Accepted Anomalous Evidence;
on objectivity in anthropological education,
(Researching for anthropological education)
Nick A. Michael
Method in the
the antiquity of
is Being Done
Method in the Classroom
in it’s simplest form is the study of man, and it is the hope of many
in the field that by revealing the secrets of the evolution of man
and his culture, the general populace will lose the impetus for
bigotry, selfishness, and hatred. Although this is a wonderful goal,
the fact remains that man’s study of man is incredibly complicated.
It is also a fact that when studying alien cultures or archeological
remains, it is nearly impossible to maintain perfect objectivity,
because it is the nature of the human mind to translate what is
revealed through the individual lens. As Doctors of anthropology Brim and Spain point out in their book, Research Design in Anthropology, “It is essential that we all maintain a reasonable perspective about the accomplishments and potentials of . . . anthropology as a discipline capable of providing solutions to basic social and political problems,” (110). Anthropologists may want to make that impact on the world, but the rigors of anthropological research render it nearly impossible to apply the evidence of the past to the problems of today, especially if it becomes common knowledge among the public that anthropology’s main tenets are based on conjecture more than empirical evidence. What can be done to make a worldwide attempt to pursue absolute objectivity, removing preconceived notions from all available anthropological data? It needs to begin in the classroom (whether or not the teacher has achieved this mental blank slate) and students should graduate with the freedom to discover and report their data in a way that shows only simple unobstructed fact, having learned that personal goals related to the individual’s fixed belief in certain theories cannot have a place in the common data pool. Personal belief should be reserved for personally gratifying publications, and should not take up space in the academic setting.
It is a well-established fact that the study of man did not begin as a
science, but has developed into one by the grueling efforts of the
‘founders.’ These early investigators often had compelling personal
theories that drove them to dig. Yes, most of the greatest advances
have been possible because individuals and groups pursued proof for certain theories or philosophies. The established religions played a key role early on until science was bolstered by the publications
offering empirical evidence of many of the main components of the
Theory of Evolution. Over the course of the development of the new
academic science of anthropology, discoveries were most often (and it could be said that it was necessary at the time) interpreted and classified under the auspices of one major theory or the other; of either a creation by God and a young earth concept, or an evolution of all hominids from a common ancestor and a very old earth concept. Even though creationists alone claimed that the notion of an epically old earth was wrong, neither side of the equation was willing to accept that it is a potential reality that the antiquity of man goes farther back than we can imagine. So, even the evolutionists squashed data from discoveries if it seemed contrary to the current notions of the antiquity of man (which has changed several times over the years).
Similarly, there was not a single uniform protocol for accurately describing and preserving empirical data; as to stratigraphic matrices, flora and fauna fossils of associated strata, and so forth. Because of these above-mentioned influences, the data from early discoveries is highly questionable, in most cases we are required to take the testimony of the discoverer at face value, with no way to determine whether the description accurately portrays the real evidence. And even today, many new discoveries are clouded by hasty conclusions, drawn on the most meager of evidence, making anthropology look less like empirical science and more like religion – in that it doggedly aims to promote theory regardless of available evidence. It is my belief that anthropology has a serious need to rectify the old data and create a new system of methodology that promotes a requirement for perfect objectivity (as much as is humanly possible). If this cannot be accomplished, I fear that the field may diverge toward the realms of philosophy and psychology; it may become a study of mental processes via culture rather than remain an empirical science. Even worse, the study of anthropology could easily shift into the realm of religion, because just as a religious leader tells the followers what to think and believe – what is good and what is detrimental to your spiritual health – so do the academic leaders of anthropology tell students what to think and believe, and often it has little to do with all available evidence, it only involves the accepted available evidence.
Concerning ancient documents
Ancient documents, such as the twelve tablets found in Babylon that have become known as the Epic of Gilgamesh, relate that anatomically modern humans coexisted with other hominids, and state emphatically that mankind has been on this planet much longer than modern scientists have pre-supposed. Many myths from the ‘first’ civilizations, such as Egypt, India, and Sumer, assert that the founders of their first cities and those that granted them knowledge (often called ‘Lords’ in the texts) were from another place – possessing skills and technical information that only people from a
well-developed culture could have. But, in the interest of
maintaining the idea that urban civilization did not begin until
recently, the translators of these texts decided to translate the
word for ‘lords’ as ‘gods’ and relegate the ancient writers to the
status of ignoramus sensationalists.
For whatever reason, it seems to be important for academics to prove that our predecessors were incapable of carving into their tablets factual information. I say this because if the ancient texts that say the first cities of Sumer were designed by people that had high levels of technology, the inference is that those advanced people had to have come from a very advanced civilization
themselves. This is a problem because it takes quite a long time for
man to evolve from cave dwelling berry pickers to technologically
advanced empire builders. Current theory states that humans diverged from the ape family in Africa about 100 thousand years ago, and it is also academically appropriate to state that urban civilization appeared in Mesopotamia about five thousand years ago. Using this information, it is apparent that humanity spent 95 thousand years preparing for civilized life. So, when translating texts that offer information that civilization did not begin in Mesopotamia – the land of Biblical Eden, by the way – but rather was
imported from somewhere else, the translators made the inevitable
correction by interpreting words in such a manner as to turn a
historical document into a fictional story. Ancient myth translations
have been produced in a manner that shows they cannot be taken
literally, and scientists have used the biased translations to
conduct cultural analyses that display the ancient people as absurdly superstitious. When a myth such as ‘Gilgamesh’ portrays an ancient society with a tertiary system of government, established industry and trade, a deep history, forty flavors of beer, a plethora of terms describing fuels, relationships with older more advanced societies, as well as to more primitive ‘wildmen,’ there is an instant reaction by science to assume that the texts are mythical, essentially attempts to explain human life and natural phenomena by assigning them corresponding gods and goddesses. It is assumed that ancient people were less inclined toward reality and less advanced in general (compared to moderns). Therefore, if ancient texts demonstrate otherwise, they must be myth – fabrications designed to make a city, religious group, or god look good; This is exactly what a student of anthropology can expect to learn.
Any academically researched book about the myths of the world describes the tendency of ancient man to describe natural phenomena in terms of the imagined gods. But anyone reading the actual texts that describe the ‘gods’ realizes very quickly that these ‘gods’ had very human-like behavior. Inspecting the texts of Sumer alone, which many experts agree are the oldest documents on earth, one can see that the gods engaged in competition with equals for ruler-ship, married, cheated, had children, debated law, got drunk, made mistakes, built cities, understood architecture, the arts, warfare, and the list goes on. These are not things that ignorant people would assume that their invisible, unreachable god would do. It is also often mentioned in ancient texts that the so-called gods maintained personal relationships with people; they spoke in person, had physical contact, helped solve differences, provoked to war, taught elements of all of the arts personally to a select few, raised kings, demoted kings, led armies in person. I question whether any person, no matter how ‘primitive’ would look at a man and declare him a god.
It seems that the only people that really think these individuals
were gods are the modern interpreters of the texts.
Defining ancient texts as myth has contributed to the declining interest of anthropologists to the importance of myths in their ability to shed light on real historical events. If the text is simply a myth, it cannot lead to discovery, it can only provide insight into culture. However, if the so-called myth is actually factual, the insights into culture that are based on the mythical interpretation are clearly
based on incorrect suppositions, and are not admissible. Thereby I find myself in a quandary, how am I to study ancient culture if the information I receive from my betters is based on bad science? How can I know if translations of ancient documents are correct? If studies, for instance, on the civilization of Sumer, are all based on the assumptions that they were not well advanced because they are not us (modern), and all of their histories are myths, how can I value the studies? In order to provide students of anthropology valuable data to promote the progression of the field, mythological texts should be reevaluated by accepted scholars to determine if and what significance to real history they hold. Old translations should be investigated for veracity and new criteria for exactly what makes a story mythical need to be constructed and weighed by the resulting new evidence of reevaluation.
The currently available literature regarding ancient myth is not
satisfactory, and can only be accepted by those unacquainted with
what the actual texts say. Even reading the texts in the current
translations, it is rationally impossible to ignore the evidence that
civilization did not begin in the way we currently teach. By the
admission of the writers of ancient times, civilization was imported
by well educated and rational real people. The education of the
students of anthropology needs to reflect, at the very least, that
this is a possibility.
It becomes more apparent as one looks into the ancient cultures, that the interpretations of these cultures are a by-product of another
more ominous set of theories that has influenced archeological
discovery in every imaginable way. In the same way that ancient
documents are apparently mistreated to support the current theory, actual fossil finds are treated with what many anthropological analysts are calling the knowledge-filter.
Regarding the antiquity of man
Anthropological courses tend to teach students that certain incomplete data are factual. There are some building blocks of current theory that seem to be included simply because mentioning them gives more legitimacy to that theory. For instance, there is little physical evidence for the connection of Miocene apes (a) with the later Pliocene ancestors (b) of apes and hominids. Nonetheless, we are taught that there is a direct lineage leading from a to b. Perhaps in the near future, there will be discoveries that fill this gap. For now, though, courses should offer that there is no evidence that the earlier apes of the Miocene are ancestors of the Pliocene varieties. Perhaps the conclusion is true, but we do not know for sure at this time. So simply teaching that the evolutionary chain is solid from a to b is divergent from anthropological methods, and incredibly unscientific.
As students, we are required to memorize the skull structure, scientific names, and date ranges of creatures that have almost no evidence that supports all of the aspects that scientists ascribe to them, and often there is little evidence for direct evolution. In the case of direct hominid evolution, there is no indication as to how or when Australopithecus evolved (through Homo Habilis) to Homo Erectus. As far as I can tell, it is assumed that because these fossils are dated to the acceptable range that would make them older than the supposed origin of modern man, and they have a similar morphology to Homo Sapiens, they must be the evolutionary ancestors. It is common to assume that because one form predates another it is in the direct evolutionary lineage. There are many more examples, such as Orrorin Tugenensis and Sahelanthropis Tchadensis, which have been given descriptions of social life, mental acuity, and other well-developed schemas, all based mostly on a few scattered bones, that admittedly may not even be related to each other. Newer finds, such as A. Garhi in Ethiopia, has been described as an evolutionary ancestor of modern man. There is great excitement about the impact of this discovery, but it is all based on nothing more than a small portion of a fragmented cranium and the upper teeth. Even though there is literally but a handful of bone fragments, a new species has been cataloged, and students of anthropology are supposed to take the interpretation of the discovery seriously.
At the same time, we are not presented with what is termed anomalous evidence, and if we try to address these anathema in an academic setting, are told not to think about it. If the developers of the curriculum found it proper to leave such things out, it means there was something wrong with the evidence. The anomalous evidence is comprised of a vast amount of ignored and often lost discoveries, but the ruling elite of academia were so quick to cast it aside that we may never be able to ascertain it’s relevance. It seems that if
evidence does not support the current conventional theory, it is dismissed and often the discoverer is debunked. When In April of 1863, Jules Desnoyers discovered part of a rhinoceros tibia that he concluded had marks from human tools, he encountered opposition from several notable scientists, not because his conclusion was incorrect but because the site at St. Pres, France was considered to date to the Late Pliocene. If he was correct, this would place tool users about 2 million years earlier than the current theory assumed. So in the end, his discovery was cast aside. About this issue of filtering discoveries through a sieve of accepted theory, Armand de Quatrefages, member of the French Academy of Sciences and professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, placed his opinion in his book, Hommes Fossiles et Hommes Sauvages (1884): “The objections made to the existence of humans in the Pliocene and Miocene periods seem to habitually be more related to theoretical considerations than to direct observation” (Cremo 15). This statement came only 13 years after the publication of Darwin’s
research. When the Theory of Evolution was presented with such publicity, the academic leaders of the time were strongly against Darwin’s ideas, but just a few years later, they were determined to
find evidence in support. This is more proof that evidence is either promoted or squashed due to whether or not it supports current academic premises.
What is Being Done Now?
Several academically sound scientists have analyzed the documents produced by archaeologists and anthropologists over the last couple of centuries and have come to the conclusion that holding to the current popular theory is the major factor in determining whether or not a discovery is to be accepted as evidence or discreetly brushed aside. Volumes have been produced in support of alternate ideas, including several
about the antiquity of humans, but many of these are equally biased, and admittedly produced to bolster support for another theory. How does a student of anthropology keep an open mind while simultaneously avoiding material that completely lacks authentication or veracity, and who can be trusted to censor available material? It is important for developers of education programs to present the evidence to students in a manner that supports the anthropological method, which supports objectivity. Students should not be faced with ethical and methodological
controversions at the beginning of their learning because they are presented with ‘facts’ that are easily disputed, but must be accepted because academia says so.
I propose that academia take into account the growing detachment from empiricism in anthropology – the ever-increasing lean toward socio-cultural studies that have become the modern study of man.
There is a vast difference between studying a living culture and studying the remains of a dead culture. On the one hand, we are studying the actual people that are living. On the other hand, we are studying their trash and their bones. What is interesting to me is the effect of how academia views ancient culture to the understanding of living cultures. It is assumed that human civilization, and thus cultures, evolved a certain way. Those assumptions shape how living cultures are dissected. What if those assumptions are wrong? What if the ancient culture was not superstitious? What if those ancient ‘gods’ were real people, who, because of degrading civilization and the loss of accuracy, ended up being worshiped as gods. In this scenario, the more ancient culture would be the least religious, and the younger cultures would be the most superstitious. This would throw off much of our current thinking about the cultural and social significance of religion, not to mention other aspects of culture. The way we interpret ancient texts, fossils, and other archeological elements determines in large part how we interpret modern culture. There is no way to separate one from the other because current theory says that ‘what is now must have evolved from what was then, and it has always gotten better in a natural progression.’ Upon a closer look at the available evidence, one can deduce that this may not be the case. At the very least it is possible that at times in ancient history, civilization has degraded on a large scale. If accepted evidence is all that is taught in the classroom, new anthropological scientists are as likely to ignore evidence as the early discoverers and to interpret discoveries based on the theoretical tendencies of whoever is in charge. This is bad science and is detrimental to the field of anthropology. For man to study Man, it is necessary that objectivity, patience, and humbleness be placed in high regard, rather than theory.
Changes in Thought
In 2006, Joan Oates discovered a series of mass graves around a galactic clustered city-site that has been neglected over the centuries due to its distance from the accepted center of civilization’s beginning. The Tel Brak mound, which is the remains of the ancient city of Nagar, revealed with copious evidence that urban society evolved much earlier (about 1000 years) than was thought, and about 1000 miles distant from what was believed to be the first civilization (Sumer). There was manufacturing, art, trade, and other advanced forms of civilized culture. Artifacts also provide ample cause to assume the inhabitants enjoyed generous amounts of leisure time. Interestingly, this city did not have a significant level of agricultural production, so food must have been shipped in, leaving us to assume there was no lack of money. The current thinking in the fields of archeology and anthropology had to be altered because it has been held for generations that Sumer was the first civilization – but Sumer apparently had not begun until long after the city of Nagar.
In the circles of anthropology, this is seen as a revolutionizing
discovery, and there is a lot of excitement and debate over its
impact. However, this should not be the case. The only reason for the excitement is that for generations anthropology has force-fed it’s
students with the ‘facts’ of civilizations’ origins. Thousands of books have promoted the ‘firsts of Sumer’ and many scientists have become internationally famous for their interpretations of the archeological evidence of Sumer. If these scientists had simply reported objective information, there never would have been such
things, and new discoveries showing that all of those interpretations may be completely off-base would not be revolutionizing. Anthropologists should always assume that there will be another discovery; that just because this city-site is the oldest we have discovered does not mean it is the oldest one ever. And similarly, that just because these bones are similar to modern man does not automatically determine that it is an evolutionary ancestor.
Anthropology seeks new information about the origins of the human race, the development of civilization, the impact of culture. There is always new evidence that contradicts the popular theory. This should not affect the study of anthropology in general. In other words, in the
education of students of anthropology, there should always be a
strong adherence to objectivity and patience, an assumption that we
will have more information later. Facts should be presented as facts
and simple data, rather than constructed into some elaborate theory. There is always the opportunity to publish a non-academic book in support of a theory, but these ideas should be kept out of the classroom. The practice of theory development may be the very undoing of science, and the adherence to the teachings of the masters makes the science look more like a cult following. The empirical evidence most often provides no definitive evidence in support of any theory at all. The only way to adapt evidence to existing theories is to make broad assumptions and hope it plays out in the end. It is my hope that this practice of bending the evidence to fit theory will die, but it must begin in the classroom.
Anthropology is the study of the entire history of man, both body and mind, throughout all ages. It also seeks to define and plot out changes. In this sense, then, anthropology must refrain from the specific and move toward the general. If this is taught in classrooms, it will become part of the culture of the field, and evidence will be cataloged in its purest form, devoid of all prejudices and preconceived notions.
Brim, John, and David Spain. “Research Design in Anthropology: Paradigms and Pragmatics in the Testing of Hypotheses.” Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1974. Print.
A systematic approach to the anthropological method. This book provides serious and authoritative statements of how to collect and analyze data. In straightforward wording, students can learn how to gather and interpret data with the manageable anthropological methodology. There is a large focus on systematic approaches that are commonly used throughout the anthropological world.
Lawler, Andrew. “Out of Eden; The sobering message from an extraordinary ancient Syrian settlement: Urban civilization and organized warfare emerged hand in hand.” Discover Magazine. Dec. 2009. pgs 63-68. print.
A short article in Discovery magazine that introduces a 2009 discovery in N.E. Syria. The Tel Brak site and features/artifacts are cleverly built into a narrative of the lead archaeologist and the site itself. Lawler uses colorful phrases and impact words to keep the interest of the reader. Although it is meant partially to entertain, the article is packed full of vital information.
Leakey, Richard, and Roger Lewin. “Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human.” New York: Anchor Books, 1993. Print.
In this follow-up to his “Origins,” Lawler re-visits and sometimes
alters his previous views based on new discoveries. He places an
enormous amount of weight on the importance of his own discoveries and explains why he has altered his claims so readily, so many times.
He seems forthcoming and genuine but does not satisfy the criticism that many have against him for his actions over the years that make it seem that he ardently advocates only those discoveries that further his own claims. I found his style enjoyable and appreciate his down-to-earth logic. It is another masterpiece by a world-renowned anthropologist.
Linger, Daniel. “Anthropology Through A Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory.” Philadelphia: Pennsylvania UP, 2005. Print.
Based on Linger’s ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil and Japan, this book is a genuine look into personal views and unbiased data in the work of cultural anthropology. It is full of the interesting cultural
phenomenon and makes an appeal to the folly of locking the
individual minds of people into a cultural framework. I found it
helpful in learning to separate personal belief and opinion (my own
culture, in effect) from what is found when dissecting another
culture. An honest book that makes you think about the real
intrusiveness of personal belief in scientific research, no matter
how honest the scientist.
London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology. “Questions of Anthropology.” Volume 76. Rita Astuti, Jonathan Perry, Charles Stafford, eds. Oxford: Berg, 2007. Print.
A compilation of writings by various anthropologists, there is no
central theory or attempt to promote an opinion. The only unifying
aspect of the book is that all of the writings make an attempt to ask
the questions that anthropology owes its birth to, the basics like,
‘why are we here.’ The writings often oppose one another in their
views and conclusions, but this is helpful to open an inner
discussion about the meaning of anthropology. There is a strong grasp of the anthropological method, and it is so scientifically presented, that I do not feel like I have been force-fed somebody else’s opinion, but instead have simply read several independent studies.
Maher, John, and Dennie Briggs eds. “An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms.” Harper and Row Publishers, First Perennial Library edition, 1990. Print.
A series of interviews with the leading myth synthesis, Joseph
Campbell, leads the reader on an intriguing journey into the mind of
the man, without the usual catalog of data that Campbell is known
for. Here, he does not translate what he says or try to back it up
with evidence. It is an interesting way to see the effects of
personal belief upon that which he has presented to the world as the true meaning of myth. It is enjoyable, like reading the mind of Yoda.
Pelto, Pertti, J. “The Study of Anthropology.” Columbus: Charles E.
Merrill Books, inc., 1965.
This book is designed to give teachers an overview of how to teach
anthropology. It is full of historical information about the
development of the science, and its methods. It is useful to gain
this understanding, however, it may be a little too dated for what I
am currently researching.