Indigenous myths and archaeology

Discussions unearthing human history including cultural anthropology, linguistics, etc.

Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 28th, 2012, 11:30 pm 

Well, it's hard to be totally proud when you got it exactly backwards. Small steps, I suppose....

Oh, and pleasing me? Fuhgetaboudit.....
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby wolfhnd on July 28th, 2012, 11:39 pm 

Enough already, this is not the place for forum wit ;-)
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Watson on July 29th, 2012, 12:00 am 

Please ronjanec, with all due respect, take the personal conversations to a PM......?
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby ronjanec on July 29th, 2012, 12:33 am 

Ok guys. Will do.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Forest_Dump on July 30th, 2012, 3:48 pm 

I think a point that often gets overlooked is that there is no single body of First Nations beliefs and myths. Some FN groups are confirmed Christians of various sects, others follow a very diverse set of beliefs that range from fairly close the beliefs that were in practice at contact (most often because "contact" wasn't that long ago) to various beliefs that have been influenced by Christianity to varying degrees. Please also bear in mind that, at contact, FN beliefs were far more diverse than what could be found in Europe within the span of written history, i.e., the range between the religion of those who built Stonehenge and modern Christians would be nothing like the range between say Navajo and the builders of Cahokia. And, while we can say some very general things about hunter-gatherer beliefs, we can barely guess what the Paleoindians of 10,000+ years ago believed in. For example, we guess that burned caches of stone tools dating to the Paleoindian might have been related to a practice of burning a deceased hunters tools because we do, very rarely, find caches of burned tools from the Paleoindian times and because there are records of some modern people burning a hunter's possessions. But we do not have any direct evidence of burials from Paleoindian times in association with these caches of burned tools. They could as easily be the products of an accidental burning. We just don't know. But we can be fairly certain that these beliefs would have been different from those who built and lived in mound centers because forms of religion do correlate well with social and political organization so we can be fairly certain that relatively "pristine" hunter-gatherers would have believed in different things than modern hunter-gatherers on the margins of a state-level society such as the US or Canada. We do know, for example, that FN beliefs changed, sometimes very dramatically, due to the processes correlated with colonialism. We have, for example, some very good documentation of Iroquoian beliefs from the 17th century. However, over following 100+ years, Iroquoian society was radically changed due to fissioning of the tribal polities, loss of land, disease, war, alcohol, etc., so that by the end of the 18th century, Iroquoian society was pretty much in collapse. However, in 1799, a Seneca prophet named Handsome Lake went through a series of mystical experiences (written in a book that I found to be very reminiscent of Dante's "Inferno") and formed what is now known as the "traditionalist" or "Longhouse" religion which tried to go back, as much as possible, to the early times although that was not really possible because so much had been lost and/or forgotten and so much Christian influence had seeped in. But somethings were recreated although in a transformed way. For example, the longhouse originally does not appear to have had much symbolic meaning beyond being a domestic (living) structure for extended matrilineal families although it probably had some symbolic meaning. However, following contact, families lived in fairly standard, European style, single family dwellings while the "Longhouse" was reborn as a purely religious structure.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 30th, 2012, 4:31 pm 

I did not make this mistake Forest. For this thread, I was mostly focused on the specific case. I did generalize to the subset of cultures who had a mythology that claimed eternal habitation, but I never thought that there was a single, generic, "Indian" mythology.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Forest_Dump on July 30th, 2012, 6:09 pm 

Well from there it should be a short hop over to the fact that there isn't any single response or reaction to the treatment of human remains, sacred sites, etc. Two cases I have been involved in demonstrate this. In one case, a highway job through a native reserve involved some background research and a sacred (nonburial) site was identified immediately adjacent to the highway and all work required shifting the highway improvements to the opposite side of the road so as not to disturb the sacred site. About 10 years later the site was trashed when a tax-free tobacco shack was constructed right on top of the sacred site. In another case around the same time, I worked on a research job on a reserve. Burials had been known about and we had to agree that absolutely no disturbance of burials would be tolerated. The guy who lived on the land across the road turned out to have burials come up in his gardens,etc., and he got very angry when we explained that we could not go over and dig them all out for him (and actually our project had no interest in human remains anyway - we were more interested in the houses of the time period). There are no uniform sets of beliefs or opinions even within a single community and truth be told very few FN reserves or communities even have any form of planning or protocols for dealing with archaeological remains, including burials, within the boundaries of the reserve. Quite literally, you can have to go through a very demanding set of protocols including going through religious ceremonies for purification, constant dialogue with elders, hiring locals, etc., for one kind of job with a limit on excavation right up to the footprint of the project and then watch the other part of the site get bulldozed away, including burials, with absolutely nothing done to preserve or respect them.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 30th, 2012, 6:26 pm 

Don't have any problem with any of this either. Things aren't homogeneous.

I am curious about the highway/tobacco shop anecdote. Why protected once and not others?

These are interesting stories by the way, but are a little different from data samples taken with permission undergoing subsequent micromanagment of the analysis that can be performed on them. In that case, I would be bothered if the initial consent was restrictive, but it wasn't. It sounds to me kind of like someone selling a piece of land to somebody for development and then subsequently being able to restrict what sort of business they can build on the land. I dunno...maybe like a Jewish person selling land to someone to build a restaurant and then objecting when the restaurant started selling bacon double cheeseburgers.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Forest_Dump on July 30th, 2012, 6:35 pm 

People can have all kinds of motives for what they say and do and you can't always predict them all. But surely this can't be entirely foreign to you. You are involved in research in theoretical physics. That kind of research does have an interesting history. Imagine if the very research you are most directly involved in ended up being used to develop a weapon system that was then used, perhaps by some dictator thug,to wipe out an ethnic group, country or even continent. If you could, would you put limits on what your research was used for?
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 30th, 2012, 6:39 pm 

Quantifying the degree of inbreeding in a population and identifying the genetic heritage of the same population is rather different than wiping out one person, let alone the grandiose drama you describe. You certainly recognize the logical and rhetorical sins you have committed here.

And, lest you forget, splitting the atom played havoc with at least two cities. I'm still glad the atom was split and the mechanism understood.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Forest_Dump on July 30th, 2012, 6:57 pm 

One point I think should be kept is that I am not often sure just how often knowledge really is dispassionate and objective, etc. Far too often the search for "objective" knowledge has been used to harm others, with or without intent. The history of science is directly linked with both the growth and dependence on technology and economic gain including through colonialism. Whether mapping the stars and understanding their movements (to aid navigation), understanding the principles of geology (to improve the search for economic minerals), splitting the atom (to harness the energy in one way or another) or understanding the genome (to improve medicine and make some better crops and maybe ultimately people which is eugenics reborn, etc.), some have and perhaps always will benefit but at least most of the time others tend to loose. I think most often it is objective and good if you think you will end up on the winning side buy it doesn't often look the same way if historically you have lost more than you gained.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 30th, 2012, 7:06 pm 

Knowledge is power. Power will be used. Failure to pursue knowlege guarantees that the power will be used against you by those who have pursued it.

One might invoke a saying by William Ralph Inge "It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion."

So of course people see this differently. But avoiding knowledge and the pursuit thereoff guarantees your continued membership in the underclass.

No?
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby wolfhnd on July 30th, 2012, 8:35 pm 

There has always been the ape that picked up a rock and through trial and error found it made a nice tool or weapon to gather food. There also must always have been the ape that said it is unfair how the rock swinging ape gets all the good bits. To be human is too use technology, without it survival of the species is questionable. All the abstract discussion about what knowledge is and how it should be used misses the point of how science is and has always been what humans do best. There is nothing abstract or unnatural about observing, hypothesizing and experimenting. The process may have been refined but it is fundamentally a part of the life of every intelligent animal. Dreams and mythology are important too but they can be dangerous if they interfere with learning. And while living in a dream world may have some immediate benefit it isn't particularly adaptive. Due to some accidents of history some rather obscene events may have transpired but who would wish that the first ape to use a stone had not done so.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby CanadysPeak on July 30th, 2012, 9:38 pm 

But the same law which protects the Native Americans against subsequent use of DNA samples also protects west Providence Italian carpenters against subsequent use of medical samples. It was NOT informed consent. It is invalid, no matter the ethnic makeup. There possibly is a valid story about Native American sensitivities, but lack of informed consent is not that story.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 31st, 2012, 12:24 am 

As I understood it, the consent was for diabetes "and other medical or psychological testing." (I didn't see the form...just reporting what I read.)

That's consent. Broadly written...perhaps too much so given the sensitivities...but if they signed such a broad consent, shouldn't they be bound by it?

They could have said "for this study and that study only." But my understanding is that they didn't.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby CanadysPeak on July 31st, 2012, 7:50 am 

Lincoln wrote:As I understood it, the consent was for diabetes "and other medical or psychological testing." (I didn't see the form...just reporting what I read.)

That's consent. Broadly written...perhaps too much so given the sensitivities...but if they signed such a broad consent, shouldn't they be bound by it?

They could have said "for this study and that study only." But my understanding is that they didn't.


No. By law in the US, consent means nothing in medical research; it must be informed consent. You may be able to sign a blank contract for a car loan, or a vague contract for mineral rights, but you cannot do so for medical research. The Nazis used up every bit of the civilized world's tolerance in that regard and most countries responded ( even overcompensated, if you will) by regulating research in that area.

Not only did the Indians not give informed consent, it is likely they could not have given that. For individuals, a court-appointed guardian is sometimes designated in cases where the person is incapable of understanding what might happen.

I never say never when lawyers are involved, but it appears that there is no possible way to give a blanket informed consent.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby Lincoln on July 31st, 2012, 8:45 am 

Not to belabor the obvious, but none of us are doctors (at least the turn your head and cough variety). By a certain level of logic, none of us can be informed, as we lack the education to understand the medical nuances.

Even when MDs explain things to their test subjects, it inevitably involves statistics. Sad to say, but the general public's comprehension of statistics sucks serious rocks. They just don't understand them. Here is another place where "informed consent" is likely impossible.

I am thinking that "informed" here is a specious concept...no doubt a legal one, but not incredibly well defined nonetheless. Do you think the original consent, which covered diabetes "and other psychological and medical tests," was "informed?" If the Indians can't understand what "and other psychological and medical tests" means, can they understand what "diabetes"means? I mean >>really<< means?

Personally...and this is just an internet forum, so opinions are the currency here...that if a person has concerns, the consent needs to be more specific (i.e. "test A and B and only A & B").

Let's again be hypothetical...again because it is a forum, so we can do that. The objection was that the genetic testing revealed a degree of inbreeding and a non-local origin. The original consent was to study diabetes. Suppose that the diabetes testing revealed whatever it did, but simultaneously determined that the diabetes originated from inbreeding. Actually, given the simple facts of genetics, it kind of has to. The effect stemmed in an individual, whose progeny had a reproductive advantage. As the non-diabetes-inducing population died out, it is inevitable that inbreeding will result....maybe between second and third cousins or whatever, but the genetic diversity must be reduced, without outside influence. And, given that this problem is so broad in the population, it seems evident that there was little influx.

In short, even before the diabetes study, the inbreeding is obvious. The diabetes study supported it, given the similarities in the populations' biochemistry, and the subsequent genetic study simply quantified something that was already obvious.

So...is it the quantifying for which informed consent is necessary?

I understand that the objectionable studies required another test, but it didn't require another sample. Nor were the tests done on living beings (which is unlike the Nazis [I invoke Godwin's, by the way]). They were done on non-living matter, freely donated (presumably with informed consent, as nobody seems all that fussed over the diabetes studies).

It seems to me that the best way to avoid dustups like this would be to impose the (stupid in my opinion) rule that samples must be destroyed after the initial tests were done.
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Re: Indigenous myths and archaeology

Postby CanadysPeak on July 31st, 2012, 10:14 am 

Lincoln wrote:Not to belabor the obvious, but none of us are doctors (at least the turn your head and cough variety). By a certain level of logic, none of us can be informed, as we lack the education to understand the medical nuances.

Even when MDs explain things to their test subjects, it inevitably involves statistics. Sad to say, but the general public's comprehension of statistics sucks serious rocks. They just don't understand them. Here is another place where "informed consent" is likely impossible.

I am thinking that "informed" here is a specious concept...no doubt a legal one, but not incredibly well defined nonetheless. Do you think the original consent, which covered diabetes "and other psychological and medical tests," was "informed?" If the Indians can't understand what "and other psychological and medical tests" means, can they understand what "diabetes"means? I mean >>really<< means?

Personally...and this is just an internet forum, so opinions are the currency here...that if a person has concerns, the consent needs to be more specific (i.e. "test A and B and only A & B").

Let's again be hypothetical...again because it is a forum, so we can do that. The objection was that the genetic testing revealed a degree of inbreeding and a non-local origin. The original consent was to study diabetes. Suppose that the diabetes testing revealed whatever it did, but simultaneously determined that the diabetes originated from inbreeding. Actually, given the simple facts of genetics, it kind of has to. The effect stemmed in an individual, whose progeny had a reproductive advantage. As the non-diabetes-inducing population died out, it is inevitable that inbreeding will result....maybe between second and third cousins or whatever, but the genetic diversity must be reduced, without outside influence. And, given that this problem is so broad in the population, it seems evident that there was little influx.

In short, even before the diabetes study, the inbreeding is obvious. The diabetes study supported it, given the similarities in the populations' biochemistry, and the subsequent genetic study simply quantified something that was already obvious.

So...is it the quantifying for which informed consent is necessary?

I understand that the objectionable studies required another test, but it didn't require another sample. Nor were the tests done on living beings (which is unlike the Nazis [I invoke Godwin's, by the way]). They were done on non-living matter, freely donated (presumably with informed consent, as nobody seems all that fussed over the diabetes studies).

It seems to me that the best way to avoid dustups like this would be to impose the (stupid in my opinion) rule that samples must be destroyed after the initial tests were done.


Remember that I am an engineer. First, and foremost, I seek to make things work. Thus, I usually simply comply with regulations without worrying about whether they are justified, rational, or effective. This makes me partly unqualified to comment on the science concerns in this question.

However, within that somewhat narrow context, we have a history of guidelines (each more restrictive than the prior) on human research that start with the Nuremburg Code (40s), then the Declaration of Helsinki (60s), the Belmont Report (70s), and the establishment of the National Bioethics Advisory Committee (90s). Along the way, HHS codified a lot of this stuff into CFR 45 and 46. There are other guidelines for the world at large, but the US generally ignores anything "not invented here."

A number of researchers have objected to these guidelines, and have presented some pretty good arguments, for example, for a presumed consent that might address situations like the one in Arizona if, and only if, the subjects could be adequately deidentified AND if the subjects could not be found at a later date to obtain new consent. Given our increasing move toward an international economy, with the attendant necessity to observe at least the letter of international laws, I don't expect the US to ever adopt a full presumed consent.

I believe it was the Belmont Report that contained a phrase something like this (obviously grossly paraphrased by me), "If the consent can be done right, do it, convenience to the researcher be damned!"

As to the question of destroying biological samples, I ask, would you be comfortable deleting your electronic notebook archives as soon as your paper is accepted by Phys. Rev Ltrs? Of course not, and it gets worse with human biological samples where there is a chance (in this case a big chance) that they fall under HIPAA's medical records policies (Can you say major felony? For each vial?). Most major research outfits have record storage vaults where these things can be kept securely.

Over the years many have raised the question of whether anyone can really give informed consent. I recall lying in a hospital bed once and listening to the anesthesiologist explaining to the person in the next bed that some of the possible outcomes might be brain damage or death. The patient starting bellowing, "What? I'm not doing this!" and refused to sign the form. That's part of why people fib to subjects. One of our local hospitals now offers pre-surgery classes so that people understand, when possible, what is going to happen, what will be done to them, and what the possibilities are. This is a complicated question.

I agree with your comments on statistics. There's little hope there. Even many scientists can't (or won't) understand statistics (they seem unable to distinguish between 1 SD and 3 SD).

However, in the case of the Havasupai, there was a clear path forward for the genetics researchers. They should have taken it. They should have submitted their research proposal to the University IRB for approval. They had within their power the ability to determine if they could do this ethically, and then to do it that way. They were perhaps arrogant, perhaps lazy, but, at the end, wrong.
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