“The Man Who Lives with the Tribes” Talks About Why This Is Not Enough

By Shosha Adie • BSc Anthropology

Bruce Parry started his talk by pouring water, the ice clinking against the sides of the glass as his hands shook. After a moment, he clears his throat to speak, the seven hundred people filling the chairs of the Royal Geographical Society’s auditorium creaking forward to listen.

“Hi guys,” he says after a moment, followed by a nervous chuckle reciprocated by the crowd. He tells us, “I’m not used to talking in front of so many people… But they said you’re sweet, are you sweet?”

Any person who can win the hearts of a dusty audience with lines like this must have a certain level of charisma, and Bruce Parry certainly fits the cut. After living in Spain for ten years, the BAFTA award-winning documentarian, indigenous rights advocate and former Royal Marines commando officer has finally come back to the UK, where he grew up. After leading numerous treks from the Amazon to the Arctic, and spending months at a time in environments completely polarised from our own, he comes back to tell us, “There is no pristine hiding place anymore,” and that, “we’re in this together and in the best place to be part of this change that the world needs”.

This change he talks about is not about single-handedly trying to take on world hunger, or climate change; it is much more embedded that that. It is about all of us uniting in taking responsibility for the role that each of us has already played in these global disasters, instead of dissociating ourselves from the guilt by rallying the blame. Despite not being “a professional anthropologist,” he tells us his privilege of experiencing so many cultures made him think he “could wax lyrical about human nature.” Yet, the more he learnt, the more he realised he was wrong.

This realisation, of something missing, was one of the driving factors which led to his first attempt at both producing and directing for his latest, and first feature- length, documentary, Tawai: A voice from the forest. Though he warns us this time not to expect to see him “drinking blood and jumping cows”, he hopes to present “something much more poetic.”

Attributing some of the inspiration for this film to Daniel Everett’s book Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes (2008), where the pursuit of happiness, and a role reversal, means a missionary becomes a convert, the film presents a journey for reconnection, and a rejection of the individualistic society which puts ‘the self’ at the centre of consciousness. This film manages to motivate others to reflect upon, and contest, their own worldviews, without being propagandistic.
The title ‘Tawai’ is a term used by hunters and gatherers in Borneo, to describe an inner feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves – being interconnected; being at one with nature. The Penan, one such group, who have watched Borneo’s forests fall prey to consumerism and have been unable to have their land rights recognised by the Malaysian government, explain it to us like this: “Trees are like humans… If the really big trees die, so do all humans.”
In order to try and answer why we don’t have a word for this feeling in ‘the West’, Parry consults various experts from home along the way. On screen, experimental psychologist Dr Iain McGilchrist sheds some light on a cognitive basis for why we see the world differently by discussing the parallel functions of our brain. Our own Anthropology Department’s Dr Jerome Lewis, alongside his partner Dr Ingrid Lewis, gives further insight into the effects of consumerism on egalitarian groups and societies.

Though the film focuses on what we can learn from the lives of persecuted indigenous groups, featuring both the Pirahã, from the Amazon, and the Penan, Parry doesn’t just look to small-scale societies for answers. At the end of the film we see him consulting the wise family of Mahant Jagadesh Giri, who teach him how to translate this feeling of ‘oneness’ within himself. He finally achieves this running naked with 30 million other pilgrims on the ‘Maha’ Kumbh Mela festival, at what he notes could have been the largest gathering of people the world has ever seen.

Bathing Day; The Kumbh Mela festival in India takes place every three years, rotating around four different locations. Every twelve cycles of the twelve year rotation (144 years) culminates in a ‘maha’ or ‘great’ gathering. This is a very rare arial view of the bathers at this latest ‘Maha’ Kumbh Mela, quite possibly the largest gathering of humans in all of history with an estimated 30 million attendees. The entire city is created just for this event and must be dismantled before the whole area is washed away by the mighty Ganges in monsoon flood. This Kumbh Mela took pace at a confluence (Triveni Sangam) of the river Ganges and river Yamuna with the mystical Saraswati (which has long dried up) in Allahabad, itself one of the oldest cities in India. TAWAI – A voice from the forest A film from Bruce Parry In cinemas this Autumn www.TAWAI.earth #Kumbhmela #India #Ganges #Tawai #Greatestgathering #Allahabad #Saraswati #TAWAI #travelphotography

A post shared by TAWAI A voice from the forest (@tawai_film) on

Parry openly admits, his need to help the people he’s worked with is not necessarily run on an altruistic desire, but in fact correlates directly to his own happiness. He is often asked how he can live with himself, flitting around from place to place, when he leaves his boot-prints all over his hosts’ lives, who are already struggling to maintain their identity and integrity in the face of extinction. To this he can only ask people to look at the greater picture, and then realise his presence is a mere blip in the timeline of the effects that globalisation is having on small-scale societies.

“Everyone thinks I’m one of the tribe, even my BBC tagline is “Bruce Parry who lives with the tribes” – but despite meeting all these people, deep down I realised I’d always felt kind of superior in a way. [When I eventually decided] to try on a different hat and experience the world from their eyes… I mean I knew I could always take it off again later… but from that point, as cliché as it sounds, my whole world changed.”

At 6:30pm tomorrow, Thursday 12th October, Parry will be running a Q&A at 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, and UCL Anthropology students should have been emailed a discount code to put in at the top of this list – https://hearstlive.co.uk/esquiretownhouse/buy-tickets/#day-1. It is really worth going to listen to his experiences, even as a non-professional anthropologist, as he has experienced a great deal and learnt a lot from the same people that are featured on our reading lists as subjects, not authors. As well as this, you will get a chance to ask questions about his theories on collective consciousness and mindfulness.

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Material Culture Collection: Volunteering Opportunities for Anthropology Students

By Annamaria Dall’Anese • PhD Anthropology

If you have a passion for ethnographic objects and wish to acquire experience in the field of museum conservation, you perhaps need look no further than the departmental Material Culture Collection. While you may have noticed the exhibits that welcome visitors to the foyer, you should be aware that they are only a fraction of its treasures. Tucked away in the basement are thousands of neatly catalogued pieces, ranging from Prehistoric times to the present.

Delphine Mercier is the Collection’s curator – collection management and care. Educated at the École du Louvre and at Université Paris-Sorbonne, she was head of projects at Patrimoine sans Frontières, and she previously engaged with École du Louvre and other schools as Art History teacher.

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Volunteer Maria Solomou (MA Principles of Conservation) at the UCL Ethnography Collection

When Delphine became curator of the Material Culture Collection, she realized that, although many items were already housed in display cases, others were still ‘homeless’ and awaiting to be assigned to a suitable mounting. Therefore, Delphine started a collaboration with students working towards an MA in ‘Principles of Conservation’ at UCL’s Department of Archaeology, a collaboration which is still alive. During the first term, the students receive practical training in museum mounting. During the second term, they hone their research skills by studying one specific item and by designing and completing the mounting for one other piece in the collection. Alongside their MA assignments, around five students also volunteer two hours per week during term two, and often during term three as well. As volunteers, they design and make boxes for the very diverse types of objects that the collection consists of.

Such boxes allow their contents to be sheltered from environmental stress factors, for instance fluctuations in temperature and humidity rate. Containers can also be purposefully designed to avoid damage to the object. In particular, they allow conservators, researchers or students to inspect objects without handling them, and therefore to detect any conservation problem before it becomes severe.

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UCL Ethnography Collection

Each year the team, headed by Delphine and one project-manager student, focuses on a particular material (leather, basketry) and the conservation challenges it poses. For instance, some bags from Papua New Guinea were chosen because they had been kept in a drawer in such bad conditions that their fibers were at risk of breakage. In order to manufacture a box for a piece that had such irregular shapes, it was necessary to proceed by trial and error, testing what was and what was not suitable for the object.

Thinking through the requirements of a case, such as the support the object needs in order to withstand mechanical pressure, is always a lengthy process, but one that also brings volunteers closer to the materiality of the specimen. This rewards them with a proximity to ethnographic pieces that is by far superior to the one enjoyed by a common museum visitor.

Slowing the deterioration of the collection and acting with reversibility in mind is important if the collection is to be available in the long term not only to UCL students, but also to schools and the broader community. In fact, besides the opportunities outlined above, the Material Cultural Collection offers other volunteers (up to 20 per year) the option to work on school and community initiatives, as well as inventory, documentation, or curation projects.

Delphine welcomes volunteers from the Department of Anthropology, who could engage with their discipline from a different perspective, while working in a professional environment and getting to know other students in a collaborative atmosphere.

Graceful Creature

Fabian - Leah Schrager 2

How can you interact with these people?
I am a graceful creature
13.4 million followers
At least
Would you like to see?
Filtered, distilled, drooping strained creolin across canvasses of vacuous artistry
Loved by every eye that wavers on my form
Retweeted thousands of times across the middle east
Feast your soul on my magnetic relationality, oversubscribed and under-substantiated
Puckered red lips floating into neonate stratagems of excreted marketing algorithms
I give you life, birthed from the smut of posterity, irresistible waist quaking applause
Prostrating frames of sex
Follow me and I will show you all
Through the venation of the bloated crones that rule this state
I want to impale you on the thorns of my crown
The coronation of a limitless nation
Based on love, if that love is for me and I, smothered in the sweet bile of admiration
Words better represented as signified cylindrical urns doused in jealousy, not likes;
Liked by the likes of you, loved by those who do not know how, but pay for unattainable romance
This is my silhouette, this is my profile, a mosaic of tight skin drawn into appeasing poses
Try to touch me and accept that I am more than everything I have told you.

–  Fabian Broeker • MSc Digital Anthropology


Previously published at Digital Culturist

Artwork by Leah Schrager

The Researcher’s Tale: Reflections on Making Ethnography out of Adventures

By Tabea Becker-Bertau • MSc Social and Cultural Anthropology

It was a beef dish. Shining, yellow potatoes and small pieces of meat were swimming in a brownish sauce. It tasted ok – maybe a bit overcooked.
That was what I had when, for the first time in six years, I ate meat.

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The ethnographer at work. The one pictured here is Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim who used ethnographic fieldwork as a disguise for his secret military mission in China – for sure another interesting story to tell.1

This May and June I conducted fieldwork for my graduate dissertation on Turkish migrants in Germany and their homeland political activism. I approached this topic on a local level in the industrial town of Krefeld where I met young, German-born activists of Turkish descent campaigning for the currently ruling Turkish party AKP. I accompanied them to homeland-related political events and – with the help of in-depth interviews – tried to find out more about their personal attachment to Turkey. My time in the field coincided with Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. All of my interlocutors were observing Muslims which meant that for 30 days they would not eat or drink from dawn until sunset. Although tired from fasting, Merve and Emel2, two young women in their early twenties, had agreed to be interviewed on the third day of Ramadan. I came to see them at Merve’s place. Emel arrived shortly after me and the three of us went to sit in the garden. Merve brought some water but none of us drank. I had already switched off the recorder and we had started chatting about upcoming events when Merve’s older sister Memnune arrived home from work. She was shocked: ‘Merve! Why didn’t you serve our guest any food? Didn’t I tell you to do so?’ Memnune rushed into the kitchen and came back with a tray laden with fruits, chocolate – and the above-mentioned beef dish. That was how I found myself eating – politely – what I was offered while three hungry women watched my every bite. That was how I ended up finishing a bowl of overcooked beef with potatoes although I had been a vegetarian for six years.

The story of my change in diet for the sake of good relations in the field will probably stay with me for a long time. It is a funny story to be shared with friends. But is it of any importance to my research? Does it hold any anthropological value?

Anthropology can be considered the discipline of storytelling. Detailed ethnographic accounts shall offer insights into a whole life world, they shall render experiences that differ from our own tangible and intelligible. Furthermore, anthropologists use ethnography to support new theoretical approaches and to bring their material to life so that it will be remembered by their readers, colleagues and students. This is why Carole McGranahan (2015), Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, has argued that we need to appreciate storytelling not only as a multifunctional tool in anthropology but as valuable in itself. What McGranahan is referring to here are the tales that we are told in the field or the stories that we watch unfold in front of our eyes. But what about the stories that happen to ourselves? What about the researcher’s adventure?

In their guide on How to Read Ethnography, Paloma Gay y Blasco and Huon Wardle (2007) stress that researchers’ own feelings and presumptions can be contrasted with the practices and beliefs of their interlocutors. As a result, ideas that we take for generally valid truths are revealed as not as universal as we thought them to be. In my case, it might have been more interesting had I rejected the meat. That day, I was acting according to my own ideas of what was culturally expected from me in this Turkish migrant community. I assumed that – especially in the holy month of Ramadan – I was to value the hospitality I was greeted with at all costs, even if this meant acting against my own values. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe the girls would have appreciated my vegetarianism over my adequate behaviour as their guest. Maybe one of them would have admitted to being a vegetarian herself. In that case, the story could have revealed that our cultural differences are smaller than Germans (including myself) believe them to be.

However, such a deliberate challenging of expectations as described in the scenario above is quite rare. More common are stories of unwanted mistakes. Gay y Blasco and Wardle consider these tales important for establishing the authority of the researcher: Ethnography shall follow the journey of anthropologists gradually learning from their mistakes and growing accustomed to the society that surrounds them. This ultimately legitimates their claim to talk about what they saw in the field, they become experts. The wish to claim this insider’s authority might explain why Jenny B. White (2002:87) includes her own role in the description of women’s lives in an Istanbul neighbourhood:

The day was stiflingly hot. Füsün wasn’t feeling well and was stretched out on one of the couches in the parlor, fanning herself with a newspaper [….] Three women, relatives come to ask about [Füsün’s son’s] wedding arrangements, sat on the other sofa […]. I made tea and served it […] As Füsün’s friend, I took over the role of serving the guests since she was ill.

The excerpt leaves no doubt that the ethnographer has learned how to behave in the field. She has even taken on the role of a close friend!

But there is more to White’s description than the claim of expertise, there is a personal triumph in her lines. Whereas I, during my short-term stay in the field, remained the absolute guest, eating when served, White, probably over a period of years, became a host serving tea in the house of her friend. The stories that we tell about ourselves are more than assertions of arduously acquired insider knowledge, they are more than a means to challenge established stereotypes. They do not always serve such a clear academic purpose but tell our personal adventures of serving tea in Istanbul or eating meat in Krefeld. They are part of the anthropological initiation rite, i.e. the first stay in the field, and – told and retold – they become ‘anthropological folklore’ (Gay y Blasco and Wardle 2007: 149). Our stories are an essential part of becoming and being an anthropologist and, maybe even more than other stories from the field, we should value them in themselves. Yet, it remains questionable how much of our own myths and legends belongs in academic writing, even in this discipline of storytelling.

1http://horsethatleaps.com/ethnographer/

2The names have been changed.


References

Gay y Blasco, Paloma and Huon Wardle. 2007. How to Read Ethnography. Routledge: London and New York.

Carole McGranahan. 2015. ‘Anthropology as Theoretical Storytelling.’ Savage Minds. https://savageminds.org/2015/10/19/anthropology-as-theoretical-storytelling/

White, Jenny B. 2002. Islamist Mobilization in Turkey. A Story in Vernacular Politics. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Apathy, Empathy and Art: Reflections on Engaging Refugee Narratives III

By Alice Klein • BSc Anthropology

In June, the UCL Anthropology Department hosted the Engaging Refugee Narratives III Conference. Jointly organised by Dr Ruth Mandel and Dr Susan Pattie, it brought together academics, artists and advocates who work with and for people described as refugees. Over two days – June 16th and 17th – in conjunction with Refugee Week, the conference explored the ethical and practical concerns of refugee interactions. Through workshops, panel discussions, and general conversation attendees delved into the narrative aspect of refugee engagement.

Left: (L-R) Dr Patricia Spyer, Dr Ruth Mandel and Dr Susan Pattie; Right: Attendees at the conference

I volunteered for the conference again this summer, as I also volunteered last year for the inaugural conference; I was pleased to see some familiar as well as new faces! I had the opportunity to participate and observe, and came away inspired, despondent and hopeful in equal measure.

Some of these narratives shared at the conference cannot be described as anything but horrific. Humans are capable of a casual cruelty that seems almost fantastical but is all too viscerally real. And yet, interspersed with these horrors were moments of joy, seemingly clawed back from a spiral of doom and despair. It is easy to react with pity when thinking of, or interacting with refugees – and have pity be the only emotion associated with that label.

What I have taken from this conference it is that refugees’ narratives contain the breadth of human experience. Occasionally brilliant, all too frequently awful, much of their time is neither – it is simply normal. Their lives are those of people. Just people. And most often their lives, wants, needs, hopes, are as normal as my own. It seems too obvious to admit to, but there is a part of my most selfish self which fails to recognise this. I suspect I am not alone in this. Empathising with refugees needs to go deeper than mere pity. Pity directed at refugees is as productive as disdain. It achieves nothing. Acknowledging and celebrating their everyday lives, their essential normality is just as important as conveying the horrors they have fled, and may still experience. Their current mundane ordinariness is as important academically as their past – and just as academically and socially relevant.

Lunch, conversation and some sunshine!

People are made into refugees: politically, bureaucratically and socially. A label bestowed unto them which they can never quite lose, becoming the sum total of their identity. This process which is indifferent to the nuance of individuality and ultimately, a cruelty in and of itself. Refugee status is an abstraction from society, an invisible delineation separating them from ‘everyone else’. The Calais Jungle and the detention centres here in the UK exemplify the actual physical barriers that corral refugees; their actual physical isolation embodies and creates their social isolation. Refugees as a group are not present, are kept from being present, within our communal social lives.

I believe that the apathy towards refugees stems from this lack of presence. It may flare up (or down) into reactionary negativity, or, when confronted by the corpse of a dead child washed up on a European beach, a flurry of righteous soul-searching and donations. Perhaps the refugee crisis has gone so long unanswered that we have reached compassion fatigue. The refugees are the crisis, an amorphous, dehumanised whole which cannot be sublimated or assimilated. No longer people, but rather a single talking point, to be bandied about rhetorically.

image4-21It was apt then that a key theme of the conference was how artistic media can be used to convey narratives that connect with their audience on a more emotional level. Where the cold hard facts may shock and horrify, individual, personal stories may connect on a deeper level. Many of the questions raised by attendees were around artistic licence and representation: how true does an artist illustrating a story need to be to the facts? How much input should an individual have on their story? Is it still their story? Are they co-authors or source material?

Relative to last years’ conference, the discussions have moved beyond the ethics of representing and advocating for refugees, and into the ethics of the representations themselves. It cannot be denied that these representations are political, with an intended audience and an expected reaction. Staying faithful to these human stories while also inciting empathy in a fatigued, apathetic audience is a delicate balance, without a clear solution.

However, I am convinced that it is through photography, comics, and other artistic media that the connection between refugees and non-refugees can be forged. Art, in all its forms is a common human tendency, and can engage on a baser level than perhaps a – no doubt excellent – long form article about camp conditions in Turkey, for example. It has its place and is valuable, though comes with the caveat to be mindful of its pitfalls.

Attendees taking part in workshops

I am reminded of something which struck me at last year’s conference, which I felt again this year: everyone at the conference was effectively in agreement. I did wonder if the ‘echo chamber’ effect was at play, and everyone, myself included, broadly agreed with one another because we were all present. We had chosen to attend a conference which champions the rights and dignity of refugees – we were with our people – and so we accepted the views of our fellow attendees as our own. I am not criticising the conference, its aims, and its results. Engaging Refugee Narratives is an academic conference, yet it cannot be denied that its subject is intensely political, and I do wonder to what extent our personal politics affected our academic conclusions. I don’t know whether it did, and if so, whether that was necessarily wrong.

Regardless, the value and importance of the conference cannot be underestimated. Over the last two years the conferences have been the cause for some of my own personal reflection. If only one other human being has been helped by it, then I would consider it a success. I must believe the conference has stimulated and supported those who attended it, so that they may support refugees. And I fervently hope these methods of narrative outreach can and will stimulate public interest and engagement, instead of relying on more bodies washing up on foreign shores.


Engaging Refugee Narratives – information, access and contact:
http://www.refugeenarratives.com/
For more information, and to get involved with Refugee Week:
http://refugeeweek.org.uk/

Osteology in Transylvania: Putting Back a Missing Piece of the Puzzle

By Yiran He • BSc Anthropology

The Transylvanian area in central Romania is more than a famous site for tourists and history lovers. It is also an exciting spot for bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists. Between the 15th and the 17th century, South-Eastern Europe has been the site of constant battles for territory between several countries including the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Empire. For more than three centuries, Transylvanians were not only under severe physical pressure but also torn between varying political and religious authorities. In addition to human skeletons remaining from these agitated times, more remains from the medieval era can be found buried under local churches. Although excavation work of these medieval cemeteries has been conducted previously, relevant bioarchaeological analysis of those burials has been almost forgotten. These blank spots in research have intrigued Andre Gonciar, Director of ArchaeoTek Canada, and Dr. Jonathan Bethard, Assistant Professor in Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology at the University of South Florida. After realising the educational and research value of this large collection of skeletal materials held by local museums from ongoing excavations, they set up an osteology summer school in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Transylvania in collaboration with Nyárádi Zsolt from the local Haáz Rezsoo Múzeum.

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The field of excavation (Credit: Ashley Curtis)

This summer field school has by now been successfully run for five years since 2013. It is intended to equip students who are interested in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology with adequate knowledge, skills and hands-on experience in the analysis of human remains using material uncovered at the sites. The school runs throughout the whole summer with several different workshops on both archaeological excavation techniques in the field, and skills of osteological analysis in the lab.

The excavation workshops in the field are led by Dr. Katie Zejdlik from Western Carolina University. Students registered for the Medieval Cemetery Funerary Excavation Workshop would conduct excavations at four local churches under the instructions of Dr. Zejdlik and her field assistant. While enjoying a breathtaking view from top of the hill, field students learnt how to plan an excavation, identify skeletal elements and take field notes by discussing with their group mates as well as from the instruction of field tutors. In addition, the burials that have been discovered by tutors and students in the field have helped the local museum’s researchers to gain a clearer understanding of the overall distribution of cemeteries at the sites.

image2-19Dr. Jonathan Bethard is the tutor for the lab group. Based in a neat villa just 200 metres away from the hotel we stayed in, the lab group received mixed types of trainings such as lectures, small-group tutorials, lab study, lab projects and data collection. I joined the lab group throughout June this summer. Every morning, Dr. Bethard would give a two-hour lecture on different topics, followed by study time downstairs in the lab in the afternoon with material previously uncovered by other field groups. The first two weeks’ lectures and study consisted of a detailed introduction to the important features on every single bone in the human body along with techniques on how to estimate age and sex. During he following two weeks, Dr. Bethard would cover a wide range of issues in the field of bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology, from paleopathology to the application of forensic techniques in mass disasters. After obtaining the basic skills of osteological analysis, students were divided into groups and assigned different burials from the field to help collect osteological data and construct biological profiles. Throughout the lab sessions, Dr. Bethard and his lab assistant Ashley Curtis were always approachable and willing to answer questions. Interesting pathological changes in the skeletons occurred often, which always caused a few minutes of excited discussions among students and tutors.

At the end of the day, lab students would usually gather in front of the villa and practice a little “meditation” for bioarchaeologists – washing the bones of the skeletons uncovered. Every bone lover in the lab considered this moment as a time for escaping from a long day of research, a time for chatting, sun-bathing and relaxing. Nevertheless, not even then did the study and discussion of skeletal structures stop.

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Dr. Jonathan Bethard

Without doubt, the most stressful but also most exciting part of the lab work would be the bone quizzes. Every Thursday and Friday morning, the first thing we would do was stand around the tables, staring at a piece of bone fragment (normally less than 25% of a whole bone) in front of us. We had one minute to identify a bone fragment and its important features, something that would take an expert like Dr. Bethard less than 15 seconds. Sometimes a strange piece of non-human elements — bone fragments of a pig, a hen or a roasted rock — would be mixed among the questions to confuse us. Although our results were somehow frustrating at first, the four weeks of training saw an amazing improvement in everyone in the lab, which has been a great encouragement.

We were also very lucky to meet some other great forensic anthropologists during the workshop. Dr. Alexandra Klales, who developed a widely-used sex estimation method using nonmetric pelvis traits, and Dr. Nicholas Passalacqua, a Board-Certified forensic anthropologist, visited our workshop during the first week. They also helped us with our lab study and gave us lectures on graduate study and careers in forensic anthropology. Towards the end of the workshop, we also had a chance to meet Dr. Michelle Miranda, Forensic Scientist and Criminalist specialising in forensic tattoos. Many of us were among the 35.8 thousand followers of her Instagram page. It was a fantastic chance to talk to these great minds about cutting-edge research ideas and careers in this field.

Life after a long day of lab work and lessons was a lot of fun, too. Situated in a quiet town image4-23in the heart of Transylvania, our hotel was surrounded by peony flowers, vines and wooden swings. The beautifully-decorated garden was always a wonderful place for revising for bone quizzes, sharing pizzas and playing with cats. ArchaeoTek also organised several tours around Transylvania during the weekends, so we had a chance o visit several fascinating local churches and the renowned city of Brasov which was famous for vampire legends and Brad Pitt.

Even without any air-conditioners, every student seemed to be really enjoying this experience. Tanya Ramos, an undergraduate student of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said ‘I’m really glad that I decided to attend this field session.’ She hopes to work as a forensic anthropologist in the future, helping with forensic identification at the southeast border in Florida, ‘Although this field school is definitely more fast-paced than normal university lessons, Dr. Bethard organised the lectures and labs really well. He is also very passionate about what he does, which is quite inspiring. Besides, this workshop helps me to network with peers and professors, which is very important for the field. I can also relate more with other lab pals because we are interested in the same things.’

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Lab mates and lab assistant Ashley Curtis

Of course, Dr. Bethard and his colleagues have greater aspirations for studies done in the workshops. For a long time, the bioarchaeology of the Transylvanian region has been a missing piece to the complete picture of Europe’s demography. By collecting and analysing a sufficient amount of bioarchaeological data of skeletons from this region, they are looking to add the bioarchaeology of this region to the broader conversation on life of various European populations. They also wanted to help local people to understand what their ancestors had been by studying site-specific demography, religious practices of burials and stresses their ancestors experienced. Identifying bone fragments is like a process of putting back the pieces of a puzzle with the correct reasoning, and the work in this osteology research workshop will contribute to putting the missing piece – Transylvania – back into the bioarchaeological puzzle of Europe.


*For ethical reasons, pictures of the real bones are not allowed to be taken or posted.

*For more information, please see: www.archaeotek-archaeology.org

Filmmakers Addressing the Roots of Human Rights Violations in Liberia

By Shosha Adie • BSc Anthropology

image1-17The Land Beneath our Feet was one of the main screenings at this year’s Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) film festival, an annual event that celebrates ethnographic filmography. Despite not being a prize winner, it was highlighted by the judges for taking the subject of land tenure and ‘putting it together in a very propelling format.’ Set in Monrovia, the vibrant capital of Liberia, a country still healing from over a decade of civil war, it paints a picture of a nation trying to recover their identity despite their colonial roots and embeddedness within the global economy today. With its missing history, destroyed during the war, the landscape is the holder of these memories, and conflict is quick to ignite in disputes where land ownership is involved.

As part of a reporter internship with the RAI, I was given the opportunity to both interview the film’s father, Gregg Mitman, who holds a distinguished Chair at the Wisconsin-Madison university in the US, and meet London-based cinematographer Sarita Siegel who acted as director. What they illuminated to me, and what I would like to share with you, is the intrinsic importance of land for national identity and how films can inspire real change.

We learn from the film that for Liberians, land ‘belongs to the living… to those who are already dead, and those who are yet to be born. It does not belong to one person.’ At present, Liberia is trying to push a Land Rights Bill that will legitimise community rights to land, and protect customary land owners from falling prey to commercial businesses who already exploit over a million hectares of Liberian soil for profit. Learning about this ongoing struggle is important for Professor Gregg Mitman, who sees this movement in Liberia as a ‘microcosm’ for the global scale of land grabs and land dispossession.

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The film follows student, Emmanuel Urey’s, journey to discover more about his homeland, which he had left for the US during the Liberian civil wars. This time he is coming back with footage, taken years before war even broke out, captured by Harvard students contemporaneously as one of the first commercial land grabs was being conducted in 1926, by major rubber company, Firestone. When shown in America this footage was criticised for ‘reinscribing racism’ but to Urey and his family, Mitman was surprised to find, ‘This was like home movies. It was about kinship.’ After witnessing people’s reactions to the archive, he realised that ‘there was a film to be made in this’, not just a book, and called up director Sarita Siegel.

‘We kind of constructed it as we went along.’ I was told by Siegel, ‘You know, as a filmmaker you’re always thinking forwards and backwards and sideways… There is a lot of stories in this film and a lot of layers of history… with the loss of elders, came the loss of respect for the oral tradition. Where you get the past being swept away, and the present sweeping in with all its rigidity and laws and written statutes… memories are being swept away.’

When releasing the film, they were worried that people in Liberia might be hesitant about making the entire archive available for the public since it shows forced labour, and for its potential to reignite ethnic conflict, but Mitman tells me that, ‘in fact that wasn’t the case. I was very hesitant about the medical photographs, but again they said it should be made public… a real difference in what my expectations and political assumptions were versus how that material was perceived in Liberia.’

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Their ethical conscience was also challenged during the Ebola outbreak of Summer 2014. The film crew were in Monrovia when the first Ebola deaths occurred and, completely dismayed with the international news coverage surrounding the outbreak, realised they had to shed light on what was actually happening on the ground. Sarita left after a few weeks, followed by Urey and Mitman. Filmmaker, Alex Waipah, stayed and captured the events that unfurled. Sarita remembers she had to drop everything to help make the Ebola film: ‘You cut it down and cut it down and you eventually get to a point where you think it’s ethically right.’ I’ve included the finished project here, but note that it contains very distressing and emotional content. Neither filmmaker describes what happened as a drawback, but instead as a tragedy that struck very close to home. Despite common preconceptions about governmental regulation in African countries, they had no problems with visas, and held a strong support network throughout the process of filmmaking, from both the US and Liberia.

Though the land rights act has faced numerous challenges within the Liberian legislature, which is why we still haven’t seen a result. This year there has been a massive push to get it legitimised since it needs to be passed before the next election or it may never happen. The European Union has backed their pledge, realising the importance of customary land ownership for both women’s rights and national heritage, as Liberian locals reclaim their land from the commercial corporations that currently exploit it.

Both filmmakers stressed that the meaning behind a film comes from what people make of it. The main Liberian land authority in Monrovia has been very supportive with their work on The Land Beneath Our Feet, and will potentially use the footage help educate people about land rights issues. Parts have even been taken up by rising Liberian political artists in their work. What we can do to help indigenous awareness movements is support charities such as Survival International who recognise that indigenous land rights are one of the most basic and integral human rights. We also have the power to prevent big brands from exploiting the global south by simply spending our money elsewhere, and raising awareness so that others do the same.


1http://thelandbeneathourfeet.com/media/

2http://intheshadowofebola.com/film/

3http://www.survivalinternational.org/

4https://www.behindthebrands.org/

*All images courtesy of http://thelandbeneathourfeet.com