Thursday, December 31, 2009

Culture of Gibraltar

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Yanito (self-name), Llanito, Gibraltareño


Identification. The name "Gibraltar" derives from "Tariks Mountain," after Tariq-Ibn-Zayid, the Muslim conqueror who invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711. Although Gibraltar is a multiethnic and a multireligious society, its citizens identify themselves as having a common culture based on common history and territoriality, intermarriage, mutual tolerance, and their status as British colonial subjects.

Location and Geography. Gibraltar is a tiny territory of 4 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The territory consists mainly of rock.

Demography. Among the thirty thousand inhabitants, about twenty-five thousand have the status of British Gibraltarians, two thousand are other British citizens (mainly military), and two thousand are Moroccan workers. There are some Indian and Pakistani workers and about one hundred Russian citizens.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is English. Locally, Yanito, an Andalusian-based creole language with many English, Italian, Hebrew, and Maltese words, is spoken. Minority languages include Sindhi and Arabic.

Symbolism. Gibraltarians share a strong sense of unity that is expressed in several cultural symbols: traditional housing arrangements, a common school system, and the Yanito language. A fervent interest in beauty contests is an expression of national identity. Since the early 1990s, much energy has been invested in the creation of national symbolism (the anthem and flag). National Day is celebrated on 10 September to commemorate the pro-British referendum of 1967. The most powerful symbol is the Rock itself, which possesses symbolic meaning in British imperial iconography and is linked to the fortress mentality of Gibraltarians. Like the Rock, the apes of Gibraltar are symbols of British permanence and solidity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Gibraltar is a colony, not a nation, yet there is a strong nationalist movement that fights for political self-determination as a part of the United Kingdom or a state within the European Union.

National Identity. Nationalist aspirations are the result of two circumstances: the fight for a non-English-based British identity and opposition toward neighboring Spain, whose territorial claim opposes Gibraltarian self-determination. National identity is not based on an ideology of purity but on positively valuing hybridity and multi-ethnicity.

Ethnic Relations. Gibraltarians include Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, and a few Muslim citizens. They were linked to the population of the Spanish hinterland through common customs and intensive intermarriage until 1969, when Spain closed the border for thirteen years. Today this kind of common borderland society is almost nonexistent. While the Sephardic Jews have always been an integrated part of Gibraltar, they tend to segregate themselves. By contrast, the Hindu community politically and culturally has integrated more fully. Moroccan workers are largely excluded from civil society.

Urbanism, Architecture and the Use of Space:

Space has always been a problem. Housing is limited by military requirements. Until the military cutback in the 1990s, only 20 percent of the territory was accessible to civilians. Gibraltar's edifices are influenced by British military architecture and by Genoese housing style (also known as "patios"). Until the 1980s, most Gibraltarians lived densely packed in patios. After the opening of the border in 1982, many wealthier citizens purchased houses in the Spanish hinterland. In the 1990s, enough land was reclaimed from the sea to build extensive housing estates.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Food is a British-Mediterranean mixture with strong roots in Spanish, Italian, English, and Jewish cuisine. There are no general food taboos within the different religious groups.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Calentita, a chickpea pie of Genoese origin, is the national dish.

Basic Economy. Until recently, the local economy depended on the military economy and smuggling (mainly of tobacco). In the 1980s and early 1990s, the economy underwent a heavy transformation and now is based on tourism, the harbor and shipping facilities, and the financial offshore sector. The principal exports are petroleum and manufactured goods. The major trading partners are the United Kingdom, Morocco, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States, and Germany. The national currency is the Gibraltar pound.

Land Tenure and Property. Land has been largely in the hands of the British government (92 percent of land and housing in the 1960s). Between 1985 and 1996, 296,663 acres (20.5 percent of the territory) were handed over to the local government. Many Gibraltarians buy property in Spain.

Commercial Activities. Gibraltar is a duty-free harbor. The major goods sold are tobacco, alcohol, perfume, dairy products, and electronics.

Major Industries. Gibraltar is home to the light-manufacturing of tobacco, roasted coffee, ice, mineral waters, candy, beer, and canned fish. Tourism, banking and finance (mostly off-shore), and construction form the larger areas of manufacture, with Gibraltar's main source of industry its support of large UK naval and air bases.

Division of Labor. After the border was closed in 1969, blue-collar jobs were filled by Moroccan migrant workers who replaced the Spanish workforce. Today many Spaniards work on the Rock as shop assistants or cleaning women. Gibraltarians work mainly in the service sector (trade, financial sector, tourism). About 50 percent of young Gibraltarians obtain their education in British universities.

Social Stratification:

Classes and Castes. The upper strata consist of a few families of Genoese origin. The upper middle class consists of Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu merchants and lawyers. The working class is made up of families of Spanish, Maltese, and Italian origin. The lower strata consists of Hindu shop assistants of Indian or Pakistani nationality and Moroccan workers. During the time of economical transformation (1980s–1990s), many unemployed and unskilled youth made a living smuggling.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Proper English pronunciation is a symbol of upward social mobility. Suits and ties are symbols of white-collar jobs. Among youngsters, smuggler-type iconography is highly valued.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The economy traditionally was gendered, with women keeping the household and men working in dockyards and offices. However, this pattern changed after the closing of the border, when women and Moroccan workers substituted for Spanish workers. Today many women work in the service sector. Women are underrepresented, in political positions, although many women are influential in the informal management of parties. In the field of religion, only Hindu community life is dominated by female specialists.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women are still expected to keep out of political life and participate only in social, cultural, and charity affairs. Citizenship is viricentric; the status of being a Gibraltarian can be transferred only through the male line.

Marriage, Family and Kinship:

Marriage. Marriages usually are not arranged. People marry young (around age 20) and often divorce young. Increasingly within the Jewish community and decreasingly within the Hindu community, there is a trend toward arranged marriages. Gays and lesbians tend to cover their identities and marry. Homosexuality was a legal offense until 1992.

Domestic Unit. Until land reclamation began in the 1990s, housing was a major problem. It was common for couples to share an apartment with their in-laws. The household unit was the extended family.

Kin Groups. As Gibraltar is a face-to-face community, frequent contact between members of larger kin groups is unavoidable, though it is not necessarily intense.


Religious Beliefs. The population consists of Catholics (77 percent), Church of England Protestants (7 percent), Muslims (7 percent), other Christians (3 percent), Jews (2.3 percent), and Hindus (2.1 percent).

Religious Practitioners. All the religious groups have seen a struggle for power and control between traditional and orthodox forces. The authority of the Catholic Church, led by a locally-born bishop, is strong. There are four synagogues and one rabbi. Although a Hindu temple was built in 1995, there are no locally based full-time Hindu specialists. The influence of an esoteric guru, Sri Swatchidananda, is especially strong, but there are also followers of the Radha Soami movement.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Rock itself is ascribed spiritual power by Gibraltarians of all religions. The typical Iberian Catholic celebrations (Easter Week, processions, and pilgrimages) are largely absent. Most holy sites for the Jewish community are located in nearby Morocco.

This is only a small introduction to the culture. To learn more please visit the website and read about; Political Life, Social Welfare and Change, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and Other Associations, Socialization, Medicine and Healthcare, Secular Celebrations, Arts and Humanities, State of the Physical and Social Sciences.


Anonymous. 2009. "Culture of Gibraltar". Every Culture. Available online:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Racial Bias Can Be Reduced By Teaching People To Differentiate Facial Features Better In Individuals Of A Different Race

There may be a simple way to address racial bias: Help people improve their ability to distinguish between faces of individuals of a different race.

Brown University and University of Victoria researchers learned this through a new measurement system and protocol they developed to train Caucasian subjects to recognize different African American faces.

“The idea is this that this sort of perceptual training gives you a new tool to address the kinds of biases people show unconsciously and may not even be aware they have,” said Michael J. Tarr, a Brown cognitive neuroscientist and a senior author of the paper. “There is a strong connection between the way we perceive and categorize the world and the way we end up making stereotypes and generalizations about social entities.”

The research is the product of a wide collaboration. Sophie Lebrecht, a third-year Ph.D student in the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences and a member of Tarr’s lab, is the study’s lead author. Jim Tanaka, a professor at the University of Victoria and Lara Pierce, a graduate student at McGill University, collaborated on the research.

Lebrecht was interested in the interaction of visual processing with other cognitive functions such as emotion or social processing. She came up with the idea for the project with Tarr’s encouragement.

Researchers used 20 Caucasian subjects for the overall study, which incorporated a measurement developed at Brown and dubbed the Affective Lexical Priming Score (ALPS). The ALPS measure is similar to, and builds on, a test developed at Harvard University known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which helps to identify unconscious social biases.

The ALPS measurement involved first showing each subject a series of pictures of different races, such as African American and Caucasian faces. All the faces were shown in black and white, so subjects would focus on facial features rather than skin color.

On each ALPS trial, each test subject was shown a picture of a face, which then disappeared. The test subject then saw a word that could be real or nonsense — “tree” or “malk,” for example — and had to decide whether the word was a real word or nonsense word. Real words could imply something positive or negative.

Lebrecht found that prior to training, subjects more quickly responded if the word was negative and followed an African-American face. Subjects responded more slowly if the word was positive and followed an African-American face.

After using the ALPS to measure each subjects’ implicit racial bias, the subjects took part in about 10 hours of facial recognition training. Half learned to tell apart individual African-American faces and half learned simply to tell whether the faces were African-American or not.

The training worked on a number of levels. Individual subjects improved their ability to tell the difference between separate Africa-American faces. Those same subjects who improved that ability also showed the greatest reduction in their implicit racial bias as measured by the ALPS system. Their positive associations with African-American faces increased and they had fewer negative associations with African-American faces.

While the researchers are not claiming they can eliminate racial bias, they suggest that teaching people to tell the difference better between individual faces of a different race is at least one way to help reduce that bias.

Lebrecht said that developing a system that teaches people to make those distinctions should be helpful in reducing generalizations based on social stereotypes.

“If you give people the tools to start individuating, maybe they will make more individual (rather than stereotypical) attributions,” she said.

Funding for the study came from the Perceptual Expertise Network, a collaborative award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation; the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center at the University of California–San Diego; the National Science Foundation, a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada award; and a Brown University National Eye Institute training grant (the National Institutes of Health).


Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias. PLoS ONE, Jan. 21, 2009

Brown University (2009, January 22). Racial Bias Can Be Reduced By Teaching People To Differentiate Facial Features Better In Individuals Of A Different Race. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/01/090120204759.htm

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Do We Understand Written Language?

How do we know that certain combinations of letters have certain meanings? Reading and spelling are complex processes, involving several different areas of the brain, but researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the USA have now identified a specific part of the brain -- named the left fusiform gyrus -- which is necessary for normal, rapid understanding of the meaning of written text as well as correct word spelling. Their findings are published in the February 2010 issue of Cortex.

Dr Kyrana Tsapkini, from the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Dr Brenda Rapp, from the Department of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University, studied the reading comprehension and spelling abilities of a patient who had undergone surgical removal of part of his brain due to a tumor. The patient's reading and spelling abilities had been above average prior to the surgery. They tested the patient and a group of control participants using 17 experimental tasks, which evaluated their comprehension and production of written language, spoken language, as well as their processing of other visual categories such as faces and objects.

The results of the study revealed that the patient was able to understand the meaning of spoken language as rapidly as the other participants and was similarly able to process objects and faces in a normal way. However, he showed significant delays in understanding the meaning of written text and also had difficulty in producing accurate spellings when writing dictated text, suggesting that these abilities required the use of the brain area, which had been removed.

According to the authors, the findings provide clear evidence that there are particular structures within this part of the brain -- the left mid-fusiform gyrus -- that are "specialized and necessary for normal orthographic processing."



Elsevier (2009, December 16). How do we understand written language?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/12/091216103600.htm

Tsapkini et al. The orthography-specific functions of the left fusiform gyrus: Evidence of modality and category specificity. Cortex, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.02.025

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sixty Headless Skeletons -- 3,000 Years Old -- Discovered in Pacific Ocean Archipelago Vanuatu

The archaeologists found that Vanuatu skeletons are headless. The research project "Persistence and Transformation in Ancestral Oceanic Society: the archaeology of the first 1500 years in the Vanuatu archipelago" was initiated by Stuart Bedford and Matthew Spriggs in ANU in collaboration with the Vaunatu cultural Centre in Vanuatu. It aims to find out how Vanuatu was colonised and developed over time.

When a team of archaeologists began excavating an old coral reef in Vanuatu in 2008 and 2009, they soon discovered it had served as a cemetery in ancient times. So far, 71 buried individuals have been recorded, giving new information on the islands' inhabitants and their funeral rites.

"This is a groundbreaking discovery, as it is the oldest and biggest skeleton find ever in the Pacific Ocean; bigger cemeteries found further east are much younger," says Mads Ravn, head of research at the University of Stavanger's Museum of Archaeology in Norway.

Relatives did not treat their dead gently. Besides being headless, some of them had had their arms and legs broken, in order to fit into the coral reef cavities. Ravn suggests they may have been left to rot first, and buried later as skeletons.

The local museum's staff of the Vanuatu Culture Centre, a range of researchers, lead by Stuart Bedford and Matthew Spriggs from the Australian National University (ANU), forms an international and cross-disciplinary team, working to gather information about the Pacific islands' inhabitants. Mads Ravn's expertise in migration and colonising over great distances, as well as in digital excavation documentation and recording, makes him an important contributor to this cooperative effort.

Coral reef tomb

Vanuatu is a nation of 83 islands, located 1,750 kilometres east of Australia. The soil contains remnants from a violent volcano eruption, believed to have taken place exactly 3000 years ago. Scientists have found no sign of human activity predating this event.

"The way these people are buried, bears witness of a body concept which is different from the whole-body concept in Europe the last 5000 years," says Mads Ravn.

"There was no sharp divide between life and death, and the dead were participating in the present. A few decades ago in Bali and other Pacific islands, people were putting their ancestors' skulls on display in their homes," he adds.

This may explain why the Vanuatu skeletons are headless. One skeleton was found with five skulls on his chest, and Ravn believes the heads may have been used in ancestral rituals.

The islanders usually removed the volcanic ash before burying their dead under ashes and sand. Each grave is marked with a pottery jar decorated with intricate patterns, possibly stamped by small pieces of worked bone. The ceramic also depicts faces and eyes, perhaps images of their ancestors.

"I have never seen such beautiful artefacts before. These must be the world's finest pottery jars of that age," says Ravn.

Long distance voyages

Vanuatu's first inhabitants probably came from Taiwan and the Philippines, having travelled thousands of miles by outrigger canoes equipped with sails and big enough to contain large families. The canoers settled on the uninhabited islands, and supported themselves by fishing and cultivating the land. Giant tortoises were abundant and easy to catch. Volcanic ashes from 3000 years ago contain many tracks of tortoises, but these are entirely non-existent 100 years on.

"It is very interesting to observe the consequences of human beings taking possession over virgin land," says Ravn.

Over a few centuries, several species went extinct -- the giant tortoise among them. Traces of mussel shells also bear witness of excessive consumption. The shells diminish in size as the sediments get younger. According to Ravn, the inhabitants quite simply overextended their resources.

Strong and adventurous

The skeletons' DNA profiles should be ready later this winter, and the scientists hope to uncover kinship links among the dead. But there are already some findings of their health condition.

"People were suffering from gout and caries -- both diseases associated with the good life. But we can tell from our samples that the inhabitants were laborious and strong. They were simply genetically disposed to contracting gout from eating shellfish. And starch in food such as Taro and sweet potatoes induced caries," says Ravn.

Tooth analyses also revealed what these first islanders looked like.

"They were most probably fair skinned of Asian origin, unlike the present day Melanesians, whose skin is dark. The original settlers probably travelled on, or mixed up with the Melanesians that arrived later," "But future DNA studies and isotopic analyses may later confirm that," Ravn says.

It is believed that the first Pacific seafarers were spurred on by overpopulation, or by rules of inheritance which granted the first born child the right to inherit land, making it hard for younger siblings to settle down.

But one should not exclude desire for travelling and a spirit of adventure, says Ravn. The desire to venture out has probably been a driving force at all times.

The first Vanuatuans remained on the islands for years, until some of them, probably driven by lust for adventure and fortune sat sail further out in the Pacific Ocean again, heading eventually for the Easter Islands. Over two short centuries, the Pacific Ocean was colonised all the way to the Tonga Islands. By then, a distance of more than 3000 kilometres had been covered -- by canoe.


The research project "Persistence and Transformation in Ancestral Oceanic Society: the archaeology of the first 1500 years in the Vanuatu archipelago" was initiated by Stuart Bedford and Matthew Spriggs in ANU in collaboration with the Vaunatu cultural Centre in Vanuatu and sponsored by the Australian Research Council. It aims to find out how Vanuatu was colonised and developed over time. The University of Stavanger's Museum of Archaeology is one of many research partners. Excavations will continue until 2012, expanding to different parts of Vanuatu over the coming years. Scientists expect to find more headless skeletons and other objects which may explain why colonisation took place.

The University of Stavanger (2009, December 21). Sixty headless skeletons -- 3,000 years old -- discovered in Pacific Ocean archipelago Vanuatu. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/12/091215164909.htm

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bones find from abandoned village 'shows tough life of medieval women'

Skeletons from Wharram Percy have much larger bones than those of city contemporaries

The fearsome northern woman of legend and cliche, broadchested and with a frying pan poised to whack sense into her man, has proved to have genuine historic origins.

Analysis of bones from Britain's biggest medieval excavation has unearthed a race of real-life Nora Battys, ruling a Yorkshire roost nearly 1,000 years ago.

Skeletons from Wharram Percy, a village on the Yorkshire Wolds abandoned after the 14th century Black Death, have much larger bones than those of contemporaries elsewhere.

"The differences are really quite pronounced," said Simon Mays, of English Heritage, who has measured 120 sets of women's bones from the site. "Women at Wharram were much more muscular and bigger boned than their city counterparts. Whilst they were still doing the domestic chores and looking after children, they clearly also mucked in with the hard labour in the fields, building up their arm strength."

Whether they used this to assert themselves in the running of the village is likely to remain conjecture, but the archaeology suggests that social roles were less divided than they later became. Grinding poverty, if nothing else, obliged the "gentler sex" to multi-task in the fashion of many modern women.

"The research underlines the way that the sexual division of labour was much less marked in rural areas than in the cities of the time," said Mays. "The evidence from the Wharram bones speaks volumes, and reinforces that notion that life in the village was far from a rural idyll."

Like the archetypal Nora, a West Riding dragon played by Kathy Staff in the long-running TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine, the Wharram women were substantial as well as strong. Their bones are wider than average and with thicker walls, a sign of calcium and other components being deposited as muscles are worked harder and gain mass.

Wharram's insights on the state of medieval Britain are set to continue, as work continues on hundreds of thousands of remains excavated between 1950 and 1990. The site, surrounding a lonely church in a remote grassy valley, is the best-preserved of Britain's 3,500 abandoned villages.


Wainwright. Martin. 2009. "Bones find from abandoned village 'shows tough life of medieval women'". The Guardian. Posted: December 17, 2009. Available online:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Jesus-Era' Burial Cloth Casts Doubt on Turin Shroud

An international team of researchers has found fragments of a burial shroud that cast serious doubt on the Turin shroud, the controversial linen cloth venerated by many Catholics as the proof that Christ was resurrected from the grave.

Discovered in a Jerusalem cemetery known as Akeldama, or "Field of Blood," where Judas Iscariot is thought to have committed suicide, the shroud fragments were found around the remains of a man buried in a sealed chamber.

Probably a Jewish high priest or member of the aristocracy, the man suffered from tuberculosis and leprosy, as DNA of both diseases was found in his bones.

"This is the earliest case of leprosy with a confirmed date in which M.leprae DNA was detected," the researchers, from Israeli, Canadian, Australian, U.S. and U.K. institutions, wrote in the journal PloS ONE.

Although the molecular identification of these diseases is significant for the geographical and temporal distribution of tuberculosis and leprosy in the past, "what marked this tomb as unique from the other tombs in the Akeldama cemetery was the discovery of degraded shroud textile," said the researchers.

The first of their kind discovered in Jerusalem, the shroud fragments date from the same time of Christ's death, but are very different than the Shroud of Turin.

One of the most controversial relics in Christendom, the Turin linen features an intricate twill weave. The newly found cloth is made up of a simpler two-way weave.

Moreover, the Jerusalem garment is in two pieces -- one for the head and one for the body -- while the Turin shroud is a single piece of fabric.

If the remains in the Jerusalem tomb represent typical burial shrouds widely used at the time of Jesus, this casts strong doubt that the Turin Shroud originated from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

Scientific interest in the Turin Shroud began in 1898, when it was photographed by lawyer Secondo Pia. The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head.

In 1988, the Vatican approved carbon-dating tests. Three reputable laboratories concluded that the shroud was medieval, dating from 1260 to 1390, and not a burial cloth wrapped around the body of Christ.

The radiocarbon dating did not prevent many scholars from formulating various hypotheses on the shroud’s authenticity.

Last month Barbara Frale, a Vatican researcher, said she had found faint letters scattered on the cloth and claimed that was basically the burial certificate of a man named "Yeshua Nazarani."

Shroud skeptics quickly dismissed Frale's claim.

Kept rolled up in a silver casket, the Turin linen has survived several blazes since its existence was first recorded in France in 1357, including a mysterious fire at Turin Cathedral in 1997.

It has been on display only five times in the past century. When it last went on display in 2000, more than three million people saw it. The next display will be from April 10 to May 23, 2010 in the Cathedral of Turin.

Lorenzi, Rossella. 2009. "'Jesus-Era' Burial Cloth Casts Doubt on Turin Shroud". . Posted: December 17, 2009. Available online:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eight ancient drinks uncorked by science

Throughout human history, alcoholic beverages have treated pain, thwarted infections and unleashed a cascade of pleasure in the brain that lubricates the social fabric of life, according to Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

For the past several decades, McGovern's research has focused on finding archaeological and chemical evidence for fermented beverages in the ancient world. The details are chronicled in his recently published book, “Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages.”

He argues that the mind-altering effects of alcohol and the mysterious process of fermentation may explain why these drinks dominated entire economies, religions and societies. He’s found evidence of fermented beverages everywhere he's looked, which fits his hypothesis that alcohol "had a lot to do with making us what we are in biological and cultural terms."

The author, shown here examining an ancient pottery sherd, spoke with about his research. Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about 8 ancient drinks uncorked by science.

China: First known brew

While the human relationship with alcohol may trace back to our ancestors, the earliest chemical evidence for an alcoholic beverage dates back 9,000 years to the ancient village of Jiahu in China's Henan province.

Based on the analysis of residues extracted from pottery fragments, McGovern and colleagues concluded that the people were drinking a mixed wine-and-beer-like beverage made with grapes, hawthorn fruit, rice and honey. The finding was published in December 2004. The following year, McGovern collaborated with Sam Calagione and his crew at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware to re-create the millennia-old drink. Their creation, called Chateau Jiahu, won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009.

"We worked hard on getting this interpretation right. Since it does represent the oldest alcoholic beverage, it was really gratifying to get that gold tasting award," McGovern said.

Iran: Earliest evidence for barley beer

Which came first: bread or beer? The question remains unresolved, but evidence suggests barley was first cultivated about 10,000 years ago – the same time humans were abandoning the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and sowing the seeds of civilization. What was the catalyst for the transition? A steady supply of barley bread is one possibility. Brewing copious amounts of barley beer is another.

"From a pragmatic standpoint, the question is really a-no brainer," McGovern writes in his book. "If you had to choose today, which would it be? Neolithic people had all the same neural pathways and sensory organs as we have, so their choice would probably not have been much different."

Some of the earliest chemical evidence for beer comes from residues – calcium oxalate, known as beerstone – inside a jar excavated at the Godin Tepe archaeological site in the Zagros Mountains of Iran that is dated to between 3400 and 3100 B.C

Turkey: Mixed drink for Midas?

In 1957, University of Pennsylvania Museum researchers working at the Gordion archaeological site near Ankara, Turkey, broke through the wall of an elaborate tomb dated to between 740 and 700 B.C. that research suggests was the burial site of the fabled King Midas, or his father and king, Gordius. Among the remains in the tomb were the body of a 60- to 65-year-old male and the largest Iron Age drinking set ever found: 157 bronze vessels that were presumably used during the occupant's farewell feast.

In the late 1990s, McGovern and his colleagues analyzed residues inside the vessels and found evidence for a mixed beverage of grape wine, barley beer and honey mead. In March of 2000, he challenged microbrewers to make a representative concoction – and in the process prove or disprove that such grog was a plausible, enjoyable drink. Sam Calagione of the Dogfish Head brewery came through with what has become his most celebrated beverage: "Midas Touch."

Phoenicia: Active in the wine trade

Analysis of a pottery jar, or amphora, pulled up from a late 8th century B.C. shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel offers a strong hint that the wine trade flourished as a result of Phoenician enterprise originating from the coast of Lebanon and Syria, according to McGovern.

He and his colleagues discovered that the amphora was filled with a tree-resin-infused wine. What's more, the bottle had been sealed with resin to prevent the liquid from leaking out and oxygen getting in and spoiling the wine. Other Phoenician shipwrecks found throughout the Mediterranean dating to between 1000 B.C. and 400 B.C. also contained vast stores of wine.

"Some of the people working on that area say that the wine trade was really what transferred culture from the eastern Mediterranean to the western Mediterranean, because all of these ships are just chock-full of wine-related artifacts," McGovern said.

Chile: New World’s first fermented drink?

The earliest evidence for human occupation in the New World is found at Mount Verde, Chile, an inland archaeological site that dates to about 13,000 years before present. The discovery of the site in 1977 raised the possibility that the first migrants across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska took a water route to get to South America, not a slower-going overland trek as previously thought.

For McGovern, another intriguing possibility at Monte Verde is telling hints that these early Americans were drinking a fermented beverage. Though a drinking vessel or jug for chemical analysis has yet to be found, botanical debris at the site includes several fruits and starchy foods that could have been made into a buzz-giving drink.

"Humans are very innovative when it comes to figuring out how to make a fermented beverage, so if you've got fruits or other starchy materials that could be chewed or made into a sweet food or beverage, they'd discover how to do it. ... We just don't have the hard evidence for it yet," McGovern said.

Visit the site to read about these stories:

Honduras: Wine and chocolate

Peru: Burning down the house
Egypt: Beer helped build the pyramids

Roach, John. 2009. "Eight ancient drinks uncorked by science". MSNBC. Posted: December 17, 2009. Available online:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rising seas 'clue' in sunken world off Orkney

A unique discovery of submerged man-made structures on the seabed off Orkney could help find solutions to rising sea levels, experts have said.

They said the well preserved stone pieces near the island of Damsay are the only such examples around the UK.

It is thought some of the structures may date back thousands of years.

Geomorphologist Sue Dawson said that people have survived and adapted in the past and it is that adaption to climate change that needs to be learned from.

One of the team, archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones, of the University of Aberdeen, said of their freezing investigations under the December seas off Orkney: "We have certainly got a lot of stonework. There are some quite interesting things. You can see voids or entrances.

"There's this one feature that is like a stone table - you've got a large slab about a metre and a half long and it's sitting up on four pillars or walls so the next thing we need to do is to get plans and more photographs to try and assess and look for patterns.

"The quality and condition of some of the stonework is remarkable. Nothing like this has ever been found on the seabed around the UK."

Geophysicist Richard Bates, from the Scottish Oceans Institute, said: "We've got other sites down on the south coast of England where we have got submerged landscapes, meso-neolithic landscapes as we have here but what we haven't got anywhere else is actual structures.

"I don't say that's unique - that we'll never find that anywhere else, but so far we haven't seen such things before."

In general Scotland's mainland has been getting higher - but the surrounding islands have been sinking.

Sue Dawson, a geomorphologist from the University of Dundee, has been studying how and why the coast line is constantly changing.

She said: "One of the key premises behind a lot of the study of the past is that the past is a key to the present and the future.

"So we can look to times when maybe environmental changes have been much more rapid and much more catastrophic in some instances and people have survived and adapted and it's that adaption to climate change is one of the key things that we need to get to grips with."

The experts said the seabed around Orkney may be littered with man-made structures.

Richard Bates added: "We can look at the terrestrial landscape around here and see how man's occupied that.

"Pretty much anywhere in Orkney you can see a vista which has part of man within it, ancient man in the environment.

"The similar case is going to be in this drowned landscape so the few places we have seen so far are the biggest features but we expect to see much more as we dissect that landscape in finer and finer detail."

And they believe that while looking at an uncertain future it may pay to look into the past.

Caroline Wickham-Jones said: "The really interesting thing about this bay is the stories relating to things under the sea and sea-level change. Our ancestors were dealing with similar problems to ourselves and we'd like to see how they coped with it."

Anonymous. 2009. "Rising seas 'clue' in sunken world off Orkney". BBC News. Posted: December 17, 2009. Available Online:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

France Returns Ancient Treasures to Egypt

France has handed over to Egypt five fragments of an ancient wall painting that were kept in storage at the Louvre museum in Paris.

President Nicolas Sarkozy presented today one of the slabs to his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, ending a year-long feud over their ownership.

The five "steles," which are each only 15 cm (5.9 inches) wide and 30 cm (11.8 inches) high, were removed from a wall painting in a 3,200-year-old tomb on the West Bank of Luxor.

Beautifully frescoed with scenes depicting the journey into the afterlife, the tomb belonged to Tetiky, a nobleman of the 18th Dynasty.

"In 2008, a team of Egyptologists from Heidelberg University investigated the tomb and found several pieces had been cut out of the walls. Slides from 1975 show the wall paintings intact, so we believe they were removed sometime in the 1980's and sold to private collections in Europe," Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), wrote in his blog.

The Louvre purchased four of the fragments from the Maspero gallery in France in 2000, while the fifth was acquired at auction in Paris in 2003.

After presenting evidence to the Louvre that the objects had left Egypt illegally, Cairo's antiquities department broke off ties with the museum in October, saying they would be restored once the fragments were returned.

"When the Louvre applied for their permits to continue their excavations at Saqqara, I was forced to suspend their excavations, because we cannot have teams working in Egypt when we know their organization possesses stolen artifacts," Dr. Hawass said.

"Any museum that buys stolen artifacts will receive this same treatment. I was forced to cut archaeological ties with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Saint Louis Art Museum because they would not return artifacts, even after the SCA presented evidence they had been stolen…. I hope this story will be a warning to everyone, all museums and archaeologists, Egyptians and foreigners, not to deal in stolen antiquities," Dr. Hawass said.

Emphasizing that the Louvre museum had acted in good faith when it purchased the artefacts, President Sarkozy remarked that "France is particularly committed to fighting the illegal trafficking of works of art."

Dr. Hawass, who claims to have secured the return of some 5,000 treasures during his SCA tenure, has recently started an international campaign for the return of renowed artefacts such as the bust of Queen Nefertiti held by Berlin's Neues Museum and the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.

Lorenzi, Rossella. 2009. "France Returns Ancient Treasures to Egypt". Discovery News. Posted: December 14, 2009. Available online:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mammoths Hung on Longer? Late-Surviving Megafauna Exposed by Ancient DNA in Frozen Soil

Extinct woolly mammoths and ancient American horses may have been grazing the North American steppe for several thousand years longer than previously thought. After plucking ancient DNA from frozen soil in central Alaska, a team of researchers used cutting-edge techniques to uncover "genetic fossils" of both species locked in permafrost samples dated to between 7,600 and 10,500 calendar years.

This new evidence suggests that at least one population of these now-extinct mammals endured longer in the continental interior, challenging the conventional view that these and other large species, or megafauna, disappeared from the Americas about 12,000 years ago.

"We don't know how long it takes to pinch out a species," says Ross MacPhee, Curator of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. "Extinctions often seem dramatic and sudden in fossil records, but our study provides an idea of what an extinction event might look like in real time, with imperiled species surviving in smaller and smaller numbers until eventually disappearing completely."

At the end of the Pleistocene, the geological epoch roughly spanning 12,000 to 2.5 million years ago, many of the world's megafauna, such as giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, stag-moose, and mammoths, vanish from the geological record. Some large species such as Equus caballus, the species from which the domestic horse derives, became extinct in North America but persisted in small populations elsewhere. Because of the apparent sudden disappearance of many megafaunal species in North America, some scientists have proposed cataclysmic explanations like human overhunting, an extraterrestrial impact, and the introduction of novel infectious diseases. The swiftness of the extinctions, however, is not suggested directly by the fossils themselves but is inferred from radiocarbon dating of bones and teeth discovered on the surface or buried in the ground. Current "macrofossil" evidence places the last-known mammoths and wild horses between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago.

But hard remains of animals are rarely preserved, difficult to find, and laborious to accurately date because of physical degradation. Because of this, MacPhee and co-authors Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia, and Duane Froese of the University of Alberta in Canada decided to tackle the problem by dating the "last survivors" through dirt. Frozen sediments from the far north of Siberia and Canada can preserve small fragments of animal and plant DNA exceptionally well, even in the complete absence of any visible organic remains, such as bone or wood.

"In principle, you can take a pinch of dirt collected under favorable circumstances and uncover an amazing amount of forensic evidence regarding what species were on the landscape at the time," says Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. "The use of ancient DNA offers the possibility of being able to sample previous life within the last 400,000 years, freeing us from having to rely on skeletal and other macrofossil evidence as the only way to collect information about species that are no longer with us."

In order to prospect for genetic fossils, the team collected soil cores from undisturbed Alaskan permafrost. Wind-blown Stevens Village, situated on the bank of the Yukon River, fit the bill perfectly. Here, sediments were sealed in permafrost soon after deposition. Two independent methods (radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence) were used to date plant remains and individual mineral grains found in the same layers as the DNA.

"With these two techniques, we can be confident that the deposits from which the DNA was recovered haven't been contaminated since these lost giants last passed this way," said Roberts, director of the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong. "It's a genetic graveyard, frozen in time."

Cores collected at Stevens Village offer a clear picture of the local Alaskan fauna at the end of the last ice age. The oldest sediments, dated to about 11,000 years ago, contain remnant DNA of Arctic hare, bison, and moose; all three animals were also found in higher, more recent layers, as would be expected. But one core, deposited between 7,600 and 10,500 years ago, confirmed the presence of both mammoth and horse DNA. To make certain that the integrity of this sample had not been compromised by geologic processes (for example, that ancient DNA had not blown into the surface soils), the team did extensive surface sampling in the vicinity of Stevens Village. No DNA evidence of mammoth, horse, or other extinct species was found in modern samples, a result that supports previous studies which have shown that DNA degrades rapidly when exposed to sunlight and various chemical reactions.

"The fact that we scored with only one layer is not surprising," says MacPhee. "When you start going extinct, there will be fewer and fewer feet on the ground, and thus less and less source material for ancient DNA such as feces, shed dermal tissues, and decaying bodies."

The team also developed a statistical model to show that mammoth and horse populations would have dwindled to a few hundred individuals by 8,000 years ago.

"At this point, mammoths and horses were barely holding on. We may actually be working with the DNA of some of the last members of these species in North America," says permafrost expert Froese, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta. "The Yukon Flats includes large shifting river bars with an abundance of high quality forage where large mammals can and could make a living. There may have been a handful of similar sites in Alaska, hosting small remnant populations," says Froese.

"Dirt DNA has lots of exciting potential to contribute to extinction debates in other parts of the world too, as well as a range of archaeological questions," said Willerslev, who also points out that the approach is not restricted to looking back at the past. "We can also use it to make a list of modern species living in any particular location," he said. "This kind of information is really valuable for studies of animals that are hard to detect, and there are some neat forensic applications too."

The new paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to Willerslev, MacPhee, Froese, and Roberts, authors include James Haile, Morten Rasmussen, and Thomas Gilbert of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark; Alberto Reyes, and Simon Robinson of the University of Alberta in Canada; Lee Arnold and Martina Demuro of the University of Wollongong in Australia; Rasmus Nielsen and Kasper Munch of the University of California at Berkeley; Barry Brook, Jeremy Austin, and Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide in Australia; Ian Barnes of the Royal Holloway University of London in the United Kingdom; and Per Moller of Lund University in Sweden. The research was funded by the Danish National Research Foundation, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Alberta Ingenuity Foundation, the Australian Research Council; Discovery Communications, Inc.; the AHRB, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


2009. "Mammoths Hung on Longer? Late-Surviving Megafauna Exposed by Ancient DNA in Frozen Soil. Science Daily. " Posted: December 15, 2009. Available online:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

World's Oldest Santa Figurine Believed Found

Archaeologists working in Akron, Ohio, claim to have found the world's oldest three-dimensional representation of Santa Claus.

Known as the "Blue Santa," the object was made circa 1884 by The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company, which burned to the ground in 1904. The figurine is 2.5 inches tall.

Project leader Brian Graham said, "It's a wishing Santa. You hold it in your hand and wish for the present you want for Christmas."

Graham suspected such treasures existed at the company's location, now known as the "Lock 3 Park" archaeological site. The former federal government archaeologist gained permission from the City of Akron to dig at what he calls "the original North Pole," due to all of the toys that were once made there.

"This was the birthplace of the modern toy industry," said Michael Cohill, director of the American Toy Marble Museum.

Aside from the tiny Santa, The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company also made the world's first mass-produced toys: clay marbles and penny toys.

"Marbles were made using a device patented by Samuel C. Dyke, founder of the company," Cohill explained. "It allowed one worker to make 800 to 1,000 clay marbles per hour, turned out at a rate of one million marbles a day, five box-car loads, six days a week."

"So significant was the economy of scale that one penny could buy a handful of marbles or dozens of different penny toys. The Blue Santa was a penny toy," he added while cradling the tiny object in his hand.

Before this Ohio company, toys for purchase were mostly expensive, hand-painted creations, available to only the wealthiest of children. Parents of less fortunate kids often just made toys at home for their kids. That's one reason why many collectible toys are handmade dollies and carved wooden objects.

But Dyke's production methods forever changed things. By 1888, he was nearly a millionaire, having created "the children's product market." Even kids themselves started to have purchase power, buying the inexpensive toys with their own pennies.

"From that point forward, all children could have a toy," Cohill said.

Local businessmen noted Dyke's success, and they too got involved in toy manufacturing. A whopping 31 additional marble factories were opened in the area. Akron at the time was also known as "the rubber capital of the world," so you can guess which toys soon became hits: balloons, rubber balls, rubber duckies, rubber dollies and even the tongue-twister inspiring rubber baby buggy bumpers.

At one point there were 160 local toy companies in Akron. Today it's still a "North Pole" contender, as the city is home to Little Tykes, Step Two and Maple City Rubber, which is still the world's largest maker of latex balloons.

If you'd like to see the Blue Santa, it's housed in a display case at The American Toy Marble Museum.


Viegas, Jennifer. 2009. "World's Oldest Santa Figurine Believed Found". Discovery News. Posted online: December 14, 2009. Available online:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Not Everyone Who Speaks Spanish is from Spain: Taíno Survival in the 21st Century Dominican Republic

Note: This is only a portion of the article. I have also left out tables and illustrations. Please go to the original article to see these items.

Taíno Heritage

Linguistic Features

The Dominican Republic often uses its indigenous name Quisqueya as a common referent. Dominicans like to call themselves "Quisqueyanos"; the name even appears in the first words of the Dominican national anthem: "Quisqueyanos valientes..."

The Spanish language has several hundred words that come from the indigenous Arawakan language of the Caribbean. These words go beyond names of objects, place names, flora, and fauna that did not have a name in the Spanish language, like canoa, hurican, hamaca, caiman, barbacoa, tobaco, maraca, marimba, iguana, and manatee. There are also many words and expressions that are indigenous in origin that are used instead of their Spanish names. Examples include: mabi, a natural juice; macana, a policeman's club; and macuto, a hand sack. The Taíno phrase "un chin" or "chin-chin" means a small amount in Dominican Spanish, and is as common as the Spanish phrase "un poquito." The use of these words suggest not simply the effect of one culture borrowing or appropriating names for things they did not know, but a more complex interplay between two cultures.

Many, if not a majority of Dominican cities, campos, rivers, and mountains have indigenous names, including: Amina, Bani, Bao, Bonao, Cotui, Cutupu, Dajabon, Damajagua, Guajaca, Guayubin, Inoa, Jacagua, Janico, Licey, Magua, Maguana, Mao, Nagua, and Samana. The majority of rivers have Taíno names, including Haina, Maimon, Ozama, Sosua, Tireo, and Yaque. Most native trees and fruits have Taíno names, including Anacajuita, Caimito, Cajuil, Caña, Caoba, Ceiba, Cuaba, Guacima, Guano, Guao, Guayaba, Guanabana and Guayacan. Beyond flora, indigenous insects, birds, fish, and other animals with names of Taíno origin may list into the hundreds. They include the Bibijagua (ant), Comejen (termite), Carey (sea turtle), Hicotea (river turtle), manatee, and Guaraguao (Dominican hawk).

Due to the process of mestizaje, whereby the Spaniard male colonists took Indian wives, it is not surprising that no Taíno surnames have survived to the present. Still, Dominicans use historical Taíno names in the contemporary naming of children. Examples include the prominent politicians Caonabo Polanco and Hatuey Deschamps, and jazz great Guarionex Aquino.

Many Dominicans can distinguish a Taíno name by its sound, though not reliably. It may be that the Cibao rural dialect's transformation of words ending in the Spanish suffix "-ado" into the Arawakan sounding "ao" is a vestige of Taíno pronunciation (e.g., colorado becomes colorao). Regardless of its true historicity, it is certain that there exists a romanticized Indian association with these campo pronunciations. Another example is the use of the "I" with words ending with an "R" (Qué calor! becomes Qué calo-i!).

It is interesting that several Taíno words that are used in other parts of the Antilles, are not used in the Dominican Republic. Examples include using the Spanish word lechosa instead of the indigenous papaya, the Spanish word pina (pineapple) instead of the indigenous yayama, and the Spanish cotorra (parrot) instead of the indigenous higuaca. However, for all these words, many people are aware of their indigenous names as well. There are several instances where both indigenous and Spanish words are interchangeable, for example, the Spanish word tarantula and the Taíno word cacata are used equally (see Figure 4).

Some indigenous words have changed their meanings over the years. For example, a batey, which originally described a Taíno ceremonial ball court, today refers to the residence location of Haitians on sugar plantations. Guacara, originally referring to a cave or cavern, now describes a place or thing of antiquity.


Many Dominican agricultural terms have Taíno origins. The word conuco, while its meaning is lost as a mixed-crop method of agriculture similar to the mainland indigenous milpa, has retained the concept as a plot of land used for farming. Unfortunately, Dominicans have not retained the Taíno use of montones, or raised mound agriculture, and suffer from one of the worst records of topsoil depletion in the Caribbean (Ferguson 1992). So too, unfortunately, Dominicans have overused the Taíno technique of slash and burn (swidden) agriculture.

Many Dominican farmers use what they call the mysterios, or the spiritual secrets of agriculture, including planting with the lunar cycle. This practice is documented for the Taíno as well. Agricultural knowledge is reported to be passed on from generation to generation. It is interesting to note that in some regions, particular days of the week are considered bad times to plant. This practice may be a creolized Catholic/Taíno manner of understanding the spiritual division of the human world. One final agricultural item from pre-Columbian times is the use of the coa, the indigenous word for a digging stick, which is still employed for planting, though today with a metal point.

Yucca and Casabe

The starchy vegetable tuber yucca is a central part of contemporary Dominican diet. Sweet yucca is a staple, boiled and served for breakfast and dinner, often with eggs or a small meat accompaniment. Yucca is well matched to Dominican soil and life ways, whereby it can grow in semi-arid climates and on hillsides, and can conserve for several months in the earth without rotting. It was the key to Taíno survival and it is no surprise that Yucahu was one of the principal deities. So too is it identified as the most Dominican of the staples.

The baking of casabe bread from bitter yucca flour is a Dominican tradition that has strong ties to the Taíno past. While common at the household level only generations ago, casabe production is today available principally from family bakeries and small factories, who truck the casabe to local stores throughout the country. The technology of casabe production has not changed much over the years, and most of the terminology is the same. The yucca is grated with guayos (today sharpened spoons peel the yucca and mechanical metal graters are used for grating), leeched of the poisonous starch (anaiboa or almidón) in canoe shaped receptacles (canoa), strained, and dried into flour (catibia). Then the flour is spread with the help of a circular iron mold, and baked on the top of an oven (buren) for about twenty minutes until solid (Figure 5). Casabe can conserve in its cooked form for several months without spoilage, making it an important food product in the tropical environment. Casabe is always served during Christmas and Easter times, and its presence on the Dominican table is expected. It is important to note that in recent years the availability of bread made from wheat flour have led to a diminished use of casabe in Dominican diets.

Alternative uses of yucca flour have declined in their importance over the years, however several food products are still made. Panesico are baked logs of yucca flour and pork fat, and are considered a specialty of the Cibao region. Dominican empanadas, deep-fried dough pockets stuffed with meat, are only made with yucca flour. Bolas de yuca are deep-fried balls of yucca flour. Jojadra are powdery ginger cookies made of yucca starch.

Foodways and Tobacco Use

Besides yucca, many fruits and vegetables of indigenous origin have remained staples in the Dominican diet. They include the guayaba, guanabana, pina, lechosa, yautia, mani, and batata. Other indigenous fruits and vegetables that are eaten but are becoming less common include the anon, mamon, caimito, jagua, jobo, and mamey. Ajies (peppers) are an essential part of daily bean preparation. The popular Dominican salcocho (stew) may be derived from the indigenous pepper pot or ajiejaco, and arepas (corn-fritters) may also be of indigenous origin. Certainly both these dishes have native connotations surrounding them. So too is seasoning with bixa (annatto seed), although this spice's use has dwindled with the availability of packaged seasoning and canned tomato sauce.

Cooking in earthenware pots, similar in style to Taíno ceramic ware, while becoming more and more rare, is known as a way of making beans more flavourful. Vega (1987:100-101) documents the use of another indigenous root, guayiga in the making of a bread-mush called cholo, popular in the south. Another root, guayaro, appears wild throughout the Cibao. The terms mabi and cacheo describe non-alcoholic drinks with indigenous origins that are still locally produced from fermented palm. Finally, the Taíno word bucán describes the technique of spit-roasting, an important element of a barbecue (Taíno word barbacoa).

Tobacco (tabaco) has a long history of use in the Dominican Republic, especially in the campo. Tobacco is an integral part of santería ceremonies, where cigar smoking is used in spirit offerings and possession rituals. Besides being big business for export, tobacco is ubiquitous as a smoking product throughout the Dominican Republic. People smoke locally made cigarettes, as well as cigars and pipes. Many traditions of tobacco use include rolling cigars (tubanos), or smoking a compacted tobacco leaf plug called andullo in a pipe (cachimba) or rolled in cigarette paper (pachuche).

Medicinal Knowledge

Dominican natural medicinal knowledge makes use of many indigenous plant species and healing techniques. Many remedies have a Taíno association to them, and it is probable that this association is not coincidental but was handed down over the generations as seen in Cuba (Barreiro 1989). Examples of natural medicine using indigenous products are numerous and include the use of calabaza leaves for toothaches and swelling, ingesting maguey juice for the flu, and eating guayaba for nausea. There are herbalists and curanderos in every campo, and it is often common to see greater reliance on natural medicines further away from industrialized city centers (Weeks et al. 1994). However, due to the increased use of pharmaceuticals, natural medicine has also declined in recent years.

Fishing Techniques

Fishing techniques of indigenous origin have been well documented by Vega (1987:105-106). These include the use of fishing corrals, the temporary poisoning of small rivers or pools (sometimes with the almidón leeched from bitter yucca), the use of fiber fishing nets (nasas), and techniques for localizing fish and shellfish in shallow waters. The following fish and marine animals all have Taíno names: carite, menjua, cojinua, jurel, dajao, guabina, macabi, tiburon, guatapana, lambi, burgao, carey, juey, hicotea, and jaiva. Fishing has become a less important food procurement strategy in recent years, as dams, soil erosion, and pollution have dramatically lessened the quantity of fish in rivers.

Crafts and Technologies

Locally made ceramics use basic forms with transculturative origins. Most popular in contemporary campo use today are tinajas, large amphoras used for water storage, and rounded cooking vessels called oyas. With the availability of imported plastic and metal containers and cooking pots, however, the use of ceramics in Dominican culture is waning.

While the Taíno had a strong tradition of woodworking, Dominicans seem to have been progressively losing their woodworking skills. This may be, in part, due to deforestation and the unavailability of many of the fine woods like caoba (mahogany). There is, however, in the contemporary Dominican Republic, industrial production of fine furniture. Rocking chairs are well known as Dominican cultural items and chairs are available for guests in even the poorest of households.

Bateas are flat wooden containers that are used to carry fruits. Their origin is Taíno, and often associated with their use for washing gold in rivers. Indeed, bateas are still used for this purpose today, for example in the Rio Chacuey. Bateas, like ceramics, are becoming less and less used, with the importation of cheap alternative plastic containers and receptacles. Many traditional makers of bateas have had to use less durable trees in recent years, making their products of cheaper quality. Some have expanded their product line into the tourist market by making decorative wooden spoons and forks. It is interesting to see that the word batea has been extended to the ponchera, the Spanish word for a large plastic bowl.

Dominican boat craft are still made along the coast, but have lost much of the technological features used in making Taíno canoas and cayucos. The method of making a canoa from a hollowed-out royal palm as a feeding and watering trough for cows is still found in some campos (Figure 6). This technology is becoming increasingly rare due to the limitations put on the cutting of larger trees, on the number of craftsmen who still know how to make a canoa, and on the increasing availability of used tractor tires as watering troughs.

Calabashes, called higuero, made of various sizes and shapes, are still used by rural Dominicans as water receptacles, bowls, and food containers (Figure 7). Macutos, handbags of guano or cana fiber are also still made, but are less prevalent due to the availability of plastic and paper bags. Baskets (canasta) made of bejuco (vines), palm, caña, guano, and other native fibers are used for clothes hampers and food containers, but are of relatively poor quality. Cabuya fibers are still used as cordage for ropes and whips, but synthetic fibers have become more popular in recent years. The use of native cotton (algodón) has all but disappeared with the importation of woven fabrics. Hamaca (hammocks) are today made with nylon cord mostly for sale to tourists. Beds have wholly replaced the hammock for sleeping. Finally, the use of large lambi (Strombus gigas) shells, called fotutos, by butchers to advise people what meat is being slaughtered by the number of blasts on the trumpet has indigenous origins, but is also disappearing as a cultural form.


The word bohío describes a country house, often with a caña roof and yagua palm siding, and is identified for its Taíno origins. It also describes the prevalent ranchos, patio or field structures with cana roofs used to shade the sun. Bohíos are built like the circular indigenous caney, or in a rectangular manner. Caña is used for its availability, its ability to withstand water, its durability (lasting up to twenty years in a tropical climate), and its breathabilty. Caña is also appreciated for its decorative beauty, and is often chosen for discotheques, restaurants, and cock fighting rings (galleras). The only negative element of using caña is it is not good for rainwater collection. Bejucos (vines) are sometimes still used to bind together ranchos, although nails are much more common. Another style of house building that also reflects Taíno heritage are those that use the royal palm yagua fronds for walls and roofing (see Figure 8).

Folklore and Religion

Folklore and religion have many associations with indigenous heritage. Taíno Indian spirits are commonly reported to dwell in rivers and caves throughout the country. Many sites of natural beauty or geological rarity have become associated as Indian places or sacred sites. Pools in rivers are often named "charco de los Indios" as are caves "cueva de los Indios", even if there is little artifactual evidence of indigenous use or occupation. Folklore often surrounds these places as spiritually dangerous or as sites where healing may occur, and are used accordingly.

Folk syncretic belief systems combine Indian imagery and spirit blessings into their ritual and belief structures. Herbal shops, or botanicas, often sell Indian statues and candles which are thought to bring good luck and fortune to a person using them. Indigenous herbs and flowers like copey are burned in spiritual contexts. Small bracelets are worn by new-borns for protection. Indigenous axe-heads or "piedras de rayo" are sometimes put into tinajas to protect a house from lightning.

Many stories about supernatural beings have indigenous origins, including the Ciguapa, a woman-beast with long hair and inverted feet.

Art, Poetry, and Literature

In the field of the arts, poetry, and literature, Dominicans have made great use of indigenous themes. Work by Cibao artists such as Luis Munoz, Bottin Castellanos, and Gina Rodriguez use Taíno imagery and technology in their artistic expression. Indigenous themes also appear in works of poetry and literature, theater and modern dance. Merenguero Juan Luis Guerra uses many indigenous themes in his music; a recent album of his was titled areito. Many Dominican folksongs, as well, make reference to Indians of Quisqueya, including the caciques Enriquillo and Anacaona.

Popular Identity

Perhaps the greatest association with the indigenous past comes with the biological feature known as the "Indio" skin color. While some official identity cards use the term "trigueño" to describe the majority of Dominicans, "Indio" is the commonly held concept for the color of Dominican skin, and the "race" of the Dominican people. The term, popularized by Trujillo to distance Dominicans from darker skinned Haitians, skirts the issue of Native American inheritance, which is referred to by the word indígena, and simply defines the physical manifestation of being of mixed race.

Dobal (1989:25) writes about indigenous physical qualities, temperaments, and sexuality of Taíno origin, and suggests that the long, straight-hair, large brown eyes, and soft skin of campesinas is Taíno in origin. While such observational criteria appear straight forward, subjective traits have proven to be unreliable in making larger cultural generalizations. So too, is it problematic to use early Spanish descriptions of physical beauty to generalize what the Taíno looked like in the 15th century. However, it is acknowledged that biological "racial" features are recognized by members of a cultural community and often form the basis of assessing cultural difference. Dominicans, certainly, would agree with Dobal's description of Indios.

Dobal further suggests that the Dominican has inherited the indigenous love for liberty, the appreciation for the esthetics as opposed to the functionality of objects, the lack of ambition or greediness, and the love for their homeland and place of birth (Dobal 1989:26). Indian strength and bravery is often a quality assumed by many Dominicans, and many campos which are known for the courage of their people are cited as places where there is a lot of Indian blood. Matrifocality is a cultural trait described in ethnohistoric documents about the Taíno, and can be tied to some degree to the present. Perhaps, it is a matrifocal love for homeland, that Dobal comments on, a love to be in the place where you were born and raised.

In the Dominican Republic, it is difficult to attach a clean ethnic category to the whole population. The amount of historical and contemporary miscegenation between individuals of different African, Indian, and European blood has been very high, and has produced a multitude of biological mixes. There is a tremendous range of so-called "racial" features, for example, in hair texture, skin color, and facial shape. Basically, the way Dominicans recognize and talk about biology, some Dominicans look more "Black", some more "White", and some more "Indian". In this sense, Dominicans appear as a multi-biological people. On top of this, however, many Dominicans have combinations of "racial" features that make it difficult to pinpoint their exact biological ancestry. Dominicans have invented names for over 20 different physical mixes including trigueño, indio, indio claro, trigueñooscuro, canelo, pinto, etcetera. Thus, the Dominican Republic appears a "melting-pot" as well as a place of many separate biologies.

Ultimately, though, when simple biology—the way people look—is put aside in favor of discussions about culture—what people do—the Dominican Republic displays a common denominator, uni-cultural identity that has little correlation with the physical appearance of its people. Indeed, there is no such thing as a distinct Black Dominican culture, White Dominican culture, or Indian Dominican culture. Regional difference do exist but for the most part, cultural differences appear between rich Dominicans and poor Dominicans, and between "city" Dominicans and "campo" Dominicans, and even these differences dissolve in discussions of a unifying national identity.

While it is true that Dominicans with more European ancestry and culture represent the group which historically have had more access to money and power, they represent a small fraction of the demographic whole. While their influence in controlling the production of national identity has been strong, I will be focusing on the cultural realities for the majority of Dominicans, who are poor and without access to power.

Popular Culture

Finally, Taíno imagery is often found in a romanticized form in various elements of Dominican capitalist and nationalist culture. Strong Taíno caciques, who appear portrayed as national heroes, appear on stamps and coins. Indians are found as sculpture and bas-relief on buildings, often in positions of subservience or in chains. Indians are often denigrated to the level of mascots hawking the following products: Enriquillo soda water, Guarina saltines and cookies, Siboney rum, and Hatuey soda crackers. The name "Taíno" adorns businesses from pizza parlors to delivery services. A popular beer is called Quisqueya. For many Dominicans these product names are their most familiar association with the Taíno past.

While nationalist Hispanic imagery has had a constraining effect on how Dominicans view the Taíno past, there are also unofficial alternate expressions that resist the dominant discourses. For example, many Dominicans claim that it is bad luck (fuku) to say the name Christopher Columbus aloud and that La Isabella, one of the first Spanish settlements on the north coast of the island, is haunted by Spanish ghosts. These may be considered signs of struggle against dominant history and rejections of official ways of speaking about the legitimated glory of the Spanish past. During the Columbian quincentennial a large multi-million dollar lighthouse monument was built in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. Surrounding it is a tall stone wall that blocks poor barrio residents from crossing the Faro's grounds. This wall, built to hide the realities of Dominican poverty from the visiting dignitary or tourist, is known by everyone as the Muro de la Verguenza, or the Wall of Shame. It is an apt metaphor for the official national vision of Dominican identity represented by the Faro: available only to those who have the power and wealth to access it (see Figure 9).

With the murder of human rights lawyer Rafael Ortiz during a quincentennial protest march, attention was called to the repressive, manipulative way the government was controlling the celebration of its national history. Ortiz's assassination proved to be a successful governmental tactic to quell further resistance to official quincentennial activities. Posters and simple graffiti reading "No al Quinto Centenario!" became the only visible form of organized resistance. Several critical articles in national newspapers did appear but had very little influence on the national quincentennial programs.

The quincentennial inspired Pilgrimage for Human Dignity was held on 5 December 1992 as a protest against the official Columbian celebrations. Literature distributed at the march read "... vamos a conmemorar la resistencia indígena, negra y popular en el día de la llegada de Colón..." On this pilgrimage from Santiago to Santo Cerro (La Vega), various banners were unfurled with anti-governmental imagery. One banner satirized the typical San Miguel image, dramatizing an Indian as San Miguel, slaying Columbus as the devil, his wings the flags of Spain and the United States (see Figure 10). It is no coincidence that San Miguel is also the “Captain of the 21st Indigenous Division” in syncretic religious belief. That is, Saint Michael has been transformed in folk belief systems to represent the Indian spirit who struggles against oppression (of all negative forms represented by the devil).

The active work of individuals like the organizers of the Columbian quincentennial protests opened many eyes to the realities of the Dominican past and present, which were exposed as intricately connected. So too did many educators, teachers and parents engage in their students and children a critical response to the national celebrations. A librarian from a private Santiago school encouraged students to work on projects concerning the indigenous past. The work they produced was well researched, informative, and edifying.

Ferbel, P. J. (2002). "Not Everyone Who Speaks Spanish is from Spain: Taíno Survival in the 21st Century Dominican Republic". KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology [On-line Journal], Special Issue, Lynne Guitar, Ed. Available at:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Towards the decipherment of the Bagam script

Note: I didn't post the tables and illustrations. To see them go to the article.


The Bagam (Eghap) script from the Grassfields region of Cameroon is briefly analyzed. An attempt to identify the phonetic values of some Bagam characters is made and some similarity with the Bamum script is reported.

1. Introduction

A decade ago, Konrad Tuchscherer published the paper entitled The Lost Script of the Bagam (Tuchscherer 1999). In this article, the light was shed for the first time ever on this mysterious script known since the 1920s when a British military officer Louis William Gordon Malcolm learned about it during his stay in Cameroon and submitted the relevant information for the publication in the Journal of African Society (Malcolm 1921). Unfortunately, Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston, the editor of the journal, decided not to publish the list of script signs. The character shapes remained thus unknown for more than seventy years until Tuchscherer discovered the manuscript of Malcolm’s M. Sc. thesis with the list of characters attached. The story of this discovery is a kind of a detective novel. The Bagam script was discussed in various works in connection with the Bamum script, in particular by Alfred Schmitt (1963) but no author managed to observe any Bagam characters de visu, which caused David Dalby’s reference “the lost script of the Bagam” (Dalby 1986:15; Tuchscherer 1999:59). It was Konrad Tuchscherer who finally succeeded in locating Malcolm’s unpublished master’s thesis in the Haddon Library of Archeology and Anthropology at Cambridge.

The Bagam script was used to write the Mengaka language spoken by over 20 thousand people in the Western Province of Cameroon, Grassfields region, in Bagam, a town located seventy kilometers westward from Foumban, the center of former Bamum kingdom (see Fig. 1). This language belongs to the Bantoid branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its alternative names include Ghap, Benzing or Megaka. Bagam is how the outsiders call these people, while they call themselves Eghap (Gordon 2005).

2. The Bagam Script
2.1. Script history

The Bagam script originated ca. 1910, probably under some influence from the neighboring Bamum script. According to oral tradition, it was created by a local king (fon), Pufong, assisted by a royal retainer Nde Temfong (Tuchscherer 2005; 2007).

The script was used for record-keeping and for farming calendars, and probably for private correspondence as well. It is not likely, however, that the script had ever gained a wide currency among the Eghap people.

2.2. Script inventory

Data about the Bagam script are rather scarce. No script material has been identified so far except the manuscript from the Haddon Library of the Cambridge University deposited by Malcolm. Fortunately, from these data published by Tuchscherer one can proceed in the identification of the values for a significant part of the Bagam characters.

The number of recorded characters in the Bagam script exceeds one hundred, and in total could probably reach several hundreds.

Two types of characters can be distinguished. For convenience, they will be called in the following ideographic and phonetic as these names reflect the nature of the character usage in given samples. It seems reasonable to suggest that the ideographic (full-word) signs are “native” (cf. discussion on numbers below) while the phonetic ones are borrowed from Bamum. Such a two-fold nature of symbols was noted yet by Malcolm’s informant who said “that when the latter [Bagam script] breaks down the signs are borrowed from that of the former [Bamum script]” (Malcolm 1921:128). The fact that phonetic, not ideographic, symbols are borrowed appears a bit unusual since in mixed-type writing systems generally these are heterograms (graphs borrowed from another language, Sims-Williams 2004) which denote stems, cf. ancient cuneiforms (Coulmas 2004:6, Sims-Williams 2004) or modern Japanese script (Coulmas 2004:240-241).

The identification of the character values is far from being complete yet, in particular due to the inaccuracy of Malcolm’s transcription. A comprehensive study of Malcolm’s records together with cross-checking the respective dictionary entries of Mengaka could help in future to precise the presented results.

In the following tables the characters are ordered mostly according to their first appearance in Malcolm’s records (as given by Tuchscherer 1999). Sometimes, this rule is not held and the first position where the identification is the least doubtful is used instead.

3. The symbol charts

Table 1 contains the list of ideographic symbols. One should note that Malcolm’s transcriptions generally adhere to Johnston’s scheme (Johnston 1919:39-41). In particular, y following a consonant denotes the consonant palatalization (gy, ky), ñ is used to denote nasal ŋ, Greek gamma γ stands for velar g (Arabic غ), q represents the faucal k (Arabic ق), Greek omega ω stands for a kind of long o (French au or German oh). The macron (ˉ) marks stress, the caron (ˇ) does unstress, and accent is marked by the acute (´). The apostrophe was supposedly used by Malcolm for a glottal stop when between the vowels or to separate a prenasalizing n and m from the subsequent consonant. The notations are just retyped from a hand-written source, and in some places may be erroneous where the writing was not sufficiently clear.

For the charts, a computerized Bagam font typeface was designed by the present author.

In Table 2, the numerical signs of the Bagam script are listed next to those of the Bamum script. One can note that there is no close resemblance in the shapes of these symbols.

The Bamum numerals are shown in several versions conventionally labeled A, B, C, …, G corresponding to the development stages of the script between 1896 and 1918 (Schmitt 1963). For comparison with the Bagam script, the stages up to F (and presumably after B) are relevant.

While certain similarity in the shapes of the Bagam and Bamum numerals can be observed, the fact that the difference between them is so significant can be treated as an evidence of a parallel development but not a direct borrowing of those symbols.

To cite a coworker of the present author, “numerals are devoid of soul” meaning they are less associated with a specific ethnicity, religion, etc., unlike letters proper, and thus can be more easily transmitted between various writing systems, cf. modern “western” digits which became a truly universal notation (Coulmas 2004:361).

Another observation supporting the statement that the Bagam script was, at least in its ideographic part, an original invention (not excluding the ‘stimulus diffusion’ from the Bamum script) refers to the symbol shapes in general. The Bagam script is of a more cursive style; its symbols are less pictorial than those of the Bamum script at the relevant stages, cf. Fig. 2.

Table 3 contains phonetic symbols. The identification is much better for the consonantal part of syllables than for the vocalic one. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the pleonastic representations typical for the Bamum script, at least in the versions contemporary with the Bagam script (cf. Coulmas 2004:38; Jensen 1969:212-213). It seems thus safer to leave the vowel identification for future studies.

It is interesting to note some ligatures (№120, №136; probably also №169, №171, and №172).

Finally, Table 4 lists symbols having similar shapes in the Bagam and Bamum scripts.

Some questions are still waiting for an answer:

1. It is not clear if all the phonetic signs had an ideographic value, while certainly some ideographs were used phonetically (cf. №3 and №173; №6 and №174; №19 and №176; №27 and №153; №49 and №178).
2. It is not clear whether some slightly different shapes represent the same symbol (cf. №94 and №121; №96 and №113; №148 and №149; №164 and №165).
3. In some cases the phonetic correspondence between the Bagam script and the Bamum script is far from close (see asterisked entries in Table 4). Is this a consequence of mistakes in the transcription?

To summarize, the Bagam script is briefly described on the basis of material presented by Tuchscherer (1999). Within phonetic characters, the values of 66 symbols are identified to a different accuracy. For some 30 characters, a notable similarity with the Bamum script is observed.

Rovenchak, Andrij. 2009. "Towards the decipherment of the Bagam script". Afrikanistik. Posted: May 24, 2009. Available online:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Maize Was Passed from Group to Group of Southwestern Hunter-Gatherers, Study Suggests

An international group of anthropologists offers a new theory about the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States and the impact it had.

Published the week of Dec. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study, co-authored by Gayle Fritz, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues, suggests that maize was passed from group to group of Southwestern hunter-gatherers.

These people took advantage of improved moisture conditions by integrating a storable and potentially high-yielding crop into their broad-spectrum subsistence strategy.

"For decades, there have been two competing scenarios for the spread of maize and other crops into what is now the U.S. Southwest," Fritz said.

According to the first, groups of farmers migrated northward from central Mexico into northwest Mexico and from there into the Southwest, bringing their crops and associated lifeways with them.

In the second scenario, maize moved northward from central Mexico to be Southwest by being passed from one hunter-gatherer band to the next, who incorporated the crop into their subsistence economies and eventually became farmers themselves.

"The case for long-distance northward migration of Mexican farming societies received a boost about 12 years ago when British archaeologist Peter Bellwood, joined a few years later by geographer Jared Diamond and linguist Jane Hill, included the Southwest in a grand global model in which long-distance migration of agriculturalists explains the spread of many of the world's major language families," Fritz said. "In the Southwest case, Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples, ancestors of people who speak modern languages, like Comanche and Hopi, would have been responsible for the diffusion."

In this paper, the researchers summarize the most recent archaeological evidence, and integrate what is currently known about early maize in the Southwest with genetic, paleoecological, and historical linguistic studies.

Corn from five sites in Arizona and New Mexico now predates 2,000 B.C., which makes it too early to be explained by diffusion of settled Mexican villagers, said Fritz.

"No artifacts or features of any type point to in-migrating Mesoamerican farmers; in fact, continuity of local traditions is manifested, with independent invention of low-fired ceramics and with the construction of irrigation features in the Tucson Basin dating earlier than any known south of the border," she said. "We interpret the linguistic evidence as favoring a very early (beginning shortly after 7,000 B.C.), north-to-south movement of Proto-Uto-Aztecan hunter-gatherers and subsequent division into northern and southern Uto-Aztecan-speaking groups. "

These two groups do not share words and meanings for maize because, according to the researchers' scenario, farming post-dates their separation.

"We think the Southwest stands as a region in which indigenous foragers adopted crops and made the transition to agriculture locally rather than having been joined or displaced by in-migrating farming societies," Fritz said. "Peter Bellwood may well be correct that long-distance movements account for some examples of the expansion of languages and farming technologies, but cases like that of the Southwest are very important in demonstrating that this pattern did not apply universally."

Full text of the study is available at

Anonymous. 2009. "Maize Was Passed from Group to Group of Southwestern Hunter-Gatherers, Study Suggests". . Posted: December 8, 2009. Available online:

William L. Merrill, Robert J. Hard, Jonathan B. Mabry, Gayle J. Fritz, Karen R. Adams, John R. Roney, and A. C. MacWilliams. "The diffusion of maize to the southwestern United States and its impact". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906075106

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Punk rock in North African music

This article has been removed by request. There was an error in the report. Hopefully I will be able to replace it in the future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ancient Amazon civilisation laid bare by felled forest

Signs of what could be a previously unknown ancient civilisation are emerging from beneath the felled trees of the Amazon. Some 260 giant avenues, ditches and enclosures have been spotted from the air in a region straddling Brazil's border with Bolivia.

The traditional view is that before the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th century there were no complex societies in the Amazon basin – in contrast to the Andes further west where the Incas built their cities. Now deforestation, increased air travel and satellite imagery are telling a different story.

"It's never-ending," says Denise Schaan of the Federal University of Pará in Belém, Brazil, who made many of the new discoveries from planes or by examining Google Earth images. "Every week we find new structures." Some of them are square or rectangular, while others form concentric circles or complex geometric figures such as hexagons and octagons connected by avenues or roads. The researchers describe them all as geoglyphs.
Garden villages

Their discovery, in an area of northern Bolivia and western Brazil, follows other recent reports of vast sprawls of interconnected villages known as "garden cities" in north central Brazil, dating from around AD 1400. But the structures unearthed at the garden city sites are not as consistently similar or geometric as the geoglyphs, Schaan says.

"I firmly believe that the garden cities of Xingu and the geoglyphs were not directly related," says Martti Pärssinen of the Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes in Madrid, Spain, who works with Schaan. "Nevertheless, both discoveries demonstrate that [upland] areas of western Amazonia were heavily populated much before the European incursion."

The geoglyphs are formed by ditches up to 11 metres wide and 1 to 2 metres deep. They range from 90 to 300 metres in diameter and are thought to date from around 2000 years ago up to the 13th century.
Human habitation

Excavations have unearthed ceramics, grinding stones and other signs of human habitation at some of the sites but not at others. This suggests that some had purely ceremonial roles, while others may also have been used for defence.

Unusually for defensive structures, however, earth was piled up outside the ditches, and they are also highly symmetrical. "When you think about defence you're just building a wall or a trench," says Schaan. "You don't have to do calculations to make it so round or square." Many of the structures are oriented to the north, and the team is investigating whether they might have had astronomical significance.

"Many of the great early civilisations had a riverine basis and the Amazon has long been underestimated and overlooked in that sense," says Colin McEwan, head of the Americas section at the British Museum in London.
Successful societies

Though there is no evidence that the Amazonians built pyramids or invented written language as societies in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia did, "in terms of a trend towards increasing social complexity and domestication of the landscape, this wasn't just a pristine forest with isolated nomadic tribes", McEwan adds. "These were substantive, sedentary and in the long term very successful cultures."

While some Inca sites lie just 200 kilometres west of the geoglyphs, no Inca objects have been found at the new sites. Neither do they seem to have anything in common with Peru's Nasca geoglyphs.

"I have no doubt that this is only scratching the surface," says Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute for Andean Studies in Lima, Peru. "The scale of pre-Columbian societies in Amazonia is only slowly coming to light and we are going to be amazed at the numbers of people who lived there, but also in a highly sustainable fashion. Sadly, the economic development and forest clearance that is revealing these pre-Columbian settlement patterns is also the threat to having enough time to properly understand them."


Geddes, Linda. 2009. "Ancient Amazon civilisation laid bare by felled forest". New Scientist. Posted:December 10, 2009. Available online:

Martti Pärssinen, Denise Schaan and Alceu Ranzi. "Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Purús: a complex society in western Amazonia"Antiquity.Volume: 83 Number: 322 Page: 1084–1095

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Culture of the Marshall Islands

Culture Name

Marshallese; Marshall Islander

Alternative Names

Rālik-Ratak, Marshalls; formally known as the Republic of the Marshall Islands


Identification. The Marshall Islands derive their identity from British Captain William Marshall, who explored the area with Captain Thomas Gilbert in 1788. The atolls were not a cohesive entity until Europeans named and mapped them, and Rālik-Ratak, the Marshallese designation for the leeward and windward chains of atolls, was considered an appellation at the time of independence.

Location and Geography. The Marshall Islands occupy a vast expanse of ocean in the west-central Pacific, from 2,000 to 3,000 miles (3,220 to 4,830 kilometers) south and west of Hawaii. With a mere 66 square miles (171 square kilometers) of land, the twenty-nine low-lying atolls and five coral pinnacles that make up the Marshalls are like fine necklaces of reef and sand spits strewn across the 780,000 square miles (1.26 million square kilometers) of ocean that unifies and separates the atolls. The major atolls are located between 160° and 173° E and 4° and 20° N. The surrounding ocean helps maintain an average temperature of 81° F (27° C) with very little diurnal or yearly variation. Rainfall increases as one nears the equator, with around 60 inches (152 centimeters) per year in the north and 180 inches (460 centimeters) per year in the south. The dry part of the year, November through April, is typified by brisk breezes, and the central month of the wet season, August, often has periods with very little wind. For much of the year northeasterly trade winds provide natural air conditioning. Typhoons are not uncommon in the winter months.

Demography. Since World War II the capital of the Marshall Islands has been located on Majuro, in the southern part of the Ratak chain. With a very high rate of population increase, the Marshall Islands has changed rapidly from 43,380 people in 1988 to a projected population of well over 60,000 in 1999. Residents are very mobile, and nearly 80 percent are now urban. Approximately one-half of the population resides on Majuro Atoll where government employment created a post-independence population explosion. The other urban enclave is Ebeye (Epjā islet), Kwajalein Atoll, one of the world's most densely-populated locations, where many residents work on the United States military base on nearby Kwajalein islet. Other Marshall Islanders choose to reside on one of two dozen inhabited outer atolls or coral pinnacles where a more traditional style of life can be maintained.

Linguistic Affiliation. All residents speak Marshallese, an Austronesian language that shares numerous affinities with other Pacific languages, particularly those of eastern Micronesia. Marshallese dialects began to disappear after missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) arrived on Ebon, in the southern Ralik Chain, in 1857 and developed a transcription system. At least three mutually intelligible dialects remain: Ratak, Rālik, and an Enewetak/Ujelang variant. Former eras of Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administration and intermarriage between Marshall Islanders and other Pacific Islanders mean that Marshall Islanders often learn multiple languages. Many residents understand and/or speak a pidgin English, which has become a lingua franca in the west-central Pacific.

Symbolism. The independent Marshall Islands is perhaps too new to have developed core symbols, metaphors, or traditions, but the image of the rising and setting sun, emblematic of the Ratak "facing toward the windward" (sunrise) and Rālik "facing toward the leeward" (sunset) symbolism forms a central element of the flag. Stick charts which were once used to instruct novice sailors, outrigger canoes, and finely woven pandanus and coconut fiber art produced by Marshallese women, have assumed extraordinary value as images of national integration. Atoll specific celebrations that recognize the end of World War II and the elaborate celebrations of Kūrijmōj (Christmas) are popular communal events.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Beginning with the establishment of the Congress of Micronesia in 1965, local elites representing the various island groups that made up the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands established the Micronesian Political Status Commission in 1967 to explore political options for the future of the region. The range of options that were discussed with representatives of the United States included total independence, a status of free association with the United States, continuing status as a Trust Territory, and integration with the United States. Even though the original negotiations had posited a common future for the Trust Territory, the United States, based on its own differential interests in the region, soon began to negotiate separately with the Northern Mariana Islands. The United States Department of Defense also wished to maintain special rights of access and use in the Marshall Islands and Belau and, on the basis of these strategic advantages, these two districts were also granted separate opportunities to negotiate their political futures. The remaining districts of the Trust Territory, lacking in special resources or strategic value to the United States, were not granted separate negotiational status. The United States favored commonwealth status for the region in 1970, and in 1975 the Northern Mariana Islands voted to become a commonwealth of the United States. Prior to the formal establishment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, however, the United States reconsidered its initial rejection of free association as a viable option, and the Marshall Islands, Belau, and the remaining districts of the Trust Territory, now known as the Federated States of Micronesia, began to negotiate constitutional governments that would be linked to the United States by compacts of free association. Most elements of self-government were assumed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 1970, with formal statehood in free association with the United States decreed by the United States president in 1986. The Republic of the Marshall Islands was welcomed as a member state of the United Nations in 1991.

central element of the flag. Stick charts which were once used to instruct novice sailors, outrigger canoes, and finely woven pandanus and coconut fiber art produced by Marshallese women, have assumed extraordinary value as images of national integration. Atoll specific celebrations that recognize the end of World War II and the elaborate celebrations of Kūrijmōj (Christmas) are popular communal events.

National Identity. National identity remains formative due to recent independent status. People often rely on their atolls of birth and residence to ground their identities, but a cohesive identity is forming. Residence in the United States and elsewhere has fostered people's sense of being, first and foremost, Marshall Islanders. Urbanization also contributes to a homogenous identity, but policies that create an unequal distribution of wealth and a glut of new missions act as counter-cohesive forces.

Ethic Relations. While ethnic diversity on most atolls is limited, Majuro is becoming multi-ethnic in character with representatives from many Pacific and Pacific Rim locales. While no distinct ethnic groups exist in the Marshall Islands, people from atolls with substantial colonial contact—notably Ebon, Jaluij, Kwajalein, Majuro and, to some extent, Wotje and Maloelap—have been historically advantaged by these contacts.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Throughout the Marshall Islands food is not only valued for sustenance, it is used to create and maintain cohesiveness. Meals always balance a drink with a food and use fish or meat to complement the staples. Local staples include breadfruit, arrowroot, pandanus, and taro, and are now supplemented with imported rice, flour, and sugar. Indigenous complements are seafoods, birds, and eggs, supplemented with pig, chicken, and an increasing variety of tinned meats. Coffee and cola have replaced coconut milk as the primary drink. While outer islanders still rely on many indigenous foods from fishing and gathering, overpopulation on Majuro and Ebeye makes residents almost entirely reliant on imports. The limited array of affordable imported foods has resulted in epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and other diet-related diseases.

Basic Economy. The Marshall Islands have successfully marketed their strategic location for military purposes, northern Marshall Islanders' incomes have been supplemented through compensation for post World War II nuclear tests, and attempts have been made to revitalize copra production and energize the fishing industry.

Land Tenure and Property. Land in the Marshall Islands is held in perpetuity by members of clans and extended families, and certain lands and fishing waters are held by the entire community. Practices vary from atoll to atoll, but anthropologists have depicted land as passing through matrilines, though the offspring of male members of the matriline also have residence rights as workers of the land. Other anthropologists have noted bilateral features of land tenure that allow for flexibility in land transfer. On outlying Enewetak and Ujelang, land is a mark of identity claimed bilaterally. Copra production in the nineteenth century greatly increased the power of Marshallese iroij chiefs and alab land heads, since Europeans relied on them to oversee the growing, collection, and processing of coconut. Japanese land registration in the 1930s increased the amount of communal land to which the Japanese-controlled government had access. During the American and post-independence eras, pressures have multiplied to create alienable land that can be bought and sold. Long-term land leases have become popular in Majuro, and a lease that allows the United States Army to use large segments of Kwajalein Atoll provides income for chiefs and land-holders of Kwajalein.

Commercial Activities. Whalers from Europe and the United States were originally attracted to Marshall Islands' waters in the 1830s to 1850s but by the 1860s copra (the production of dried coconut) dominated Europeans' interest in the islands. Copra production under German rule (1885–1915) substantially altered Marshallese social relations. Under Japanese control (between World War I and World War II) copra production continued, supplemented by a fishing industry (dominated by Okinawans), and by exports of phosphorus, coconut husk mats, and handicrafts. Following World War II, the United States had a strategic interest in the Marshall Islands with few attempts at development. As copra prices declined on the world market, Marshall Islanders relied more on the meager income from handicrafts to supplement the subsistence economy. By the 1960s and 1970s, financial assistance programs were instituted to make up for United States neglect of the region and became the major source of income. Since independence, United States aid has been supplemented by programs from other Pacific Rim countries.

Major Industries. A small garment manufacturing industry has been started, and many government officials hold out hopes for future tourism.

Trade. Other than the islands' strategic location, which has been marketed to the United States as part of the Compact of Free Association agreement, the main exports include fish and fishing rights in Marshallese waters and products derived from dried coconut. In addition, the re-export of dyes figures prominently in the list of 1990s exports. Foods, fuel, automobiles, machinery and transportation equipment, manufactured goods, materials, and beverages and tobacco make up the bulk of imported goods.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is largely based on gender and age, with special positions held by chiefs, land heads, extended family heads, and by local pastors. In urban areas, an elite made up of chiefs, the descendants of half-caste families, and, increasingly, educated young adults, hold most government positions and public or private sector jobs.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. In the past highly ranked persons were at the center or windward end of discussion circles and elevated above compatriots or were seated on the ocean side of persons of lesser rank.

Since independence, an emergent class structure has become apparent in urban sectors with radical differences in wealth between the rich and poor. In part, the class structure reflects the distribution of jobs but, at its highest levels, reflects a monopoly of political power among a group of chiefs and a small set of English-speaking half-caste residents and other elite families. The distinction between chief and commoner is long standing. Until the mid-1800s chiefdoms were small, seldom including more than one or two atolls. With colonial support, the power and influence of the chief increased.

Symbols of Social Stratification. In the past intricate tatoos distinguished men and women of higher class from commoners. Renowned warriors and those respected as navigators and medical specialists also displayed their identities through distinctive tatoos. Restricted speech genres were also used to interact with those of highest rank. Speaking styles are divided into honorific and ordinary styles today. Marshall Islanders commonly wear American-style dress modified it to local norms but elite styles of costly dress and personal adornment are increasing as signs of emergent class distinctions.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is permitted between members of different clans who are related as immediate or extended cross-cousins, but due to internal and trans-national mobility, marriage with non-related foreigners is also frequent. Youths select spouses from the large group of cross-cousin and unrelated potential marriage partners, but many marriages do not last. Once a couple has a stable relationship divorce is infrequent, though not prohibited. Stable couples have typically resided for a period of time on lands of one of the couple's parents, have established ancestral status with the birth of one or two children, and have become recognized members of the community. Polygamy, at one time permitted, was prohibited by missionaries and now is not condoned. Urbanization has created stress in many marriages, and domestic violence is not uncommon. Nevertheless, on the outer atolls, marriage provides an entry into the community exchange system balancing the husband's provisioning tasks with a wife's responsibility to transform raw foods into edibles, combining a woman's ability to transfer core clan identity to offspring with the man's ability to shape the child's physical features, and providing pathways that embed the couple and their offspring in extended families and community of which they are an integral, contributing part.

Domestic Unit. Elevated sleeping platforms have always separated highly ranked family members from others. Members of one to four or five households that are part of the same extended family comprise typical cookhouse groups. The extended family may be from one matri-clan but often cookhouse groups are comprised of residents related through male or male and female ties. One or more respected elder, female or male, heads the cookhouse group, though robust young males and females often do the provisioning and food preparation. Girls and boys from about age five perform household duties, and elders too old to cook or fish weave mats and handicraft or repair tools, dwellings, and watercraft. The irrelevance of this once-integrated extended family task orientation, from more nucleated residence patterns, and from a reliance on cash provisioning rather than sharing, has placed strains on urban families.

Inheritance. The core of one's identity, derived from one's mother, provides the central item of inheritance, though bio-cultural links with one's father determine external features of self. With warfare prohibition and the focus on copra, land holding transmittals were largely restricted to matri-clan pathways, but males in good standing retain worker's rights on the land for one or more generations. On Ujelang and Enewetak atolls, land may be transferred along male or female pathways though, as throughout the Marshall Islands, actively working the land to transform it from bush into living space is a critical way to establish rights to use clan or extended family lands. In ancient times, a person's possessions were burned at his or her death and, until the recent appearance of class distinctions, meager amounts of personal property remained to be distributed. While immediate family members might keep small mementos, all other property is distributed to distant community members.

Kin Groups. Beyond the bounds of cookhouse groups, Marshall Islanders are members of large extended kin groups and remain linked to those relatives through shared companionship, shared land, shared clanship (transmitted through females), or shared blood (transmitted through males). These identity groups often extend beyond the bounds of an atoll. One's position as a member of a village segment, a village, a district, and an atoll are important elements of identity, and one's position in a religious organization, a Christmas–time song-fest group, a handicraft and mat manufacturing circle, or a sailing group may be of equal importance. In the outer island setting, most of these groups interact regularly, creating overlapping networks of close-knit relatives. While identity groups are fairly effective in urban settings, high mobility and the market economy do not provide time or support for shared daily activities that are the substance of such identity groups.

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Anonymous. 2009. "Culture of Marshall Islands". Every
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