Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Archaeologists uncover remains of pre-Columbian village in central Colombia

Archaeologists have discovered a pre-Columbian town in central Colombia, recovering tons of archaeological evidence of which some dates as far back as 900BC, sponsor EPM said Friday.

The site was initially found when EPM, a public-private energy company, did soil research while planning the construction of an energy network in the municipality of Soacha, just southwest of the capitalBogota.

According to EPM, the archaeological site is the biggest ever found in Colombia, measuring some 4.9 hectares, and allows scientists to understand how now-extinct indigenous tribes lived.

“The relevance of this finding lies in the information contained in the settlement patterns, the architectural and agricultural development of the societies that lived on the central high plans of Colombia and, in general, about demographic aspects in pre-Hispanic times,” archaeologist John Alexander Gonzalez told EPM, that paid for the $7.5 million operation.

The findings have already challenged existing theories on pre-Columbian life as the village shows that tribes living around what is now Bogota kept settlements in tact for hundreds of years in an era called the “Herrera period.” Until now, historians assumed the natives had a more nomadic lifestyle.

According to the involved archaeologists, the remains found at the site dated from 900BC until approximate 1500AD when most indigenous groups died amid a violent Spanish colonization of territory belonging to the ancient Muisca people.

The archaeologists found numerous pieces that are in a good enough condition to be displayed in local museums. Some 90% of the approximately 20 metric tons of archaeological material will be used for scientific research.
Alsema, Adriaan. 2014. “Archaeologists uncover remains of pre-Columbian village in central Colombia”. Colombia Reports. Posted: November 1, 2014. Available online:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tribal Headhunters on Coney Island? Author Revisits Disturbing American Tale

New book examines troubled history of Filipino tribe brought to America in 1905.

Transplanted from the Philippines to New York's famousConey Island amusement park in 1905, a band of Igorrote (Igorot) headhunters went on to tour the United States, performing mock tribal ceremonies and consuming dog meat for millions of curious and horrified Americans.

But, once a national sensation, the Igorrotes—and the doctor arrested for exploiting them—have been largely forgotten, writes journalist Claire Prentice in her new book, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century.

National Geographic recently discussed with Prentice how she pieced together the group's turn-of-the-century odyssey and how some of the forces that brought the Igorrotes to America and obscured the truth about them may still be in play today.

How did you discover the story of the Igorrotes?

I had been living in New York and working as a journalist. I had a fascination with 1900s Coney Island and took trips there often. One day, I saw these pictures of the Igorrotes tattooed, in G-strings and, well, not very much else. The energy of the photos drew me in and captivated me.

I researched through big institutions like the National Archives [and] the National Library of the Philippines, and smaller places like the Bontoc Municipal Library in the Philippines's Mountain Province. I found declassified [U.S.] government files, vital records, and newspaper articles that hadn't been read for a hundred years. So I read about the terrible things these people suffered at the hands of a man they had trusted, someone who they thought was a protector in a strange land, and who had treated them abominably.

So let's talk about the man who brought them here. Who was Dr. Truman Hunt?

Truman Hunt went to the Philippines at the outbreak of the 1898 Spanish-American War. He was trained as a medical doctor, and he stayed on in the country after the war ended. He was later made lieutenant governor of Bontoc, where the Igorrotes lived, and got to know them well.

In 1904, the American government spent $1.5 million taking 1,300 Filipinos from a dozen different tribes to the St. Louis Exposition as part of a scheme intended to drum up widespread popular support for America's policies in the Philippines by demonstrating that the people of the islands were far from ready for self-government. Truman Hunt was made the manager of the Igorrote Village, which drew the largest crowds of all in the Philippine [part of the fair].

The enormous popularity of the Igorrotes gave Hunt the idea to return to Bontoc and gather another Igorrote group. He offered $15 a month to each Igorrote who volunteered to go to America with him and put on a show of their culture and customs. He planned to begin their tour at Coney Island and then move on to other amusement parks across the country.

You write that Truman Hunt was the mouthpiece for Igorrotes and the press just reprinted a lot of his tales. How difficult was it to find out what really happened?

To begin with, as a journalist, I didn't entirely swallow the news stories, though Hunt knew how to spin a story. By the time I got the key bits of the story and read the government files about his wrongdoings, it was clear just how distorted the picture was and how spun it really was.

Some of the "factual" stuff was entirely made up. In the newspapers, Truman talks about one particular incident: a huge fight between the Igorrotes and the white residents of Coney Island that ends up with the two groups fighting and grabbing pitchforks. He presents this whole scene of a savage battle, and it was entirely made up. In another one, he set up the theft of a dog—he had someone bring in a dog, unleash it, and told the Igorrotes to chase it. But the newspapers printed it as the Igorrotes were savage and wanted to steal this dog.

This was a time when human zoos were something of a trend. Ethnic peoples were exhibited in similar spectacles from Paris to Tokyo. What was special about the Igorrotes?

They were hardly in clothes. Their bodies had tattoos all over them. They had hunted heads in their home—and the dogs. Dogs were brought from the New York pound, chopped up, and put in a pot, and then people watched the Igorrotes eat the stew. This behavior scandalized Americans but also captured their imagination. But the zoo quickly came to be seen as shameful, and something Americans didn't want to remember, that people were exhibited in this manner, so it was forgotten. There were other examples where people were coerced, cultures were distorted, but in this case, the U.S. government had given permission to exploit these people.They were directly involved.

How did the presence of America in the Philippines in the 1900s factor into the Igorrotes' situation?

The U.S. backed the exhibition as a way to support their political goal of maintaining control over Philippine territory, by demonstrating that the Philippine people were far from ready for self-government. Coverage of the Igorrotes was in the newspapers, daily. People were talking about it. It was very controversial and very topical, and people were reading about and had an interest in it. The fact that they were from the Philippines was definitely another layer of attraction.

But I don't think Truman Hunt was trying to champion that cause. He was doing this out of his own interests. He was very charming, very opportunistic.

In your epigraph, Hunt is quoted in a newspaper saying, "I was healer of their bodies, father confessor of all their woes and troubles, and the final arbiter in all disputed questions," yet he basically put the Igorrotes in the zoos. Do you think he cared for these people?

That's something I thought long and hard about. Before he brought them to America, he did volunteer to work in a cholera hospital in Luzon. He genuinely did risk his life for his Filipino patients. The Truman Hunt at the end of the book wouldn't have done that. I think he became very, very badly corrupted. They were objectified so much, gawked at daily, that I think he came to regard them distantly and as a commodity.

The question of authenticity comes up a lot in the book—the authenticity of the record as well as the authenticity of the display of the Igorrotes themselves.

I don't think the display can really be considered authentic. The traditional ceremonies performed before head hunts and the other tribal dances—those were generally rare in real Igorrote life. Same with the eating of dogs. These things were ceremonial and so definitely didn't occur every day. But Truman wasn't bothered by authenticity. They were there to add a sense of drama to the show.

It seems abominable to us now that people were looking at these human zoos. But back then people went to ‘attractions’ like the Igorrote Village in the same way that they go to the movies today. They took their families. At the time it was mainstream entertainment.

You write that these zoos fulfilled a need for sensation and an ethnological obsession. Those needs don't seem unique to the 1900s. I kept thinking about reality television.

We have certainly a variation on that today, [with] wealthy Western tourists traveling to see authentic shows of ethnic peoples in Africa and Asia. It's a commodity. And absolutely, some of the TV shows today—you know, Beauty and the Beast types—are just awful. It's obviously deep within human beings to want to look at people different from themselves. That's just a fact.

There is a shred of justice administered at the end of the book. Truman Hunt is arrested. How did that happen?

The U.S. government's Bureau of Insular Affairs, which [was] part of the War Department, received a tip that Hunt was not taking adequate care of the Igorrotes. There were other rumors that he had stolen their wages and that two men in the group had died on the road and that he had failed to have their bodies buried. The government sent an agent to investigate the claims, and Hunt went on the run, taking a group of Igorrotes with him. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was hired to help track him down. Eventually, he was accused of embezzling around $10,000 in wages from the Igorrotes and of using physical force to steal hundreds of dollars more that they had earned selling handmade souvenirs.

Finally, after a manhunt across the U.S. and Canada, the government arrested him in October 1906. He was sentenced to 18 months in the workhouse after an incredible trial in Memphis.

After Truman Hunt's arrest, what happened to the Igorrotes?

In late July 1906, a couple of months after their contracts with Hunt expired, the government stepped in and sent home all of the Filipinos—except five who stayed on as witnesses in Hunt's trial. The court cases dragged on. Five Filipino witnesses were kept in America until March 1907. On March 20, they too returned to the Philippines.

It has been difficult to discover a great deal about their lives after they returned to the Philippines because a huge volume of the Philippines's vital records were destroyed during WWII. I have pieced together what I have been able to find and have included this in the Afterword. I hope that this book will lead to further discoveries about their later lives.
Qiu, Linda. 2014. “Tribal Headhunters on Coney Island? Author Revisits Disturbing American Tale”. National Geographic News. Posted: October 27, 2014. Available online:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.

Did you hear what happened at yesterday’s meeting? Can you believe it?

If you find those sort of quietly whispered questions about your co-workers irresistible, you’re hardly alone. But why are we drawn togossip?

A new study suggests it’s because the rumors, innuendo, and hearsay are ultimately all about us—where we rate in the unofficial local hierarchy, and how we might improve our standing.

“Gossip recipients tend to use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self,” writes a research team led by Elena Martinescu of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Individuals need evaluative information about others to evaluate themselves.”

Writing in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers describe two experiments testing the personal value gossip recipients derive. The first featured 178 university undergraduates who had all previously worked on at least one course assignment with a group of four or more students.

Participants “were asked to recall and write a short description of an incident in which a group members shared with them either positive or negative information about another group member’s confidence,” the researchers write. (Eighty-five received a positive report, 93 a negative one.)

They then reported their level of agreement with a series of statements. Some of these measured the self-improvement value of the gossip (“The information received made me think I can learn a lot from X”); others measured its self-promotion value (“The information I received made me feel that I am doing well compared to X”). Still others measured whether the gossip raised personal concerns (“The information I received made me feel that I must protect my image in the group”).

In the second experiment,122 undergraduates were assigned the role of “sales agent” at a major company. They received gossip from a colleague that a third person either did very well or very badly at a performance evaluation, and were then debriefed about the emotions that information evoked. They also responded to the aforementioned set of statements presented to participants in the first experiment.

In each experiment, participants found both negative and positive gossip to be of personal value, albeit for different reasons. “Positive gossip has self-improvement value,” they write. “Competence-related positive gossip about others contains lessons about how to improve one’s own competence.”

On the flip side, “negative gossip has self-promotion value, because it provides individuals with social comparison information that justifies self-promoting judgments, which results in feelings of pride.”

“Contrary to lay perceptions,” the researchers assert, “most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver.”

In addition, the results “showed that negative gossip elicited self-protection concerns,” the researchers write. “Negative gossip makes people concerned that their reputations may be at risk, as they may personally become targets of negative gossip in the future, which generates fear.”

Fear is hardly a pleasant sensation, of course, but it can be a motivating one. As Martinescu and her colleagues put it: “Gossip conveniently provides individuals with indirect social-comparison information about relevant others.”

In other words, if you don’t want to be viewed as a goof-off like Charley, you’d better get your act together.

It’s worth noting that this study did not look at who-is-sleeping-with-who gossip, which presumably has a somewhat different function—although news that an illicit couple has gotten caught could certainly serve as a cautionary tale.

But it does show that beyond providing “emotional catharsis and social control,” confidentially treaded information about the competence, or lack thereof, of a co-worker can be “an essential resource for self-evaluation.”

Pass the word.
Jacobs, Tom. 2014. “Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves”. Pacific Standard Magazine. Posted: October 24, 2014. Available online:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ancient City Ruled by Genghis Khan's Heirs Revealed

Remains of a 750-year-old city, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan, have been unearthed along the Volga River in Russia.

Among the discoveries are two Christian temples one of which has stone carvings and fine ceramics.

The city’s name was Ukek and it was founded just a few decades after Genghis Khan died in 1227. After the great conqueror’s death his empire split apart and his grandson Batu Khan, who lived from 1205 to 1255, founded the Golden Horde (also called the Kipchak Khanate).The Golden Horde kingdom stretched from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and controlled many of the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to Medieval Europe.

This city of Ukek was built close to the khan's summer residence along the Volga River, something which helped it become prosperous. The name "Golden Horde" comes from the golden tent from which the khan was said to rule.

Christian quarter

Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have discovered the Christian quarter of Ukek, shedding light on the Christian people who lived under the Khan's rule. Ukek was a multicultural city, where a variety of religious beliefs were practiced including Islam, Christianity and Shamanism.

While Christians did not rule the Golden Horde, the discoveries archaeologists made show that not all the Christians were treated as slaves, and people of wealth frequented the Christian quarter of the city.

"Some items belonging to local elite were found in the Christian district," Dmitriy Kubankin, an archaeologist with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore, told Live Science in an email."Among other things, there is a Chinese glass hair pin, with a head shaped as a split pomegranate, and a fragment of a bone plate with a carved dragon image."

Stone temples

Among the discoveries are the basements of two Christian temples. In eastern Christianity churches are sometimes called temples.

One of the temples was built around 1280 and was destroyed in the early 14th century. "It was roofed with tiles and decorated with murals and stone carving[s], both, from the outside and inside," Kubankinsaid.

"The best-preserved bas relief (a type of stone carving) features a lion being clawed by a griffin," said Kubankin, noting that another carving depicts a cross.

Within the basement of the temple, archaeologists found the remains of goods that may have been stored by local merchants, including fine plates and bottles that were imported from the Byzantine Empire, Egypt or Iran. "Any church cellar was considered a safe place to store goods in it, therefore, merchants from the nearest neighborhood used to keep (objects) of sale there," Kubankin said.

After the first Christian temple was destroyed in the early 14th century, a second temple was built in 1330 and remained in use until about 1350. "Most probably, it was stone-walled and had a tile roof. A part of its foundation with the apse has been unearthed," Kubankin said.

The fall of Ukek

The city of Ukek did not last for long. During the 14th century, the Golden Horde began to decline, and in 1395 Ukek was attacked by a ruler named Tamerlane, a man out to build an empire of his own. He destroyed Ukek and took over much of the territory formerly ruled by the Golden Horde, dealing them a blow from which they would never recover.

Today modern-day buildings cover much of Ukek. "This hampers any research and prevents complete unearthing of the entire [site], because it extends over several private land plots," Kubankin said.

“Nevertheless, digging just in one site may lead to significant discoveries.  Archaeological expeditions from the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore [have made] yearly excavations since 2005," said Kubankin, adding thatthese discoveries will soon be featured in a museum exhibition.

Kubankin presented the team's finds recently at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul. The study is supported by the Saratov Regional Ministry of Culture, Russian Humanitarian Research Foundation grant (project 12-31-01246) and by the RIMKER Company.

See the pictures at:
Jarus, Owen. 2014. “Ancient City Ruled by Genghis Khan's Heirs Revealed”. Live Science. Posted: October 24, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas

People may have been making their way from Easter Island to the Americas well before the Dutch commander Jakob Roggeveen arrived with his ships in 1722, according to new genomic evidence showing that the Rapanui people living on that most isolated of islands had significant contact with Native American populations hundreds of years earlier. The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 23 lend the first genetic support for such an early trans-Pacific route between Polynesia and the Americas, an impressive trek of more than 4,000 kilometers (nearly 2,500 miles).

The findings are a reminder that "early human populations extensively explored the planet," says Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the Natural History Museum of Denmark's Centre for GeoGenetics. "Textbook versions of human colonization events -- the peopling of the Americas, for example -- need to be re-evaluated utilizing genomic data."

On that note, a second article that will appear in the same issue of Current Biology by Malaspinas along with Eske Willerslev and their colleagues examined two human skulls representing the indigenous "Botocudos" of Brazil to find that their genomic ancestry is Polynesian, with no detectable Native American component at all.

Archaeological evidence had suggested that 30 to 100 Polynesian men, women, and children first landed on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, around AD 1200, arriving in two or more double-hulled canoes. After settling on the isolated island, the Rapanui famously built giant stone platforms and over 900 statues, some weighing as much as 82 tons.

While it may have taken weeks for Polynesians to reach even the closest nearby islands, there are hints of contact with the larger world. For example, there is evidence for the presence of crops native to the Americas in Polynesia, including the Andean sweet potato, long before the first reported European contact.

Genome-wide analysis of 27 native Rapanui now confirms significant contact between the island people and Native Americans sometime between approximately AD 1300 and AD 1500, 19 to 23 generations ago. The Rapanui population began mixing with Europeans only much later, in about 1850. The ancestry of the Rapanui today is 76% Polynesian, 8% Native American, and 16% European.

The new evidence about the Rapanui suggests one of two scenarios: either Native Americans sailed to Rapa Nui or Polynesians sailed to the Americas and back. The researchers say that it seems more likely that the Rapanui successfully made the trip back and forth, given simulations presented in previous studies showing that "all sailing voyages heading intentionally east from Rapa Nui would always reach the Americas, with a trip lasting from two weeks to approximately two months." On the other hand, the trip from the Americas to Rapa Nui is much more challenging, which would have made it likely to fail or miss the island completely. From the Americas, Rapa Nui is indeed a small target, which might also explain why it took Europeans so long to find it.
Science Daily. 2014. “Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas”. Science Daily. Posted: October 23, 2014. Available online:

Friday, December 12, 2014

A new tune: There is intonation in sign language too

Like the intonation of individual spoken languages, sign languages also have their own unique "sound," and, as with spoken languages, the intonation of one community's language is different from that of another community, according to a new study at the University of Haifa. "Our discovery that sign languages also have unique intonation patterns once again demonstrates that sign languages share many central properties with spoken languages. It turns out that intonation is an essential component of any human language, including languages without sound," explained Prof. Wendy Sandler, who led the study.

We can all recognize French, Italian, or Chinese without understanding them at all, due to the unique intonation patterns -- the rise and fall of the voice -- in each language. Even babies can differentiate between the familiar melodies and rhythms of the language spoken in their own environment and foreign languages, long before they know any words.

In our own language, intonation helps us to identify different kinds of sentences and parts of sentences, such as questions, conditionals, imperatives, sentence topics, etc. We can do this because each comes with its own characteristic intonational pattern. In the silent languages used by deaf people, these 'melodies' exist as well, transmitted not by the vocal cords, but by a systematic set of facial expressions and head positions.

Prof. Sandler, the Director of the Sign Language Research Lab at the University of Haifa, has been studying the similarities between spoken and sign languages for many years. The purpose of the present study, performed with doctoral students Svetlana Dachkovsky of the University of Haifa and Christina Healy of Gallaudet University, was to determine whether the facial intonation of sign language is the same for all sign languages or whether, like spoken languages, intonation takes on different characteristic patterns in each language.

For this purpose, deaf signers of Israeli Sign Language and of American Sign Language -- sign languages that are unrelated both historically and culturally from each other -- were asked to sign a list of sentences that included "yes/no" questions, conditional sentences, imperatives, relative clauses, and sentence topics.

The researchers found that a set of fixed facial expressions and head movements typically accompany different kinds of sentences in each language. Some of these are the same in the two languages, but some are noticeably and systematically different. For example, "yes/no" questions in both languages are accompanied by raised eyebrows, widened eyes, and a forward head position. But the topic of the sentence, the part of the sentence that identifies what the sentence is about (often the same as the subject of the sentence), is marked quite differently in each language. American signers raise their eyebrows and keep their heads tilted back throughout the topic, while Israeli signers typically squint their eyes and move their heads forward and downward as they sign the topic. "This finding is parallel to spoken languages. In most languages, the intonation in yes/no question sentences is very similar -- the voice is raised at the end of a question -- but in other types of sentences the intonation differs from one language to another," Prof. Sandler said.

According to Prof. Sandler, the current study provides additional evidence that certain properties are universally shared across languages regardless of the physical channel through which they are conveyed. "The ability to communicate through language is unique to human beings, and the existence of fully functional, complex languages in a different physical modality makes sign languages a natural laboratory for investigating the nature of human language and cognition in our species," concluded Prof. Sandler.
Science Daily. 2014. “A new tune: There is intonation in sign language too”. Science Daily. Posted: October 23, 2014. Available online:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Debunking the paleo diet

Here is the TEDx presentation by Christina Warinner as mentioned in the previous article.


___________________ References:

Warinner, Christina. 2014. "Debunking the paleo diet: Christina Warinner at TEDxOU". TEDx Okalahoma. Posted: February 12, 2013.;Featured-Talks