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Anthropology in Practice

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Editor’s Selections: Crucifixion, Megafauna Extinction, and Coffins


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Ed Note: Part of my online life includes editorial duties at ResearchBlogging.org, where I serve as the Social Sciences Editor. Each Thursday, I pick notable posts on research in anthropology, philosophy, social science, and research to share on the ResearchBlogging.org News site. To help highlight this writing, I also share my selections here on AiP.

There were some interesting death-related posts this week on ResearchBlogging.org:

  • At Powered by Osteons, Kristina Killgrove walks readers through the sole bioarchaeological example of crucifixion that has ever been found. With such sparse evidence, it’s hardly surprising that there appears to be some discussion surrounding the find regarding what it can tell us about how the individual was crucified. But perhaps the bigger mystery is why there are so few examples of crucifixion in the archaeological record.
  • Humans have often been blamed for the extinction of the megafauna that roamed the planet prior to the end of the last ice age. At Inkfish, Elizabeth Preston may help relieve us of some of that guilt with a study that aims to get to the bottom of these mass extinctions. In short, we may not have killed off the woolly rhino, but we likely have to answer some questions about the demise of the wild horse population.
  • The coffin you’re buried in may not necessarily reflect the life you live. In archaeology, where so much is dependent on the interpretation of what is found, this reminder becomes important in discussions about social equality. Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie shares a study that strongly cautions against social judgments based on coffin-type.

I’ll be back next week with more from anthropology, philosophy, and research.

Krystal D'Costa About the Author: Krystal D'Costa is an anthropologist working in digital media in New York City. You can follow AiP on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @krystaldcosta.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. Ceratotherium 5:15 pm 11/11/2011

    Re MEGAFAUNA.

    We may not have killed off Europe’s Pleistocene rhinos because there’s not much evidence that we hunted them?

    The huge bone collections accumulated and processed by Homo erectus/heidelbergensis at Bilzingsleben in Thuringia between 410,000 and 380,000 years ago contain a great many rhino bones. (See http://www.megafauna.com/chapter13.htm ) The beautifully-made wooden javelins disovered by Harthmut Thieme and his colleagues at Shoeningen, together with butchered animal remains, show, moreover, that erectus was, by this time, what Thieme called an “excellent hunter.” Nature 385, 807 – 810.

    Mark Roberts, a British archeologist, directed the excavation and analysis of the remains of three adult Stephanorhinus rhinos, which were killed and butchered by Homo erectus at Boxgrove in southern England, about 500,000 years ago. Each of those kills would, Roberts tells us, have been “a magnet for other predators.”
    “Yet each carcass was skillfully cut up. Fillet steaks were sliced from the spine and the bones were smashed to get out the marrow. Only hunters in complete control of their patch could have done that.”
    The fact that forty scientists participated in this study hasn’t added credibility to its conclusions. It reminds me, rather, of a the headline of a supermarket checkout rag which read “Celebrity Poll Proves that God Exists.”

    At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’d like to suggest that the following site might offer a more logical (if less politically correct) account of these not-so-mysterious extinctions:

    http://www.megafauna.com/

    Link to this
  2. 2. Krystal D'Costa in reply to Krystal D'Costa 5:46 pm 11/11/2011

    Hi Ceratotherium,

    Thanks for the link! I just want to note that Elizabeth Preston doesn’t say early ancestors didn’t hunt the woolly rhino, but that they may not have hunted it to extinction. She reports on research that suggests human interaction didn’t ultimately kill off these large mammals, which is interesting because it could help us understand how climate change causes stress in differing species.

    Link to this

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