferable areas intensified. These statements support the importance of resource exploitation and, correspondingly, ecological theory. This reasoning is the basis from which the authors describe the evolution of Oaxaca Valley cultures as a causal process: intensification; expansion; centralization and control of hydraulic resources; economic specialization; ranking and stratification; political centralization. Finally, the authors suggest that the ancient Oaxaca city of Monte Alban was a central marketplace, and that, although not ideally located in terms of access to good farmland, was close enough to be practical for a culture that was based on agriculture.


The general response to Sanders and Nichols’ article is at times tentative, and at other times negative. The complaints are both methodological and theoretical. Data interpretation and manipulation are points of criticism, for example with regard to population estimations, as are assumptions made about cultural behavior, such as the applicability of general laws, including the law of least effort. Indeed, one peer labels the entire methodology unscientific. From a theoretical standpoint, many anthropologists are hesitant to accept the notion of a single causal influence in cultural evolution. There are many strong objections to the authors’ interpretation of archaeological evidence as supportive of their theory. The authors’ assumptions about Monte Alban represent one such point for which there is strong opposition.


Sanders and Nichols respond primarily to the criticisms that regard methodology. They provide further discussion about methods of archaeological reconstruction of agricultural features, for example population estimation and carrying capacity. With regard to theoretical criticisms, the authors reiterate that they do not argue against systematic explanations for culture change, but that they do believe the techno-economic elements of society to be more significant. Techno-economic aspects of culture, they argue, are more causal, and ideologies and political systems are more consequential.

BEN VAN DER GRACHT Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Sangren, Steven P. Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: “Postmodernism” and the Social Reproduction of Texts. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol.29(3):405-435.

Sangren relies on an exhaustive literature review to outline a multi-pronged defense of traditional ethnographic authority in the wake of increasing post-modern criticism. The critics, Sangren maintains, are convinced that modern “totalizing” ethnographies, or ethnographies that claim a certain truth, are too positivistic, naïve, and unreflective. He counters by saying that post-modernism itself is unreflective, and fails to note the variety of ways in which it duplicates the very structures it attacks. The author also proposes that post-modernist theories are epistemologically weak because they are not testable and, in their zeal to distinguish a larger foe, grossly overestimate the influence of modern ethnographic literature in a wider sociological context.

Focusing his attention on assaults from within Anthropology, Sangren examines two post-modern texts: Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental moment in the Human Sciences by George E. Marcus and M.J. Fischer, and Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James E. Clifford and George E. Marcus. These two books are said to represent a potentially dangerous sea change in academic thinking whereby “sophisticated” postmodernists attack the “realist” Anthropological base, and thus demonstrate their own will to power. In this way post-modernism is said to be a “millennial movement,” an ideological construct which exemplifies a transcendent “truth,” and seeks to leech power from the dismantling of an older, ineffective and corrupt paradigm.

Post-modernism, viewed as a rigid power seeking ideology, and not simply as a radical deconstruction of order, can be better understood. In this vein Sangren questions the structural benefits such as grants, tenure, and publication that greet post-modern scholars. He argues that the fundamental appeal of post-modernism is its inherent flavor of Western individualism, and as such is not as radical or order dissolving as some might claim.

COMMENTS: Response to Sangren’s paper was largely negative. Opponents argued that his criticism was too reactionary and scattershot, his attitude too antagonistic, his understanding of the two primary texts flawed, and his overall stance poorly developed. Sangren was also accused of vying for academic prestige himself, essentially parroting the institutionalized rhetoric of the hard sciences. It was also mentioned that the “position” he had created for the post-modernists didn’t actually exist, and he should be more careful to represent the diversity inherent in any intellectual movement.

Those that supported Sangren often pointed to the lack of stable methodology, and untestable theories produced by post-modernist texts. Supporters also agreed that post-modernism could be adequately understood as a millennial movement, or “a bid for the spoils of the current system.”

REPLY: In response Sangren calls for a greater understanding of the dynamic between these two ethnographic types, but reasserts the authority of modernist ethnography. He concedes that his attitude is antagonistic, but notes the same antagonism on the other side. In conclusion he argues that totalizing ethnographies are generally more valuable because they create more space for discussion, and contain more coherent analyses that can be contested over time.

BRIAN M. BLITZ University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Sangren, P. Steven Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: “Postmodernism” and the Social Reproduction of Texts. Current Anthropology June, 1988 Vol.29(3):405-436.

This article discusses the current trend in anthropology towards the analysis of ethnographic writing. Specifically, it defends the value of the traditional ethnography, while discussing the concept of reflexivity. Further to this, it examines a “totalizing” theoretical stance. The author argues that emerging rhetoric produces a product that is more opaque and mystifying than with the use of the older styles. Specifically, he deconstructs the so-called millennial movement, and argues for the adoption of post-modern terminology. He also discusses the place of text in social reproduction, noting that society and culture are self-reproducing institutions and collective representations.

The author’s discussion of totalizing theoretical stances begins by examining the assertion that these stances are scientific in nature. He further critiques postmodernism as the demise of traditional forms of rhetoric. The author deconstructs two texts, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, by George E. Marcus and M. J. Fischer, as well as Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James E. Clifford and George E. Marcus. He focuses on these texts specifically, because of their close publication dates.

In concluding his discussion, the author asserts that consideration of rhetoric and textual constructions illustrates what the ethnographer takes for granted, given their own cultural situation. He further suggests that while it is possible for ethnography to become “reflexive” cultural criticism, this can only be accomplished when it occurs both at the taught and textual levels.

Critics accuse Sangren of producing a muddled and skewed account of the postmodern movement in anthropology. He fails to defend the traditional authority of ethnography, instead being sidetracked to a discussion of academic power and status. Critics also point out the repetition of frontline engagement, with little substance to create an effective argument. He is chastised for several apparent assumptions, including that deconstructionism and postmodernism are the same thing, and that ethnography is not anthropology. On the whole, critics observe the author to be self-congratulatory rather than reflexive in his writing.

Sangren responds by addressing each critic and discussing their specific view of postmodernism. He further maintains his view of postmodernism, and attempts to explain away the voices of the critics.

AMBER OTKE-ROPOTAR Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

Small, Meredith F. Female Primate Sexual Behavior and Conception: Are There Really Sperm to Spare. Current Anthropology, 1988 Vol.29, No.1,81-100.

The questions Meredith Small asks in this paper relate to possible reasons for excessive and promiscuous sex in primates, including human females, during the estrus cycle. Her paper focuses around the theory of sperm as a resource limited by the number of available males, the number of available sperm, the quality of sperm, and the male refectory period.
Small suggests that in groups with more than one male, that females mating with more than one male serves to confuse paternity and reduce the chance of infanticide. The presence of having sperm from multiple males within the vaginal tract at the same time encourages sperm competition and thus the likelyhood that the fertilizing sperm will be the most fit. Females show preference towards one male because the male may have a high quality reproducing ability based on his phenotypic or behavioral characteristics. This may encourage females to mate with such males exclusively or excessively to assure that such strong genetic traits are passed on to their offspring as well as depleting the male of his sperm reserves so that other females have less access to this quality genetic material.
The evidence to support her research was all drawn from captive primates, primarily gorillas, baboons, chimpanzees and macaques. She compares the number of males in a group to teste size and thus sperm production in an individual. Small also looks at differences in sperm across species lines in relation to count, motility, normal morphology, and volume of sperm, determining that Homo sapiens sperm is very low quality. The only primate with lower quality sperm are gorillas that live in exclusively single male harem environments. Also charted out across species were rates of female initiated copulation, external signs of estrus, copulation throughout estrus cycle and use of multiple partners. This chart suggested that females are indeed often initiators of sexual encounters, will mate throughout the cycle and will all, with the exception of G.gorilla beringei, engage in sex with multiple partners if available.

COMMENTS: The most significant of the critiques of Small’s ideas following the article are as follows: evolution does not perfect systems if the present one works, i.e. mating is not excessive if the female gamete is only viable for 24 hours and neither sex knows when the female is fertile. This lack of knowledge also explains why pre and post ovulation intercourse is not necessarily “selfish” or specifically to deprive other females of sperm. The issue of menopause was brought up as something Small neglected to discuss. In Small’s response she generally approved of their points against her theories, adding to the fact that her paper was based on theories not facts.

REPLY: This article was clearly written and it’s content was not overpowered by the scientific nature of the article. The discussion quality of the critiques and reply added a lot to the article. It is also important to recognize that this was written in 1988 and a lot has been done in this field since then to explain the complexity of primate mating behavior.

THERESA. LARSON University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Testart, Alain. Some Major Problems in the Social Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Current Anthropology February, 1988 Vol.29(1):1-31.

Alain Testart’s article tries to explain the connection between the social relationships of hunter-gatherers and their economy and technology. What he provides is a confusing mix of past theories and his own conjectures on the topic, never clearly providing any definite answers.

Testart begins his article by posing two questions. First, given the similarity of hunter-gatherer societies of the past and present, what is the relationship between them? Second, if there is a causal relationship between technology and economy on one hand and social organization on the other, how should that be expressed?

He describes past thoughts about the evolution of hunter-gatherers as too simplistic in that most either equate past and present societies or they disregard their connection altogether. He says there is an intermediate position that sees both similarities and differences in the evolution of these societies.

Testart relates at the work of Childe, a nineteenth century historian, who he claims was the first to look at the social and economic side of the transition from hunter-gatherer to agro-pastoralist. Testart sees the same problem that Childe did; why do some societies classified as hunter-gatherers have characteristics of settled agriculturalists, namely inequalities among members? Testart answers this problem by creating another category, the “storing hunter-gatherers,” who seasonally store staple foods and plan the economy, implying rigid behavior and food gathering strategies. There are environmental and other restrictions to his theory, but he claims that this allowed certain people to accumulate food, which in turn led to inequality. Thus the advent of agriculture was not a wholly radical transformation in the development of social inequality. Testart then backtracks, stating that the development of inequalities with the advent of farming is only a possibility. He never states how the link between techno-economics and social structure should be expressed, only that sometimes technology and economy cause social forms and other times social forms dictate the material objects of a society.

The unique unilinearity, dualisms, and totems of the aboriginal hunter-gatherers of Australia are used by Testart as an example of how the ethnographic present is the same as the Paleolithic past. He claims that because of their kinship obligations to one another certain technologies, e.g. the bow and arrow and agriculture, never developed. He takes this to mean that all these things in the present are the same as they were in Paleolithic times.

COMMENTS: Most of the people who critique this article have complaints, including: Testart contradicting himself; republishing old information that is in his other works; taking a step backward in his own ideas; concerning himself too much with the technical not the social aspect of hunter-gatherers; not explaining social storage clearly; doing work that has already been done by others; asking fundamental questions that are commonly known in anthropology; and that his sources are few and outdated.

REPLY: Testart replies to most of his critiques justifying his views and claiming that some of the people simply had not read enough of his previous works to know what his point was in the article. He writes that he may have been too up front with his own doubts and reconsiderations so that it made the task of critiquing the work that much more difficult.

HEATHER KENNELLY University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Testart, Alain. Some Major Problems in the Social Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Current Anthropology February, 1988 Vol.29(1):1-28.

In this article, Testart examines the relationship between present day hunter-gatherers and societies in the Paleolithic, specifically in Australia. In other words, he is scanning the relationship between existing and former hunter-gatherer societies, in a question he called problematic and complex. Essentially he is examining hunter-gatherer characteristics on a global scale, and comparing it with the peculiarities noted in Australia.

In addressing this, he calls it an evolutionary question. Thus, in the first part of the discussion he addresses evolutionary theory and how it plays into understanding the connection between hunter-gatherer societies of past and present. He then turns to defining what hunter-gatherers are, and how he uses the terms in his research.

His evidence is presented in terms of studying the relationship between economics and other aspects of society, which explains the development of hunter-gatherers, and why it was weak in Australia.

In his summary he states that “The discovery of a social structure peculiar to Australia, inherent in the economy but equally connected with all social domains, has allowed us to account for a certain number of facts relating to hunter-gatherers.”(12). His hypothesis based on these data points out that the technology the Australian hunter had were significantly inferior to that in other regions.

Many of the comments contain criticism with his linking of economy and social organization, and an interesting point about the lack of any recent work in his list of sources.

The authors reply addresses each commentator directly, and he does a thorough job of addressing his or her concerns.

ALLISON STATEN Okanagan University College (Diana E. French)

White, Douglas R. Rethinking Polygyny: Co-Wives, Codes, and Cultural Systems. Current Anthropology August, 1988 Vol. 29(4):529-572.

White sets the stage for a comparative cross-cultural analysis of polygyny through a new system of codes that are argued to be more stable and intelligible and less misleading than previous codes because they take into account cultural rules and social norms. Rather than merely coding polygynous practices as either present or absent, White’s system acknowledges the complexity of polygyny and explains the cultural reasons for these practices.

The new coding system includes more variables and better definitions of variables than used previously and illuminates regional patterns and differences in polygyny. New variables include habitations of co-wives and husbands, recruitment of co-wives, marriage of captive women, and rank or stratification among males. Using his system, White tests hypotheses for two regional polygynous complexes: wealth-increasing polygyny and sororal polygyny, which exemplify an improved comparative methodology. After introducing and substantiating the new coding system, White offers a rather extensive analysis of coding problems, including ambiguity, conflicts in sources, insufficient evidence, inference, observer bias, and meaning or measurement validity.

COMMENTS: White’s critics applaud his improvements in comparative polygyny coding and his analysis of coding problems. They proclaim his contribution as a much needed, wise, and important resource for the study and analysis of this socio-cultural complex. Most critics also offer what they themselves call “small” criticisms, including White’s emphasis on regional complexes and the enhancement of economic status via multiple wives.

REPLY: White reiterates the need for a new coding process and thanks his commenters for valuing his new measures. He also attempts to reinforce his arguments that were criticized, including the clarified concept of macroculture in defense of criticisms related to regional emphasis.

ABBEY PAULSON University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)