The first hominin feet

New research suggests that groups of ~130 modern humans at minimum undertook planned expeditions to colonize Sahul via a northern route. However, the necessity of more evidence to test this model reflects a need for change in the way we investigate the population history of this region.

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Posted in Human evolution | Tagged

Control of Fire by Middle Palaeolithic Hominins

The use of fire played an important role in the social and technological development of the genus Homo. Most archaeologists agree that this was a multi-stage process, beginning with the exploitation of natural fires and ending with the ability to create fire from scratch. Some have argued that in the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) hominin fire use was limited by the availability of fire in the landscape. Here, we present a record of the abundance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), organic compounds that are produced during the combustion of organic material, from Lusakert Cave, a MP site in Armenia. We find no correlation between the abundance of light PAHs (3–4 rings), which are a major component of wildfire PAH emissions and are shown to disperse widely during fire events, and heavy PAHs (5–6 rings), which are a major component of particulate emissions of burned wood. Instead, we find heavy PAHs correlate with MP artifact density at the site. Given that hPAH abundance correlates with occupation intensity rather than lPAH abundance, we argue that MP hominins were able to control fire and utilize it regardless of the variability of fires in the environment. Together with other studies on MP fire use, these results suggest that the ability of hominins to manipulate fire independent of exploitation of wildfires was spatially variable in the MP and may have developed multiple times in the genus Homo.

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Posted in Human evolution | Tagged

The homeland of modern humans

A study has concluded that the earliest ancestors of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) emerged in a southern African ‘homeland’ and thrived there for 70 thousand years. The breakthrough findings are published in the prestigious journal Nature today. The authors propose that changes in Africa’s climate triggered the first human explorations, which initiated the development of humans’ genetic, ethnic and cultural diversity. This study provides a window into the first 100 thousand years of modern humans’ history.

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Family Habitus as the Cultural Context for Childhood

The article is based on a longitudinal qualitative study carried out by the author on children and their families in two areas of Belgrade (Serbia) in 1993-4 and 2000. Its goal is to provide an insight into how everyday life is structured and constructed for children by their family habitus. There are significant distinctions in how families from different social strata use their resources and thereby provide different cultural contexts for children. The main conclusion is that family habitus has a strong influence on allocation, distribution and the use of family resources and thereby structures the everyday life of children. At the same time, it activates different kinds of capital for (and by) children and thereby constructs different childhood practices.

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Posted in Children, Cultural capital, Family | Tagged , ,

Exploring the Development of Cultural Identities in Immigrant Transitions

This paper examines the processes by which cultural identities develop through the use of symbolic resources (Zittoun, 2006). The notion of symbolic resources provides a framework that enables one to consider developmental transitions between practices and between historical times. For Portuguese students, these transitions initially involved a rupture, a loss of social resources and linguistic resources, which resulted in cultural awareness. This cultural awareness led to alterations in the positioning of their cultural selves, either by themselves personally or by others. Social resources mediated access to new symbolic resources, and this included experiencing the ‘other’ as constructive and meaningful to the self. This ‘other’ became symbolic and thus the physical presence of that person is not necessarily needed. We argue that in order to comprehend cultural identity development, the notion of symbolic resources can be extended to include the social resource as that which is ‘symbolic’.

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Posted in Cultural identity, Immigrants | Tagged ,

Culture, history, and psychology: Some historical reflections and research directions

Psychologists have typically narrated their discipline’s history so as to glorify an experimental method, which analyzes the mind independently of cultural and historical factors. In line with Jahoda’s sociocultural sensitivity to psychology, this article critically interrogates the plausibility for this vision of psychology as cut off from wider social processes, and offers an alternative based on a re-appropriation of concepts and methods from psychology’s past that highlight cultural processes. This approach is illustrated with a study of how people remember history narratives on the basis of cultural resources taken over from social groups they belong to, and which thus embed them within a stream of history. Both psychologists’ narratives of their discipline and people’s everyday memory of history are shown to be motivated toward the justification of particular visions of social reality.

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Posted in Culture, Psychology | Tagged ,

Religion, History, and Place in the Origin of Settled Life

This volume explores the role of religion and ritual in the origin of settled life in the Middle East, focusing on the repetitive construction of houses or cult buildings in the same place. Prominent archaeologists, anthropologists, and scholars of religion working at several of the region’s most important sites—such as Çatalhöyük, Göbekli Tepe, Körtik Tepe, and Aşıklı Höyük—contend that religious factors significantly affected the timing and stability of settled economic structures.

Contributors argue that the long-term social relationships characteristic of delayed-return agricultural systems must be based on historical ties to place and to ancestors. They define different forms of history-making, including nondiscursive routinized practices as well as commemorative memorialization. They consider the timing in the Neolithic of an emerging concern with history-making in place in relation to the adoption of farming and settled life in regional sequences. They explore whether such correlations indicate the causal processes in which history-making, ritual practices, agricultural intensification, population increase, and social competition all played a role.

Religion, History, and Place in the Origin of Settled Life takes a major step forward in understanding the adoption of farming and a settled way of life in the Middle East by foregrounding the roles of history-making and religious ritual. This work is relevant to students and scholars of Near Eastern archaeology, as well as those interested in the origins of agriculture and social complexity or the social role of religion in the past

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Posted in Ancient, Religion | Tagged ,

Religion in the Emergence of Civilization

This book presents an interdisciplinary study of the role of spirituality and religious ritual in the emergence of complex societies. With contributions by an eminent group of natural scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers and theologians, this volume examines Catalhoyuk as a case study. A nine-thousand-year-old town in central Turkey, Catalhoyuk was first excavated in the 1960s and has since become integral to understanding the symbolic and ritual worlds of the early farmers and village dwellers in the Middle East. It is thus an ideal location for exploring theories about the role of religion in early settled life. This book provides a unique overview of current debates concerning religion and its historical variations. By exploring such themes as the integration of the spiritual and the material, the role of belief in religion, the cognitive bases for religion and religion’s social roles, this book situates the results from Catalhoyuk within a broader understanding of the Neolithic in the Middle East.

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Posted in Civilization, Religion | Tagged ,

Televising the revolution as cultural policy: Bolivarian state broadcasting as nation-building

This article examines the role of the Caracas-based, pan-Latin American state broadcaster, TeleSUR, in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Drawing on Manuel Castells’ communication theory of the information age, in which global society has become a series of interlinked ‘networks’, and the ‘information economy’ has displaced manufacturing, the article argues that the Bolivarian Revolution, led by the late Hugo Chávez (1954–2013), is a network state, and as such is to be understood as a network of interconnected political, economic and communication interests. As an integral part of this network state, then, the TeleSUR broadcaster sets the agenda in the international sphere via satellite, cable and the Internet. Since petroleum is one of Venezuela’s main commodities – the country produces little in the way of manufacturing – and its main export, one of the ways in which Venezuela projects itself to the world is not with material commodities (oil notwithstanding), but images such as those that regularly appear on TeleSUR. This exportation of images of Chavismo and of Chávez himself, the article concludes, has become both cultural policy and a form of incipient nation-building.

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Posted in cultural policy | Tagged

Habermas, Rorty and the Politics of Cultural Change

Although Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty both reject the traditional picture of cultural change in which intellectuals are supposed to have the ‘last word’ on cultural issues and envisage cultural changes as the result of ‘dialogue’ or ‘conversation’ between them and the lay public, they nevertheless end up espousing different pictures of cultural change because of their totally different conception of the role and function of language, truth and rationality in such dialogue. In the first two sections of this article, I will recount Habermas’s critique of Rorty’s neo-pragmatism and the latter’s responses to it so that they can reveal the core issues of the debate. In the third section, I will argue that, as a ‘sociologized version’ of Rorty’s philosophy, Jeffrey Alexander’s theory of social performance provides us with a sociological framework that makes possible a wide range of empirical studies of cultural change.

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Posted in Cultural change, Habermas | Tagged ,