Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)


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How Rousseau Predicted Trump

If you read enough of the Very Short Introductions in a row, some of these facts, gleaned from different books, collide with one another and do interesting things—coalesce, contradict, form big, thudding major chords or eerie minor ones. But these encounters happen only in your mind; the series is not designed to put its subjects into any particular relationship.

On the contrary: unlike Pliny and the Christian encyclopedists and, in his way, Diderot, the Very Short Introductions abandon taxonomy entirely. There is no hierarchy in them, no genealogy or chronology or organizing principle of any other kind. This is one reason, apart from the fun of it, that there are so many lists in this piece. Initially, what dazzles about the Very Short Introductions collection is its apparent diversity—World Music! The Tudors! Animal Rights!

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Very Short Introductions - Wikipedia

Some of these are likely to be remedied by the arrival of future volumes, since they are merely the consequence of carving up the world wherever the knife happens to fall. Other omissions, however, appear to be deliberate—for example, the somewhat comic failure of the series to cover athletics. Your odds of ever reading one on football or basketball or Nascar are not good, since only about twenty-five per cent of the introductions are commissioned in the United States, and a certain British bias persists in the choice of subjects. When I spoke with the series editor, Nancy Toff, she had just completed an assignment—given to her by her U.

But other gaps in the series are more entrenched, and more insidious. In fact, of the fifty-four individuals featured in the series all but a handful are white and none are women. The editors say that this is because the biographical introductions were grandfathered in from the Past Masters series, and that they rarely commission books on individual people anymore. But that is a choice, not a law, and, whatever the logic behind it, it leads the series to implicitly endorse the same position as millennia worth of other omnibus projects: that the experiences and the contributions of women and people of color barely belong even in the vast inventory of everything worth knowing.

Why is baseball important? For that matter, why is Russian Literature important? Why is the Silk Road important? Why—intellectually speaking, not as a practical matter—are Teeth important? Put differently, what do we gain or hope to gain by reading books about all this stuff? The larger any compilation of knowledge gets, the more it forces us to confront the question of what, exactly, so much knowledge is for. Is it meant to glorify God? Perhaps, yet it creeps equally close to blasphemy; omniscience, after all, is the purview of the divine.

Is it to impress an emperor, or a boss, or a date? Does it make us happy and virtuous, as Diderot hoped? Not on the evidence of Diderot himself, who suffered poverty and a prison sentence, was deserted by countless friends, and cheated rampantly on his wife. Does it make us wise? Not always. You can know everything there is to know about volcanoes and still die in one. The classic defense of knowledge, as a hundred thousand inspirational posters will tell you, is that it is power. But, as a hundred thousand cultural theorists will counter, the relationship between those two terms is complicated: power is, among other things, the power to determine what counts as knowledge.

Since roughly the middle of the last century, that kind of clout, which used to rest with the church and the state, has devolved to a considerable degree onto the academy. Accordingly, modern omnibus projects tend to reflect the ideas and ideals of the university and often, as with the Very Short Introductions, to be a direct product of them. The point of collecting, organizing, and disseminating a shared body of information—what E. Mere protection often turned into active promotion, in the form of various initiatives intended to spread Western values.

From that perspective, projects like the Very Short Introductions seem like a kind of epistemological imperialism: an effort to dictate to the entire world what among its wild array of contents is worthy of our study. That criticism, while merited, has its limits.


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The academy is not like the Catholic Church or an autocratic state, which has precious little room for contested ideas. It is, instead, a relatively open and cosmopolitan intellectual arena, one far more likely to help us understand and embrace new ideas than to obliterate them. This is an ancient notion. Ever since Aristotle, people have argued over whether accurate information produces appropriate action—that is, whether knowing the right thing reliably makes us do the right thing. Medical and Healthcare Law. Allied Health Professions.

Clinical Medicine. History of Medicine. Preclinical Medicine. Public Health and Epidemiology. Biological Sciences. Computer Science. Earth Sciences and Geography. Engineering and Technology.

Environmental Science. History of Science and Technology. Materials Science. Business and Management. Criminology and Criminal Justice. Human Geography. Research and Information. Social Work. Warfare and Defence. Thought: A Very Short Introduction. Google Preview. Read More. Subscriber sign in. Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution. Subsistence — the quest for food — is the most fundamental necessity of human life, and archaeology has developed many ways to investigate the clues to what people ate. The vast majority of these clues take the form of animal and plant remains that may be found in a human occupation site, and which are studied by zooarchaeologists and archaeobotanists respectively.

They are indeed sometimes the residues of food that has been consumed — but not necessarily all of them. Plants, for example, can be used for many other purposes, from raw materials to drugs; animals yield useful substances such as bone, antler, horn, ivory, fat, sinew, hides, and furs; and birds offer bones and feathers. In addition, many organic remains, especially those of animals 31 and birds, could have been brought into the site by other predators, or they could represent pets though dogs and guinea pigs were eaten by some cultures in the past, and still are in some parts of the world.

The only indisputable proof that a plant or animal was actually eaten is its presence in a human stomach or coprolite fossil turd. It is unlikely but always theoretically possible that, for example, the occupants of a palaeolithic site full of reindeer bones were vegetarians who just happened to hate reindeer! Or who needed lots of bone, antler, and hides, but detested the meat. Archaeology Even if the assumption can plausibly be made that the remains are of food, there are further challenges to be met. In recent years, sophisticated new techniques have been developed which can detect and often identify food residues on tools and inside vessels.

A litre Sumerian jar from a site called Godin Depe, in western Iran, dating to c. In Britain, on the other hand, ancient pots tend to contain less stimulating substances, such as residues of cabbage. Where animal remains are concerned, they too may only represent a small fraction of what was originally present: bones could be cleared out of the site, used for tools, boiled for stock, or eaten by dogs or pigs. Recent reappraisals of 33 How Did People Live? They may be correct, but we really have no way of knowing; like so many things in archaeology it comes down to a question of faith and personal preference.

We know only too well from recent cases that cannibalism can certainly arise among people desperate for survival e. Chemical analysis of residues in vessels has revealed such substances as milk, cheese, and fat. However, no matter how full the evidence from art and texts, they give a very short-term view of subsistence. The same is true of evidence recovered by hardy souls with strong stomachs from the alimentary tracts of preserved bodies or from human turds.

The Body: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)

Teeth are made of two of the hardest tissues in the body, so they usually survive in good condition. Microscopic examination of their surfaces reveals abrasions and scratches which can be related to meat or vegetation in the diet. As with studies of microwear on tools p. In this way, it has been found that fossil humans seem to have eaten less meat through time, and adopted a more mixed diet. Meals are all very well, but archaeology always likes a long-term view Tooth decay can also be informative, indicating a reliance on starchy and sugary foods.

ISBN 13: 9780192854575

The greatest breakthrough, however, has come through the realization that chemical analysis of human bone collagen can reveal much about long-term diet. So analysis of the collagen can show whether marine or land plants predominated in the diet, and hence land or marine resources of other kinds. The technique is useful for detecting change through time, if human bones from different periods are available. However, introductory books on archaeology generally say little or nothing about the people themselves, concentrating instead on their tools, dwellings, art, and behaviour.

Yet these remains have generally been left to the physical anthropologist to discuss, even though they were excavated by the archaeologist. But whoever does the analysis, the data obtained are of capital importance. Human remains can show the age and sex of the deceased, their appearance, their state of health, sometimes their cause of death, and in some cases even their family relationships.

In the future, new developments in biochemistry and genetics will largely replace the present heavy reliance on bones. The vast majority of surviving human remains are skeletal or cremations. Even in cases where bodies have disappeared, traces of them may be detected. Numerous Archaeology footprints, handprints, and painted hand stencils also exist in the archaeological record. One particularly striking instance of vanished but detectable remains concerns the mystery posed by numerous intact but totally empty pots which have been found buried in the cellars of German houses dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century ad.

Where health is concerned, human remains can be a mine of information. For example, Repetitive Strain Injury is by no means a new phenomenon, and facets on various bones from ancient skeletons can be linked with stresses caused by crouching, load-carrying, or grinding grain. Almost all Egyptian mummies 38 contained parasites which caused amoebic dysentery and bilharzia, and mummies in the New World had whipworm and roundworm eggs. Parasites have also been found in human coprolites and medieval cesspits. There may even be risks for the unwary archaeologist in handling human soft tissue — scabs and viruses can survive, and nobody knows how long microbes can lie dormant.

Infectious micro-organisms may therefore pose real dangers, especially as our immunity to vanished or rare diseases has certainly declined. It would be ironic for an archaeologist to catch something nasty Archaeology from the past, perhaps the ultimate in experimental archaeology! Either he was extremely unpopular, or someone was determined to do a very thorough job. The most ancient intact body to have come down to us is that of the Iceman, found in the Italian Alps in His discovery gained worldwide attention in the media, and immediately triggered some amazing stories, some of them probably apocryphal.

For example, one women claimed it was her father who had disappeared in the mountains — she recognized him from from the press photographs! The Radiocarbon dates of 5, years ago soon put paid to that one. The true facts about the Iceman are actually just as interesting. He was in his mid-to-late 40s. Groups of tattoos on his body — mostly parallel blue lines, half an inch long — may be therapeutic, aimed at relieving the arthritis in his neck, back, and hip. The fact that he was prone to periodic crippling disease probably explains how he succumbed to adverse weather and froze to death.

Many scholars are currently striving to develop explicit procedures for analysing the cognitive aspects of early societies, especially of those for which we have no written texts to help. There are numerous encouraging approaches to this seemingly impossible task. For example, one can investigate how people described and measured their world, how they planned and laid out their monuments and towns, and which materials they prized highly and presumably considered to be 42 symbols of wealth and power.

And in particular, one can tackle the material remains of religion.

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For example, the deliberate burial of humans was long differentiation of the diversity of forms, content, or intention. For many years, art was seen as something which began with modern humans in Europe, i. None of this has stood up to scrutiny. The most striking is a little pebble of volcanic rock, found at Berekhat Ram, an open-air site on the Golan Heights, Israel, in the s. So here, once again, we have clear evidence of 44 recognized, and then deliberately enhanced. Prehistoric art not only has a huge timespan but also comprises a vast 45 How Did People Think?

Some of it is public, on open view out-of-doors; some Archaeology is intensely private, hidden away in recesses or deep caves. In fact this happens in every aspect of archaeology and it is perhaps an inbuilt fault in scholarship that as soon as one stumbles upon what seems like a good idea usually borrowed from someone else, preferably in another discipline , there is an irresistible urge to apply it to everything in sight, and subjugate every aspect of a supremely diverse phenomenon to a steamroller interpretation.

Regardless of these interpretations, all of which probably hold some truth, the fact remains that only the artist can tell you what the art represents and what its purpose was. We cannot be sure of anything. Rock art was certainly used at times to record and transmit information. Things become far easier for the cognitive archaeologist where real scripts are concerned. This is a highly specialized skill, requiring a very particular kind of analytical mind. He was met — like most pioneers — not by congratulations but by indignant howls of denial from fellow specialists.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, and the still undeciphered Linear A of the Aegean and the Indus 48 script of ancient India and Pakistan are still major challenges for enthusiasts who wish to tease their brains. In Classical Greece, on the other hand, literacy was widespread, and writing touched nearly all aspects of life, both private and public, so texts can provide considerable insights — for example, in identifying deities and myths in art without Classical us ; but, as ever, texts also incorporate biases and lack completeness. An entire area of cognitive archaeology is taken up with archaeoastronomy — the study of ancient knowledge of celestial phenomena.

The simplest form of megalith is a single standing stone, like those which Obelix carries around in the Asterix comic strip — 49 How Did People Think? Nevertheless, a number of professional astronomers in the s and s dazzled the largely innumerate archaeological world with complex calculations and jargon designed to prove that prehistoric people had capabilities so profound that they could construct megalithic computers — e.

Stonehenge was a massive, accurate eclipse predictor! However, the most likely explanation is that, rather than resorting to sophisticated mathematics, the monument builders simply used the human pace to put their stones in place. The presence of food in a tomb, however, is a pretty clear indication that its occupant is expected to have a chance to take a snack after death, in the next world, and thus points to some kind of religious belief.

Religion was often used in these societies as another means of maintaining the status quo, but its recognition in archaeological material is not always an easy task, especially where it is embedded in everyday activities. Cult images and symbols can be apparent, together with depictions of people in what looks to our eyes like an act of adoration, while votive offerings of food or objects often broken or hidden may be found.

Finally, important religious buildings or centres are often associated with great wealth in contents and decoration. Any of these items on its own will not tell one very much, but if a number of them are found together, in a single archaeological context, then a cognitive archaeologist is on reasonably solid ground in interpreting the evidence as involving a cult usage. It is highly unlikely — though theoretically possible — that all this material ended up in the waters through carelessness rather than through ritual deposition. All in all, therefore, cognitive archaeology can make some valid assessments of minds which are long vanished from this earth.

In other areas, however, it requires enormous optimism, and involves a triumph of mind over matter. At its best, it provides stimulating hypotheses based on historical or modern information — especially from the accounts of the Conquistadors or early missionaries and colonizers — or on careful deductions from the material remains themselves. It is only after discovering this basic information that one can move on to more complex questions involving the type of society they lived in. Basically, it is any spot on the landscape with detectable traces of human activity, or what an archaeologist believes to be human activity.

Of course, not all sites are dwelling places — for example, they may be butchering areas, or quarries for raw materials, or burials, or monuments, or rock-art sites, or sacred places where worship took place occasionally. In order to ask the 55 right questions of the material, and to devise the means to answer them, one needs to assess the size or scale of the society, and what its internal organization was. There is little point in searching for signs of complex centralized organization in an early hunter-gatherer camp! Archaeologists love to divide their data into different categories, for the sake of simplicity and to make the huge morass of information more manageable.

They often move around with 56 the seasons, exploiting primarily or exclusively wild resources, so their sites tend to be seasonally occupied camps, together with smaller, more specialized activity areas such as kill or butchery sites, or work sites for making tools, often of stone. Depending on their surroundings, they live in cave entrances or rock shelters, or construct temporary shelters of organic materials such as wood, bone, or hides. The base-camps are generally more substantial than the temporary or specialized sites.

This kind of settlement is associated with the Palaeolithic period of the Old World, and the PaleoIndian period of the New. They occupy settled agricultural homesteads or villages, which collectively form a settlement pattern of fairly evenly spaced sites of similar size — in other words, there is no settlement that appears to dominate. They are based on a ranking system, with prestige determined by how closely related one is to the chief, so there is no true class structure as yet.

It is the chief who is the linch-pin of the whole system, employing craft specialists, and redistributing to his retainers and subjects the offerings of crafts and foodstuffs that are periodically paid to him it is usually a he. Naturally, chiefs and their relatives or chums tend to have very rich grave-goods buried with them.

Either way, their life is based residences, and craft specialists. Of course, taxes are paid in the midst of life we are in debt , so inevitably a bureaucracy is required in the central capital to administer such things: the complex redistribution of tribute and revenue to government, army, and craft Archaeology specialists is one of the crucial features. Archaeologically, one can identify an urban settlement pattern, with cities playing a prominent role — typically a large population centre with more than 5, inhabitants, and containing big public buildings and temples.

One can often perceive a settlement hierarchy, with the capital at the heart of a network of subsidiary centres and small villages. Archaeologists normally obtain their information about settlement pattern from a thorough study of what has already been found in an area over the years.

However, in terra incognita, or in a region where a really thorough picture is required, the solution comes from a survey: i. The concentrations of material, and their type, give some indication of the kind of sites involved, their size, time-span, and number — and, in some cases, of the hierarchy of settlements. They may be given provisional 58 labels such as regional centre, local centre, village, hamlet, homestead, base-camp, or specialized activity area.

Some archaeologists have extended this approach to cover whole landscapes. Bureaucrats have always been sticklers for keeping records. At the other end of the scale, in sites left by mobile bands, the only record available is the archaeological one. In living areas delimited by the walls of a cave or rock shelter, the occupation deposits may be deep, built up over centuries or even many millennia, so excavation needs to focus primarily on the vertical aspect — the superimposed layers, and how their contents change through time.

In rare cases where one can distinguish a single, short phase of occupation at a site, it is even possible to gain some insights into precisely what people did and where, thanks to the location of artefacts, tool-making debris, animal bones, and so forth. In most sites, however, one cannot distinguish single short occupations, and instead excavators recover the accumulated evidence from repeated activities at the site over a period ranging from brief to lengthy, and with possible contributions from predators.

However, this has never stopped archaeologists from using the wishful thinking for which they are Archaeology renowned, and interpreting this material as if it were all from a single moment, frozen in time, like Pompeii or a shipwreck. In segmentary societies, survey and excavation are the basic approaches to locating sites and determining their layout and extent.

Usually, in a village, some structures are excavated completely, with others being sampled to gain some idea of the range of variation. Are they all similar dwellings, or are there more specialized buildings? Within the houses, it may be possible to recognize areas for cooking, sleeping, eating, etc, and perhaps zones used by males and by females. The analysis of grave goods or the degree of elaboration in tombs can reveal much about incipient differentiation in social status in segmentary societies, although it is not always easy to distinguish achieved status from inherited status.

However, if children are buried 60 with great wealth, it is a reasonable supposition that they inherited it rather than acquired it. Another major source of information for these societies is their public monuments — such as the causewayed enclosures and earthen burial mounds of Neolithic Britain.

For example, lines drawn halfway between the communal burial mounds long barrows divide up the landscape into roughly equal territories, suggesting that each monument was a focal point for social activities and the main burial It has been reckoned that a group of 20 people would have needed about 50 days to construct one of these long earthen mounds, which seem to have served egalitarian societies. On the other hand, the enclosures large circular monuments with concentric ditches seem to be foci and periodic meeting places for a larger group of people, presumably drawn from several of these small territories — some contain stone axes that came from far-away sources.

Each camp required about , hours of labour, or people working for 40 days. They made their own entertainment in those days. This suggests the mobilization of large numbers of people, perhaps , working full time for a year or more, drawn from a bigger area. In segmentary societies, craft production was primarily organized at the household level, and village sites may be found to contain pottery kilns, or slag from metalworking.

However, it is in the more centralized societies of chiefdoms and states that one can see whole quarters of towns and cities devoted almost entirely to specialized crafts — stoneworking, potting, leatherworking, textiles, brewing, metal- and glassworking, and suchlike. It is an interesting exercise to imagine the city where you live today as an abandoned ruin, with extraterrestrial archaeologists wandering around it, trying to guess what they are looking at: they too would be able to make some basic deductions fairly Archaeology safely, though they might be thrown by bizarre items like photo booths, multiplex cinemas, and laundromats, all of which might look suspiciously like ritual foci.

One of the fundamental distinguishing features of centralized societies is the disparity between rich and poor, not simply in terms of basic wealth but also in access to resources, facilities, and status: in other words, in social ranking. As mentioned above, one can easily detect differences in residences and material wealth. The conspicuous display of obscene wealth is not a creation of Forbes or the Tatler, but goes back to the Pyramids and beyond. Always bear in mind that Tutankhamun was a young and minor pharaoh, so what must the treasures buried with the great ones have been like?

The mind boggles. What brought about the changes that can be seen in ancient societies, in the archaeological record? The variety is in part related to the different perceptions and preconceptions of the practitioners. In any case, different archaeologists are trying to explain different things, depending on the period, the time-scale, the type of site or the problem in which they are interested. Someone dealing with the changing distribution of Ice Age sites is likely to use a different approach from someone studying the clay tobacco pipes of a few centuries ago.

Fortunately, there are plenty from which to choose. Everything had to be made more explicit: all underlying assumptions were laid bare, together with the reasoning that lay behind every stage of the interpretative process. For example, some archaeologists in Germany, where very little attention has been devoted to theory, tend to consider the theoreticians as eunuchs at an orgy especially as they are most uncertain to have any successors.

For example, 66 the idea of evolution, put forward most clearly by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species in , provided a plausible explanation for the origin and development of humankind which had an immediate impact on the archaeologists of the time, and helped lay the foundations for the study of the typology of artefacts p. In the social sphere too, schemes of human progress were developed in the s, with both Edward Tylor in Britain and Lewis Morgan in America proposing that human societies had evolved from a state of savagery primitive hunting through barbarism simple farming to civilization seen as the highest form of society.

There is sometimes also a fourth stage, that of decadence. He focused not only on how cultures interact with each other, but also on how the 67 How and Why Did Things Change? The British prehistorian Grahame Clark, from the s onwards, also developed an ecological approach which departed from the traditional artefact-dominated archaeology of his contemporaries; his emphasis on how human populations adapted to their environments led him to collaborate with all kinds of specialists who could identify plant and animal remains and reconstruct past environment and subsistence in great detail.

This pioneering work laid the foundations for an entire branch of modern archaeology. So it was possible to move on to, or devote far more Archaeology attention to, really challenging questions rather than simply chronological or cultural ones. Stone tools or pottery types had almost come to be seen as synonymous with peoples, moving around and interbreeding to produce new types and patterns. First, it encouraged scholars to be more optimistic or even idealistic about the kinds and quantity of information that could be extracted from the material traces of the past.

It led to all stages of archaeological reasoning being made more explicit, so that an idea should no longer be accepted simply because X, a recognized authority or venerated master of the subject, had put it forward. Every argument must be based on a framework of logic, and on sound, testable assumptions.

Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Thought: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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