Sunday, March 23, 2014

Got Anthropology? New Youtube Channel!

Hello everyone!

I realise I've been away for awhile - but only because I've been working to bring you some awesome projects, one of which I am excited to release!

I've written before about the new Got Anthropology speaker series that's been going on throughout the year. They've featured a ton of members of the anthropology department, giving talks on everything from preserving the diverse wildlife in Madagascar to how technology influences and impacts our lives, and what advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence will mean for the future.

The initiative has been spearheaded by Kim Valenta, a graduate student here at the university. Her goal in establishing the speaker series was to enable grad students to talk about what they do in a more informal setting. The talks inspire interesting questions and stirring discussion, aiming to engage with the greater community in Toronto and engage participants in moving beyond their own field or specialization. My personal favourite has been Travis Steffens' talk on conservation ecology and all the incredible species of Madagascar.

Kim was recently featured in an article on the Arts and Sciences news page, which I encourage you all to check out here!

Today, I'm happy to share that Got Anthropology? has a Youtube channel! I have been involved in helping video the talks, and after a lot of editing, videos of several lectures have recently come online.

Jess Davidon's talk on Ethical Consumption, Travis Steffens on Primate Conservation, and Emma Yasui on Technology are all available at the Got Anthropology? Youtube channel, which you can find from this link.

I strongly encourage everyone to come out to the next Got Anthropology? talk: If Humans Evolved from Monkeys, Why Are There Still Monkeys? Link to the Facebook event here. They're a lot of fun and everyone will have the chance to ask some great questions!

Look for more updates from Inside Anthropology, coming soon!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Awesome Archaeologists: Rachel Kulick

Rachel is currently a student at U of T, working on her PhD with a focus on human-environment interactions in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. More generally, she works on analyzing soil micromorphological data from the Minoan centre of Palaikastro in East Crete. The goal of this analysis at Palaikastro is to show the human responses to environmental and social stimuli, and to elucidate the society’s impact on the environment.

I met with Rachel back in November to interview her about her research, and we had a great conversation.

Interviewer (Me): JE
Rachel: RK

JE: Could you explain what your goal is with the excavation, and tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with your PhD here at U of T?

RK: I am doing geoarchaeological research at Palaikastro in order to understand what was happening there in terms of the relationship between the society and the environment. In general, researchers have been looking at macro-scale levels of the environment, where the focus is on change in the broader landscape over time. Micro-scale geoarchaeology, which is what I’m doing at Palaikastro, is the level on which we really can see the evidence of human activity, and, with thin section analysis, we can even differentiate between human activities that occurred only once or over the course of a several year period or more. By microscopically analysing sections of a block of soil from the on-site context via thin section analysis, we can attain a finer scale of resolution that permits us to see all of the things we cannot see with the naked eye during excavation.

JE: Why did you choose Crete, and the Minoan Bronze Age, as your focus?

RK: I had long been interested in the Mediterranean, the environment, and human reactions to the environment. The Mediterranean is a unique environment because, in this region, we see human society sustaining itself across so many different time periods, but there has also been a lot of change; some of the largest research questions have revolved around the issues of the rise and fall of states and the anthropogenic and/or environmental factors that influenced these transformations.  Generally, there is a dichotomy in research approaches between focusing on 1) environmental science data and 2) complex notions of social theory to explain major societal and landscape changes, but the actual evidence of whether such changes were caused by human or environmental triggers is not so clear-cut. When multiple forms of environmental and archaeological evidence come together, it becomes clear that there is frequently more than one possible explanation to account for certain (geo)archaeological observations. This is where we have difficulty drawing conclusions about the archaeological record.

JE: What have you found so far about the Minoans and their relationship with the environment?

RK: My research is in its preliminary stage, so we have no answers yet.  However, around Crete we have seen many changes in the landscape – such as those caused by erosion, etc.  There are disagreements in academic literature as to how these landscape changes originally came about since varying types and scales of environmental science data can frequently provide conflicting and/or confounding results. Therefore, what I am trying to accomplish is a multi-stranded reconstruction of what happened in the environment, through merging different forms of data.  The goal of multi-stranded reconstruction is to take comparable types of evidence and fit them together in a ‘cable’ or ‘web’ construction (cf. Alison Wylie) in order to form a composite of archaeological information that builds a picture of past human societies and environments.  Common issues persist in developing consistent and accurate pictures of the past environment,
Rachel drawing profiles
landscape, and human activity due to the generally restrictive nature of the data acquired—the missing strands in the cable.  Simply applying new scientific or archaeological data, which does not fit the unique informational ‘gaps’, is not helpful in reconstructing this picture.  However, by “weighing in” on the amount of confidence that one can have in each particular strand of data, a solid picture may be developed from the composite of archaeological data gathered.  I am using geoarchaeology as one strand in the cable of evidence, which will help reconstruct a picture of Minoan Palaikastro.

I also want to draw attention to the community involvement in the project, which has been integral in supporting the research at Palaikastro.  In addition to the 2013 excavations being conducted as a field school for students from the University of Toronto, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Bristol, we had a number of community members involved. They are really interested in their local history.  My supervisor, and Co-Director of Excavations, Dr. Carl Knappett, arranged site tours for the local schools, which was a treat for the students  because the site is very well preserved.  Additionally, several students from universities in Greece, and specifically Crete, participated in the excavations and studies this summer. 

JE: Could you tell me about how you got to this point in your academic career?

RK: I did my undergrad at Cornell, where there is an excellent Archaeology Program for undergraduates. I was beginning to focus on Near Eastern archaeology but then additionally became interested in the archaeological sciences.  My advisor at the time suggested that a one-year Master’s program would allow me to develop my skills in the archaeological sciences without having to focus on one particular geographic area. I did a one-year MPhil at Cambridge, in the UK, during which I studied bioarchaeology, isotope analysis, and geoarchaeology.  Interestingly, the area of my Master’s dissertation is completely unrelated to what I’m working on now!

After my MPhil, I worked outside of academia for a year, and I consulted with my former professors and advisors regarding PhD programs. During this year, I met with Dr. Carl Knappett, who discussed with me the program options available at U of T, and how I could tailor a PhD program in the Art Department to suit my archaeological interests. The key in determining my career path was simply to talk to many people involved in different aspects of archaeology! Profs and TAs are great resources.

JE: How did you get involved with a dig?

RK: That was part of the incentive for me to come to Toronto! Dr. Knappett was beginning a new phase of the Palaikastro project, and before I officially started my PhD, he gave me the opportunity to visit Crete and do archaeological illustration there for a summer. That experience was my first taste of Cretan archaeology, and I really enjoyed it.  For me, figuring out which project was right for me was a matter of traveling and seeing what fieldwork I enjoyed the most.  As an undergraduate, I participated in field schools all over Europe, but the environment and the levels of archaeological preservation in certain areas of the eastern Mediterranean were most attractive to me.

JE: Tell me about working in Crete!

RK: Working on Crete is incredible. When you are working on a project, the lifestyle is much different from going on a vacation. You interact with the local community at the cafes, restaurants, and stores, and you become regulars at the village events.   The daily schedule during fieldwork always involves an early morning start at 5 or 6 am, because of the heat, and work lasts for 7-8 hours. This past summer, the first two weeks of the excavation were more like landscaping and gardening than archaeological excavation –our work involved a lot of soil moving! When you finally get down to the archaeological layers, the preservation of the finds is amazing. We came upon more archaeological layers during the last week.  Working with brushes and picks is hard work, but all of the effort is definitely worth it. What is most rewarding for me is teaching the undergraduate participants how to excavate, and watching them learn and improve. I find it really rewarding to share with them the joy of excavating.

JE: What was your favourite moment from Crete?

RK: The most exciting part this past summer was when we first reached an archaeological layer at the site. While I had excavated at other sites in Europe before, the quantity of material on Crete is impressive.  I had approached the excavations this summer not expecting to find anything substantial. Even though the geoarchaeological surveys suggested some buried features, we couldn’t be certain until we actually excavated, that we would find ancient features.  I remember well the moment when one of our unit supervisors struck the ground with his pickaxe and, all of a sudden, we saw artifacts everywhere—all of very high preservation quality. The look of excitement on everyone’s faces was something to remember, for sure.

JE: What advice would you offer people looking to get into archaeology and do what you’re doing?

The Team
RK: I would definitely suggest talking to people who are already involved in archaeology at your university, but don’t restrict yourself to just looking in the anthropology and archaeology departments. I have found that researchers in other departments are often doing archaeological research as well.  Look into art history departments, geology departments, classics departments, etc. Some classics and geology professors are also archaeologists!  Also check out museums.  If you have the opportunity, try to participate in a bunch of different excavation projects during your summer breaks, especially if you aren’t satisfied with your first experiences – often, projects are completely different from one another.

Don’t be afraid to take time off after your undergraduate degree to think about your career direction – sometimes, trying a different path can really help you find your way. Taking a year off after my undergrad gave me the time to think about my archaeological interests, read and expand my subject knowledge, and not rush into a program about which I was unsure.

I’d like to thank Rachel for participating in being profiled by Inside Anthropology. I had a great time interviewing her, and I learned a lot along the way! Visiting Greece is definitely something on my list of things to do.
*This interview has been condensed and edited.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2014!
It's a New Year and a new semester here at U of T and Inside Anthropology! I have a lot of interesting posts currently in the works, and I can't wait to share more with you this semester. To get us started, I was surfing the U of T news website when I found a cool article that you might have seen posted to the U of T Anthropology Facebook page recently: UTSC Researcher Helps Build New Tree of Life.

Illustration by Carl Buell: What the common ancestor may
have looked like. Cute tail, right?

So naturally, I was intrigued. Throughout the study of biological anthropology, I have come across many diagrams of evolutionary relationships. As it turns out, Mary Silcox, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of Toronto Scarborough was recently part of a diverse international team that reconstructed the tree of relationships between placental mammals. Placental mammals is a group that includes humans, and this research claims to have found the common ancestor of placental mammals: a somewhat rat-like, insectivorous animal that came about after dinosaurs became extinct.

The original article on U of T news was written by Kurt Kleiner, and you should all head over and check it out. Silcox was the only Canadian member of the research team and was responsible for contributing to data collection used to classify primates (including humans) and for organizing the dental traits that were used in the analysis.

The research team found that placental mammals diversified later than had been suggested previously, and all currently living groups came forth after the dinosaurs went extinct. Fossil evidence has shown that placental mammals evolved several hundred thousand years post-extinction. More details from this amazing research breakthrough can be found in both Kleiner's article and in articles in this week's Science magazine: I've linked them Here and Here: Article 2.

This is just one great example of the strides that anthropologists are making in puzzling out the world we live in and how it came to be.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next article here at Inside Anthropology! It's going to be a great 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Seasons Greetings!

Cultural Anthropology is one of the largest subfields of our discipline, studying the ways of living, knowing and believing of people around the world. With that in mind, I thought a post about the origin of Christmas, which I personally celebrate, would probably be appropriate on a day like today......(forgive my cheekiness. It's Christmas.)

While I personally identify with no particular religion, I can say I personally believe in God (and honestly, Gods) even though I ascribe to no particular way of celebrating them, other than my own. Celebrating Christmas is something I have always done with my half Roman Catholic half Lutheran (and thus United) family, and it means a great deal to me personally - so how did it really start? What's the story of the origin of Christmas?

Christmas is the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, observed worldwide by billions of people. Traditionally, Christmas is the first of the 12 days of Christmastide, which ends with Twelfth Night. It is also celebrated by non-Christians, having become a civil and commercial holiday in many countries - as well as an excuse to spoil your loved ones with gifts.

Jesus is believed to have been born between 7 and 2 BC, and the 4th century most churches in the West had placed that date on December 25th. It's possible that Christmas Day was chosen to be 9 months after Christ's conception, but there is also a connection to many polytheistic festivals such as Saturnalia, the Roman winter solstice celebration.

Today, Christmas comes with a group of older and modern traditions. Exchanging holiday cards, festooning houses and trees with Christmas lights and decorations  (I'll be honest, at my house we have one of those fantastic and somewhat obnoxious inflatable decorations, which features Santa in helicopter), 'Secret Santa' gift exchanges, and putting up and decorating Christmas trees (usually of the Pine or Spruce variety) are only some of the ways many people celebrate this day. The practice of decorating houses goes back to the 15th century, with ivy and bay branches being swagged about houses in London, England.
The White House Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree is one of my personal favourites. In my family, we go to the farm we've gone to for about 20 years now, cut down our own tree, tie it down to our car, and bring it home to put up in a wrought iron tree stand that I could barely haul up from the basement as a child. Christmas trees started out as a pagan tradition stemming from the celebration of the Winter Solstice that was first adopted by Christians in Germany after Saint Boniface chopped down an Oak tree dedicated to Thor and declared that firs were more suitable reverent objects than oak trees. Firs point to heaven and have a triangular shape, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. From Germany the custom spread to Britain by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. They became popular under the reign of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and by the 1870s the custom was common in the United States. Sleighs, snowmen, candles, wreaths, nativity scenes, garlands, and Christmas Villages are also common decorations to see at Christmas.

Christmas also includes several mythical figures that bring gifts to children who have behaved well all year, that go by the names of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicolas, Chris Kringle, etc. Santa has names in most languages that celebrate the custom, and each "Santa figure" comes with its own backstory. Another common tradition is leaving a glass of milk, cookies for Santa, and carrots for the Reindeer beside the fireplace before a child goes to bed. Santa always appreciates a snack, and sure enough the food will be gone in the morning.

Christmas music and carols are also an important part of the season. Many have religious meaning, such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing or Away in a Manger. Still others are silly songs that celebrate the season itself, such as Jingle Bells or Deck the Halls.

These are some of the things that I celebrate and take part in at Christmas, what does your family do? Anyways, I'm off to drink a hot cider and open some presents. No matter what you do on December 25th, whether you celebrate Christmas or just head out to a movie, I wish you safe travels and good cheer this holiday season.

Happy Christmas, from Inside Anthropology.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Where Does Your Food Come From?

In March of 2013 Dylan Gordon was selected as one of the Top 25 Storytellers in the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)’s “Storytellers: Research for a Better Life” contest. Dylan is a PhD candidate in Anthropology here at U of T, and I sat down with Dylan to record his 3-minute story on the Canadian wild food trade and to hear more about the Canadian wild food industry and how it works.

I confess, I had never heard of ‘wild food’ before. I have bought corn by the side of the road, purchased baskets of blueberries from kids emerging from the forest with blue stained fingertips and grubby clothes, and gawked at the price of fiddleheads during their short season at the grocery store. But the fact that there is an entire industry and movement surrounding the production of food that is ‘more organic than organic’ had never really occurred to me. I was not aware that foraged mushrooms from Canadian forests were being exported to places as far away as Japan.

Over the hour I spent with Dylan, we talked about the pickers and producers of the wild food industry, perceptions of wild food in popular media, and the global impact that wild food is having on the way we think about where our food comes from. Dylan spoke eloquently about some of the obstacles wild food producers are facing, from environmental pressures to economic ones.  You can listen to the full audio here on the blog, and please watch Dylan’s 3 minute story, “A Treasure Trove in the Canadian Wilderness” – its pure poetry and some great story telling. 

To hear my chat with Dylan, you can check out the audio file from this link!
Dylan Gordon on Wild Food

Friday, November 15, 2013

Futures of Anthropology Panel

So, how do I..... Find a job? Get into grad school? Get work postgrad?

Today I was at the Futures of Anthropology event! The panel included a number of grads and post-grad members of the Anthropology Department speaking about their experiences in the job world, both inside and outside the world of academia. Speakers from all areas of anthropology had come to talk about their experiences in the job market. It was then that I realised - I have no idea how to get a job in the field of Anthropology - no clue where to look, where to start - even what kinds of jobs are out there. So, over the next few weeks I'm going to try to find out. I'll be combing the resources here at U of T, looking to compile them into a series of handy guides - How to apply to grad school, how to find a job if you're an undergraduate, and how to find a job in a grad or post-grad position. On that note - If anyone knows of a resource or wants to submit a website, give an interview, or offer advice - please contact me! It would be great to turn this into a place where we can all come to offer our perspectives on what to do with our anthropology degrees.

What did I learn at the Futures of Anthropology discussion, you may ask? Well, a lot.

To start with, the job market might not be as bleak as it sometimes seems. According to the US Department of Labour, jobs in fields such as Anthropology and Archaeology are going to increase between 22 and 28 percent over the next few years.

So what are some of the options available? One of the more common ones is Cultural Resource Management (CRM). In Canada every development needs salvage archaeology done before building can go ahead - in order to preserve the past. Yes, there are ethical issues - developers want to develop, and it isn't necessarily the hallowed theoretical process we are all trained towards in university. There's also the divide between academia and contract archaeology, though hopefully that will narrow in future years. We have to realise that all archaeologists are equal, no matter what work they do - we are all looking for our origins.

Work for anthropologists can come from a variety of sources - health systems, intervention and community outreach, lab work, etc. Where you work is usually less important than the skills you use in the pursuit of Anthropology. Sometimes its more a matter of presenting oneself. Anthropologists have a great skill set that can be used in many capacities. Interpersonal skills through interviewing and ethnographic work, data collection, collation, and interpretation, critical thinking and analysis - these are all part of an Anthropologists toolkit. It might just be a matter of brushing up one's resume!

So maybe its not hopeless! Here I'll try my best to find the resources that are going to help us all find gainful employment, if only so we can keep doing what we love!

Keep reading,

Monday, November 11, 2013

'Are Tattoos, Piercings and other Body Modifications Natural?' - MA/MSc Candidate Daniel Dick speaks at Got anthropology U of T

On October 23, Daniel Dick (Ma MSc Candidate) gave an exciting presentation for the first Got Anthropology? event at U of T. Got Anthropology? is a speaker series with the goal of bringing anthropological research to the greater community here at U of T.  They will select speakers representing different facets of anthropology to give talks on the 2nd last Wednesday of select months from October to April, making anthropology more accessible!

The subject of Daniel's talk was the many body modifications found in human society, both today and in the archaeological record. His presentation was structured around several key questions: Are body modifications natural? How diverse are they? What are body modifications? How old are they? Where do they come from? and finally, what do they mean?

Throughout the course of the evening Daniel discussed piercings, tattoos, scarification, sub dermal implants, and extreme cases of body modification. Personally, I was enthralled. Beyond having simple ear lobe piercings, I have never considered alternate forms of body modification. However, I do know friends with elaborate piercings or personal tattoos. Sometimes its fun to fantasize about what kind of tattoo or piercing I would get - where would I put it? What would it be of? What part of my life would it represent? The anthropological significance is even more fascinating - Daniel brought issues of cultural appropriation to the forefront of his discussion, questioning whether or not the blending of traditional and religious styles of body modification that have great significance with mainstream culture is acceptable or not.

Pazyryk Ice Maiden
Some Interesting Facts About Body Modification:
  • Bone, stone, glass, ivory, ceramic, and metal can all be used for piercings
  • The oldies piercings date to 2500 BC and were found at the ancient site of Ur, near modern day Iraq
  • Piercings show up in the archaeological record via their placement - if a metal ring lies next to the head of skeletal remains, there is a good chance it represents a pierced ear
  • The modern tattoo pen was invented by Thomas Edison, while he was creating the Electric Pen
  • The most famous example of ancient tattooing comes from the Pazyryck mummies found in Siberia. One of the most famous, the Ice Maiden, has tattoos dating from 2600 years ago.
  • The Irezumi tattoo style is traditionally Japanese, and has become so associated with the Yakuza that many places of business ban customers with tattoos
  • "Hakuna Matata"

  • The tattoo commonly referred to as the symbol for 'Hakuna Matata' from Disney's The Lion King actually doesn't mean hakuna matata - Swahili is written in the Latin alphabet, like English. The symbol comes from the Korean comedy movie, 200 Pounds Beauty

Well - that's all for me today. Check back soon for our next post! I've included a link to the Go anthropology? Facebook page below!
got anthropology?