Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Post Number One

Starting a blog and keeping up with it can be very hard, something which I know only too well, as I started one less than 6 months ago and only posted once. However, this time I plan to stick at it, and to help me, i've decided to widen the scope of the whole thing...... I will literally talk about anything that interests me :)

So, i'm going to dive straight in.....

Last night BBC 4 showed a documentary detailing the events of a lengthy anthropological survey carried out during the 1960's and 70's. The subjects of this research were the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon Basin, a people who up until that time, had received no contact with the outside world.

Now being an archaeology student, anthropology is closely tied with my subject and I naturally find it interesting, but I also studied anthropology at college and in particular I looked at the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, perhaps one of the world's most famous anthropologists and undoubtedly the father of modern anthropology (he's got nothing to do with jeans though!)

Anyway, At the time the research with the Yanumami was hailed as ground breaking, and it catapulted the various anthropologists involved to a degree of academic fame and success, namely; Napoleon Chagnon, and Jacques Lizot. Lizot was a kind of protégée to Levi-Strauss, and as a result was backed by a fairly strong academic contingent, as well as the French government.

Perhaps this is what allowed the members of the anthropological team to take such shocking liberties with the Yanomami such as...

1) introducing measles to the population, and then spreading it around carelessly between villages.

2) giving the locals steel axes to replace their stone axes, as well as other tools / foreign influences.

3) One anthropologist married one of the Yanomami girls who was just 13, and took her back to America, justifying it with "she was old enough within the constrains of her own society"

4) Lizot himself, a closet homosexual, introduced anal sex to the Yanomami, often practising it with young boys, in exchange for western luxuries. Before the team of anthropologists arrived, the indians had no word for anal sex at all.

5) Chagnon, soon began working with a geneticist called James Neel, a man who had made a career in observing the adverse affects of a nuclear explosion on an exposed population..... to say some of their practices in the jungle were unethical doesn't quite cover the lack of care they showed towards the Yanomami.

These shocking revelations were revealed to the word in the year 2000 when a book was published by investigative journalist Patrick Tierney published "Darkness in El Dorado" the documentary which is well worth a watch, is based upon these findings.

The question which really struck me amidst the wave of bad practice and paedophilia which surrounds the whole survey, is how could a group of experts could so clearly and whole heartedly abandon their academic principles in a way which was not only shockingly debauched but would completely destroy the untouched society which they had been sent to study?

For me this is the equivalent of someone in my area of study walking into the British museum and smashing the artefacts to pieces, unthinkable.......

A violation of the Prime Directive indeed.

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