E-Portfolio 1: Human Sacrifice

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.

Works Cited:

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.

Winkelman, Michael.

2014 Political and Demographic – Ecological Determinants of Institutionalised Human Sacrifice. Anthropological Forum 24.1: 47-70.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Week 16: Live Primate Feeds

Technology and greater forms of media have allowed people to access more information than ever before. With the help of live stream webcams the people at the San Diego Zoo have shared zoological activity to anyone with Internet access. This is particularly fortunate for this class because they have an Ape exhibit that shows orangutans (Pongo abelii) and siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus) living amongst each other. The video feed (http://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/cams/ape-cam) is monitored by the San Diego zoo staff, which is great because when there is interesting activity occurring the video will zoom in on that specific activity so the viewer can note the behavior with a better view.


Indah and Aisha (kids.sandiegozoo.org)

            From the zoomed out camera view the exhibit seemed quite large. There were man-made termite mounds and a large jungle gym contraption situated throughout the entire exhibit. I can only imagine the advantages of having these accessories present for the apes. According to the zoo website the fake termite mounds have snacks for the orangutans, which alternate between mustard, honey, and barbeque sauce. After studying primatology for the past four months I can infer that these accessories were used for enrichment in play, subsistence techniques, and mobility. The orangutans are offered a similar landscape to what they should be used to in the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. The giant jungle gym offers them similar methods of mobility, and the snacks inside the termite mounds forces them to think about how to retrieve the snacks just as if they were foraging in actual termite mounds. I thought it was strange that the zoo housed the orangutans with the siamangs at first but after reading a few blog posts I found out that they actual habituate the same forests so their cohabitation was another enrichment factor.

            The video feed was pretty sporadic in terms of activity, because when I logged in I would usually be catching the last few glimpses of any activity. I wasn’t able to see any siamangs, which was a little disheartening but I was able to catch some Orangutan activity. I would occasionally see the orangutans at the termite mound and there was one particular time I saw a mother and her baby roaming across the field. When the orangutans were at the mound I would usually see them utilizing a stick to retrieve food. The Toledo Zoo also has a large assortment of web cams devoted to zoological research. I chose to observe the gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) on the gorilla cam. This cam was not as interactive as the San Diego Zoo’s cam because it had one standard view that didn’t zoom in on activity. However, from observing the landscape I could tell that the exhibit was pretty large with standing trees as well as fallen logs. There wasn’t a lot of foliage, which I thought was peculiar because when we visited the NC zoo there were some large plants that the gorillas usually roamed through. From viewing this exhibit I witnessed a silverback roaming and a few females feeding while they lied down on the grass. There wasn’t a lot of activity to note that touched on enrichment like there was for the orangutans but there were social encounters between the silverback and a few females.


Silver Back Gorilla (toledozoo.org)

These cams offer more insight and observational information for the general public which is essential in all conservation efforts. As such, the likelihood that more individuals will be concerned about their environmental impact and the survival of these species will also increase. Also, these cams increase the chances of people visiting the animals, which is good for the zoo’s income. These cam’s are a low-cost highly effective method for increasing interest, knowledge, and conservation efforts among the general public and I think that all zoo’s would benefit from installing such devices.

Pictures and videos:



Posted in ANT 363 | Leave a comment

Week 15: Conservation


This week’s blog post was influenced by Dian Fossey’s work in Rwanda with the Digit Fund and the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation. To assist in my research I went back to the special collections area of the ZSR library. The Harold Hayes collection of Fossey notes and proposals were extremely helpful. I came across two documents in box 15/folder “Leaky Foundation”.

Robinson McIlvaine, the then president of the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation (AWLF), wrote the first document. The document was primarily concerned with the gorilla population at the Parc Des Volcans in Rwanda. In 1978 the population suffered terrible losses through poaching. He stressed that Rwanda had never had the funds or the know-how to provide the gorillas adequate protection, and that the little protection there has been was due to Dian Fossey. Now we all know that Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center was composed of part-time staff and visiting students. It may be described as a “better than nothing” solution but it wasn’t a long-term solution. McIlvaine stressed that it is unwise and dangerous for foreigners to be engaged in politically sensitive situations of a sovereign state.

McIlvaine notes that in a situation where there are people trying to help, they serve no useful purpose by simply giving money, equipment, or even advice to an entity that is not yet organized. So he would go on to say that the flaw in Fossey’s Digit fund was the lack of an institutional framework. After lengthy discussion there was an agreement between Fossey and other organizations like the AWLF for an institutional framework. As a result Fossey turned the Digit Fund over to AWLF to raise more money and help recruit, train, and equip a ranger force for the gorillas’ protection.


            McIlvaine also wrote the second document and it was on the progress made on getting a grip on the Rwandan mountain gorilla problem. He stated that the conservation organizations were finally getting under the same tent and cooperated on a sensible program. AWLF provided the institutional framework and negotiated a technical assistance agreement with the government to train and equip a ranger force capable of protecting the Parc de Volcans. The aim was to get the government to assume its responsibilities for protection so as to get Dr. Fossey out of the politically sensitive anti-poaching business.

From these documents we can assume that the problems in Rwanda were getting severe and something needed to be done. Fossey’s conservation efforts were admirable and McIlvaine noted that there wouldn’t be a mountain gorilla left if it weren’t for Fossey. However, she was sometimes too passionate about her work. She was possessive of the gorillas and there were occurrences where she wouldn’t allow anyone to study them if they were not part of her research party. Fossey involved herself with the politics and was obsessive over putting poachers in jail and making sure they never left. In her field notes she would make observations on gorilla behavior but would also include political notes on the incarceration status of poachers. Fossey was incapable of dealing with the infrastructure problem so the best way to deal with the problem was to ask for help and join an established program that could provide the infrastructure. McIlvaine offered a solution to this problem and when the AWLF program absorbed the Digit Fund it offered infrastructure.

From Fossey’s actions we know that an infrastructure must be implemented earlier on and that this offers a more organized effort in conservation.


Wake Forest University’s Howard T.P. Hayes Special Collections and Archives documents on Dian Fossey Collection. Box 15, Folder 17 MS596




Posted in ANT 363 | 3 Comments

Week 14: Polyspecific Associations

In the field of primatology it is easy to get caught up in the behavioral and biological study of just one specific primate. However, it is important to keep in mind that encounters between species are an inevitable occurrence. That is why this week the class is focusing on the polyspecific associations that occur between two or three different species that meet up and travel together for variable lengths of time. These groups resemble the fission-fusion patterns of associations found in groups of chimpanzees because they can join or split apart whenever it is advantageous for them. For this blog entry we will be analyzing the association between the red colobus monkeys (Procolobus badius) and Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus Diana) both of which reside in the Täi National Park, Ivory Coast.


Diana Monkey

These species spend roughly 62 percent of their time together. This amount of time spent together lead to alterations in the behavior of both of them. It has been stated that they have low dietary overlap but in polyspecific associations, the smaller Diana monkeys altered their diets to include more insect prey. As a result the red colobus monkey groups altered their grouping patterns by spreading out more like the Diana monkeys.

Strier notes that this polyspecific association has been attributed to the benefits that both species gain in avoiding predators. There seems to be a rule of “strength in numbers” because with more members, there were more eyes to detect predators, greater opportunities to confuse predators, and a lower probability that a predator will capture any one individual.


Red Colubus Monkey

Diana monkeys travel lower in the canopy than red colubus monkeys. It has been theorized that by doing this the red colubus monkeys offer protection to the Diana monkeys from the aerial predators like eagles. At the same time, Diana monkeys spend more time foraging on the ends of branches. This allows the Diana monkeys to serve as look outs for terrestrial predators that prey on the red colobus monkeys. These observations on predator protection support the notion that different species form associations that are advantageous for their survival. An example that Stier offers in support of protection is the protection from chimpanzees. Chimpanzees hunt red colobus monkeys and account for up to a third of all red colobus monkey mortality. Chimpanzees hunt primarily in the rainy season and Stier notes that this also when we see polyspecific associations between red colobus and Diana monkeys more commonly. This may be just a coincidence but Stier notes looks at the evidence presented in the vocalizations in both monkeys and the chimpanzees. From the observations made in the vocalizations researchers noted that after hearing chimp vocals the two monkey species converged together to strengthen their numbers.

So what can we say about these two species in terms of their association? We can say that they alter their habituated lifestyles to fit the needs of their newly associated group. They are not hand-cuffed by each other as is evident from their “fusion-fission” association. The protection they offer each other is essential in their survival and their strength in numbers is enough to deter most predators.


Strier, Karen B. Primate Behavioral Ecology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.




Posted in ANT 363 | Leave a comment

Week 13: How Do We Assess Cognition?


In anthropological primatology we study primates in an effort to discover possible links to our last common ancestors. The particular interest in this week’s class is cognition. Cognition is the mental processing that includes the attention of working memory, comprehending and producing language, calculating, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. We acknowledge behavior especially because we are unable to learn anything about their communication methods. In Strier’s subtopic of cognition she notes that there are three general approaches to assess cognition in primates. They are: through experiments with computers and manipulation for a variety of reasoning tasks, ecological selection pressures associated with both spatial memory and tool use, and the social advantages of maintaining, and deceiving allies.



From the video Ape Geniusand the Strier readings it is clear that there is little evidence of active teaching among any primates except humans. Primates, rather, learn through imitation and it makes sense because learning by seeing the processes and the results is efficient. Strier notes imitation as a shortcut to learning that relies on the cognitive ability to understand the cause-effect relationship. However, what happens if actions are not constantly being imitated and an action is lost down the line of generations? The result would be the lost of that skill, and if this skill were lost then there wouldn’t be a base to expand on. So there is no room for growth in technology without the ability to teach newer generations. The way researchers have tested their ability to imitate actions have involved certain mechanisms such as the “slot machine” in Ape Genius. The slot machine was constructed to release a treat to the chimpanzee after making certain moves with the lever and spindle. After showing one ape how to get the treat it didn’t take too long for him/her to learn the code and retrieve the treat on his/her own. When researchers released other apes to learn from the original it didn’t take long for them to learn the code either. However, there was no sign of the original chimp teaching the others, rather they imitated the original’s moves.

In terms of ecological selection pressures and its relation to spatial memory Strier argues that frugivores have a larger brain to body size ratio, because there are stronger ecological selection pressures on their cognitive abilities to remember food location. To assess spatial memory researchers had to manipulate the location of food resources and then monitor the primate’s ability to locate it (Janson, 1996). They found that the certain primates, like chimps, were able to determine the location and take the quickest route. This demonstrates the ape’s ability to remember and the ability to remain efficient with its energy use. Tool use is common for primates to achieve desired goals. Tools are not limited to simple rock hammers and anvils, in fact there are a variety of uses primates have for tools.  Chimps, bonobos, and orangutans sometimes fashion shelters form leaves to shield themselves from rain. Many arboreal monkeys use broken branches as threatening and defensive displays. Chimps are especially noted for their ability to shape spears. In Ape Genius these chimps sharpened sticks with their teeth and used them to stab bush babies while they were still in their holes. All of these tools and their uses are to acquire food or protect themselves, and in order to stand a better chance of survival humans rely on cooperation. But do other primates cooperate?

In Ape Genius I found one study on cooperation especially interesting. Researchers hid food underneath a heavy rock and should a chimpanzee where the food was. The rock wasn’t that heavy for the chimp so he/she easily pulled the rock away and took the food. When they tested for cooperation between primates the researchers included another chimp with a heavier rock. If there were cooperation between the two then they would be able to pull the heavy rock aside. This was not the case. They did not ask for help from the other chimp but something amazing happened. The chimp grabbed a human by the hand and led the researcher to help move the weight. This means that there are rudiments of teamwork between primates but they come short often.



My favorite study was in the Ape Genius video where they judged whether or not chimps are able to distinguish between just and unjust actions. In this study the researchers put a tray of food between two cages but closer to chimp A. Chimp A had access to the food first but chimp B (chimp in the other cage) had access to a rope that allowed chimp B to pull the food tray closer to its cage. Chimp A didn’t like this and went crazy that this other chimp stole what was rightfully his. So chimp A took another rope and collapsed the tray completely so that neither of them would have the food. When the researcher ran the test again they did not give chimp B access to the pulling rope rather the researcher pulled the tray away form chimp A and towards chimp B. Chimp A did not see this as injustice and did not punish chimp B by dumping the tray. These findings have significant ramifications for how we understand social behavior in our species and others. First, third-party punishment is thought to maintain cooperation in humans by discouraging cheating; however, while chimpanzees are known to cooperate, they don’t appear to engage in this type of punishment. This raises the question of whether human and great ape cooperation are maintained in different ways, Additionally, if third-party punishment isn’t etched into our evolutionary history, how and when did humans acquire our inclination to punish others for transgressions in which we were not involved? For now, these questions remain unanswered.

Strier, Karen B. Primate Behavioral Ecology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.



Posted in ANT 363 | Leave a comment

Week 12: Second Article Review


For my second article review I focused on my end of the year research topic that focuses on warfare among chimpanzees. This article entitled, Lethal intergroup aggression leads to territorial expansion in wild chimpanzees, written by Mitani, Watts, and Amsler. This article is becoming a valuable resource for my research in terms of summarizing the similarities of human warfare and chimpanzee warfare. It also helps to explain why the similarities cannot be taken with too much weight. The reason being is because the intergroup aggression by chimpanzees remains unclear (Mitani, Watss, and Amsler, 2010). The article reviewed previous hypothesis as to why we see intergroup aggression. One prominent hypothesis suggests that chimpanzees attack neighbors to expand their territories and to gain access to more food. The authors negate this hypothesis based on a lack of evidence. Fatal attacks were suspected from observations of intergroup aggression, however they were not witnessed.

After giving examples of the previous hypothesis the authors presented data collected over 10 years from a large community of chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. During this time they observed the chimps kill or fatally wound 18 individuals from other groups. They noted that a casual link between lethal intergroup aggression and territorial expansion can be made now that the Ngogo chimpanzees use the are once occupied by some of their victims. Among their observations was the patrolling group of chimpanzees. They noted that patrols involve considerable travel, but little feeding or socializing. Patrollers are unusually silent and move in single file line, while attending to signs from others. From data collected they noted that the mortality rates are significantly high among these communities. They exceed median rates of mortality due to intergroup violence reported for humans in farming and hunter-gatherer populations.

The others indicated that the chimpanzees studied expanded their territory at the expense of a neighboring community. The expansion followed a series of lethal coalitionary attacks that formed a large source of mortality.

Their observations helped to resolve the questions about the function of lethal intergroup aggression in chimpanzees and more importantly they disproved the suggestion that the aggression is an incidental by-product of human intervention. Overall their observations indicate that territorial conflict leads chimpanzees in some groups to cede land to members of other groups as a consequence of lethal coalitionary aggression. In the process, chimpanzees in communities gain access to resources that are then available to others in the group. From their research the authors began to ask new questions such as why chimpanzees do this. Is it to gain access to resources or to females?

This research design was thorough and was set to answer the question as to if intergroup aggression was real. They design the experiment to focus on a group that wasn’t disturbed by humans and they did follow up research as to whether or not the aggressors utilized the newer territory. Doing this they eliminated any possibility of the results being inhibited by human groups and they developed a holistic view on the community.

The design could have been enhanced and also design to observe a reason form the intergroup aggression. More attention to actions made after conquering the area may have been able to prove why chimps perform warfare. For instance if there was a difference in sexual behavior between the mixed groups then it can be inferred that the reason was to gain access to more females. However, if these actions were not observed but settlement migrated to the conquered location then it can be inferred that the aggression was a result of a need for expansion.

This article is a god send for my research topic. It offers observational data on the actions that take place during intergroup aggression but it doesn’t try to draw a link from this aggression to human aggression. The design is simple and it follows the scientific method to the letter that allows the public to have a better understanding of chimpanzee warfare.



J.C, Mitani, D.P. Watts, and S.J. Amsler

2010 Lethal intergroup aggression leads to territorial expansion in wild chimpanzees

Current Biology, Vol. 20, No. 12, pp. R507-R508, Cell Press

Posted in ANT 363 | 4 Comments

Week 11: Paper Proposal


Imagine being a researcher noting the behavior of Chimpanzees in their natural habitat. All of a sudden a gang of male chimpanzees invade their neighbors’ territory and attack a male chimp sitting by himself in a tree. The intruders drag the chimpanzee to the ground, pin him down, and hit him all over. The battered chimp is never seen again and presumably dies from his injuries.

This was the first time scientists had documented “warfare” among chimpanzees. It wasn’t the last. Since then, researchers have recorded similar violence in a variety of places where the animals are studied. Discovering that our closest living relatives are capable of such slaughter led some anthropologists to suggest that an instinct to kill may be a grisly trait that humans and chimpanzees inherited from their common ancestor some 7 million years ago. The conclusion: Violence is just part of human nature, stamped in our DNA.


The common thought about warfare was that only humans participated. As Jane Goodall states we are finding out that chimps, like humans, have this ability of forming an in group and an out group that discriminate against another. Before I watched the video in class Tuesday about Chimpanzee patrols I planned on writing a piece about Gorillas and the feeding mechanisms in captivity. After watching the video I couldn’t stop reading more about it. I found out that chimp societies utilize the fission-fusion social systems. Group members don’t hang around together all the time. Throughout the day, they break into smaller, fluid parties with ever-changing memberships, probably because their food is spread out in such a way that a large group’s needs can’t be satisfied by the same patch of grub. Once females come of age, so to speak, they leave their group to find a new community, while males stay where they were born. As a result, adult males in a group tend to be related, and the ties of kinship help them forge strong bonds and coalitions that work together to patrol the boundaries of their territory.

This ability to form in groups and out groups is very astonishing to me and I would like to explore more behavioral accounts of this discrimination, the general process of in-group forming, and how this can be related to evolutionary theory. I believe that this correlation between the chimpanzee and human is significant and I plan to compare the similarities that may be a way to describe the behavior of our last common ancestor.




van der Dennen, Johan M. G., Maxwell, Mary (Ed),

(1991). The sociobiological imagination. SUNY series in philosophy and biology., (pp. 223-241). Albany, NY, US: State University of New York Press, ix, 376 pp.


Dawson, D

1999 Evolutionary Theory and Group Selection: The Question of Warfare

History and Theory , Vol. 38, No. 4, Theme Issue 38: The Return of Science: Evolutionary Ideas and History  pp. 79-100, Wiley for Wesleyan University



Posted in ANT 363 | 2 Comments