Current Anthropology 1991

Blumer, Mark A. and Roger Byrne. The Ecological Genetics of Domestication and the Origins of Agriculture. Current Anthropology February, 1991 Vol. 32(1): 23-54

In this article Blumer and Byrne examine the models of the evolutionary process by which wild plants were transformed into domesticated plants. The authors explain that humans may have changed the genetic makeup of a population of plants to an extent that individuals within that population lost their ability to survive, even before cultivation had began. They also argue that cultivativated plants are not always domesticated. However, they will tend to become so if cultivation is practiced for many generations.

The article presents a critical review of recent ideas on the genetics of domestication by comparing different studies of agricultural environments. The ideas presented by Dennel (1973), Rindos (1984), and Ladizinsky (1987) teach that human harvesting, even when selection was not intended, had a significant role in plan evolution. They imply that implausible gathering strategies could cause reduction in dormancy in wild plants. According to Blumler these studies are irrelevant since they would not effect the decision to cultivate a plant. Harlan’s study (1973) states that humans cannot cause the selection of domesticated traits in wild plants. However, the authors explain that this is an overstatement and that it is at least somewhat possible that seed beating of wild plants would have caused an increase in blooming frequencies, which might had led to cultivation.

Blumer and Byrne state that harvesting techniques could influence the frequencies of certain domesticated characteristics. They planted an experimental cereal and tested whether a conscious selection would have played a role in domestication and how much time would it take. Zohary (1969) states that in wheat or barley the change could have occurred in only “few” generations. Harlan(1975), believes in contrast that, evolution is gradual and domesticates evolve slowly. It is agreed that the rate of domestication may very enormously under unconscious selection depending on several factors.

The authors explain that cultivation sets up selection pressures that favor the evolution of domesticated plants even if humans do not consciously choose to plant crops with certain domesticated traits. As an example they chose to study a cereal and tested whether harvesting it with seeds beaters led to an increase in frequencies of blooming plants. Blumer and Byrne conclude that even though selection can be weak and the time it takes for a plant to become domesticated is unpredictable, there is great probability that humans accelerated the pace of evolutionary change by intentionally selecting domesticated plants.


Anne Belfer- Cohen, Vosila L. Bohrer, and Gordon Hillman are commentators who expand on the questions raised by the authors’. Cohen argues that the finding of cultivation cannot be found by studying a multivariate model because characteristics of agriculture depend on the environmental and social lives of the people. Boher evaluates the plants history carefully and illustrates the articles statement that crops evolution began with humans’ relations. Finally, Hillman comments upon the minor contestable points of the article and also points out the significance of their innovative approach to the ecological background of the adaptation of cultivation.


As the authors reply to the commentators they conclude that further studies must be conducted before answering the questions raised in the article. While Blumer and Byrne focus mainly on Hillman’s comments they also give a general reply to the other commentators. They state that attention should be paid to the effects of genetic drift and mixing of wild and cultivated seeds and they state that domestication before cultivation has not been ruled out. The authors continue to embrace the climatic –change model, which was expanded upon in their article and stress that seasonally pronounced rain made progenitors of cultivated plants more available for intensive gathering.

MARISSA SHARPE Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Crane, Gregory. Composing Culture. Current Anthropology June, 1991 Vol.32(3):293-311.

This article seeks to make comprehensible the difference between “writing” and “composing” culture, and the affects of this dissimilarity on authorial authority. The author begins by describing writing as a limited task, and composing as something that all authors do regardless of the medium or technology. He describes the capabilities of the new medium, electronic text and suggests that electronic texts would take away the power of the author to launch arguments in a specific order, clearly taking away from the power of presentation. Readers would have the authority to search for keywords, finding information in the order of importance to oneself. He supports this argument by saying that a person wanting to research about Trobriand views of gender may simply search using a key word such as “woman,” which would provide a more focused result than an index. Furthermore, Crane suggests that it is easier to sort through electronic texts rather than books consisting of thousands of pages.

Crane asserts that film and sound provide valuable information that written texts cannot present. However, it is difficult to point to such things when making references and can prove to be costly. However, with the use of a single CD-ROM it is possible to store 500 textual books as well as thousands of color images. CD-ROMs are a reliable and inexpensive method of storing ethnographic information. This will make information easily accessible, in turn this technology will be a vehicle for new thought. Crane uses evidence from the past to make this argument. He uses the example of the printing press making the Latin Bible easy to duplicate and less expensive than priests; this was the technological basis for the Reformation.

Crane goes on to discuss the importance of language in ethnographies. He emphasizes the complexity of words by suggesting that one word may mean many things to different people or different societies. He supports this argument by discussing the Greek word “hamartia” used by Aristotle. For about 500 years, this word was believed to mean a “tragic flaw”. However, upon realizing Aristotle’s’ use of the word “hamartia” in a different context it soon came to be understood as bad judgement without any moral basis. Crane argues that with the use of the Perseus database of Greek texts, a word can be linked with its many entries. For example, readers can locate the word “hamartia” in Greek texts and form their own understanding of the word. This would stimulate the search to understanding ethnographies.


Ruth Finnegan argues that composing an electronic text is not a neutral process, the colors, images, and words used are carefully selected. Albert E. Glock feels that this new technology will not generate new questions. Eric Hirsch argues that the craft of the anthropologist will be lost. Charles Martindale and Simon Stoddart argue that this system will not produce anything new. Jacques-Henri Michel believes that it is difficult to convince specialists to leave traditional research devices for new systems. Ian Morris asserts that the impacts of the program need to be considered in a wider range. Lastly, Peter Probst discusses his concerns about the “literate tradition of anthropology” being lost.


Crane agrees with the importance of craft and suggests that such electronic databases would be used as a supplement rather than a replacement. Although such a database would not be completely composed neutrally, the author would have more room to add in materials that challenge his deductions or have no explanations. Good materials for study are necessary to the study of a culture. For example, Mesopotamian culture would be better understood if the materials for its study were not so insufficient. The wide impacts of the electronic programs can be applied to many subjects.

SANDRA RABIZADEH Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Gardner, Peter. Forager’s Pursuit of Individual Autonomy. Current Anthropology December, 1991 Vol.32(5):543-572.

In this article Peter Gardner explained the causes of forager’s individualism, egalitarianism, and social structural simplicity. These theories will show how the diverse aspects of individual autonomy are interrelated. The theories will be focusing on Holocene hunters, fishers, and gatherers with the main emphasis on foragers in Asia, Africa, and North America.

As their children are raised, there is a great emphasis on self reliance, independence, and individual achievement. They must learn how to take care of themselves because each new day a food quest begins. Their social lives are based on their food quest, food resources, avoidance of food storage, and visiting between resource areas. They must learn to depend on themselves to survive in their culture.

Their common features include egalitarianism, which means equal social and political rights for all types of people. They live with strong antiauthoritarianism, great respect for individuality, and flexibility in living arrangements. Males and females contribute to the diet equally. The single (nuclear) family is the prime economic unit.

While surveying a non random sample of 26 food gathering groups, they found an association with intercultural pressure (neighbors) and a strong sense of individualism. This includes non-authoritarian parental role, expectation of self reliance, avoidance of aggression, gender and age egalitarianism, social control achieved by self control, withdrawal from conflict, and individualized knowledge. Their group relationship with one another is nonviolent and respectful. The data from this article was taken from primary evidence of other anthropologists that observed foragers. Some of the anthropologists included Lee, DeVore, Leacock, Foley, Cashdan, Testart, Steward, and Kroeber

The theories complement one another. For example, the nomadic food quest theory, the collective hunting theory, and the depopulation displacement theory all involve the idea that diverse bands may be formed with various social implications. Theorists realized that many of the features found in foraging societies fit together in an “individual-autonomy syndrome”. This theory states that mobility encourages development of mutual social structure with emphasis on the nuclear family and individual decision making, and egalitarianism. The emphasis on the nuclear family in turn, encourages development of mutual social structure and egalitarianism.

On the whole, it is a mistake to characterize foragers as having only one kind of pattern. For instance, the individual autonomy syndrome appears to have a restricted distribution. Only 22% of the samples of societies possess this theory and it may be a difficult area to find information about. One needs to go into further depth to really get the meaning of this theory. There needs to be further testing.


Alan Barnard believes that Gardner’s article has a worthwhile overview of explanations of individual autonomy. It also offers insights into some old ideas. Although, he believes that Gardner does not cover all perspectives in hunter gatherer studies, such as climate, habitat, or diet. He feels the storage theory seems to hold the most promise for a good understanding of their hunting organization. He feels that with the individual autonomy syndrome the factors are not always obviously related, and may contradict each other. Many of the findings found were after they already read other findings on hunting and gathering and he felt that the ethnographers might have manipulated and controlled social and economic situations.


In Gardner’s reply he states that the samples that were studied were a “straightforward function” of how the anthropologists characterize foragers and what they see as forager’s characteristics. He says, in response to Bernard, that although foragers did give him the theory, they also demonstrated the principle by a means of their behavior long before he heard them expressed in words. On the individual autonomy syndrome, he says there needs to be more done on the logic of relations. He feels that nobody can thoroughly disagree with his theory yet, considering the fact that there is still so much underlying data and the numerous questions that anthropologists still have concerning this issue.

SHAUNA OPOS Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Graves, Paul. New Models and Metaphors for the Neanderthal Debate. Current Anthropology December 1991. Vol.32(5):513-542.

Paul Graves presents an analysis of the imperialistic approach, with its underlying racist and sexist approach of interpreting data, often used to explain the extinction of the Neanderthals. He derives his information for this study from the publications of other scholars, which is an area that some of his commentators criticize him on. According to Graves, comparing the Spanish conquest of the Americas with the displacement of the Neanderthals is too simplistic an approach to wholly explain such a complex subject as the ongoing Neanderthal debate. One cannot completely describe the extinction of the Neanderthals as the result of social Darwinism, with the more advanced modern humans causing the termination of the less advanced Neanderthals. There are other factors such as the modification of the Neanderthal culture due to the contact with the differing Homo sapiens culture, identification, integration, and the mixture of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens to consider. There were myriads of years of close coexistence between the Neanderthals and the modern Homo sapiens, which raises the question as to whether the Neanderthals were really inferior beings compared to Homo sapiens. For example, Graves cites evidence that shows that the Neanderthals readily “adopted and absorbed Upper Paleolithic technology.” This is totally the opposite of the imperialistic view, which portrays the primitive species to be “victims of introduced technologies.” Furthermore, evidence illustrates that even though the Neanderthals and modern humans were physiologically dissimilar,” they recognized each other as members of the same species.” Therefore, the groups did not consider themselves as being dominant over the other.

Another point made in this article is about the rather biased way data is interpreted to fit the mood of the times. For instance, Graves discusses an early description of the “La Chapelle Neanderthal as a low-browed, shambling creature.” This depiction portrays the Neanderthal not as a human, but more like an animal to correspond with the anti-evolutionary teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Also, interpretation of evidence often leaves out females. Most of the time, evidence is primarily interpreted as male. However, in the case of the Neanderthals, this should not be the case for the bulk of both the Neanderthal males and females were quite similar. Such a low rate of sexual dimorphism suggests that both sexes were involved in the confrontational hunting the Neanderthals practiced.


Most of the commentators lauded Graves for making the attempt to tackle such a formidable issue as the Neanderthal debate. However, these commentators also raised some excellent points against Graves’ argument, especially commentators Brace, Schoenemann, and Allen who were against his position. What most critics commented upon was is Graves’ discussion of sexual dimorphism. Brace remarked that the issue of sexual dimorphism must be proven with actual evidence and not just a “mere recounting of secondary sources.”


Graves’ reply was inclined more towards the commentators who were against his position. In response to the remarks of his commentators on the above mentioned issue, Graves states that the distinction between the miniscule amount of discovered Neanderthal male and female pelvic bone fossils, which is what is often used to categorize gender, is very hard to classify as either male or female. Furthermore, Graves agrees with Brace that a direct source of information would be ideal. Nevertheless, he argues that citing the works of secondary sources is inevitable because “all of us must rely, to some extent, upon what others tell us.”

SHEILA GO Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Knauft, Bruce M. Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution. Current Anthropology August-October, 1991. Vol.32(4):391-428.

In Bruce M. Knauft’s article, patterns of violence and sociality are compared and contrasted between simple human societies, more complex human societies, and the four great-ape species. The author constructs his arguments by comparing and contrasting the examples of food/resource sharing, male competition for sexual access to females, dominance structure within the groups, violence and intergroup competition, and overall patterns of violence and sociality. The author’s main argument is to illustrate that violence and sociality are carried out in different ways in each society for different reasons. The evidence that the author uses comes from the books that he published, as well as books by other authors relating to violence and sociality.

In general, overall patterns of violence and sociality among the complex societies and the great-apes are similar, while they differ in many ways from simple human societies. In simple human societies, like the !Kung, the idea of not sharing food/resources is shocking. For them, sharing is a symbol of cooperation, an important cultural value, and an indication of what it is to be human. Simple societies favor egalitarianism, which in turn reduces conflicts. However, in complex societies sharing can be a cause for aggression and competition among the people. With the exception of bonobos, most great-ape species view meat sharing as a means of competition and aggression. In the issue of dominance structure, among complex human societies and the great-ape species, with the exception of bonobos, male dominance is considered to be very important and is expressed through aggressive acts.

Furthermore, simple human societies practice monogamy, exogamy, and alliance. Yet, individuals of complex societies aggressively achieve male domination by having numerous mates. In great apes, defeating male competitors increases the winner’s sexual access to females. In complex societies, violence and intergroup competition occurs due to increase in high value resources, population density, warfare, and raiding. Moreover, human aggression is mainly due to male competition for sexual access to females. Among the great-apes, intergroup killings took place to defend their territories from males of invading groups and to stop these invading groups from having increased sexual access to females. Knauft draws the conclusion that competition found among the great apes and complex societies leads to hostility and violence, which is related to reproductive success. Finally, the article is not claiming that simple societies never display violence, but if violence is exhibited, the group as a whole disapproves of it.


Thomas S. Abler partially agreed with Knauft, but was unsatisfied in some areas of the article. For example, he felt that Knauft ignored the ideas of the nature of leadership in many matrilineal societies, or military and economic influence. Christopher Boehm criticized the article for not paying attention to informal conflict negotiation techniques in simple human societies. Laura Betzig disagrees with Knauft’s idea that among the great-apes and complex human societies violence among males are directly linked to reproductive success. John Paddock believes that Knauft avoided classifying societies as they really are.


Knauft replied to the comments by stating that his article speaks of the basics about human evolutionary theory. Knauft replied to Rodseth by criticizing Rodseth’s own article, stating that her article collapses human variation into a single type. Knauft believes that Betzig misunderstood several assumptions about Knauft’s ideas regarding reproductive success. He replied by saying that violence and reproductive success are not generally related. Knauft feels that Abler, too misunderstood the meaning about the collapsing of human and ape “polygny.” Knauft reemphasized that his statement in the article was just an analogy, not a fact.

KARINE KOUREDJIAN and JENNIFER ANAYA Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Layton, Robert, Robert Foley, Elizabeth Williams. The Transition Between Hunting and Gathering and the Specialized Husbandry of Resources. Current Anthropology June, 1991 Vol.32(3):255-274.

In this article the authors try to explain why or what caused the transitions from hunting and gathering to cultivation and pastoralism in modern societies. The authors do so by examining different aspects of the hunter-gatherer behaviors by reading ethnographic data. First, they look at the ranking of foods based on the availability and amount of energy the food source provides. High-ranking foods in the hunter-gatherer diet are animal meat or animal related products. Low ranking foods are plant or plantlike foods. Changes in the hunter-gatherer diet began occurring when new technology was introduced into the communities. The introduction of guns and automobiles caused a change in availability and rank of the foods. The authors also consider symbiosis as a specific factor that helped the transition. They focus on the two communities of Zaire, the Mbuti and Bantu, who show the concept of sharing and borrowing crops from one another. The authors show the interaction between the two communities. Other factors that help explain the shift from hunting and gathering to intensive husbandry is the effect mixed economies and reversion had on food gatherers. Mixed economies like the one in southern New Guinea began to play a factor because these economies dealt with hunter and gatherers coexisting with cultivators and pastoralists. Overtime the mixture of the two economies and reversions led to one main dominant behavior this being cultivation. The authors also use archaeological case studies to show the relationship that hunter and gatherers have when they come into contact with a cultivator or pastoralist. The authors examine the Epi-Paleolithic and the quick spread of plant cultivation in Europe. Throughout the article the authors have continued to discuss the many factors that have helped influence the transition. However, one factor that they refuse to recognize is the influence population increase has had on the transition to animal husbandry. The authors recognize population growth as a consequence of the transition and not a major cause. In sum, the authors explain the transition as a combination of factors such as the availability of food, climate change, technological advances, symbiosis, mixed economies and reversion.


Claudia Chang, one of the commentators, believes that the three authors need to revise the article thoroughly. She believes that a lot of important things may have been left out. She disagrees with the ranking of the food resources because some societies consider plants high-ranking foods and not meat. The three authors’ have also forgotten to address the !Kung society. Chang believes that the !Kung should be discussed at more length due to their background. Tim Ingold said that this article was “a poorly argued and weakly integrated paper, advancing in a number of somewhat disconnected propositions none of which are at all novel with scant regard either for conceptual precision or for the subtleties of ethnography.” Other commentators believe that population increase should be a main factor that influenced the transition. Many believe that the article’s topic is very broad and has been widely talked about before.


The authors’ addressed many of the important issues the commentators bring up. The authors are apologetic and strongly agree that the !Kung society should be discussed and included in this article when talking about the transition to cultivation. The authors also accept that pure pastoralism is ethnographically rare. Lastly, the authors discuss the role population increase plays in the transition. The authors continue to agree that population increase is an important consequence of the transition and not yet a direct factor. The three authors state that population increase may be considered a factor however; according to their model there isn’t enough evidence.

HOURIG AVAKIAN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Manson, Joseph and Richard Wrangham. Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and Humans. Current Anthropology August-October, 1991 Vol.32(4):269-390.

In the aptly-named article, Joseph Manson and Richard Wrangham examine the possible motives behind “lethal raiding”—“unprovoked aggressive invasions into neighboring groups” that often prove fatal—among chimpanzees and humans. What distinguishes these raids from those of many other species are their deliberation and their lethal nature. While females do occasionally partake, the raids are predominantly driven by males; interestingly, female victims of this raiding also tend to be treated less brutally than males, and attacks on them are less severe.

The authors conclude that while intergroup raiding seems to be normative for both chimpanzees and humans, the nature of this raiding has no discernable value greater than that which might be achieved by less violent means, leading one to question why they are performed in the first place. Manson and Wrangham examine and agree with a hypothesis suggested by King and Goodall that predicts that the criteria for lethal raids are fourfold: “(1) cost to the aggressors will be low, (2) attacks will be restricted to occasions of overwhelming superiority, (3) potential victims will attempt to travel in large subgroups , and (4) attacks will occur whenever the opportunity arises.”

In examining the reasons for female participation in lethal raiding, Manson and Wrangham generally accept the theory that female philopatry—lifetime loyalty to the female’s natal group—maintains bonds of kinship between women, so females are more likely to partake in lethal raiding in a female philopatric species due to kin selection. The authors’ conclusion is supported by data and logic: the females are more likely to partake in raiding when their family is more at risk.

In a broad sense, humans fit within the model of male philopatry (i.e. after marriage, a couple is more likely to live with the husband’s family), a theory that accounts for the fact that females are less prominent in intergroup aggression within human society.

The authors then examine the motives behind human lethal raiding. They claim that in most human societies, fighting is over resources, not women—which they contend is unusual in most primates. Although the authors did not do their own field research for the purposes of this article, this hypothesis is supported by data they present and hypotheses borrowed from other researchers.

The authors concluded that in most primates the philopatric sex determines which gender is involved in intergroup aggression, but only with humans are resources the predominant motive behind this aggression.


Many commentators agree with Manson and Wrangham, but add to their ideas. James Boone suggests that lethal raiding also serves to eliminate competitors; William Irons believes that women’s lack of participation in lethal raiding also has to do with humans’ division of labor (i.e. men doing physical work) and a tendency to maintain ties with natal groups; L.F. Marchant and W.C. McGrew argue that lethal raiding does not, in fact, have low gain to instigators; several authors question Manson and Wrangham’s definition of human females as separate from alienable resources, pointing out that women are often “captured” along with territory.


Joseph Manson’s reply to the comments reinforces his original position and is presented in the format of the main article. Manson concedes that lethal raiding does provide sometimes great reproductive benefit, but maintains that this benefit is less important than the fact that it is done at little to no cost. He defends his definition of females as separate from resources because of humans’ propensity to maintain political bonds and therefore the ability to negotiate reproductive resources, etc. Much of the reply is spent discounting Marchant and McGrew’s commentary.

TANYA SIRKIN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Pardoe, Colin. Isolation and Evolution in Tasmania. Current Anthropology, 1991 Vol.32(1):1-32


In this article by Colin Pardoe called, “Isolation and Evolution in Tasmania”, the long term isolation of the Tasmanians is analyzed by comparing the skeletal structures and material cultures of the native Tasmanians with those of their neighbors in southern Australia. Mainland Australia is where the Tasmanians are supposed to have originated. The comparisons of Tasmanians and Australians are displayed with tables and figures to help show the similarities and differences between the two different groups. The comparisons were shown to conclude the effects of Tasmanian migration and isolation, which began thousands of years ago.

Pardoe uses various evidence to show the similarities and differences between Tasmanians and mainland Australians. He uses information from H. Basedow’s article (“Der Tasmanierschadel: Ein Insulartypus”, Zeitschrift fur Ethnologies 1910 Vol. 42:175-227) to compare the crania of male Tasmanians and Australians revealing very little difference in structure and size. Thus, he proves a striking resemblance in skeletal biology of the two groups. On the other hand, other evidence shows dissimilarity within the two groups. Two kinds of approaches are used to examine differences. One focuses on frequencies, and the second one focuses on multivariate morphological distances. In a study comparing proportions of 35 Non-Metric cranial traits in Tasmanians to the Victorian population of Australia, Tasmania differs at a nominal 5% probability from Southern Victoria in 5 traits, and another 6 traits from Eastern Victoria. With such instances of extreme resemblance and difference, there is no clear cut answer as to why and how Tasmanians have diverged in the ways that they have.

Overall, Pardoe comes to the conclusion that Tasmanians have diverged no more than might be expected if they were still joined to mainland Australia.


The commentors on Pardoe’s article praise him and agree with the effectiveness and detail of the article as a whole. They all positively comment on the creative approaches Pardoe has taken to describe Tasmanians and their divergence from mainland Australians. Sandra Bowlder states that Pardoe has made major contributions to Tasmanian osteology and to prehistory in general. Christy G. Turner from the anthropology department of Arizona State University states that Pardoe’s goal to apply a population genetics model to Tasmanian prehistory is a realistic, imaginative, and valuable addition to bioarchaeological methodology. Wilford H. Wolpoff from the University of Michigan described Pardoe’s article as being “thoughtful”.


Pardoe states that data of biological prehistory are demanding, and incongruencies of results are a starting point for more insightful analysis. He says that since gene flow in human societies can be seen to be highly structured along social and geographical lines and virtually none of the variation we see is unique to a given population, diversity must arise at least in part from the structuring agency of gene flow. Pardoe concludes in his reply that archeology has to be taken in as a humanistic entity. He says that anthropological interpretations have “real effects on real people.” He encourages a nonracial study of the ancestors of indigenous peoples and ends his reply by stating, “After all, Aboriginal people are as interested in their past as I am.”

TATEVIK AKOPYAN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Rodseth, Lars et al. The Human Community as a Primate Society. Current Anthropology June, 1991 Vol.32(3):221-254


This attempts to summarize the distinctive features of human social organization by reconciling views from social anthropology, primatology, and human sociobiology. The authors are attempting to conclude what is “distinctively human” about human groups by comparing humans with non-human primates.

Monkey and ape social behavior is heavily scrutinized to find a link between human and non-human social patterns. In order to represent a “finite social space” they unite sex differences in kinship patterns with patterns of association between sexes. Space is a very important factor in the relation of human and non-human primate social relationships. For example, humans keep in touch with kin and lineage without being in the same spatial proximity. This makes it difficult to relate the patterns of the humans and non-humans with one another.

Another obstacle in the research was comparing family and intermarriages. Anthropologist Levi-Strauss said, “What makes man really different from the animal is that in mankind, a family could not exist if there were no society”. Basically, the authors found that there is no human history that suggests that human nuclear families ever existed without the association with other families through intermarriage. This sets us apart from the non-human primates making it even more difficult to draw any kind of general conclusion.

This article attempted to relate social anthropology, primatology, and human sociobiology and draw distinct conclusions about the features of human social organization. However, it did the exact opposite. It is mostly about how different humans are from the other primates. During his study other important questions arose. “Why did African apes diverge from the predominant primate pattern of male dispersal and female bonding?” “Why did humans, and humans alone, evolve cognitive and cultural abilities that released their relationships from spatial proximity, opening the way for absentee mateguarding, intergroup affinity, and the ‘superfusion’ of hundreds or thousands of local communities?”


The commentators had mixed opinions about this article. Some felt that it did not do much to form any kind of conclusion and ran into too much confusion along the way. Most of the commentators felt that this article was great and the author did an incredible job of sorting through his findings. “This paper is certainly to be commended,” said critic J.C. Muller. The main critique is that this article has uncovered much information that is still further needed in discussing this topic and “is the most complete attempt yet published to place human social behavior in the larger primate context” (said critic Paul W. Turke).


In the authors’ response to the criticisms, they start by thanking all of the respondents and take a small paragraph to thank those who praised the article. Since some of the commentators were disappointed that they did not go into more detail about the explanation of human social patterns rather than just the description, the authors stated as they previously stated in the article, “an exercise in interdisciplinary description…rather than explanation”. This article is meant as a summary classification and comparative analysis of human and nonhuman primate social organization and nothing more.

The authors’, “global assertion” that men universally engage in interference mutualism as opposed to women is questioned by some of the respondents. The critic accused the authors of making a somewhat incorrect generalization based upon generalizations that may be true in western civilization but not necessarily true globally. The authors defend their “global assertion” by stating that there are few societies in the world in which men never fight other men. Wherever violent interference occurs, men are usually the participants. “This applies…at every level of complexity, in every geographical region”.

JONATHAN ISRAEL Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Stiner, Mary C. The Faunal Remains of Grotta Guattari: A Taphonomic Perspective. Current Anthropology April,1991 Vol.32(2):103-117.

Mary C. Stiner’s over arcing concern is that the fascination with early hominids behavior often focuses primarily on human activity, and neglects the interrelationship of early hominids and their environment. Her research indirectly focuses on disproving the belief that Grotta Gauttari is a site where Neanderthal ritual cannibalism occurred.

Foremost she wants to know who brought the bones to the site, and if it is by hominids, what does this reveal about how they brought meat back to the shelter. She uses the data recorded from a geologist of the site because it is a record of the strata inside the cave and gives a clear picture of what bones and artifacts were present during different layers of time. The idea that hyenas may have influenced the site by occupation has been proposed by other experts, but this speculation has not been investigated till Stiner’s research.

Stiner tests this idea by comparing data from two control groups, one a hyena den, the other a hominid den of similar time and place as Grotta Guattari, with the sediment layers at Grotta Guattari. She uses graphs to visually compare the bones and cultural artifacts from the three sites. Her finding is that the upper layers correlate with bones found at the hyena den; both have several antlers, many bones of hyena juveniles, and the type of fractures on bones appear to be hyena inflicted. Separated from the upper layers by a layer of sediment that is without bones or artifacts are older layers that correlate with the hominid control site; both have several cultural artifacts, and unlike hyena dens they do not have many antlers. The research reveals that the top layers were mainly occupied by hyenas; therefore, because the top layers are used as evidence of Neanderthal rituals at Grotta Guattari the claim is completely disproved by Stiner’s research.

Built in a logical procession that reveals the research process, Stiner’s argument induces the reader to feel they are sharing in her discovery. She uses several graphs, one showing common disarticulated sections of prey, and another that compares Grotta Guattari with the two control sites. She explains why the data chosen is reputable; some being from her published work, other specialist’s work, and some from specialist’s verbal opinion. She includes an experiment that does not prove or disprove her hypothesis but illustrates the complexity of the interaction between hominids and other animals that share the same shelter. The argument leads into her major point at the end of the article and creates a lasting impact on the reader of the significance of her discovery.

MONICA REESE Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

van Beek, Walter E. A. Dogon Restudied. Current Anthropology, April 1991. Vol.32(2):139-168.

Walter van Beek’s restudy of the Dogon of Mali questions the accuracy of the works of Marcel Griaule. He examines whether or not the Dogon society portrayed by Griaule is identifiable to other researchers and to the Dogon themselves. van Beek argues that some data is unreliable, thin, or the analyses are improper. The author has no major problems with the first period of Griaule’s works, only the second and third (Dieu d’eau: Entretiens avec Ogotemmeli- 1948 and Le renard pale -1965). van Beek found that historical processes and ecological pressures influence Dogon culture and society. He also found that Dogon religion focused much less on environmental issues than expected.

Griaule maintained five main statements that van Beek could not replicate, in spite of attempts to do so. These were: 1. The Dogon had no proper creation myth and that astronomy was of very little importance in religion. 2. The “supernatural” world of the Dogon was neither diverse nor arbitrary and the role of the ancestors in religion was limited. 3. Symbolism in religion is limited and no sign system or levels of knowledge can be found. 4. The concept of the “vital force” is irrelevant to Dogon religion. 5. Dogon society is saturated with religion.

The author states that prior to Griaule’s study, the observations made before World War II were consistent with what he discovered about the Dogon. Van Beek began his own research with an exploration in early 1978 and then proceeded to conduct fieldwork for just over a year. In his fieldwork he lived among the Dogon and interviewed many important figures within society. He then followed the culture with eight visits made over a ten-year period to track the society and changes. Van Beek found that Dogon religion focused less on environmental issues than he had expected from Griaule’s books. Dogon culture was also found to be much more open than had been expected, eager to incorporate new ideas, and create relations with “centers of power far away.” He partially attributes discrepancies he found to Griaule’s strong will as a researcher, the political setting, and the strong tendency of the society to integrate foreign components and the culture’s bias toward courtesy.


Commenters on the article are split in their beliefs as to whether or not van Beek’s arguments are legitimate. R.M.A. Bedaux, of the Africa South of the Sahara department of the National Museum of Ethnology, completely disagrees with van Beek, saying that he is not scientific because he does not provide information to back his statements. On the other hand, Jacky Bouju (Universite de Provence Aix Marseilles, France) and Paul Lane (Archaeology Unit of the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) both agree that Marcel Griaule’s work should be criticized and that van Beek provides a new, in depth 11 year research of the Dogon, that is similar to their analyses.


In his reply, van Beek, remarks that this problem with the ethnography of the Dogon remains important in African anthropology because of the wide array of conflicting opinions. He says that the comments provided by Bouju and Lane are “specially relevant” because they have also done research in the area where the Dogon live and possibly even on the Dogon. He attacks Bedaux’s argument by stating that the majority of the article is data to support his observations and beliefs.

ATOUSA HOJATPANAH Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Watson, Richard A. What the New Archaeology Has Accomplished. Current Anthropology June, 1991. 32(3): 275-292


Richard Watson discusses the accomplishments of New Archaeology, or to be more precise, two major accomplishments. He first states that archaeology has come to place great dependence on general sciences, and that the fieldwork of archaeology cannot be done without the knowledge of other, more general and basic, sciences like geology. He then states that New Archaeology’s second major accomplishment is the way in which we view the evidential relationship between the discoveries by archaeologists (the “what is?”) and their interpretations of the finds (the “why is?”).

However, the major direction of the article was about what archaeology is and is not. Similar to what Watson said about archaeology, he seems to base his theories around common sense. Much of his claims and statements are grounded in ideas that could be conjured up by the rational mind of an intellect. He then explains his statements through small examples, or case scenarios, and refers to other past and contemporary intellects. Watson refers to Marin Mersenne numerous times, who he gave the title “a champion of the New Science.” He uses Mersenne and his works to open his article with information about the history of New Science.

He organizes his article so that he starts out by describing what archaeology and archaeological theory is and what it consists of, and then transitions to writing about what is expected of this article, the accomplishments of New Archaeology. He artfully uses those accomplishments to introduce the main point of his argument, which is his main idea, that archaeology is not philosophy. Archaeologists can make assumptions based on discoveries and prior knowledge, but should not be concerned with challenging the foundation of that prior knowledge. Watson is very adamant about supporting his idea, however, gives rather philosophical and almost obvious reasons to support it.

He concludes his paper by asking some philosophical questions like, “How do we justify science itself?” and “Is science true?” Watson takes a common sense approach in responding to those questions. All science can be challenged on many different grounds, except metaphysical. He explains that scientists have no knowledge in metaphysics, so therefore, cannot be asked to make any justifications or claims regarding that specific subject. Watson’s goal for this article was to present the irrelevancy of archaeological theory to the actual practice of archaeology by making it look boring.


There were some commentators in agreement with Watson and in disagreement as well. Adams, Fedele, Kobylinski, Leonard, and Malmer focus more on the claims on the accomplishments of New Archaeology. Adams and Malmer seem to think that the title and the content are not in total agreement. Where are the accomplishments? Moreover, Barich notes that Watson oversimplifies the complexities of the questions. On the other hand, Preucel more or less agrees with Watson in the area of scientific archaeology, but strongly disagrees with Watson in regards to what constitutes science. Bell recommends a broader view of the role of philosophy. Vasicek is concerned with Watson’s claims on hypotheses, and the fact that he does not explore all the related areas. Interestingly, despite the disagreements, Malmer sees Watson’s paper as a breath of fresh air, and Fedele sees it as liberating.


Watson responds to the commentators with four points. His first point expresses his appreciation towards the commentators, their suggestions and remarks, without addressing each person. In the next three points, he re-defines what he meant by such words and phrases like common, archaeological theory, and the science of archaeology. He clarifies the intentions he had when he states that theory and philosophy had nothing to do with the practice of archaeology. He then elaborates further on what he meant by the “science of archaeology.”

SONIA BANG Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

White, Tim D. and Nicholas Toth. The Question of Ritual Cannibalism at Grotta Guattari. Current Anthropology April, 1991 Vol.32(2):118-138

In his initial published account of the Circeo I specimen found at Grotta Guattari, Alberto Carlo Blanc hypothesizes that due to surrounding faunal remains coupled with multiple defleshing mutilations on the cranium itself, it is considered a manifestation of ritual cannibalism. Two distinct ancient mutilations are examined. The first was caused by one or more violent blows to the right temporal region. The second is a careful symmetrical incision at the periphery of the foramen magnum resulting in another sub-circular mutilation 10-12 centimeters in diameter. Another distinctive element of the site was the vertical placement of the skull and a stone assemblage that seemed to encircle the cranium in what Blanc argues is a hominid production.

As White and Toth point out, Blanc did not consider secondary sources for the bone accumulation, stone assemblages and cranial modifications. After a close examination, they hold that hyenas probably caused modifications and accumulation of bone. Furthermore, a rock-fall could have just as easily caused the “circle of stones.”

In the authors’ study of Melanesian samples, they find that the distinctive cut-marks, polish and patterned percussion damage found on the anterior and inferior alveolar regions, the lateral and anterior orbital regions, the zygoma and the supra mastoid and mastoid regions, do not resemble those found on the Circeo specimen in most cases.

Under further scrutiny, the basal fracture appears similar to samples collected from the American Southwest and Melanesia. However, those careful incisions, designed to mount a pole, enabled the craniums to be displayed as trophy skulls, and does not warrant scientific confidence of cannibalism, based on the dissimilarities of opposing background evidence. Moreover, the occipital (basal) region, upon discovery, consistently lends itself to symmetrical fracture, due to thinning of bone and its inherent cranial architecture. Thus, the agent of modification is arbitrary.

Microscopic breccia matrix and staining, calcium carbonate deposits suggest that all the modifications are indeed ancient, with the exception of recent damage, caused by instruments of inquiry. Those deposits also indicate that the skull’s placement does not exhibit adequate evidence of vertical placement.

In conclusion, contrary to Blanc’s hypothesis, Melanesian samples have little in common with the Circeo I cranium. Staining and matrix show the skull was not placed on its top. The circle of stones cannot be proven to be a product of a human presence, and the skull modifications presented resemble carnivorous tooth marks (hyena). It is also noted that the unsophisticated excavation methods of the time ultimately led to an inaccurate study by Blanc. Finally, Melanesian skulls exhibit to a larger extent, and higher degree, an unmistakable representation of hominid modification, and also, the main basal fracture borrows its symmetrical shape from the skulls own inherent architecture.


Chase begins by reviewing the history of the recording of cannibalism, arguing that one piece of evidence cannot describe an entire ideological phenomenon. Clark reinforces the importance of strict observation procedures, questioning the credibility of generalized assumptions about widespread Neandertal cannibalistic activity. Cook admits her reluctance in accepting theories based on evidence gathered in such unrestricted contexts. F. D’Errico brings his expertise of taphonomic analysis and reports that the faunal remains are probably the result of a hyena den. Donahue is careful not to replace old myths of hominid scavenging with contemporary ones.


Stiner, an expert on Paleolithic faunal remains, underscores the importance of stricter excavation standards, and challenges premature conclusions from anthropologists, who, imply cannibalism based on semi-convincing arguments. In response to Cook, she cites reference materials that focus on food transporting and prey age selection that are issues too complex, she explains, to cover in a reciprocal correspondence. Making and breaking myths in archeology is an issue raised and covered in her discussion.

CARLOS PALACIO & SHEENA GHASSEMI Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)