A burnin’ ring of fire: Four Stone Hearth 115

Ring of Fire / Johnny Ainsworth

Welcome everyone to the 115th Four Stone Hearth Blogging carnival! (my apologies for the Johnny Cash reference).

For the uninitiated, the Four Stone Hearth is:

a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology in the widest (American) sense of that word. Here, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focussing primarily on four lines of research:

  • archaeology
  • socio-cultural anthropology
  • bio-physical anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

The Hearth is an important institution among anthropology bloggers, and dates back to somewhere around the early Holocene (2006) when anthro blogging began to get serious.

It’s an interesting exercise to browse through some of the earlier editions of the Hearth, which were run by many bloggers who are still around today: Anthropology.net, Afarensis, Aardvarchaeology, Hot Cup of Joe, Greg Laden, John Hawks and many others. If you’re not familiar with the Hearth, I would urge you to browse through some of the earlier editions to get a taste of what it’s all about.

Some say the Hearth is diminishing in its appeal, and if so I’m not exactly sure why. I suspect part of it is due to a more diverse social media that has reduced the need for anthro bloggers to congregate and chat around a central Hearth, so to speak. This edition is relatively strong and I hope it continues this way into the foreseeable future. It’s too great an institution to let it languish .

We have a range of topics today with contributors reflecting on themes as varied as space archaeology, Christian religious rituals, stone artefact caches, gambling, and much more. Please take the time to read through what our contributors have to offer; I’ve tried to keep my overviews of their posts  short in the hope that you visit their blogs and read what it is that they have to say.

So please enjoy!

[I've arranged the contributions according to their chronological theme, as best I can!]

Kristina Killgrove (aka Bone Girl) has a post looking at historically-themed slot machines at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. She considers the range of themes represented on slot machines: classical Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mayan civilisation, Medieval Europe, Aztecs and Imperial China. It’s an interesting study in contemporary material culture and she notes that one theme runs through of all of the imagery on the slots: that of fetishized male wealth “divorced from [its] sociocultural context and reduced to [its] material trappings”. She also notes the absences: Indigenous North American peoples, for example, are not represented despite early evidence for gambling; women are also not represented.

Krystal D’Costa has contributed a post exploring the power of symbols within a Christian religious community. She argues that these communities are best referred to as communitas - bonds between individuals based around often unspoken and informal rules that help ensure social cohesion and order. Her focus in this post though is the way in which ritual and symbols associated with Ash Wednesday are used to help to maintain obligations within these communitas. By exploring this issue in relation to the use of he Hijab, a more permanent form of religious symbolism, she explains how Christian people use Ash Wednesday to help distinguish themselves from the general social order leading up to Easter.

Alice Gorman, with her usual clarity, considers the way in which her research is often labelled as marginal because of her cross-, trans- or inter-disciplinary interests in space heritage and material culture. Interestingly though, she argues that recent theoretical and methodological developments in the field of contemporary archaeology have helped her to realise that despite first appearances, her research is actually about  ”straight-down-the-line archaeology and heritage” issues. This is an important point I think, particularly for those who may feel that they don’t quite ‘fit’, from a disciplinary point of view.

We also have a contribution from Ian Moffat who dabbles across a few fields including archaeological geophysics, isotope geochemistry and geoarchaeology. His post is a little left of field because it is not entirely about anthropology, though what he talks about has serious implications for anthropology in Australia. He looks at the Excellence in Research in Australia (ERA) initiative which aims to rank the academic outputs of Universities in Australia. Ian notes that this scheme is structuring the kind of work that early career researchers (people straight out of a PhD) produce because the ERA defines what outlets (journals) are good, great, or plain terrible and than ranks University Departments based on where their researchers publish. Funding and career advancement are, of course, tied to these rankings. According to Ian, the problem with these rankings is that how papers are assessed is not clear and it is difficult to assess the worth of your own work under the scheme. I entirely agree with Ian’s argument and would add that this scheme is potentially very damaging for anthropology because it will discourage publication of descriptive or data rich papers: we need less grey literature, not more.

At the appropriately named ‘Elf Shot Gallery’ Tim Rast outlines the discovery of a fantastic cache of large bifacial stone artefacts from Newfoundland and Labradour, Canada. As he explains, a well meaning passer by recognised what the artefacts were and reported them to a museum, who in turn reported them to Government archaeologists. The images of these artefacts are spectacular, and Tim provides a great summary of their significance and the context of their deposition. Ordinarily, I suspect artefacts such as these would very quickly disappear into the ether and, as Tim says, “[the discoverers] deserve a lot of credit for how they reported the find”. Tim’s account is also good example of the way that blogging can help tell the ‘story’ behind the publication and through this, get more engaging stories about anthropology out to a broader public.

Alun Salt has contributed a post looking at the 3500 year old megalithic tomb or ceremonial mound of La Hougue Bie. Being an archaeo-astronomer, Alun is interested in recent discussions surrounding the central passageway and its relationship to a 16th Century chapel built on the mound. He asks whether it is mere coincidence that the Neolithic passageway and a window in the chapel oratory were designed to align with the equinox. I won’t pre-empt Alun’s answer, so go read it for yourself; his post is a good piece of archaeological sleuthing at his characteristically high standard.

Lastly, we only have one contribution on human evolution and that is from Brendan Wilkins at Digging the Dirt who has written a wonderful – and dare I say publishable – review of The Artificial Ape by Timothy Taylor. This book explores that way in which the agency or actions of hominids influenced the evolution of complex behaviour, evidenced in part by larger brain sizes. Brendan provides a very neat overview of the arguments presented in Taylor’s book which at a glance are quite compelling.

And that’s it folks – I hope that you enjoy what we have for you today!

EDIT: I neglected to include my contribution – an attempt at a plain English/non-academic account of my PhD research here.

  • beasty

    Interesting predatory site..trying to claim all human practices at all times as up for examination. Too bad you can’t include social anthropology as practiced by members of the Australian Anthropological Society.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your friendly and encouraging comment. I’m intrigued as to why you felt you needed to make this comment anonymously.

      Why this post/site is ‘predatory’ is quite beyond me. Perhaps read a little more before casting aspersions.

      If members of the AAS would like to contribute, they are more than welcome to do so. It was an open call for contributions and this is how Four Stone Hearth has always operated. I advertised via twitter and blog for at least 2 weeks.