This week in anthropology, bioanthropology, bioarchaeology, archaeology, and primatology

Replica of King Tut’s tomb almost complete in Luxor, Egypt

New findings in Rome make archaeologists’ believe city older than previously thought

Mummies with copper masks uncovered in Siberian Arctic 

Study suggests that Neanderthals and Cro-Magons did not coincide on Iberian peninsula 

Body modification practices in Omo Valley, Ethiopia 

Looting in Peru is more common now than in the Spanish colonial era 

How human culture influences our genes 

Archaeologists find 21 remains of German soldiers in WWI shelter 

New chemical tests planned for Bronze Age “Racton Man” 

An illustrated guide to a PhD

Tests on Chilean mummies suggests arsenic poisoning

Sacrificial and common graves reveal diversity in ancient city of Cahokia 

Unwrapping Ancient Egypt, practices of collecting and displaying of Egyptian materials, especially mummies 

China’s terra cotta warrior army heading to Indiana 

Scurvy, a Vitamin C deficiency, common in Columbus colony in La Isabela, Santo Domingo 

Orangoutang shot by poachers, has wounds attended to 

Epigenetics help explain early human appearance 

Why humans get autism and Neanderthals didn’t 

Giving animal cute names can help save species, Jane Goodall explains 

DNA tests begin on King Canute, UK 

Chimpanzees are very picky about where they sleep 

Vampire burial in Venice 

Physical impacts on skull shape of Trail of Tears and Civil War on Native Americans 

Jared Diamond, we could be living in a Stone Age by 2114

How do we explain the evolution of religion?

Has human evolution been propelled by war?


Archaeology: What People Hear vs. What Actually Happens

During the summer after my freshman year, I’m going to spend three months excavating Neolithic domestic structures at Çatalhöyük with my professor! 

What People Hear

I’m going battle soulless looters over rare and priceless statue of Çatalhöyük’s more revered deity, while dogging bullets fired by the lawless militants  who swarm the site once a week just for the hell of it. My peers and I hatch a brilliant and daring plan to overcome those dastardly militants and cowardly looters.  As we begin to overtake these fiends, the national military intervenes and drives out the hooligans for good. We are given special peace-keeping and artifact stewardship medals of honor from the president of Turkey. We remain friends with him to this day; he endorsed me on Linkedin for “archaeological heroism” and as “guardian of the past.”

What Actually Happens

You are soaked in your own sweat after digging, hauling, and sifting artifact-less dirt to “level-out” the unit for 9 hours a day while the experienced graduate students excavate the “important stuff”, aka pottery sherds and the occasional animal bone, or whatever is directly relevant to your professor’s research. You’re living in the middle of nowhere, so you get fazed every single night and the next day, everyone can smell you as you sweat out the alcohol from the night before.  You can’t remember the last time you bathed in warm water. Also, you will probably accidentally damage the most important artifact found in the site.

This semester, I am going to be a research assistant in my professor’s lab! 

What People Hear

While studiously examining bones under a microscope during a late night shift, you suddenly discover a metacarpal from a very early Australopithecus that proves Australopithecus afarensis’ (aka Lucy’s) ancestors were almost bipedal. You immediately call your professor at 2am with the news. He rushes to the lab, squeals with excitement, and calls up the Leakeys (old family friends and colleagues of course), Svante Pääbo of the Max Plank Society (he is a friend too, obviously), and National Geographic with the exciting news. NatGeo flies to your lab the next day to conduct an extensive interview about the discovery. You, your professor, and the toe bone make the cover of October’s issue. You are co-author on your professor’s journal article and graduate schools are begging you to join their cohort.

Just some BFFs. Casual.

What Really Happens 

You pretty much spend 7 hours labeling photos taken from your professor’s past 13 excavation season. After labeling photo # 75489, you realize that you skipped the number “3” and have to start over. You never meet the Leakys. Once you tried to talk to Svante Pääbo after one of his many talks, only to say “you’re cool” and then bolt, because your brain decided to fall out of your head. NatGeo doesn’t know who your professor is. Graduate schools have no idea who you are.

This summer I am working on my senior thesis in Ecuador at a site that is over 1,500 years old!

What People Hear

My team and I will trek through the Andes when, suddenly, there will a massive rockslide. We will manage to dodge what surely would have been instant death by ducking into what we believe to be a cave. Once inside, we  discover a classic Inca-style doorway, through which is a great masonry chamber. All along the walls are gold and silver statues, copper and turquoise jewelry, and intricately woven textiles. At the end of the hall there will be a figure sitting upright, with its arms crossed over it’s chest. It was wrapped in the richest robes and draped with precious jewels.  It is a mummy! We realized we had discovered the tomb of the long lost Inca emperor, Atahualpa! We reach out and touch the figure. The moment our hands touch the dry skin, there is a loud rumble. The chamber is about to collapse! We grab the mummy, my team manages to grab all the artifacts, and we escape unharmed. I will write my thesis about the miraculous escape and fill the document with amazing photographs of my amazing discovery. I will not only receive the highest honors my university offers, but also receive several tenure track offers at the best universities in the world.

What Really Happens 

You spend seven weeks with your head inside a tiny tomb pulling out thousands of disarticulated bones in the middle-of-nowhere South America. You are torn between excavating as many bones as possible or carrying only what you can manage because, guess what! You’re about a 45 minute walk from the field house in 3100 meter high mountains. After excavating, you spend months writing you thesis about what you found, only to discover you found basically nothing. You are a fit of nerves. Instead of spending the weekend before your first draft is due to your adviser, you go to Mardi Gras with your friends instead. By the end of the semester, you hope to at least get the basic “honors.” Somehow you manage that. You step out in to the world with glorious optimism only to realize absolutely no one wants to hire you. To cope with unavoidable doom, you go back to Mardi Gras, the only place where the world makes sense.

…head first into tarantula's nest? cool beans.

…head first into tarantula’s nest? cool beans.

I was accepted to a PhD program with a stipend and research assistantship! I can’t wait to get started! 

What People Hear

I am an exceptionally talented, special, and brilliant scholar who is excited to contribute to the treasure trove of anthropology knowledge. With my work, I will enrich our daily lives with profound and nuanced investigations of human nature in the past, present, and future. I will talk about my fascinating research documenting the reciprocal trade and gift-giving interaction networks among the remote smale-scale societies living in the Amazon rainforest in order to expand students and the public’s perception on our modern-day economic systems and social media networks. I hope my research will elucidate the trajectory of our technologically advance society.

What Really Happens

After accepted into your graduate program, you experience about three months worth of unprecedented elation. The sky is bluer, the grass is greener, and you happy-hour beer tastes richer.  You arrive to your new campus, positive, hopeful for the future, and with what the more seasoned grad students will call, “an obnoxiously annoying spring” in your step.  The first day of class, you realize that while you were the smartest anthropology student in your undergrad’s department, so was everyone else. Suddenly you realize, “omg I have to actual research what I said I’d research” and “how do you write a grant? Say ‘gimme money plez? kthanks?'” After the first several meetings with your advisor, you realize that you somehow tricked a handful of real adults into giving you money to read about cemeteries and obscure theories written by long-dead anthropologists. What is a lit review? What is savings? When is happy hours? Who am I? You are completely befuddled (yes, befuddled).