Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World's Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

How does preservation affect our understanding of the prehistoric archaeological record?

The archaeological record is the way that we interpret prehistory, so the effective preservation of evidence is the most important way to build an understanding. First this essay will look at what actually gets preserved, and then how these materials get preserved for long periods of time, with Ötzi the iceman, American caves, the Schöningen spears, Ohalo II and the Laetoli footprints as case studies. Lastly there will be a discussion on the problems of preservation, including the impossibility of behavioural preservation and the way that archaeologists can get around these problems with scientific methods, experimental archaeology and ethnoarchaeology (with a focus on Central African hunter-gatherers).

What gets preserved?

The archaeological record is comprised of finds which can be categorised mainly into artefacts (literally handmade objects) and biofacts (organic/natural remains). Finds such as the Oldowan stone tools at Gona, Ethiopia are an example of inorganic artefacts, in the form of stone tool flakes, which pushed the dates for the earliest stone tool manufacturing from 1.8 to 2.6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). The reason we could reliably produce these dates is because stone artefacts survive well and they aren’t biodegradable, meaning there is more evidence to find to support this hypothesis.

On the other hand, organic artefacts and biofacts make up a minority of the archaeological record; being materials such as wood and skins, they are biodegradable. However, even though organic finds are limited, they can provide much better evidence of material culture than inorganics, as it is most likely that tools would be made organics like wood, animal parts etc. Supporting this idea, Sillitoe & Hardy (2003: 556) make the observation that the majority of material culture, such as tools, of the current Wola tribe of Papua New Guinea wouldn’t survive archaeologically, just like prehistoric artefacts. Therefore, the way we classify the archaeological record is biased (see Fig.1) (Beck & Jones, 1989); certain articles are preserved, and others aren’t, and we should remember that a large portion of artefacts we find are actually refuse. This means our understanding of the archaeological record is pushed towards certain cultures and aspects of life based on the interpretation of the available evidence.

Fig.1: The causes of bias in the archaeological record, and some ways to respond.

How are artefacts preserved?

John Coles (cited in Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 72) Estimates that around 75% of evidence at a site is organic and thus may not be preserved, this is due to the fact that in order to be preserved effectively, specific conditions must be met. Survival of materials depends largely on the climate and the surrounding matrix, but also must be kept in a stable moisture environment (extremely arid/cold) or an anaerobic/anoxic state (Renfrew & Bahn, 2008: 63-7). Bones, for example, are preserved in alkaline material, which is why discoveries of human remains are often made in limestone caves and caverns; although this creates a geographical bias, restricting our understanding of where people lived to certain areas (see Fig.1).

A cold or frozen environment effectively refrigerates materials, keeping them preserved for long periods of time, a famous example of which is the discovery of ‘Ötzi the Iceman’ (see Fig.2) in the Ötztal Alps near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The body of a man was found frozen in a glacier, and radiocarbon dated to around 5100-5300 years ago, preserved because the ice hadn’t thawed until he was found, which kept conditions such as the moisture stable (Barfield, 1994). The body was kept so well that even his stomach contents could be identified, allowing archaeologists to build a picture of how and where he lived based on the types of pollen they found (Groenman-van Waateringe, 2011). And the many items he was found with, for example a copper axe, provided “unprecedented insight” into life and culture of Neolithic-Copper Age central Europe (Müller et al, 2003).

Fig.2: The preserved body of Ötzi and tools

In much the same way, organic materials can also be kept stable and preserved in arid environments; many destructive micro-organisms cannot thrive in an environment with a lack of water. Hogup and Danger Caves, Utah were inhabited by humans up to 10,000 years ago, and were dry enough to preserve 142 human coprolites. This allowed archaeologists to examine the diet and lifestyles of the inhabitants, after which they found the oldest evidence of the human exclusive parasite Enterobius vermicularis (human pinworm), which were radiocarbon dated to 7837years ago. Similarly, excavations were carried out in Lovelock Cave, Nevada, where coprolites preserved in the arid conditions showed that the inhabitants had extremely course diets of seeds, hulls and tough plant fibres (Heizer & Napton, 1969: 563) and North America’s oldest sling (made of Apocynum) was found preserved on the mummified body of a child (Heizer & Johnson, 1952: 139).

Materials can be kept in an anaerobic/anoxic state in waterlogged environments; this prevents the destruction of materials by harmful bacteria, allowing them to be preserved. Three complete wooden spears (around 2m in length) were found at Schöningen in an unusually dense deposit that precluded air penetration, stopping bacterial decay (Klein, 2013: 113-4). Dated to around 400kya alongside the bones of several butchered horses, they provided the oldest compelling evidence of human hunting activity (Thieme, 1997). Similarly the Ohalo II site at the Sea of Galilee was established after a period of droughts and pumping from the lake revealed a series of submerged brush hut dwellings (see Fig.3) dated to around 23kya (Hole, 2004). The discovery of organic remains of fruits, seeds and wooden objects in context offered insight into the lifestyle of people during the LGM; but the main point of interest was the discovery of preserved bedding (see Fig.3). It consisted of partially charred Puccinellia confer convoluta leaves and stems, covered by a thin compact layer of clay arranged around a central hearth, and became the oldest evidence of in situ bedding (Nadel et al. 2004: 6821-4).

Fig.3: Layout of dwelling (left), preserved grass bedding (right)

Alongside preservation in cold, arid or waterlogged conditions, there are incidents where materials are preserved due to ‘freak conditions’ such burial in volcanic ash. The footprints of Australopithecus afarensis discovered in Laetoli, Ethiopia (by Mary Leakey in 1978) were believed to have been preserved by rapid cementation by natrocarbonatite and melilitite ashes erupted from the nearby Sadiman volcano (Zaitsev, 2011). They were formed when hominin walked through a wet ash-fall, and their preservation has allowed archaeologists to determine the way that early hominin walked by examining the shape and angles of the prints (Raichlen et al, 2010).

Problems with preservation

Since there are many problems in regards to how well materials are preserved, archaeologists must find ways to deal with these problems. The use of scientific methods in archaeology has improved the understanding we can draw from the archaeological record. For example, Young and Bamforth (1990) explore the problems faced when trying to differentiate between natural wear and signs of use in stone tools. They argue that macroscopic approaches often lead to misinterpretation, and cannot compare to careful microscopic analysis. Improved methods of analysis have led to new techniques of interpreting evidence too, as Hurcombe (2008) explains; by examining the organic residue on lithics, a new understanding of Neolithic craft culture (such as basket weaving) was established (see Fig.4). This is often supported  by ‘experimental archaeology’, a process designed to ‘replicate past phenomena’ (Mathieu, 2002, cited in Outram, 2008), this could be anything from hafting stone tools to test effectiveness, to building ancient dwellings and destroying them to monitor the decay (Carrell, 1992: 4).

Fig.4: An Archaeologist uses a stone tool to cut reeds, then identifies the wear

Experimental archaeology is useful when it comes to trying to understand how things we find were used in the past, but there are some things that simply aren’t preserved at all, such as behaviour. One of the closest ways we can get to understanding behavioural patterns is through an ethnoarchaeological process; London (2000: 2) explains that by living in contemporary traditional societies and observing the people, archaeologists can record data to improve their understanding of ancient artefacts. Hunter-gatherer societies in many parts of the world have been the focus of much ethnoarchaeological attention; Atherton (1983) describes the way in which the study of African hunters and foragers has shed new light on the debate over the transition between foraging and agriculture. He explains that in contrast to John Pfeiffer’s ‘Eureka’ theory (1976: 23), in which the transition was a sudden irreversible one; based on the passive reaction to agriculture shown by today’s hunter-gatherers, prehistoric communities may have acted in the same way, choosing not to use them or only when necessary. When studying the indigenous San Bushmen of central Botswana, an observation was made that there was a distinct difference between foragers, who move their camps to follow food, and collectors, who gather resources and return to a semi-static camp. This identification allowed archaeologists to determine the lifestyles of prehistoric communities based on the types of camps discovered (Binford, 1980: 5-10). Though we must remember when taking an ethnoarchaeological approach that contemporary hunter-gatherers are not living fossils.


I believe that preservation of materials is extremely important when building an understanding of the archaeological record; if evidence fails to be preserved then our interpretation of the past would be extraordinarily limited. The preservation of inorganic materials can be useful, but based on fairly certain knowledge that most prehistoric material culture would have been organic; it is not the best evidence. Organics may be the best, but unfortunately they are perishable and are only preserved under specific conditions. However archaeological science, experimental and ethnoarchaeology provide ways to deal with this lack of evidence, and form an ever improving understanding of the archaeological record.


Atherton, J.H. (1983). Ethnoarchaeology in Africa. The African Archaeological Review 1, pp.75-104.

Barfield, L. (1994). The Iceman reviewed. Antiquity 68, pp.10-26.

Beck, C. & Jones, G.T. (1989). Bias and Archaeological Classification. American Antiquity 54(2), pp.244-262.

Binford, L. (1980). Willow Smoke and Dog’s Tails: Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45(1), pp.4-20.

Carrell, T.L. (1992). Replication and Experimental Archaeology. Historical Archaeology 26(4), pp.4-13.

Fry, G.F. & Moore, J.G. (1969). Enterobius vermicularis: 10,000-Year-Old Human Infection. Science 166(3913), pp.1620.

Groenman-van Waateringe, W. (2011). The Iceman’s last days – the testimony of Ostrya carpinifolia. Antiquity 85, pp.434-440.

Heizer, R.F. & Johnson, I.W. (1952). A Prehistoric Sling from Lovelock Cave, Nevada. American Antiquity 18(2), pp.139-147.

Heizer, R.F. & Napton, L.K. (1969). Biological and Cultural Evidence from Prehistoric Human Coprolites. Science 165(3893), pp.563-568.

Hole, F. (2004). Stone Age Bedding by the Sea of Galilee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(19), pp.7207-7208.

Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

Klein, R. (2013). Hominin Dispersals in the World. Ch3 in: Scarre, C. (ed.) The Human Past. 3rd ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

London, G. (2000). Ethnoarchaeology and Interpretations of the Past. Near Eastern Archaeology 63(1), pp.2-8.

Mathieu, J. R. (2002). Introduction. In Mathieu, J.R. (ed.) Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviours and Processes. BAR International Series 1035, Archaeopress: Oxford.

McPherron, S. P. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

Müller, W. et al. (2003). Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman. Science 302(5646), pp.862-866.

Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World’s Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Outram, A.K. (2008) Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.1-6.

Pfeiffer, J. E. (1976). A Note on the Problem of Basic Causes. In Harlan et al. (eds.) Origins of African Plant Domestication. Mouton: University of Michigan.

Raichlen, D.A. et al. (2010). Laetoli Footprints Preserve Earliest Direct Evidence of Human-Like Bipedal Biomechanics. PLoS ONE 5(3), pp.e9769.

Renfrew, C & Bahn, P. (2008). Archaeology: Theories, Methods & Practice. 4th ed. Thames & Hudson: London.

Silletoe, P. & Hardy, K. (2003). Living lithics: ethnoarchaeology in Highland Papua New Guinea. Antiquity 77 pp.555-566.

Thieme. H. (1997). Lower Palaeolithic Hunting Spears from Germany. Nature 385, pp.807-810.

Young, D. & Bamforth, D.B. (1990) On the Macroscopic Identification of Used Flakes. American Antiquity 55(2), pp.403-409.

Image references:

Fig.2: Holden, C. (2003). Isotopic Data Pinpoint Iceman’s Origins. Science 302(5646), pp.759+761.

Fig.3: Nadel, D. et al. (2004). Stone Age Hut in Israel Yields World’s Oldest Evidence of Bedding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(17), pp.6821-6826.

Fig.4: Hurcombe, L. (2008). Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture. World Archaeology 40(1), pp.83-115.

Laughing Man at Protest

Symptomatic reading of Kenji Kamiyama’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

This essay will examine the problematic identified by the latent texts of the Japanese animation ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’, directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. ‘Ghost in the shell’ (GitS) is set in the year 2030 in a fictional Japanese city called Niihama, and follows Motoko Kusanagi (Major), leader of Public Security Section 9, a special operations task force that investigates various (usually ‘cyber’) crimes. In this future, the creation of cybernetic bodies, prosthetics and advanced artificial intelligence has changed the whole world, enhancing the lives of many people, however there is an underlying conflict throughout the series, made apparent by various latent references and ideas. According to Althusser, one way in which the problematic in a text is revealed is through the answering of questions that were never formally posed (Storey, 2008, p.72). I would argue that the underlying ideas seem to offer answers that reveal the structuring problematic: ‘In a world of increasing technological advancement, humanity is becoming displaced.’ In this essay I want to examine the latent texts throughout this series that identify this problematic; first looking at the development of individualism in the robotic characters and the ethics of artificial intelligence. Then I would like to look at how the director uses cybernetics to engage with the dilemma of body and soul in an age of increasing digital advancement, and finally I would like to examine how ‘the Laughing Man incident’ is used to identify the effects of worldwide media exposure on identities and the distortion of reality through virtual exposure.

First I would like to examine the Tachikomas, a group of robotic tanks that possess artificial intelligence (AIs). They are designed to act as support for Section 9, and on the surface seem to provide an element of comic relief for the otherwise serious anime. However, as the story develops, it is possible to argue that the Tachikomas are in fact a device used to discuss the issues and ethics of artificial intelligence. Even though they look identical, the Tachikoma have developed a seeming variety of individual personalities and traits (For example, Batou, another member of Section 9, exclusively identifies one specific Tachikoma as his favourite), which leads to debates among the robots that explore the various problems that have been identified by real scientists as to the ethics of artificial intelligence. For example Bostrom and Yudkowsky (2014, pp.319-24) explain that there are two components that would be shared by (only) humans and AIs; which are sentience (the capacity for phenomenal experience or qualia, such as the capacity to feel pain and suffer) and sapience (capacities associated with higher intelligence such as self-awareness). These two attributes would mean that AIs would have to hold the same level of moral status as a human being, and thus would require equal treatment. The viewer would then be expected to show emotional response during series one, episode 15, when then Tachikomas are sent to be decommissioned for fear that their increasing awareness would interfere with the team’s operations; it leads to questions about the boundaries of humanity (‘Machines Désirantes’, 2006).

Some of the Tachikomas’ conversation topics could also be addressing the similarities between artificial intelligence and humanity. For example, there is a scene, also in ‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006) in which a Tachikoma explains to Batou that they are beginning to understand more about the world, and presents their theory of God. They explain that God could be translated into mathematics as the concept of zero, a symbol that represents the absence of meaning and whose meaning is necessitated by the delineation of systems from each other (in this case positive and negative). They then make the comparison that this is the same both in analogue (in this case humans) and the Tachikomas’ own digital construction. This addresses a running theme throughout the series that refers to the ‘ghost’ as the vital essence and defining characteristic of humans, and which isn’t (supposedly) possessed by AIs. However, after the Tachikomas’ individuality is accepted by the Major, this view is challenged during series 2, episode 26, when they sacrifice themselves to save the refugees under threat of nuclear attack (‘Endless∞Gig’ 2006). As they sacrifice themselves, they are heard singing:

“It’s because we’re all alive that we are sad. When we raise our hands and let the sunlight filter through, we can see our blood coursing through them a vivid red.”

Therefore the viewer could perceive the humans and AIs as parallel entities, thus encouraging them to question the validity of our own human experience in a future alongside artificial intelligence. The underlying ideas presented through the Tachikoma thus answer the questions posed about the ethics of AIs that were never asked; in this case stating that our attitude towards machines would have to change in the event of the creation of true artificial intelligence, lest we lose our humanity.

A Tachikoma

A Tachikoma

Another theme that hints at the problematic is the concept of cyberisation; in the future in which GitS is set, cybernetics that drastically improve life expectancy and (supposedly) quality have become commonplace and only the poor are without prosthetic enhancements. On the surface, this seems to be a way to allow the characters to perform actions that would be impossible for normal people, giving the director freedom to create extraordinary and exciting action sequences. The issue with cybernetics in GitS is the seeming detachment of body and soul, and a running theme is the concept of a ‘ghost’, in other words the spirit or vital essence that defines the individual. Unlike the AIs, it is argued that no matter how many parts of his body are replaced by prosthetics, his ‘ghost’ will always remain the same, which is related to the philosophical concept of Theseus’ Paradox (Scaltsas, 1980). However there seems to be a constant doubt in the cyberised characters’ minds as to whether they are actually real or just a fabricated entity, which is hinted at by small seemingly illogical actions that they perform. For example, Batou continues to buy weight training equipment, even though it is pointless to do so as a full cyborg, almost as if there is a conscious need for affirmation of his very being. This points to the dilemmas of body that humans are facing with increasing frequency, as Poster (2002, p.15) explains that what it means for a human being to have a body is now challenged by bio-engineering, medical transplants and reproduction technologies.

However, as Storey explains (2008, p.74), Pierre Macherey builds on Althusser’s method of symptomatic reading; a text is not an expression of a singular hidden message, but an amalgam of meaning. With this in mind, I believe that there is also a confrontation of the concept of separation of body and mind as a possible forward step for humanity. Appleby (2002, p.101-) argues that in fact the body is now obsolete, referring often to the work of Stelarc who challenges outmoded Platonic and Cartesian metaphysics in an attempt to re-evaluate the body. However I disagree with Stelarc’s assumption that humanity’s development is a teleological process that pursues a primal desire to fight gravity and leads to humanity’s eventual cyberisation in order to survive away from earth. Instead of this outcome, the answer that GitS seems to provide is that humanity is instead destined to inhabit the digital realm rather than a physical one. We could argue that the decision of the full cyborg leader of the refugee rebellion Kuze Hideo to upload his consciousness to the net and exist as a non-corporeal entity could be seen as an active engagement with this idea (‘The Side of Justice’, 2006), however this could be challenged as this event doesn’t end up coming to fruition thanks to the sacrifice of the Tachikomas. Instead this possibility for the future of humanity is left unexplored by the director and by its absence hints to the viewer that the future of humanity is not so easily predicted.

Building on the underlying theme of human integration with technology, I would like to examine the ‘Laughing Man’ incident, from series one. ‘The Laughing Man’ is an expert hacker who (six years prior to the series) publicly assaulted head of Serano Genomics (a micromachine company) for withholding a cyberbrain illness cure. He hacked the eye implants of all the spectators, replacing his face with a stylised logo (see fig.1), and this lead to a series of copycat crimes all under the name of ‘The Laughing Man’ using this logo (‘Meme’, 2006). The problematic is addressed by  references to J.D. Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’, especially Holden Caulfield’s constant criticism of phonies, which refer to not only the copycat crimes, but also seems to provide an answer to how people live their  (online) lives in a digital future. The implication of this is that people constantly connected to the net are subject to total media saturation, and in a cybernetic context where the net may be accessed anywhere from within one’s own mind, this could result in a fusing of the real and digital worlds. Heim (1995, p.65) argues that through the development of ‘virtual reality’ “Life’s body is becoming indistinguishable from its computer prosthesis.” The difficulty of escaping this media saturation is shown during the last episode of series one (‘Stand Alone Complex’, 2006), as the Major runs her hand over the words “Fuck You” on the wall of the library where she meets the ‘original Laughing Man’ who stays there to be away from the world. This is a reference again to ‘Catcher in the Rye’, where Holden states:

“You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ‘Fuck you’ right under your nose.” (Salinger, 1951, p.204)

Therefore the ‘Laughing Man’ incident points to the problematic of human displacement in future society, attributing media saturation as the factor that blurs the boundary between the physical identity and virtual representation.

By using the ‘Laughing Man’ and its associated implications, the media creates an entire phenomenon based on the heroics and mystery of the hacker. As people become more and more obsessed with this logo and the ‘heroic’ act it symbolised, they become copycats who commit similar crimes under the name of the ‘Laughing Man’. This is supposed to highlight the fact that media saturation has the effect of causing mass duplication under the guise of pursuing individuality, for example today we see people all watching the same TV shows, being exposed to the same ideals and concepts. This is taken to the next level in GitS, as people themselves are linked directly into the net, and shows us the effects of media exposure through the creation of ‘Laughing Man’ copycats. The underlying idea related to this is that it will become dangerous for people to experience such exposure. The fact that the people who become copycats truly believe that they are the ‘real Laughing Man’ reveals that the world of virtual reality could be extremely harmful. Their reality is becoming distorted, which is hinted to as the laughing man logo is seen on the face of the hacker in real life, as he hacks into the eyes of the viewers. This is linked to the idea that the virtual would become more real than reality, and is a concept that is uncomfortable but also attractive to many, as the possibility to live our fantasies battles with the worry that we would lose ourselves entirely. This is confirmed by Poster (1995, p.94) who explains that “technology has evolved to mime and to multiply, to multiplex and to improve upon the real”.

In conclusion a symptomatic reading of GitS reveals that behind a manifest text that shows an amazing, technologically advanced future populated by equally fantastic cyborgs, there is a latent text and underlying problematic that challenge us to think about the place of humanity in such a digitally advanced future. By facing this problem, we are shown that there are strong ethical implications attached to the creation of artificial intelligence; that we must retain a sense of ourselves as the concept of ‘body’ evolves; and the future of human integration with the digital world is uncertain and could be extremely dangerous.   I believe that the ideas and answers we receive from the underlying text all indicate a need to be wary of our future and above all to retain our humanity in the face of the biggest challenges to our existence.


Appleby, J. (2002). Planned Obsolescence: Flying into the Future with Stelarc. Ch.6 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.101-113.

Bostrom, N. & Yudkowsky, E. (2014). The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, Ch.15 in The Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Endless∞Gig’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Heim, M. (1995). The Design of Virtual Reality. Ch.4 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.65-77.

‘Machines Désirantes’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 15. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

‘Meme’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 6. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2002 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Poster, M. (2002). High-Tech Frankenstein, or Heideggar Meets Stelarc. Ch. 1 in: Zylinska, J. (ed.) The Cyborg Experiments: The Experiments of the Body in the Media Age. London: Continuum, pp.15-32.

Poster, M. (1995). Postmodern Virtualities. Ch.5 in: Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage, pp.79-95.

Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Scaltsas, T. (1980). The Ship of Theseus. Analysis, 40(3), pp.152-157.

‘Stand Alone Complex’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 1, episode 26. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2003 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Storey, J. (2008). Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education.

‘The Side of Justice’ (2006). Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Series 2, episode 25. Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. First Broadcast 2005 [DVD]. Los Angeles: Manga Entertainment.

Image Attribution:

Image 1 – By tangi bertin from Rennes, France (Ghost in the Shell #stopacta  Uploaded by Paris 17) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2 – Ghost in the shell SAC – Tachikoma 6  2013> (IMG_4641.CR2) | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – Rod-20


Anthropology Textbook

Hey, just wanted to let you know that the ‘Anthropology Beginners Guide’ textbook is available in loads of bookshops (UK), and I think it is one of the main textbooks used in colleges and universities. It was written by Simon Underdown and Joy Hendry, who work at Oxford Brookes University, which is where I currently study. I actually have Biological Anthropology lectures from Simon Underdown (he’s a great lecturer) and the textbook I use for my Japanese Society and Culture lectures was written by Joy Hendry!

Anth Book SU & JH

Here is a link to the book if you wish to buy it from amazon, I recommend it as it is an easy to read and understand book that teaches all the basics you need to know:

Anthropology: A Beginner’s Guide (Beginner’s Guides)

Please don’t forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

My poor attempt at a biface (hand axe)...

Stone Knapping Lessons: Origins of Teaching, Language and Stone Tools

I just wanted to share an experience I had helping Cory Cuthbertson, a PhD student, who was looking at the origins of teaching, language and stone tools. We were working with porcelain instead of flint, for control purposes, and we were told to watch a video of a person making a biface (hand axe). The video only served as a way for us to see someone making a biface, but provided no instruction aurally or visually. Myself and two other volunteers were part of this video learning group, but there were three other groups involved, each with it’s own learning method: being taught silently, being taught normally, and having to ‘figure it out alone’.

My poor attempt at a biface (hand axe)...

My poor attempt at a biface (hand axe)…

The purpose of the experiment was to challenge hypotheses about the origins of teaching and language, using the medium of stone knapping. We were looking at Theory of Mind,which is ‘thinking about thoughts’, or the ability to theorise about the mental states of another; expressed in levels of intentionality. This theory of mind ability strongly indicates a language ability, and this is what was to be measured by the experiments.

Myself, knapping flint this time (for fun!)

Myself, knapping flint this time (for fun!)

It was an interesting experience that made us think about the way in which language and teaching could have developed (and it made us all appreciate how difficult stone knapping is!). If you would like to read more about this subject, then check out Cory’s Academia page here. If you would like to read my short essay on the origins of stone tools then you can find it here.

Harder Than You Would Think

Harder Than You Would Think

Please don’t forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on FacebookTwitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

When and Where Did Hominin Begin to Make and Use Stone Tools? – A short Essay

The production and use of stone tools was a crucial point of our ancestral evolution, allowing early hominin to harness greater control over their environment, so understanding when they were first produced and used is an important step. In this essay I want to first look at the original evidence of stone tool use and where they come from, then look at how this evidence has changed and hopefully answer the question of when and where the first stone tools were made and used.

Finds made by Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, led archaeologists to believe that they had discovered the first stone tools (see figure 1), chronologically dated to around 1.85mya (Toth & Schick, 2013). Today, the geographical distribution of finds related to the Oldowan now includes much of northern and southern Africa, southwest Asia and southern Europe, which encompasses several hominin species and habitat types. So identifying the initial responsible hominin is still problematic, and the strongest links seemed to connect to Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis in the Olduvai gorge (Wynn et al, 2011).

Figure 1: Oldowan Tools From Tanzania

Later discoveries were made at Gona, Ethiopia, in the form of flakes and cobbles, that pushed the dates further back to around 2.5-6mya (McPherron et al, 2010). This time period suggests that they were produced and used by species of hominin at the time, including Australopithicus africanus and aethiopicus. However another possible candidate is Australopithicus garhi, found in Bouri, Middle Awash, alongside cut marked animal bones; and although there were no stone tools at the site, they correspond with roughly contemporary sediments at Gona (Toth & Schick, 2013). This changed the perspective of early hominin abilities, as there seemed to be an astonishing level of skill in the tools made by what were previously seen to be ‘specialised apes’, therefore questions were raised as to whether stone tool manufacture was in fact older still (de la Torre, 2011).

It was argued that the tools found at Gona were too advanced to be the first attempts by early hominin, and a discovery made at Dikika, an area close to Gona, seemed to support this theory. Two fossilised bones of large herbivores were found with what looked like cut marks from stone tools (see figure 2), which would mean that they were in use 800,000 years before previously thought (Dominguez-Rodrigo et al, 2010). This caused considerable excitement, due to the fact that the hominin species at that time was Australopithicus afarensis, a species previously thought too primitive to use stone tools, and supporting analysis of the hand of A. afarensis shows short fingers capable of fine-scale manipulation needed for tool use (Braun, 2010).

Figure 2: Cut marked bones, with scans, from Dikika Ethiopia

However, there is a strong possibility that the marks on the bones were caused by crocodiles, as they correspond equally to the tick shaped nicks that Nile crocodiles and Griffon vultures can create (Domínguez-Rodrigo, 2012). Another cause could be ‘trampling’, in this case the substrate movement of the fossils, which causes patterns of damage, mostly in lithics and bone, that make it extremely difficult to differentiate them from tools used for butchery (Nielsen, 1991), rendering hypotheses using such evidence questionable.

In conclusion, due to the lack of direct evidence from the Dikika site, the date still officially stands at 2.5-6mya, originating in eastern Africa, with archaeological evidence centered around the Middle Awash. That isn’t to say that stone tools weren’t used up until this point; as argued by Pitt Rivers, Oldowan tools were probably preceded by stone tools similar to those used by modern chimpanzees, we just don’t have sufficient evidence to fully support this theory (Panger et al, 2002).

Please don’t forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ too, Thanks.


Braun, D.R. (2010). Australopithecine Butchers. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 828.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2010). Configurational approach to identifying the earliest hominin butchers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(49), pp. 20929-20934.

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T. R., & Bunn, H. T. (2012). Experimental study of cut marks made with rocks unmodified by human flaking and its bearing on claims of∼ 3.4-million-year-old butchery evidence from Dikika, Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(2), pp. 205-214.

McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

Nielsen, A.E. (1991). Trampling the Archaeological Record: An Experimental Study. American Antiquity, 56(3), pp. 483-503.

Panger, M. A., Brooks, A. S., Richmond, B. G., & Wood, B. (2002). Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of hominin tool use. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 11(6), pp. 235-245.

de la Torre, I. (2011). The Origins of Stone Tool Technology in Africa: a Historical Perspective. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), pp. 1028-1037.

Toth, N. & Schick,K. (2013). African Origins. In C. Scarre (ed) The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. Thames & Hudson: London pp. 46-83.

Wynn, T., Hernandez-Aguilar, R. A., Marchant, L. F., & Mcgrew, W. C. (2011). An ape’s view of the Oldowan revisited. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 20(5), pp. 181-197.

Image references:

Figure 1:

Figure 2: McPherron, S. P., Alemseged, Z., Marean, C. W. et al. (2010). Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466(7308), pp. 857-860.

Anthropology Fieldwork: A Short Comment

Today, many anthropologists conduct fieldwork by travelling to (if necessary) a chosen destination to live with people and conduct ethnographic research by practicing ‘participant observation’; staying in area long enough to be considered ‘natural’ by the natives (Eriksen, 1995, pp.27). Bronislaw Malinowski is regarded as a founder of modern anthropology for his promotion (not necessarily creation) of these ‘intensive personal fieldwork’ methods that “revolutionized the content and practice of anthropology” (Wax, 1972, pp.2-3). Herealised that one could not create an accurate picture of peoples’ lives from the comfort of an armchair, that one must physically live and observe people to truly understand them, which changed the face of anthropology completely. In light of this, I will be looking at what the point is of carrying out such fieldwork.

The way in which fieldwork is carried out obviously differs between anthropologists, due to differences in working style, location, risks, and many more factors. In his ethnography: “Japanese Working Class Lives, An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers”, Roberson chose the Shintani Metals Company to conduct his research on the lives of factory workers in Japan, after having not much idea what to do. However, Roberson’s approach wasn’t to simply observe the people at work, he actually asked to work with them, eventually working full weeks from 08:00 until 17:00 or more, in addition to writing up his research notes. This may seem like it could be counterproductive to his research, Roberson even says he started asking himself “is this Anthropology? Are you really going to write about this?!” (pp.25). Nevertheless it is then revealed that this participation allowed Roberson to get much closer to the workers, as he was considered a fellow colleague, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for his research (Roberson, 1998).

However, fieldwork can never be perfect. The very nature of fieldwork itself leaves it vulnerable to flaws and oversights, whether they are down to the anthropologists themselves, or uncontrollable external conditions. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to defamiliarise oneself, but is a skill that can provide new perspectives without the limits of one’s own cultural experience and ways of thinking. It can be hard to change oneself to allow conformity to social regulations and rules, but may be the key to gaining the trust of a group of people (which is a huge part of fieldwork; if people don’t trust you, you won’t learn anything), as we see that MacClancy had this issue during his fieldwork in Ulí Alto, where the natives’ main problem was his formality. They wanted to see him more emotionally involved, even going as far as to say he should have maintained a girlfriend there (MacClancy, 1988, pp.239). Another main issue with fieldwork is the question of ethics, whether it is the privacy of people’s information, or even whether the people’s safety is at risk. We see that in an attempt to make public the outrageous actions of the American military against South American refugees, Bourgois disregarded the privacy rights of his subjects and host country to make his statement to the media for the suffering people (Bourgois, 1990).

So we can see that fieldwork in its nature is a tricky thing to get right, but that doesn’t make it any less important when trying to understand one’s research subjects. It’s for this reason that since Malinowski’s initial foundation of effective fieldwork methods, the process has changed and indeed improved. The emergence of multi-sited ethnography has potentially improved the perspectives available to anthropologists conducting fieldwork as “one learns more about a slice of a world system” giving a “definite sense of doing more than just ethnography” (Marcus, 1995, pp.113-114). Also, a re-evaluation of the way anthropologists conduct fieldwork in relation to their subjects of study has highlighted the benefits of collaborative ethnography. This approach allows anthropologists to “probe the deep mysteries of the human species” by pulling together different anthropological traditions (academic, applied etc.) to gain a much deeper understanding (Peacock, 1997, cited in Lassiter, 2005).

In conclusion, I personally believe that fieldwork is anthropology’s main component. Without fieldwork, there would be very limited understanding in regards to different cultures, as it is the act of ‘participant observation’ that allows an anthropologist to truly learn about a culture through experience. What do you think? Is fieldwork truly the most important part of anthropology? If not, then what is? Please leave your comment below…

Thanks for reading!

Please don’t forget to follow this blog (which you can do via the sidebar) to keep up to date with anthropological and scientific news and research, and check out Harris Anthropology on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ too, Thanks.

Bourgois, P. (1990). Confronting Anthropological Ethics: Ethnographic Lessons from Central America. Journal of Peace Research 27(1), pp.43-54.

Eriksen, T.H. (2010). Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. London: Pluto.

Lassiter, L.E. (2005). Collaborative Ethnography and Public Anthropology. Current Anthropology 46(1), pp.83-106.

MacClancy, J. (1988). Going Nowhere: From Melanesia to the Mediterranean. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford XIX(3), pp. 233-240.

Marcus, G. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24, pp.95-117.

Peacock, J.L. (1997). The Future of Anthropology. American Anthropologist 99(1), pp.9-17.

Roberson, J.E. (1998). Japanese Working Class Lives: An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers. London: Routledge.

Wax, M. (1972). Tenting with Malinowski. American Sociological review 37(1), pp.1-13.

The Sherpas of the Himalayas – Guest post from Lucy Ritchie

Now this is a post from a fellow aspiring Anthropologist, Lucy Ritchie. Before today I knew nothing of the Sherpas of the Himalayas, but I’m glad that I read this information, I’m a bit wiser now! So, enough from me, here’s the post (as sent to me, except for the pretty pictures) from Lucy Ritchie:

“Upon seeing a film called ‘Beyond the Edge’ – a documentary style film about the first men to climb to the top of Mount Everest, I developed an interest in the native people to the Himalayas, the Sherpas. Without them, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and the rest of the team would never have succeeded in their goal. The film was very detailed and informative but I felt I needed to do a little more research about the Sherpas, as the film’s emphasis was on Hillary and the British.


A Modern Sherpa

The name ‘Sherpa’ translates to ‘Eastern people’, “shar” meaning east, and “pa” meaning people. They are mostly found in the mountainous regions of Nepal, and their primary religion is Buddhism. They were a nomadic tribe, moving from place to place within the Himalayan region as traders. Due to their geographical surroundings, Sherpas are elite mountaineers. As a result, they are used as guides to the higher peaks. Biologically, Sherpas can survive in very high altitudes as a result of genetics, which would have been passed down through generations of living and travelling within the Himalayas. For example, one adaptation to living in high altitudes is haemoglobin-binding enzymes, and their bodies naturally produce more nitric oxide.

Typical Sherpa House

Typical Sherpa House

Despite these unique abilities, the Sherpas do not underestimate the power of the mountains. Many of these mountains are considered sacred, and treated with enormous respect. They call mount Everest ‘Mother of the world’. There is a lot of spirituality within their beliefs, as they believe in deities and demons who inhabit every mountain, cave and forest, all of which are valued or appeased through ancient practises. Most of the larger houses have some sort of shrine, or place of worship, attached to them. Apart from that, the Sherpa homes are simple and bare on the inside. To adapt to the harsh weathers, Sherpas build heavy, stone houses to ensure maximum protection. They also dress thickly too, in “chubas”, a warm ankle length robe bound around the waist with a sash. The sleeves are long, reaching beyond their fingertips when unrolled. On trips to markets, they would wear chubas made from sheepskin.

Traditional Sherpa Woman

Traditional Sherpa Woman

The Sherpas diet is quite limited, as they can only grow a finite amount of things in the cold climate. Traditionally, potatoes, buckwheat and barely are the main types of food. They cook and ferment green vegetables so they will keep. Dairy is an important part of their diet too: butter, yoghurt and cheese. Rice, lentils, fresh meat, corn and millet are all things that they can purchase from markets and traders.

Today, Sherpas are used frequently and widely by people (particularly from the Western hemisphere) to help carry their necessities and guide them as they climb mount Everest. To the Sherpas, being a guide is now one of the most popular sources of income, and some of them easily make comfortable amounts. The name Sherpa is used widely as a blanket term for any guide who takes people up mountains, despite where they come from.


So, I’d like to say a big thank you to Lucy, who you can visit on Google+ Here. You can also visit the post on blogger Here.