Four Stone Hearth #47–Unasked Questions Edition


Welcome to the 47th Edition of Four Stone Hearth.

Those of you who read my blog with any regularity are probably asking, “Stephanie, why are you hosting a blog carnival on archaeology and anthropology? Aren’t you a writer who does math for a living?” Well, yeah. I have a degree in psychology, but the closest my blog has ever come to anthropology is a little armchair sociology.

My motivation for hosting this carnival is, for once, pretty simple. I like reading outside my field. Almost invariably, I’m handed the answers to fascinating questions that I, not being part of the field, would never have thought of. So, without further ado, allow me to share with you a whole bunch of questions I had answered before I could ask.

First up, what should I do with my spare time if I think the modern Olympics are all just a bit, well, modern and commercial? Rex at Savage Minds makes the games more interesting by framing them as a window onto Western social thought. Vaughan at Mind Hacks covers a study on whether the expressions of winning and losing competitors are innate or culturally determined. Kris’s Archaeology Blog has a lovely suggestion for getting back to the games’ roots.

In case the Olympics aren’t controversial enough for you: Do recent studies have a hope of settling the boys-are-better-than-girls-at-math, are-not, are-too debate? Greg at Neuroanthropology presents a detailed critique of the critiques, including an excellent analysis of the problems inherent in relying on testing data, particularly No Child Left Behind test data.

Daniel at Neuroanthropology discovered his own unasked question when he took a recent vacation: What was he missing by focusing on biology versus culture in his research? What other parts of the human equation were he (and others in his field) overlooking?

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe asks almost exactly the opposite question: What can a historian learn from talking to an anthropologist? In this case, the answer is why markets exist in areas where everyone is growing a relatively few staple crops.

Back to questions for anthropologists: When might an anthropologist not want to add to the knowledge in the world. Afarensis discusses the reservations he and others have with the Minerva Research Initiative.

More on the responsibilities of nations: How can a country best protect its historical resources? Stone Pages gives examples of a country doing it well (Ireland) and one that is failing (Australia).

Is there any place for treasure hunting in archaeology anymore? Antiquarian’s Attic gives an example to suggest that if the treasure hunter is an honest one, yes.

Aside from their being an excellent brewery there, why do I really need to make a point of getting to Orkney next time I’m in Scotland? Remote Central covers some discoveries and theories to come out of a recent dig at the Ring of Brodgar.

Reaching further back: What does the recent sequencing of Neandertal mitochondrial DNA mean for our understanding of human evolution? John Hawks reports that this lays to rest the idea that some modern humans may be descended from Neandertals, and he’s very excited about the evidence he sees in this study for positive selection on mtDNA in ancient humans. Anne of Writer’s Daily Grind is less convinced about the evidence that Neandertals were a separate species from our ancient ancestors. And Babel’s Dawn uses the information to place a lower limit on how recent the biological support for language is.

What can “fake” languages tell us about how language evolved and continues to evolve? Anthropology.net covers recent research into the transmission of an artificial language through generations of learners.

If fake languages can tell us about us, what can fake organisms tell us? Technovelgy.net has fascinating coverage of a robot that appears to show social behavior, including responding to attention and avoiding apparent threats.

To end on a cheerful note: Why is the electric chair a chair rather than some other shape? Headsman over at ExecutedToday.com answers this question, tell us where the word “electrocution” comes from, explains how the electricity wars played into the development of the electric chair, and provides an eyewitness account of the first execution by the chair.

That’s it for this edition of Four Stone Hearth. I hope you found answers to some questions that had never occurred to you as well. The next edition will be hosted at Tangled Up in Blue Guy on August 27.

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