Tattoos Across Cultures

Although tattoos were originally thought to have dated back to around 2,000 B.C to ancient Egyptian times, recent archaeological discoveries have carbon-dated tattoos to be approximately 5,200 years old. Due to such discoveries, the certainty of when tattoos first originated has become rather unclear. In Egyptian times, “the distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on the lower spine and right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therefore essentially therapeutic” (Lineberry). Archeological studies have shown that ancient Egyptian tattooing was primarily a practice reserved for women. Tattooing was used “during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth. This is supported by the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts” (Lineberry). It is believed that older Egyptian women would pass this tradition of tattooing down to the younger counterparts. The symbolic value of the tattoo in ancient Egypt differs drastically from Samoan culture and more parallely resembles ancient Japanese culture.  

While tattoos do not date back quite as far in Samoan culture as they do in Egyptian culture, tattooing was a long standing tradition that represented an individual’s rank within the tribe. Tattoos in Samoan culture were most often associated with men; however, “women too endured tattooing, but their patterns were typically smaller” (PBS). The men’s tattoos would, “forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions.”(PBS). Typically, Samoan tattoos started at a man’s mid-torso and extended downwards towards their feet. The process of receiving these tattoos was both an extremely painful and dangerous one. Besides the excessively high risk of infection, the men would experience massive amounts of pain, as the tattoos would typically take up to a year to heal completely. The entire tribe would come together to help support the man who received the tattoo. The tattoos needed to be cleaned daily and the men oftentimes needed help with daily tasks, for even just sitting and walking was rather painful.

While different cultures throughout the world have used tattooing as a way to symbolize their beliefs, it is important to note that although these cultures have tattooing in common, the symbolism behind the practice of tattooing differs from culture to culture. This does that mean that there are no similarities in tattooing practices across cultures. For example, Japan and Egypt both used some tattoos as protective symbols, while Samoa and Japan used certain tattoos to denote an individual’s rank (Kearns). Japan’s tattoo practice incorporates elements of both the Samoan and the Egyptian cultures, but still maintains its own uniqueness (Kearns).

Image result for traditional samoan tattoo

Above is a picture of a traditional Samoan tattoo. One that begins mid-torso and continues downward.

The tattooed right hand of a Chiribaya mummy

Above is a corpse that has been mummified and the tattoos that are showing have been preserved over thousands of years.

Reference List

Kearns, Angel. “Inked and Exiled: A History of Tattooing in Japan.” Bodylore: Gender, Sex, Culture, Folklore, and the Body. February 28 2018. Web. <https://sites.wp.odu.edu/bodylore/2018/02/28/inked-and-exiled-a-history-of-tattooing-in-japan/>.

Lineberry, Cate. “Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History.” Smithsonian.com. January 1 2007. Web. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tattoos-144038580/>.

PBS. “Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo.” PBS Thirteen. 2003. Web. <https://www.pbs.org/skinstories/history/>.

 

Additional Content

https://www.pbs.org/skinstories/history/

https://sites.wp.odu.edu/bodylore/2018/02/28/inked-and-exiled-a-history-of-tattooing-in-japan/

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Fossils and the Future: Taphonomy and its Influence

Since it was rediscovered over 250 years ago, Pompeii has been an intriguing and popular destination for generations across the world. For its most recent resurgence, millennials have manifested their own captivation in site through the 2013 Bastille song about the city and a popular meme currently circulating around the internet. The meme, that began after CNN posted pictures from a dig site, shows an unnamed skeleton who appears to have initially escaped the volcanic ash, only to be then killed by a falling boulder. The irony of the situation inspired many to apply it to their own lives and it became a phenomenon on social media platforms.

A recent photo of an excavation site at Pompeii, Italy, most likely a similar setting to where the unnamed man was found. Photo provided by The Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii, May 17, 2018.

However, in a Forbes article published in June, archaeologist Kristina Killgrove reports that through examining the skull of the skeleton, the archaeologists found that the man’s skull remained completely intact (Killgrove 2018). This helped them conclude that man had actually not been killed by the boulder, but instead, the upper part of the body had sunk during a previous excavation, causing it to appear that the boulder had been fatal. He most likely died due to asphyxiation.  Although this essentially discredits the meme, the study of the man after he was buried led the team to further understand the context of Pompeii and the fate of one of its citizens. This type of inspection–the study of how an organism is buried and the processes that affect it after burial–is called taphonomy, and it remains widely important in the fields of archaeology and paleontology to explain why we find certain fossils and why we don’t, and how that affects the greater scheme of studying the past life (Renfrew 2010:41).

An artificially fossilized lizard foot, evidence of the some of the new technology being used by archaeologists to better understand taphonomy. Photo provided by Evan Sattia, Field Museum/University of Bristol and Tom Kaye, Foundation for Scientific Advancement

Through greater advances in technology, archaeologists are investigating how to replicate the fossilizing process, in order to better examine and understand decaying, and how one organism becomes a fossil. Evan Sattia of the Field Museum in Chicago explains in a July article for Popular Science that his team is essentially “baking” samples in clay tablets at 3500 psi, which is roughly the temperature of the level of the Earth’s crust where fossils are found. By replicating the process, scientists are able to probe into what temperature, gas, and other environmental effects lead to the fossilizing process and what materials are able to survive, a breakthrough in understanding how we find fossils and why we find them.

 

Although it is sometimes overlooked, taphonomy is a crucial part of the entire archaeological process within a site. The fossils that are left behind, allow archaeologists to peek further into the past living and provide a greater context of the past culture and environment of an area. And as evidenced through technological advances, taphonomy will continue, and should continue, to grow and improve along with further discoveries.

 

Further Readings:

Curren, Thomas.

2017  Archaeology as Blood Sport: How an Ancient Mastodon Ignited Debate over Humans’ Arrival in North America. Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-cerutti-mastodon-20171222-htmlstory.html#, accessed September 16, 2018.

Pickrell, John.

2018  Here’s How Humans Can Make It as a Fossil. Reader’s Digest, February 15, 2018. https://www.rd.com/culture/human-fossils/, accessed September 16, 2018.

 

Reference List:

Blakemore, Erin.

  2018  To Understand Fossils, Scientists Are Baking Their Own. Popular Science, July 25, 2018. https://www.popsci.com/easy-bake-fossil, accessed September 16, 2018.

 

Killgrove, Kristina.

  2018  That Meme-Worthy Pompeii Skeleton? Not Crushed By A Block, His Skull Shows. Forbes, June 28, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2018/06/28/that-meme-worthy-pompeii-skeleton-not-crushed-by-a-block-his-skull-shows/#7a375b9a1c61, accessed September 16, 2018.

 

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn.

  2010  Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.

 

Images:

Blakemore, Erin.

  2018  To Understand Fossils, Scientists Are Baking Their Own. Popular Science, July 25, 2018. https://www.popsci.com/easy-bake-fossil, accessed September 16, 2018.

 

McGrath, Maryellen.

2018 Extraordinary discovery of the archaeological site of Pompeii. ABC News, May 19, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/International/extraordinary-discovery-archaeological-site-pompeii/story?id=55237858, accessed September 16, 2018.

 

 

 

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Trash in a Changing World: Patterns of E-Waste Dumping

Bill Rathje’s research of the American landfill painted a dark tale of the direction of our consumerist society. The immense waste of resources and lack of accountability will, according to Rathje, eventually lead to a culture collapse. Looking into today, we face more challenges despite the enormous technological progress we’ve enjoyed. Rather than improve our situation and more effectively use our resources, we face new issues in the form of electronic waste, the discard of electrical and electronic devices.

Today, much of the world’s e-waste originates from developed nations in the Western World such as the United States and Europe. The United Nations estimates that over 50 million tons of e-waste are discarded each year. And as our world’s reliance on technology grows and our current products updated, this number is sure to increase.

It is estimated that 75% of all e-waste is exported to developing countries around the world such as Ghana and Pakistan. The recycling of e-waste is often too costly in developed countries, making dumping a more economical option. Additionally, exporting out e-waste likely prevents the environmental and health dangers of recycling.

In cities where e-waste is dumped, such as Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and Karachi, Pakistan, the local communities have repurposed the e-waste into an economy based on the recycling and reuse of the dumped appliances. They are either repaired in order to be resold, or more likely, disassembled to recover raw materials such as copper, silver, gold, and steel.

Figure 1. A worker burns away wiring insulation in order to extract the copper in Agbobloshie, Ghana.

The dumping of e-waste presents enormous health and environmental concerns to the local community. In the case of Agbogbloshie and Karachi, people are continually affected by the toxins and chemicals released by the burning of e-waste. Workers, especially, are affected by the toxic chemicals as they extract the raw materials from the e-waste. Almost everyone becomes at risk from exposure to lead, cadmium, and other disruptive chemicals.

Figure 2. Various electronic components are transported to be recycled in Karachi, Pakistan.

Studying communities such as Agbogbloshie and Karachi reveals the patterns that affect e-waste dumpsites around the world. For example, even in such an environment such as Agbogbloshie and Karachi, there remains a stark divide between those who utilize the e-waste. ‘Resellers’, often able to receive old or unused electronics, are able to make profits of thousands of Euros a month. Meanwhile, the majority of e-waste workers rely on a subsistence scavenging for grams of materials at a time. Also, the exploitation of developing countries as dumping grounds hark back to previous colonial exploitation of natural resources. And finally, it is the poor that are the most affected by the dumping of e-waste.

In summation, the dump of e-waste in developing countries does not represent an adequate solution as our world becomes both more technologically advanced and consumerist. The dumping of e-waste reflects just a transference of the root problem to other groups and cultures. All in all, e-waste represents the denial and postponement of developed nations actively addressing the growing environmental and health dangers of our trash.

Works Cited:

Blau, John
2006  UN summit on e-waste. CIO UK. CIO UK, 28 November 2006.
.
Accessed September 16, 2018.

Kuper, Jo
2008   Poisoning the poor: Electronic waste in Ghana. Greenpeace. Greenpeace, August 2008.. Accessed September 16, 2018.

2016  ToxiCity: life at Agbobloshie, the world’s largest e-waste dump in Ghana. YouTube. Youtube, 01 June 2016. .
accessed September 16, 2018.

2016  The Toxic E-Waste Trade Killing Pakistan’s Poorest. YouTube. YouTube, 11 July 2016. . accessed September 16, 2018.

 

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Roman-Era Trash: An Excavation in South Devon, England

The small town of Ipplepen is located in the southwest corner of England, in South Devon.  As of 2011, Ipplepen is a small town with fewer than 3000 residents. Although it has such a small population, the area has a very long history, with settlements stretching back to the Iron Age.  Since 2010, archaeologists from the University of Exeter and the British Museum have been excavating the sites, which in total span 1200 years of history.

Recently, a team has excavated several locations containing garbage from the end of the Roman era.  Analysis of the recovered artifacts has allowed researchers to piece together elements of the residents’ lives, such as their diet.  In the garbage piles, animal bones have been preserved for thousands of years. According to the lead archaeologist on the team, Stephen Rippon, these animal can be used “to reconstruct past patterns of farming…Some of the bones that have been found have cut marks from when they were butchered.”  The age of the animals when they were butchered gives information about local farming practices. For example, lambs would have been killed for meat, whereas older sheep would have been kept around for milk and wool.  Through reconstructing the diets and farming practices of Roman-Age South Devon residents, researchers are able to better understand the area’s history.

Archaeologists excavating at Ipplepen in 2016.

The garbage has also provided clues into the financial status of the town.  Among the artifacts recovered are some pieces of ancient pottery. Some of it is amphora, a type of pottery used to carry olive oil and wine made in the Mediterranean.  Elsewhere at the site, a piece of an expensive cup was discovered. The style of the cup suggests that it was originally made in southeast England, and likely would have been someone’s valuable possession (until it broke).  Residents were not, then, just poor farmers, as one might be inclined to think. Instead, these artifacts suggest that at least some of the residents were well-off, since they could afford Mediterranean wine and expensive pottery.

Some examples of amphora vases, used to hold wine and olive oil.

Throughout the Ipplepen excavation, researches have made a number interesting discoveries about the history of South Devon.  Among those are a Roman road that once ran through the area, a graveyard from medieval times, and roundhouses from the end of the Iron Age.  But trash tells a different, less obvious story than these structures do; it tells us about the day-to-day things that people did that they didn’t view as remarkable, such as eating meat and drinking wine.  However, to an archaeologist, these discoveries provide valuable information about the living habits and status of a people or a settlement, such as in South Devon.

Sources:

Phys.org

2017  “Rare Archeological Find Could Be the First Time Unique Pottery Seen in the Southwest.” Archaeology & Fossils, Phys.org. Electronic Document, June 28, 2017, https://phys.org/news/2017-06-rare-archaeological-unique-pottery-south.html, accessed 13 September 2018.

University of Exeter

 2018  “Ancient Household Waste Gives More Clues About Devon’s Roman History.” Research News, University of Exeter. Electronic Document, September 5, 2018, http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_679888_en.html, accessed 12 September 2018.

Wikipedia

 2018  “Ipplepen.” Wikipedia. Electronic Document, September 8, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipplepen, accessed 12 September, 2018

Image Sources:

Ipplepen Archaeological Project.

 2016  “2016 Excavation Day 2.” Ipplepen Archaeological Project (blog), June 8, 2016, http://ipplepen.exeter.ac.uk/2016/06/2016-excavation-day-2-7th-june/, accessed September 15, 2018.

Wikipedia.

 2018  “Amphora.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphora, accessed September 15, 2018.

Further reading:

“Digging Up the Roots of Modern Waste in Victorian-Era Rubbish”: https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/06/01/480268469/digging-up-the-roots-of-modern-waste-in-victorian-era-rubbish

“Trash or Treasure?”: https://www.cnn.com/2011/10/04/world/europe/archaeology-ancient-trash/index.html

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What to do with Machu Picchu? A Class Debate

The site of Machu Picchu is undoubtedly a crucial source of cultural and economic capital for Peru’s civilians and leaders. Still, the exact cultural patrimony of the site remains under debate, namely between the indigenous peoples of Peru, Peruvian government and criollos, Peru’s tourism industry, National Geographic, and Yale University.

Overview of Machu Picchu, ancient Incan site.

Hiram Bingham III, who eventually received funding from both Yale and National Geographic, is often credited with the discovery of the Incan site. However, indigenous farmers had already been aware of Machu Picchu. The precedence that Yale and National Geographic have been given with the site has more often than not surpassed that of any other group, especially the indigenous descendants of those who have once occupied the site. As such, and as was argued in the class debate, Yale’s relationship with Machu Picchu is sullied with imperialist ideology. It is easy to see why there would be a reluctance to work with Yale as well as National Geographic in the present day repatriation of the objects.

Inner architecture of the citadel. Note the triangular stone working- probably meant to honor the spirits that take the form of mountains (Lubow).

The fact that the 5,000 Machu Picchu artifacts that Yale possesses are loans from Peru that have never been returned further justifies the incredulity there is in the negotiations regarding repatriation. If Yale’s return of the artifacts is conditional and there is no apology given for not returning the artifacts, then it can easily be argued that Yale is undermining the capacity of the country’s intellectuals and academics. If funding is an issue, then past perpetrators should be more than willing to place those who have been exploited at the forefront of further research and attainment of the discussed cultural patrimony, specifically in the jobs that they would like. This wasn’t presented in the debate until we neared the end. It is easy to feel that what we believe to be in the best interest of others is correct. It is certainly much easier than seeking the opinion of those who will live its consequences.

Economic, academic, and cultural goals can often come into conflict with each other. However, in class, Peru’s tourist industry was especially at odds with the rest of these interest groups. Unlike everyone else, tourism leaders in Peru want to increase the influx of tourists into Machu Picchu. Or will they be understood to be just as dynamic as the people who visit? Physical deterioration of the site is also something that needs to be taken into account.  One suggestion was to use technology to create digital tours of Machu Picchu. Another was to move museums and cultural centers away from Machu Picchu, or sectioning off areas that were not accessible, thus filtering the influx of visitors to the actual site. Even if physical deterioration were to be minimized, there would undoubtedly be increased exposure to ancient and modern Peruvian culture. The manner of exposure would possibly be detrimental to the physical condition of the site. The cultural importance of the site as well as respect towards the inhabitants of the area will vary depending on the way that tourists are exposed to the site. Will the indigenous people in the area be seen as part of the scenery and as a group of uncivilized others who have been lost in time?

It is important to humanize the indigenous peoples of Peru. Not even the Peruvian government can be necessarily trusted to do this, as it is dominated by those of Criollo descent and education, again minimizing indigenous participation. Perhaps this humanization would entail decreasing the romanticization of Machu Picchu and the people of the area.  It might be begin to be remediated by the government, through increasing access to education and increasing measures to decrease poverty among indigenous peoples. Still, in class, it was argued that one of the issues with removing the mythical attributes of the site would be decreased interest in tourism, and thus decreased revenue and exposure. In part, this is true. One possible way to cultivate respectful interest would be again, to let indigenous people be at the forefront of telling their stories, in whichever way they’d like. There is mysticality in the unknown, and the intricacies of of other cultures are rarely made known to members of other cultures.

Each of these interest groups can be a part of making Machu Picchu an area for learning and furthering of knowledge of the past. The 5,000 object that are in contestation must be repatriated, and indigenous people must be at the forefront of it. Still, the long term goals of acquisition of knowledge and economic sustainment through tourism. The objects should be repatriated without conditions. The most advancement is most likely to occur when other countries are willing to offer assistance rather than imposition when dealing with cultural patrimony.

 

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