Religion and the Imagination – Cue a John Lennon Song

According to an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, the very process that John Lennon suggested we use to put religion and other human institutions out our minds might very well be the reason we have religion to begin with.

Imagination, says Maurice Bloch [New Scientist], is what sets humans apart from other animal species. Unlike even our closest relatives, chimpanzees, humans have the unique ability to imagine things that do not exist.

It seems like common sense when you think about it: art, theater, cinema, music, and language it self are each derived from the human imagination. The suggestion that religion is a product of human imagination isn’t necessarily a new one. Modern popularizers of the atheist movement have suggested as links to religion and imagination, though perhaps not as explicit as Bloch.

Daniel Dennett, in Breaking The Spell, tells us that language makes it possible for us to, “remind ourselves of things not currently present to our senses, to dwell on topics that would otherwise be elusive” as we consider our ancestors or other absent and dead people. This is what Bloch refers to as the “transcendental social,” comprised of a group with members one may have never met (clan members, ancestors, gods, deities, etc.).

Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, writes, “[c]onstructing models is something the human brain is very good at. When we are asleep it is called dreaming; when we are awake we call it imagination […]”

V.S. Rmachandran, a prominent neuroscientist, describes many ways in which the human brain uses imagination to cope with damage to cognitive abilities of the brain after traumas or injuries. He includes an entire chapter on a syndrome known as anasognosia in which patients who suffer from strokes or  brain injuries that result in paralysis of a limb construct elaborate and imaginative denials of their paralysis to the point that they actually believe an otherwise paralyzed arm is perfectly normal and sometimes even stronger than the non-paralyzed arm!

Perhaps the same neurological and cognitive functions that inspired the pages of Rama’s Phantoms in the Brain are related to the neural architecture Bloch believes was developed in humans some 40-50,000 years ago. This is the period of the Upper Palaeological Revolution in which lithic technologies and art “suddenly exploded in sophistication” and where funerary artifacts, rock and cave paintings begin, and stone tools take on new styles that allow for more advanced and diverse uses.

In my studies of the Neanderthal to human switch in Europe, where the dominant species of residence changed from Neanderthals to humans, I’ve often considered that it may have been the willingness of humans to believe and imagine which gave them a competitive edge over Neanderthals. If Neanderthals had a diminished capacity to utilize their imaginations, they would have been less likely to develop or adapt to changing climates or environments. They would have been less likely to migrate and spread out except to put space between rival clans or groups. Humans, on the other hand, are naturally curious and imagine every sort of possibility, giving rise to in-groups and out-groups and a natural drive to explore and migrate, perhaps seeking “the good life” in the next valley, and quickly adapting to conditions ranging from desert to arctic using their imaginaitions.

Given that humanity has had thousands of gods and religions in recorded history alone, it isn’t hard at all to imagine that they are each the result of, well, imagination.

Books mentioned:

Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. London: Bantam.

Dennett, D. C. (2006). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. London: Viking.

Ramachandran, V., and Sandra Blakeslee, (1998). Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. New York: Morrow


Man’s Best Friend

One of my most popular blog entries is actually an article I wrote on called Man’s Best Friends: Part I – The Dog. I had always intended to do at least three parts to that post and things just got hectic and I was distracted from Part II, which would have been about The Horse.

I’ve recently started researching that next article (not sure if I’ll post it here or with Kambiz yet… hmm…), but I thought I share a post that has a painting that was inspired in part by my post. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that has inspired someone’s art -to be fair, my part of the inspiration was probably minimal, but it’s still cool -and motivating- to think that I’ve  written something that may have inspired someone else’s artistic expression. Thanks for that, Max!

Go and visit Open Anthropology (just added to my blogroll) and the post Canis Homo and see the painting. I was tempted to at least thumbnail it here, but let the curiosity take you someplace new!

The Anthropology of Catastrophe: Volcanoes

Humans have always been afflicted by natural catastrophes ranging from tectonic to weather related and, possibly, even impacts from space! But none, perhaps, have found the significance both culturally and destructively, as the volcano. Throughout the history and prehistory of man, volcanoes have erupted, obliterating entire islands, destroying settlements and cities, ruining local crops and affecting climate on a global scale. And, while volcanoes have also long been anthropomorphized to attribute blame or malevolent intent, not a single one ever intended to cause human destruction.

Notable volcanic eruptions in the archaeological and historical record include Thera, Vesuvius, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Pinotubo, among many others.

Erupted 79 CE – Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy
This was the first documented volcanic eruption in history and was responsible for the instantaneous deaths of thousands who found themselves in the path of the eruption’s heat, poison gases, pyroclastic flows of rock and ash, and the sheer trauma of the blast wave. As most people who have heard of Pompeii are no doubt aware, the site is often billed as an archaeologists’ dream since it represents a “snapshot” in time. The main reason is that settlements like Pompeii and the closer Herculaneum were inundated with volcanic ash and rock in a rapid and hot pyroclastic flow, trapping some residents in death poses until excavated nearly 2000 years later. Recent discoveries at Herculaneum include a wooden throne, preserved in the volcanic ash for over 1900 years.

Thera (Santorini)
Erupted 1627-1600 BCE Aegean Sea
Generally accepted to have brought about the demise of the Minoan civilization and ash layers from the eruption are evident in localities like Crete, and the Santorini archipelagos which includes Thera. The Minoan civilization spread across each of these and other Cycladic islands, with Crete being about 100 miles from Thera. In the Satorini archipelago is Akrotiri, a Minoan settlement buried by the 17th century BCE eruption in volcanic ash. Desturction from this eruption was primarily caused by pyroclastic flow, tsunami and ash deposits. For Minoan settlements on Thera and the Santorini island chain, civilization ended abruptly as they were vaporized, cooked, and buried alive. For the Minoan cities and settlements further away in Crete, they may have had a few more moments until the tsunami created by the massive amount of ash, rock, and other ejecta suddenly plunging into the sea, displacing the water. And, while some Minoan settlements did survive, the eruption of Thera is considered to have contributed greatly to the civilization’s demise.

Mt St Helens and Mt Pinotubo
Erupted in 1980 in Washington, USA and 1991 on the Philippine Island Luzan, respectively
Mt. St. Helens was considered a major volcanic eruption, responsible for 57 deaths and thousands made homeless, not to mention the devastation to the environment. However, it small in comparison to its 20th century colleague Mt. Pinotubo, which erupted in the Philippines just a decade later. This one took 800 lives and left 100,000 or more homeless. The Pinotubo eruption was also 10 times larger than that of Mt. St. Helens. In the case of both of these eruptions, scientists and researchers were carefully monitoring the geologic activity associated with the volcanoes and were able to use the data to evacuate and warn local residents. Indeed, of the 800 killed by Pinatubo, the majority lost their lives due to the ash fall which mixed with rain and caused roofs to collapse.

In the case of each eruption, the cultural effects included the cost of rebuilding and recovering infrastructure and private property. The St. Helens eruption cost $1.1 billion to recover from the catastrophe. The residents of Luzon only faced about half that cost, but they, perhaps, suffered far more economically since the Luzon economy was ruined. Clark Air Base, which the U.S. occupied was evacuated and the Air Force never returned, which, by itself, would have spelled trouble for the local economy. The last I heard, the region is still trying to recover the economy and rebuild infrastructure.

How volcanoes destroy
Lava Flows
Although instantly associated with volcanoes, lava flows only account for a fraction of a percent of the total number of deaths due to volcanoes in the last xx years. Lava is slow and can be outrun, but it does damage property and infrastructure in places such as Hawaii where the Kilauea volcano regularly spews forth a basaltic magma that becomes lava as it leaves the ground.

These kill slightly more people than lava. Denser than air carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide are the most dangerous as they flow into and fill low lying areas. Carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless and can asphyxiate people who breath it unawares. Hydrogen sulfide has a “rotten egg” smell, but a single breath can kill in high enough concentrations. Fortunately, such concentrations are relatively rare. Other gases can also be problematic for humans, albeit indirectly. In 1783, the laki fissure eruption killed an estimated 10,000 Icelanders, but due to starvation and famine after the loss of crops and livestock due to long-term exposure to hydrogen fluoride.

Tephra, Ash, and pryoclastic flows
Tephra includes the fragmented rocks and blocks ejected in the air by the eruption itself. Fortunately, tephra and ash typically affect the regions closest to the volcano, having increasing less effect the further from the eruption you go. Ash, however, can be ejected high into the atmosphere, allowing it to be deposited many miles away. But its that ash and rock that lands near the volcano that is the most problematic. Much of the tephra and ash comes back down into the volcano’s crater, but this often results in pyroclastic flow which can leave a wake of destruction in its path as hot ash and rock are forced down and out away from the volcano’s cone due to the force of the eruption.

Relatively few people have actually lost their lives due to tephra and ash falls, however, the danger ash poses most is the accumulation on the roofs of homes and buildings, particularly if the ash becomes wet. Wet ash soaks up water, and creates a very heavy mud, about 10 inches of which are sufficient to collapse a roof, injuring or killing the building’s occupants.

Pyroclastic flows have claimed far more victims, however, making this one of the more dangerous features of a volcanic eruption. 27 percent of the lives lost in recorded volcanic eruptions were due to pyroclastic flows, the effects of which are most notable in Pompeii and Herculaneum, where pryroclastic flows of ash, rock, gases, and bits of lava quickly rushed in along the ground, burying both cities. Residents had seconds to realize what had occurred, and probably each killed instantly as the heat from the flows cooked their bodies and boiled their brains -the ash burying them along with the buildings, homes, and artifacts of their cities. Alun Salt discusses a recent find of a throne at Herculaneum at Clio Audio, describing the effects of pyroclastic flows and preservation of material remains.

Lahars and Tsunamis
Another immediate killer from volcanic eruptions are the occasional lahars as well as the tsunamis some volcanoes create due to earth quakes caused by the eruption or pyroclastic flows that dump into the sea, displacing water. Lahar is an Indonesian word that refers to the mud flows created by large amounts of ash and water. The heat from a volcanic event can melt snow and ice and, as the resulting water mixes with ash, a mud is formed which then flows down the mountain, obliterating towns and settlements. Lahars and tsunamis are together responsible for a whopping 34% of the deaths that have been recorded due to volcanoes.

But that isn’t the most significant killer that results from a volcano. The most significant killer is, by itself, responsible for a full 30% of the deaths related to volcanoes (remember, lahars and tsunamis are two different things -17% each). That killer is post-eruption famine and disease that takes place months later. Gases and ash ejected into the atmosphere can affect crops and livestock and even global temperatures! 1816 was called the “year without summer” due to the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia the year before. Global temperatures dropped to between .4 and 1.0 Celsius and crops were affected around the globe. In Europe, particularly in Great Britain, a typhus epidemic that broke out that year was blamed on the unseasonably cold weather.

Volcanoes and Human Belief, Religion, and Superstition
Volcanoes don’t seek human attention or appeasement. But its easy to see how others might think so. Humans have long had very tenuous relationships with their volcanoes, which remain oblivious to the anthropomorphizing applied by cultures in South America, Indonesia, Polynesia, and Mesoamerica. Volcanoes gods exist in many cultures even today and many sacrifices have been made to these gods in the way of virgins and material possessions in attempt to appease the god.

Perhaps the most familiar volcano god to Americans is Pele, since this legend is still told (albeit mostly tongue-in-cheek) in the state of Hawaii where the Kilauea volcano is still active. According to the legend, Pele is the goddess that lives in the volcano and she created (and is still creating) the islands of Hawaii.

In Japan, Mt. Fuji is the source of several myths and legends, including that the goddess Sengen resides there, tossing off the mountain any pilgrim of impure heart. Legend has it that the mountain was created in a single day at around 86 BCE, though the mountain itself can be geologically dated to as far back as 8500 BCE when it was volcanically created. There was, however, an eruption at around 86 BCE, which may have inspired the legend of its creation.

The myth of Atlantis, a story first created in two dialogs by Plato, may have had its inspiration in the oral stories that surrounded the fall of the Minoan civilization and the sudden demise of several of their cities. If true, Plato certainly embellished the account and modified it to fit the the lesson he was trying to teach through Critias and Timaeus, the two dialogs in which he mentions Atlantis. It is fascinating to consider the appeal that the story has on even modern humans and their beliefs.

Finally, it mustn’t be overlooked that the very term “volcano” and the study of volcanoes, “volcanology,” is derived from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.

One might ask why bother living near such an unpredictable god? One reason, of course, is that the god provides a bounty by way of rich soils for cultivation and other resources such as an abundance of chert and obsidian needed for manufacture of stone tools.

For all the difficulties volcanoes have created for man, we, perhaps, have reaped far more benefit.

Additional reading

Appeasing the Volcano Gods
Feldman, Joanne and Robert I. Tilling (2007). Danger Lurks Deep: The Human Impact of Volcanoes. Geotimes, 52(11), 30-35.

Carnival Time!

The 27th edition of the Four Stone Hearth is up at Sorting Out Science. Sam Wise has done a great job presenting some of the best in anthropological blogging in the last week or two.

I’ll be hosting this carnival here in a fortnight, so if you have posts you’d like to suggest from your own blog or others, email them to me at cfeagans -AT- gmail -DOT- com.

In the meantime, visit Sam and check out the other anthro blogs linked in the FSH this week.

If you’re interested in hosting a Four Stone Hearth blog carnival on your blog, send an email to Martin Rundkvist through Submissions for upcoming FSH’s can be sent to and they’ll be redirected to the host.

Cavemen Liked Big Butts and They Cannot Lie

Acouple of online editions of U.K. newspapers reported the recent finds of 30 carvings recovered at an archaeological site in Poland, dating to about 15,000 years ago. Most anthropologists and archaeologists would probably be immediately familiar with the Venus Figurine motif, but the recent media report was been picked up by a few blogs, each appealing to the title gag.

(Note: This post originally appeared on in March 2007 and I was considering a follow up post linking to it, but couldn’t find it in the archives. I think a few posts were lost Kambiz’s server move. I’m reposting it here and using it for my Four Stone Hearth entry this fortnight with more (hopefully) on the Venus Figure motif in the future.)

Venus Figurines of the Paleolithic and Their Caricatured Features

Admittedly, the gag is funny, but looking deeper at the Venus Figurines reveals an interesting and fascinating motif and one that, amazingly enough, spans large geographic and chronological ranges. The distinctive motif has been found from Spain and France to Russia and back down to Anatolia and Mesopotamia (Turkey and Iran/Iraq). They date to as far back as 24,000 years and as recent as the Bronze Age, perhaps about 5,000 years ago.

Venus of Willendorf
The motif itself includes several prominent and relatively consistent features. In almost all cases the figure is obese, often very obese. Voluptuous breasts and thighs, and an overall curvaceous appearance are features present almost without fail. Other frequently occurring characteristics include the presence of unusually small arms and legs, prominent buttocks, the lack of feet, and obvious vaginal features like a pronounced vulva. Regional features are also notable: the Venus of Willendorf, perhaps the most recognizable Venus Figurine, appears to be wearing a hat or headdress. The goddess figurines of Çatalhöyük are depicted seated in a throne flanked by felines with her hands resting on their heads. She’s also presented as giving birth and James Mellart, who excavated Çatalhöyük in the 1950s, interpreted the shrine where such a figurine was discovered to be a birthing place. A goddess seated between two felines was also found in a Çatalhöyük granary, suggesting that fertility may, indeed, be a theme there.

But did cavemen prefer big butts? The recent media reports about the Polish Venus carvings note that historians attribute this reverence for curves and voluptuousness as attributes that were considered to be ideal for prehistoric societies since they implied wealth and healthy diet.

They also suggested she would be a successful mother, able to produce lots of children and sent out a message to other men that her partner was a strong and successful hunter – making him more attractive to other women.

But this is the Venus Figurine simplified. The fact is, any speculation on what the figurines really meant is, well, speculation. It’s a fact that they span many societies and still have a relatively common appearance. It’s a fact that they greatly out-number male figurines. It’s a fact that the earliest figurines accurately represented what a fat woman looks like, so there must have been fat women from whom the craftsman / artist derived inspiration. It’s a fact that the earliest figurines included details like vulva. And it’s a fact that some features were prominent (breasts, stomachs, buttocks, vulva) and detailed while others were not (feet, arms, face). It’s a fact that red ochre has been found in association with some of the figurines.

When these facts are considered, it becomes clear that the artist spent some time on the details that he wanted to be noticed and diminished the details that were insignificant. The Venus of Willendorf, for instance had a hat: a very detailed and complex representation of a woven textile that must have involved much of the artist’s time. Seven concentric rows that circle a rosette comprise the headgear and dimples, folds and rolls of adipose were carefully crafted. Yet, the artist omitted a face and feet. Could this mean she’s an anonymous representation of the “perfect” woman for the sophisticated hunter-gatherer? Or could it have been a way of representing a generic mother goddess? The pronounced vulva and red ochre that the Willendorf figure was painted in may have, together, been reminiscent of menstruation and thus fertility. Certainly a prehistoric woman with large stores of fat would be better equipped to nourish children and a caricatured, obese representation might have been used to refer to the mother goddess who nourishes all life. Her lack of feet (they weren’t broken off –they were never added) may have been intentional, affording the goddess figurine no way to depart from her assigned station (a birthing shrine or granary); or, maybe, the artist simply wasn’t good at feet and didn’t find them important. Without feet, the figurine couldn’t have been stood up nor would it sit or lie in any manner that appeared natural or intended. But it could be held and the person holding it would feel the curves and the shape of the figure.

Originally, the Venus Figurine was named “Venus” as a joke. A pejorative meant to demean the “uncivilized” and “primitive” opinion of beauty that the “caveman” obviously had. The irony isn’t lost, however, if the figurine motif is, indeed, a goddess. Venus was, of course, the Roman goddess of beauty and love, an analog of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and consistently depicted in the nude. The Roman/Greek version, however, is more in line with the modern (or, at least, Western) idea of beautiful, sensual, and sexually attractive with her thin form and ample, but not pendulous, breasts. Nor was her pubic region depicted as more than a mere space, absent of vulva, vaginal lips, and the details present in her more ancient predecessor.

There is much more that can be written on the Venus Figurine, so perhaps I’ll revisit this subject again in the future. But I’ll close with the following thought: the most convincing evidence to me that the Venus of Willendorf (and, therefore, probably most of the Venus figurines) was a goddess and not a representation of an actual person is the hat and lack of face. Traditionally, representations of elites (kings, queens, nobility, and gods) include headgear. That the face was omitted might signify that there was more anonymity involved than a female ruler, shaman, oracle, or other elite. Certainly the reverence for feminine attributes might indicate matriarchal societies existed, or at least a much less patriarchal one than more recent human cultures are guilty of.

Further Reading:

Evans, Martin (2007). Why cavemen liked curvy cavewomen … like Kylie. Daily Express, Tuesday, March 13, 2007.

Soffer, Olga; Adovasio, J.M.; Hyland, D.C. (2000). The “Venus” Figurines: Textiles, Basketry, Gender, and Status in the Upper Paleolithic, Current Anthropology 41, pp. 511-537.

Anthropologists find evidence of earliest "Double-Dog Dare:" over 164,000 yrs ago!

One of my favorite movies during the holidays is the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story” depicting the schemes of Ralphie Parker as he tries to convince Santa Clause (and his parents) to bring him a Red Ryder BB gun, which every adult (including the department store Santa) warns, “you’ll put your eye out.” In this classic film, a bunch of kids gather around a flagpole, bundled in their winter coats, and dare one of their peers to lick the pole. It’s below freezing. The result, of course, is that the aptly named character, Flick, sticks his tongue to the pole. Where it gets stuck.

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!
Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!
Flick: You’re full of it!
Schwartz: Oh yeah?
Flick: Yeah!
Schwartz: Well I double-DOG-dare ya!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare ya”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.
Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

As kids, most of us have been witness or party to the Double-Dog-Dare (and a few unfortunates may have been subjected to the “Triple-Dog-Dare”). But where does it come from? How long have people been “daring” each other? Before the DVD player and VCR, was there a “Jackass” culture that simply lacked a reality-television to properly proliferate?

Anthropologists have shed some new light on this enigma. Read below the fold for more!

Listening to Morning Edition on NPR this morning, between guilt-ridden appeals for pledges (its that time for my local NPR station, ugh…), I heard the following story: Scientists Make Rare Find in S. African Cave.

What was that find, you ask? A petroglyph or pictograph depicting an early human with tongue affixed to a rock while fellow hunter-gatherers look on? Not quite. Admittedly, I’ve taken some literary license with my blog-take on this story. But throughout the broadcast, one thing kept coming to mind: who was the first person to look at a clam or oyster after prying open the shell and think to himself, “I wonder what this tastes like?”

You see, the scientists above are anthropologists who explored a cave on Pinnacle Point in South Africa on a rocky bluff near the ocean. In this cave, the anthropologists (among them Curtis Marean of Arizona State University) discovered evidence of shellfish and whale used for food, small stone blades, and red ochre with grinding marks where it had been used to create powder to mix a paint. All dated to over 164,000 years ago.

Not only do we see them eating shellfish, but there is a whale barnacle, a special species of barnacle that only appears on the skin of a whale,” Marean said. “So that’s a clear piece of evidence that they brought in a chunk of whale skin and blubber and ate it at that site, so what we have is the earliest dated systematic use of marine resources.

I missed it during the broadcast, but the online, text version of the story quotes Jonathan Swift’s line, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” and I’m happy to discover I’m not the only person that was pondering the motivations of the first person to slurp an oyster from its shell.

It’s humorous to think of people standing around, 164,000 years ago, bodies painted red from the ochre paint, urging a peer holding a half an oyster shell to “do it!” Perhaps the first person to slurp an oyster was also the first in his clan to paint his body red. I’ll never look at an oyster bar or hors devours during happy hour the same again.

But the true motivation behind that first oyster was likely hunger. Perhaps someone in antiquity observed a sea bird or a starfish dining on an oyster (or other shellfish) and realized its potential as a food source seeing an abundance of bedded oysters or dug for clams or mussels in shallows during low tide. I’ve heard arguments from several anthropologists and archaeologists that a move to shellfish and seafood in the human diet during antiquity may have contributed greatly to our evolution to homo sapiens due to increases in Omega-3 fatty acids and various proteins. Terra Amata near Nice in France is said to have evidence of shellfish consumption by hominids at around 300,000 years ago, so the Pinnacle Point find may not be the first human shellfish use, but it is certainly among the earliest sites where we have evidence for it.

Jonathan Swift’s “bold man” may not have been among these early humans, but whoever he was, I’m glad he took that Double-Dog-Dare! I’ve been a fan of oysters and clams my whole life and I try to have a fried oyster sandwich or steamed clams whenever I return to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia where I grew up. If you’ve never tried an oyster or clams, I recommend butter sauce after steaming. Dee-lish!

The Last Foragers of Tanzania – A Farewell to the Hadza?

Chris O’Brien at Northstate Science has a gut-wrenching post on the plight of the Hadza of northern Tanzania. Their very existence is threatened by wealth, ignorance, and a complete lack of compassion by the government that should be responsible stewards of the cultural diversity of its citizens.

Instead, the Tanzanian government is coming to an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to lease the land they live on as a private hunting ground for the UAE Royal family. This would make the Hadza trespassers on their own land, the land they’ve subsisted on successfully for thousands of years.

Chris provides references an MSNBC story that begins with “[o]ne of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world.” The story goes on to quote Tanzanian officials who refer to the Hadza as “backward” and implied that they would benefit from being forced to “modernize.” But the story is fair to the Hazabe in that it gives them their props:

While they have through 50,000 years survived the coming of agriculture, metal, guns, diseases, missionaries, poachers, anthropologists, students, gawking journalists, corrugated steel houses and encroaching pastoral tribes who often impersonate them for tourist money, the resilient Hadzabe, who still make fire with sticks, fear that the safari deal will be their undoing.


The Hadzabe are believed to be the second-oldest people on Earth, and they still hunt and gather as a way of life, if occasionally before audiences of khaki-covered tourists, who flock to northern Tanzania by the thousands.

It’s a shame that such a noble and successful culture is looked down upon by the “modern” world that views them as quaint or as a curiosity at best, as “backward” and as an in-the-way annoyance at worst. The fact that their success has outdone that of any modern culture is all but ignored.

I can’t recommend Chris’ post enough, Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family. He isn’t just regurgitating the news like I am here, Chris is sharing his personal experiences having lived and worked among the Hazabe during the 1990s. Chris puts a personal touch on their plight, bringing individuals within the tribe to life as real people, not just a news story about a few people far, far away. Reading his post puts the Hazda closer to home and, while they may be on the other side of the globe, the neighbor of my neighbor must be mine as well.

What can we do?
Write. Pass the word.
Send emails to the UAE embassy as well as the Tanzanian embassy. Post on our blogs. If you don’t have a blog, send links to the story and Chris’ post to friends. And click on the link below to Digg the story by clicking underneath the yellow ranking to vote Chris’ story up. If it gets digged enough, it’ll rise to the top of the page and get noticed. Diggs snowball, they’re slow at first, but the votes increase exponentially, so don’t think your vote doesn’t count if the votes are still low.

Digg Chris’ Post here
Northstate Science
Afarensis I
Afarensis II
/ II
The story
Remote Central
Schmoo on the Run
Indigenous Peoples of Africa

Visit these links, read the posts, drop comments. Get the word out. I’ll try to update this list with new links as I come across them. Please leave them in the comments below if you’re so inclined!