Podcast: Strong Habits

Early in June, I had a conversation with strength and nutrition coach Pennie Varvarides. I really admire her commitment to keeping her suggestions based in actual scientific research, and thus setting realistic goals. She has a really inclusive and holistic approach as well, covering body image and individual needs. (Yep, I’ve spent a significant amount of my lockdown time working out indoors.)

Growing from my lecture on myths about the Paleolithic, we chatted about what people in the Paleolithic actually ate, the hype about any diet, and old age in the archaeological record. Check it out on Spotify here or Anchor.fm here!

Intersectionality

I strive to promote an intersectional approach within my work, as well as identifying sexism and racism within my field (and in the world, to the extent that I can have an impact). In Autumn 2019, I was honored to teach a seminar on intersectional feminism at UCL with the wonderful researcher and activist Alice Mukaka. It was a learning experience for me, as it was outside my theoretical wheelhouse to teach, and I faced a conflict: given the primacy of the personal narrative within intersectionality, as a white person, was I the right person to teach this class? I decided that the labor should be on me to work with Alice and to read, research, and educate myself. I didn’t want more people of color to be burdened by explaining this more and more. I did mess up sometimes, asking for help in inadequate ways, feeling like an impostor, and feeling like I was virtue signalling. But we (white people) have to keep doing this work on ourselves and taking on the task of spreading an intersectional approach.


Recently I’ve been asked for resources, so I’ve put the works I used in teaching on my Google drive. Hopefully by the time anyone actually clicks on it, they’ll be in some kind of order.

I’ll keep updating this post with resources that I have found to be personally meaningful and useful in educating myself – hopefully some will resonate with you as well.

The Running Rogue podcast on racism and running with coach Alex Willaims, recorded as a response to Ahmad Aubery’s murder

The Beyond Prisons podcast – I started with the episode on knitting.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge – book and podcast

Black History Month Library, compiled by activist/journalist Charles Preston

Paleofantasy: How we misunderstand the ancient world

New video is up!

We often see the past through the lens of popular media, who take great leaps with facts. Do you imagine cavemen going out to club a bear while cavewomen stayed home with the kids? Do you believe that aliens built the pyramids? When you see the image of apes evolving into man,* do you stop to question the idea that it represents a progression to the ultimate goal of contemporary Western civilization? These are all myths about the ancient world perpetuated by the media, uninformed pseudoscientists, and sometimes outright racists. The way we teach history tends to focus a model of humanity that’s reinforcing 1950s white gender roles and reproducing capitalist patriarchy. I’ll discuss a few ways in which a common conception of the past doesn’t add up, why we’ve come to think of history in this biased way, and how we can continue to question and correct these misunderstandings.

*Did you notice the word man? It’s always a man in the diagram.

NOTE: Due to a copyright claim, the video clip shown at 30:07 has had to be removed. You can find it here.

This lecture was not closed-caption, but a transcript is available here.


I’m doing these lectures for free, and raising money for some local groups. They are:

Hackney Food Bank

Castle Food Service (where I’m starting volunteering this week!)

SWARM

You can also pay me directly – I’m forwarding the cash to local artists and performers who are out of work right now. Paypal.me/stacyhackner

Your local charity.

Live podcast on May 20!

On Wednesday I’m going to be speaking on The Arch & Anth Podcast‘s new live series hosted by Michael B.C. Rivera and featuring three other amazing researchers. Register here for the link.

Announcing The Arch and Anth Podcast Seminars (#TAAAPS)! 📢

To entertain, educate and maintain community, a series of previous guests have been invited back to give LIVE talks. 👥

On Wednesday 20th, Madeleine Mant, Arslan Zaidi, Abigail Diaz and Stacy Hackner talk about #COVID19, ancestry tests, #museums and #education#bioarchaeology#genetics and #scicomm🧬🏛🦴📚

To receive your Zoom link and password, register online (bit.ly/TAAAPS1)! 👈🏻

Please join us for some fun learning and interactive question-and-answer, and share widely! 🎧

TAAPS

I spoke with TAAPS last November – you can listen to that episode here.

Lecture on Monday, May 18!

I’m giving another live lecture this coming Monday! Check out the Facebook event here, or load up Zoom at 8pm GMT and dial in to the meeting here.

Paleo-fantasy: How we misunderstand the ancient world

We often see the past through the lens of popular media, who take great leaps with facts.

Do you imagine cavemen going out to club a bear while cavewomen stayed home with the kids? Did you learn in school that the Greeks invented civilization? Do you believe that aliens built the pyramids? When you see the image of apes evolving into man, do you stop to question the idea that it represents a progression to the ultimate goal of contemporary Western civilization?

These are all myths about the ancient world perpetuated by the media, uninformed pseudoscientists, and sometimes outright racists. The way we teach history tends to focus a model of humanity that’s reinforcing 1950s white gender roles and reproducing capitalist patriarchy.

I’ll discuss a few ways in which a common conception of the past doesn’t add up, why we’ve come to think of history in this biased way, and how we can continue to question and correct these misunderstandings.

This session will be a proper webinar, hosted by Krystian Jones of Splinter Faction Ltd.

Podcast with UCL Parkaeology

Charlotte Frearson of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and I had a conversation about my work, hobbies, and lockdown.

Today we chat with UCL IoA Alumnus Dr Stacy Hackner from one North London flat to another! Stacy and I chat bones, gender, sourdough starters & recreating classic art!

Enjoy!

Listen on Soundcloud here!

I told Charlotte that I was preparing to make la mian. Four hours of constant work later, I finished making enough noodles for seven people, topped with Szechuan aubergine, fried tofu, and sauteed greens.

That Margaret Mead quote

I frequently get emails from family friends with questions about archaeology. Because I’m unemployed, they get more than they bargained for, and I decided to turn today’s query into this post.

Leon H wrote in with a particular quote that I decided to comment on.

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”

We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.

– Ira Byock.

I replied:

It’s interesting the quotes that are attributed to Margaret Mead – another is “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world – indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (And other variants of this sentiment with differing word choices.)

Both are things she could have said, given her personality, but neither is fully attributed – the first instance of the story above is in Dr. Ira Byock’s 2012 book on palliative care, and the above quote only attributed to her four years after her death by the author of a fairly hippie-ish book on paths to world peace.
This quote has been going around Facebook since mid-March, probably encouraged by this Twitter threadthis FB post, and this article in Forbes, none of which are by archaeologists/anthropologists.
The quote has a bit of “truthiness” to it. The general idea of the quote – other versions have her saying “in the law of the jungle, if you can’t hunt, you die” – is that all animals but humans live in a tooth-and-claw Darwinian world where literally only the fit survive. This is not so. Animals are adapted to living within their environment, and the most fit to their environment survive. Femoral fractures in wild animals can be survivable if they happen to juveniles who heal fully in few weeks (and are taken care of as a matter of course, at least in primates). A review of such fractures in primates was conducted by Bulstrode et al (1986). The authors examined wild animal skeletons in natural history collections, finding the healed fracture rate higher than expected.
Another reason we see few femoral breaks in wild animals is that they probably happen rarely. Animals suited to their environment don’t tend to be risky, and those femoral fractures we see are often from falls. Animals don’t tend to hang around other animals that will hurt them, unlike humans who spend time with cows (a frequent source of injury in agricultural societies). Animals also don’t go looking for danger, no matter what the Lion King suggests. Whereas a human will climb a tree to get a beehive for honey and risk a great fall, other land mammals tend to leave that alone. Humans also have high buildings we can fall out of and cars to injure ourselves in and around. Humans have a much wider range of places we’ve not fully adapted to, and thus a higher rate of injury.
Humans also have a thing called war where we purposefully try to injury one another. I wonder if the “15000 years ago” part of the quote refers to Jebel Sahaba, the oldest evidence of warfare, from Sudan. (It’s been re-dated to 13,000 years ago, but was believed to be 15kya when excavated in 1968.) I actually worked on re-analysis of skeletons from this site in 2011. The people buried there show evidence of repeated healed injury, as if they were attacked and then left in peace, then attacked again. The injuries were slices into the bone, injuries from pointed stone tools and arrows, some of which remained embedded in the bones.
Another key point about the quote is that only humans have the tools to actually fix a broken limb. (I mean, only humans have the tools, period. We invented tools.*) If a wild animal has a broken limb, it can heal, but it will heal improperly. The bones keep the muscles nice and stretched out, and if the bone is broken enough that the entire shaft is snapped, the muscles will contract and pull the bone overlapping itself, like a stretched rubber band returning to its original position. With immobilisation, care, and the hope that infection doesn’t follow (as antibiotics didn’t exist until penicillin in 1928), the bone can heal in that position.
An example of this is the photo below – the skeleton of an individual I excavated at site H29 in Sudan in 2012. In the first photo, at the uppermost end of the striped stick, is a bulbous enlargement, which is actually the two overlapped broken ends of the femur. (All the sharp breaks are post-mortem and unrelated to the injury.) This person did not receive fracture reduction (or if they did, it was not effective), so the bone healed overlapped. This resulted in the right leg becoming about 6 centimeters shorter than the left. Interestingly, the feet were at a slightly higher elevation so I excavated them first, and found that the right foot was in an extremely flexed position, as if they’d been walking on their toes. You can see this on the far left of the second photo. When I excavated the body and legs, it became clear – the bone had healed, and this person was walking around quite a bit for many years afterward, so much so that their foot became permanently flexed. Bonesetting is an ancient practice, still common in some regions (1) (2), and I wonder if this community, active around 3000 years ago, was too small or too remote to have access to a bonesetter.

H29(A) gr405,sk476_1127

A broken femur from site H29A. Photo courtesy Derek Welsby.

H29(A) gr405,sk476_1122

The same skeleton from H29A. The flexed foot is on the far left of the image. The skull has already been removed, but the rest of the skeleton is intact; you can also see a stone palette at the top of the image and a decorative clothespin between the top arm and the ribs. Photo courtesy Derek Welsby.

I often use this skeleton to discuss care in the ancient world. We tend to think of people before us as cruel and barbaric, a fallacy I continue to address in my teaching. But they’re only as cruel as people today, and also as compassionate. There’s a whole field exploring archaeology of disability, including the social treatment of people with injuries and conditions that affected their mobility.
If anyone can find a reputable source for the Margaret Mead quote, please do reach out!
If you’d like to hear more, please tune in to my lecture tomorrow night!  zoom.us/j/895993184 (Weds at 2000 GMT). I might include some of this, as I’ve enjoyed writing it down 🙂

*Some biologists argue that birds and chimpanzees also use tools, but that’s really beside the point here.

What we do with bodies: anthropology of burial

My latest lecture on anthropology of burial. Watch the Zoom recording here to see the whole thing with comments, or on youtube here.

I’d also appreciate any feedback here.

Update: it’s been pointed out that I misspoke right at the start – organ donation has been made opt-out in the UK, not body donation! From next month (May 2020), all adults will be considered to be organ donors. Research has shown this is a nudge towards getting hundreds (or thousands) more donors per year because it removes an administrative hurdle. Body donation, on the other hand, still faces challenges.

Additionally, I got to speak with journalist Hussein Kesvani for an article on changed burial customs and Zoom funerals.