In contemporary anthropology new scholars are supplied with an abundance of cultural evidence from past sources. There are hundreds if not thousands of broad questions researched in the past and today anthropologists are challenged to be more specific with their questions and in their explanations for the cultural characteristics we see today. Anthropology is a science, and in science every characteristic and their relationships with other characteristics should be studied in detail to recognize any underlying trends that may happen. Ethnology, which is the cross-cultural study of similar and different characteristics between other cultures should be important in contemporary anthropology, because the comparisons of multiple field studies help identify the underlying trends behind a given society’s actions.
Anthropology is known for its fundamentals and the at the heart of those fundamentals is cultural relativism. This is where ethnology becomes more difficult to implement because influencing a comparison between cultures walks a fine line in being culturally relative. Anthropologists that are against the study of ethnology usually throw up their hands and cite universals as a reason to ignore the study. However, ethnology can be useful and their can be a cross-cultural analysis of certain trends without implementing universals in our field of study.
In the module presentations the three groups analyzed the cultural phenomenon of human sacrifice in three specific instances. In two of these instances (Kerma Handout; Shang Dynasty Handout) we understand that there is a society that is growing in population and there are leaders that rise in a response. They rise to gain significant power over the growing population but as all of the cases suggested, there was a need for a paramount action to establish their power. For their own specific reasons these societies chose human sacrifice to establish the power of the leaders. The information researchers have on the population size, complexity, and acts of human sacrifice is established in the archaeological record and is available to cross culturally compare. The module presenters stated that we can ethnologically establish a correlation between external factors that would lead people to use human sacrifice. Winkelman (2014) and Acevedo and Thompson (2013) come to similar conclusions when they try to cross culturally compare groups and their traits that are believed to lead to human sacrifice.
By utilizing ethnology the presenters were able to establish traits that can lead to human sacrifice . However, these are not prerequisites for human sacrifice and human sacrifice is not the only way that leaders could have established their presence among a growing population. This is where ethnology fails to paint the more specific picture on a single society. Ethnographic analysis is required to go beyond the comparative of two separate societies and deeper into a single society. It is ethnographic research, not ethnology, that can establish why a society would choose human sacrifice as an establishment of power over something completely different.
The overall message of this week’s study on human sacrifice was that there are broad patterns of ecological and economical traits that can essentially lead a society to institutionalize human sacrifice. However, none of these patterns are universal. In fact, the presentations on the Shang Dynasty and the Kerma revealed that there were differences in what group of people were the preferred sacrifices (Kerma Handout; Shang Dynasty Handout). According to the presentations, the Kerma preferred to use their own citizens while the Shang decided to use captives from neighboring societies (Kerma Handout; Shang Dynasty Handout). Since there is no way to establish an universal design behind human sacrifice anthropologists must rely on ethnographic analysis to find out why they choose specific actions to meet their ecological and economical needs we get from ethnology.
Acevedo, Gabriel A. and Miriam Thompson.
2013 Blood, War and Ritual: Religious Ecology, ‘Strong’ Culture, and Human Sacrifice in the Premodern World. Anthropological Forum 23.3: 266-288.
Herman, Daniel, and Duncan Johnson.
2014 Human Sacrifice in the Shang Dynasty. Student-Faculty Seminar, ANT 390. Wake Forest University.
Kraniak, Ty, Meredith Shaw, and Pierce Wright.
2014 Kerma. Student-Faculty Seminar, ANT 390. Wake Forest University.
2014 Political and Demographic – Ecological Determinants of Institutionalised Human Sacrifice. Anthropological Forum 24.1: 47-70.