Anthropology is in a Constant State of Learning

As Dave Wolf states in his blog post Anthropological Analysis of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Happy Halloween!), “Reliability of informants is a big issue in anthropology; just look at Margaret Meade, who was accused of being duped by her informants in Papua New Guinea.  Several years after she did her field work, another anthropologist went to study the same people to see if her findings held up; they did not, indicating that the informants must have lied to at least one of the anthropologists and possibly both.  This is why it’s important not to rely solely on what informants tell you, but to confirm information with other sources and through participant observation.”

An example of changes in understanding is the new findings regarding Neanderthals. According to the k2p Blog post Neanderthal’s weren’t vegetarian – they just ate the stomachs of vegetarians, the Neanderthals, which were once thought to be ferocious carnivores. Then they were then thought to be vegetarians. The K2P Blog continues that now the belief is that the neanderthals actually were misunderstood as vegetarians “… from eating the stomachs of prey which in turn were vegetarian. Neanderthals were only vegetarian by proxy.”

The k2p blog sites a paper by Laura Buck and Chris Stringer and published in the latest edition of Quaternary Science ReviewsStringer argues that the tiny pieces of plant found in Neanderthal teeth could have come from a very different source. They may well have become embedded in the stomach contents of deer, bison and other herbivores that had then been hunted and eaten by Neanderthals.

Photo from Windows to the Universe. "This photograph, from around 1899, shows an Inuit summer hut."

Photo from Windows to the Universe. “This photograph, from around 1899, shows an Inuit summer hut.”

“Many hunter-gatherers, including the Inuit, Cree and Blackfeet, eat the stomach contents of animals such as deer because they are good source of vitamin C and trace elements,” said Stringer. “For example, among the Inuit, the stomach contents of an animal are considered a special delicacy with a consistency and a flavour that is not unlike cream cheese. At least that is what I am told.”

So, anthropology assisted archaeologists in their assessment. We can see that anthropologists and archaeologists are always learning. That is the where the excitement comes from.

Visit the International Museum of Cultures to experience that excitement and learn about world cultures.

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