Flavin's Corner

9-15-00

What Crap!

Last week the British science journal Nature published a report ("Biochemical evidence of cannibalism at a prehistoric Puebloan site in southwestern Colorado," by Marlar et al, Nature, 407, 74-78, 2000) on the presence of human myoglobin in a coprolite (fossilized excrement) from c. 1150 CE. The authors argue the ancient Anasazi (or the Hopi Hisatsimon: "the people of long ago") practiced a limited tradition of eating people and a recovered specimen of 850-year-old feces proves it. What crap! Having a turd survive for so long is embarrassing enough without finding evidence of really aberrant behavior! Though this appears to be another breakthrough in scientific methodology, I must extend my sympathy to Native Americans, who are uncomfortable with folks digging through the toilets of long-dead relatives. Is nothing sacred? Actually, no…


Samoset--Gloucester, MA; Summer 2000.

There are a variety of reasons for an occurrence of anthropophagy and the authors mention (see the Nature article above, p. 77): "…starvation, ancestor worship and political terrorism." While these suggestions may suffice for a historical reconstruction of the Anasazi, as well as continue the application of "cannibal" (as derived from early European encounters with the Carib nation) when discussing Native Americans, it does not take in mind such psychosexual deviancy as perpetrated by Jeffrey Dahmer. Now, this is not to claim the Anasazi were attempting to make sex-zombies in their pueblos and occasionally snacked on failed experiments, but what if they were? It would be historical minutia and nothing more.

Taboos exist in all cultures and are subject to change without notice. Sometimes it gets a little tricky having to guess whether it's permissible to take a life, what to have for dinner, or who to go to bed with. So many rules! I personally hold that current laws are temporally nonspecific, transitory, and constantly changing. Sure, the standards against murder, incest, bestiality, and voting Republican are better than theoretical anarchism, but not by much. In my handbook the only real crime would be anything which threatens humanity, as despite the metaphors of Heaven and reincarnation, or the guesses of extraterrestrial life, if indeed we are the only means for the universe to experience itself, then threatening that arrangement would be the ultimate failure. Some acts bother us more than others and much of that reaction depends on what club we've joined.

Native Americans have been outspoken in their criticism against genetic testing, even though science struggles against radical and racist claims, various Native nations have attacked science and consider it invasive, unspiritual, and non-applicable to their view of reality and the world they inhabit. Oh, those clever Mormons who swear Native Americans are actually ancient Hebrews who sailed here thousands of years ago, and when Jesus Christ showed up (after he was through with Palestine) and they didn't believe he was divine, got their skins burned dark as punishment. Hey, such claims are harmless, right? Perhaps, it's better to leave such ideas to others and go check out the latest films by John Travolta or Tom Cruise. You know, those influential Scientologists who believe an evil alien came to Earth a long time ago, messed with early humans, and only lots of cash and uber-Scientologists can remove the alleged effects. Sometimes you have to approach believers, smile, and say, "Sorry, but your beliefs don't work for me!" This isn't about whether ketchup or mustard is better on a hotdog (…mustard), but whether science works and can be trusted.

We are fragile, needy, and often angry creatures. Our diversities cloud our similarities and the ensuing storms are perfect only in their arrogance. It's said mathematics and the related discipline of astronomy are the only exact sciences; anthropology, biology, geology, and other studies are vulnerable to attack, as they lack the exactitude of arithmetical precision. I'll never comprehend a parent refusing modern medicine to treat a child because a belief God doesn't approve. Honestly, I don't understand the denial of science (and associated studies) by believers, except that they might feel science could overtake their beliefs. That's a shame… We must balance science, respect for each other, a guardianship of the planet and its various species, with SMACKDOWN WRESTLING, uneven pop-trends, stem-cell research, with a likelihood the next two Star Wars episodes will not feature significant nudity. It's a big planet and we are a small (-minded) people…

Cannibals? Sad and wrong, to be sure, but …there's that starvation clause I'd be lying about if I didn't admit to allowing a possibility regardless of peer-ethos. Oh, and if anyone ever really hurt me or mine and I was in a position to rip a heart out, chomp a bite, and spit disdainfully, I'd hope no one was watching. But, to confess the obvious, we only pick our noses when others are watching.

Allegations of the practice of anthropophagy among certain southwestern Native Americans have been around for over twenty years, notably in the efforts of Prof. Christy G. Turner II (anthropology, Arizona State University). Turner's earlier papers drew attention to the condition of bones recovered from an Anasazi site with what appeared to be de-fleshing abrasions and were negatively critiqued by Native Americans, as well as skeptical scientists. Even with later evidence of human blood in a cooking pot, most scoffed at the allegations and believed them to be sensational and unfounded. Turner's Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the prehistoric American Southwest (Utah: Univ. of Utah Press, 1999), co-written with his late wife, Jacqueline, argues human flesh eating was introduced by marauding gangs from Mesoamerica, most probably affiliated with the Toltecs or Aztecs, cultures who practiced ritualistic anthropophagy. And, now comes the biochemical evidence of a human muscle protein in a coprolite…

While anthropologists regret the recent murder of an Amazonian tribesman who belonged to one of the last formally uncontacted peoples on the planet, some scientists propose apes and monkeys be granted basic civil rights, as they display signs of society and culture. The issue of Kenniwick Man remains unresolved, though with the ruling on Spirit Cave Dude, we may see movement soon. I must marvel at our commitment to better understand who we are and our place in the universe. If only we had crap which could provide insights into other areas…

Flushing twice,

Rick

 

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