Anthropology Report: Skeletons Reveal Life Styles of Colonial America

Insight into the lives of black and white colonial Americans has come from an unusual source, the lead in skeletons.

The bones were excavated from burial grounds dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries in the states of Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. Their lead contents show the social and occupational status of the individuals, according to a team of researchers based at the University of Minnesota, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and at the Research Centre for Archaeology at Yorktown, Virginia.

The bone analyses also suggest that some black slaves of prosperous white owners shared their master’s food and cooking equipment. But white servants of white farmers did not necessarily fare any better than black slaves or free blacks in rural America, says Dr. Arthur Aufderheide.

In today’s industrialized society, lead enters our bodies mostly from motor exhausts, from drinking water that has come into contact with old lead piping, from lead-based paints and from some industrial processes. In the UK and US the bones of an average individual have a lead burden of some 36 micrograms a gram of bone ash, according to one recent calculation.

In colonial America, this figure was often exceeded, Dr. Aufderheide says. This is because there was considerable exposure from lead-glazed ceramic and pewter containers used for storage, preparation and serving of food and beverages. But only the affluent could have afforded these particular household goods.

So the researchers reasoned that if they measured the lead content of bones from skeletons of black and white colonial Americans living away from urban centers, the results might reveal the social relationships among the families of the white owners and their slave and servant households.

They had access to 82 skeletons that archaeologists had excavated from four burial sites. Two of the graveyards represent black populations. One was a slave labor force at a white-owned ironworks furnace near Frederick in Maryland. The other was a black artisan group, probably of free status, at College Landing in Virginia.

The two white colonial populations were from graveyards on plantations near Jamestown in Virginia and Savannah in Georgia.

Old censuses and estate records helped the archaeologists to identify the burials. Further clues to the status of some of the individuals were provided by the method of internment.

Among 16 adult furnace workers, the women had three times more lead in their bones than their menfolk (an average of 40.3 versus 14.1 micrograms per gram of bone ash). Dr. Aufderheide speculates that this may be because the women had access to their white owner’s kitchen and cooking equipment while engaged in domestic duties.

The black artisans from the College Landing burials, which date from 1790 to 1820, had a broad range of lead in their bones (the average among 14 adults was 42 micrograms, but four individuals had well over 50 micrograms of the metal. According to some, these relatively high values suggest that some free blacks enjoyed considerable economic success in the later days of the colonial period.

The burials on the white-owned plantations are more complicated. In general, however, the amounts of lead confirm the social status of the individuals with families sharing similar degrees of lead contamination.

White tenant farmers tended to have more lead in their bones than either free blacks or slaves but to have less than the wealthier plantation owners. Some white individuals had a lead burden of more than 100 micrograms.

An anomaly is a female aged 43 with more than 260 micrograms. This exceptionally high value could be explained, the researchers suggest, if she was a white servant, perhaps the family cook.

But generally, white servants had low amounts of lead, especially those working for white tenant farmers. Could this mean a domestic life sharply segregated from that of their employers?

Professor Lucy Mair, Social Anthropologist

Professor Lucy Mair who died on April 12 was aged 85 was one of the first women social anthropologists to do field work in Africa and a forthright defender of a liberal tradition in anthropological scholarship.

Much of her work was closely concerned with the social economic and cultural relations between so-called developed and developing nations – a topic requiring unusual breadth of approach perspective and wisdom.

Lucy Philip Mair was born in London on January 28 1901 and educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and at Newnham College Cambridge where she read classics. She was associated for a time with Gilbert Murray’s work for the League of Nations, concentrating on colonial affairs.

She joined the staff of the International Relations Department at the London School of Economics in 1927 and was drawn into the circle of Bronislaw Malinowski, who encouraged her to travel to Uganda in 1930.

She spent nine months in the field studying the people of Buganda, and her book. An African People in the Twentieth Century, published in 1934 was presented as a thesis for a PhD degree at London University.

During the Second World War she worked at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and in government, and in 1946 visited Australia to teach the future administrators of New Guinea. She returned to the LSE in 1947 where she was Professor of Applied Anthropology from 1963-68.

After her retirement she returned to New Guinea and then held posts at the universities of Durham and Kent, ceasing to teach at the age of 77. She received honorary degrees from both universities, and was elected honorary fellow of the LSE in 1975, and of Newnham College in 1982.

Mair’s entry into anthropology was from a liberal concern with the fate of the colonies, and her practical dedication to creating greater understanding among administrators pervades her early writing.

Her work is characterized by clarity of expression, a certain impatience with theoretical argument, a willingness to address laymen’s questions and by an ability to highlight the ironical confrontation of people’s ideals and intentions with the outcome of their actions.

In New Nations she made some dispassionate judgments of the practical manifestations of micro-nationalism or strong, small-scale local feeling. Using the example of Kenya, where there were no traditional rulers for the British to support, she suggested that the lack of a sense of nationhood in that country could not be wholly blamed on the colonial power.

The decision to split Kenya into semi-autonomous regions was she believed a device to take account of local patriotism not to introduce divisions where none existed before.

From the start, Mair resisted the common assumption that applied anthropology was a junior or easier branch of the discipline. It was necessary to be a good anthropologist before trying to apply anything, and there were no rules of thumb which could be handed down.

In the years of her retirement when some academics become less productive she showed how good an anthropologist she was by continuing a series of books on general topics which she had begun with the classic Primitive Government (1962). Between 1969 and 1984 she published what is in effect her own summa anthropologica six books ranging from Witchcraftt (1969) to Marriage (1971), and from African Societies (1974) to African Kingdoms (1977).

In recent years she often took up cudgels to defend teachers and colleagues whom she thought were wrongly criticized and created a conservative reputation for herself.

In fact her reading of the new anthropological theories of the 1970s and 1980s was extensive and she proved receptive to new ideas into her extreme old age and although she did not always accept them there was no doubt she understood them.

Mair was a modest person and was once seen to turn off her hearing-aid ostentatiously when a speaker began to praise her. She was also shy and sometimes abrupt. Her tendency to argue vigorously and with emphasis proved disconcerting to some students at any rate until they saw her treat her most eminent colleagues in the same manner.

She nevertheless had many friends among her students and colleagues, and others were drawn to her by her love of music and literature and her intellectual power. She regarded them with reciprocated affection though not often with indulgence.

Secrets of the Modern Bedroom: Attitudes Towards Sex

Much of anthropology is concerned with mating rituals and sexual relations. We usually cover the past in the Museum Anthropology Review Weblog, but in this post we’re going to explore secrets of the modern bedroom. What are today’s attitudes towards sex, and what would an anthropologist make of them?

Perhaps the first question worth exploring is: Is the modern woman becoming more demanding in sexual matters than the passive creatures of past generations? The answer seems to be that, in certain circumstances, she is often the one who makes the first move.

A recent poll asked women over the age of 18: ‘If you feel like having sex with your partner, how often do you take the initiative? Twenty percent said ‘never’, 34 percent said ‘sometimes’, 13 percent said ‘rarely’, 9 percent said ‘often’ and 3 percent said ‘always’.

With those figures in mind, and the recent National Marriage Guidance Council report that more and more men are asking for help with marital problems, it would be all too easy to assume that many men are being reduced to impotent, shivering specters of their former selves in the face of this sexual revolution.

But it is a revolution that needs careful examination. In the married women’s discussion groups organized by The Research Business, there was at first almost complete agreement that it was the man who took the initiative.

Only when Louise, aged 22, introduced the subject of special occasions was the pattern brought more into line with the poll: ‘I’ll sometimes prance round him a bit after we get back from an evening out. Try to interest him in the idea. He takes Volume Pills to increase the amount of semen he ejaculates, so I might indulge in a little dirty talk revolving around certain sexual acts.’

Volume Pills

Judith (24): ‘I will do something like that if we’ve been to a dinner party and I’ve had a few drinks’.

The poll suggestion that more women might be taking the initiative in sexual matters also needs to be set alongside the continued readiness of many women to be ‘treated’ by men on social occasions.

When asked: ‘Do you agree that when a man invites a woman out socially, he should pay regardless of earnings?’ 65 percent of the men agreed and 50 percent of the women. Only 14 percent of the women believed that they should share the cost if they earned a similar amount to the man.

The single men in a discussion group had no doubts that they led the way on sexual matters:

James (22): ‘Nine times out of ten it’s the man’.
David (24): ‘It’s very rare for the woman to actually show interest’.

But although the man may take the initiative when it comes to sexual activity, he will often assume that the woman has already taken the contraceptive initiative.

Despite the ‘men too’ campaign by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, there is little evidence that men are prepared to reassume any part of the responsibility which the widespread reliance upon the oral contraceptive placed on women.

There was a slight decline in the popularity of the Pill after 1976, but in recent years the number of users has remained relatively constant at 1.7 million (58 percent of those using any method of contraception). The coil is favored by 16 percent, the cap by 7 percent, and the sheath, the only male-initiated contraceptive, by 10 percent. Women seem none too pleased with this situation.

Prevent Food Cravings with PhenQ

One of the most important topics in anthropology is food. How did people eat long ago? One thing we can be certain about: human beings used to subsist on far less food than their modern counterparts. Today, most of the people in United States, and increasingly the rest of the world, are consuming too many calories for their sedentary lifestyles.

In today’s post from Museum Anthropology Review, we are going to look at the overeater. What exactly triggers the appetite in the overeater? Good-tasting food, for one thing.

Unfortunately, the thought or presence of good-tasting food is not the only cue that may trigger appetite in the externally oriented overeater.

For a number of individuals, a particular mood or anxiety may be what signals a desire to eat. It goes back to the types of situations one learns to associate with feeding in early childhood. In some households, stress, or distress, is alleviated with food. And the more often food is used to comfort, the greater the number of circumstances in which a child learns that eating is an appropriate response to anxiety. By the time the child becomes an adult, the mood-feeding connection is firmly in place.

Taking an appetite suppressant like PhenQ can help prevent food cravings from arising in the first place. This weight loss supplement not only reduces the appetite, but it also increases the metabolism. This means that calories are burned faster.


In addition, Dr. Brownell suggests that the most effective way to cope with moods or situations that wear down your resolve is to view patterns of overeating as “chains” that consist of many “links.”

Take, for example, a young woman who ends up eating an entire pint of ice cream directly from the container while watching television on a Saturday evening and feeling upset that she does not have plans to go out. One way for the woman to reflect on the evening is to say, “I was bored and lonely so I overate to comfort myself.” But if she pays attention to the separate links in her chain, she affords herself more opportunities to break it at its weakest points and, if not avoid eating the ice cream altogether, at least avoid eating so much of it.

For instance, she can decide not to have ice cream in the freezer on a Saturday night that she will have to spend by herself. Or, she can go on to the next link and make up her mind that instead of moping about being alone, she will do something constructive like write letters or put a pile of loose photographs into an album.

A closer look at other links might suggest to her that she put a scoop of ice cream in a bowl rather than eat from the container, or that she should not eat during the television program because that diverts her attention from the amount she brings to her mouth. Such tactics make it easier for a person to overcome long-established patterns of turning to food in response to a situation in which eating should ideally play no part.

Those whose appetites are triggered by one or another type of anxiety, incidentally, would do well to ask themselves whether eating truly reduces the tension. In point of fact, it never does. The stress isn’t brought on by a lack of food in the first place, so food can’t alleviate it.

What’s more, eating to reduce stress often ends up putting someone in an even worse mood because it intensifies that “out of control” feeling that may have been instrumental in producing the nervousness originally. And feeling out of control strengthens the self-defeating “I’ll never lose weight” attitude that sets the stage for future binges.

Treasures Stolen from Anthropology Museum

Mexican police, not renowned for their detective work, remain in the dark about the fate of more than 170 priceless pre-Hispanic artifacts stolen on Christmas Day from Mexico City’s anthropology museum.

The stolen Mayan and Aztec relics, most of them either gold or jade, were small enough to fit into a medium-sized suitcase. Museum authorities believe the theft was the work of an ‘international mafia’, probably commissioned by a fanatical private collector.

Scores of other theories have been put forward as to the motives for the theft, but one that has been discounted is that the thieves might plan to sell the pieces on the international market. The objects are so well known that no one would dare to buy them.

‘I can’t see anybody in their right mind touching them with a ten-foot pole,’ said an American archaeologist.

Among the theories put forward is that the thieves might ask the Mexican Government for a ransom. Hoping money was the motive, the Friends of the Museum of Anthropology have put up posters all over the Mexican capital and in various American cities offering a reward of 50 million pesos (pounds 80,000) for information leading to the recovery of the treasures.

However, since just one of the pieces – an Aztec vase in the shape of a monkey – is reckoned to be worth pounds 16 million, it is felt a much greater inducement will be required before anyone comes forward.

One of the biggest horrors of archaeologists and historians – one of whom described the theft as ‘a cultural earthquake’ – is that the thieves might be stupid enough to melt down the 99 gold artifacts in their loot.

But the experts are confident that the theft is the work of professionals. It is suspected that at least one of the robbers – thought to have been three in total – was an authority on pre-Columbian art. The pieces were intelligently selected.

Museum authorities are increasingly convinced that the robbers acted on orders from an obsessive and wealthy collector. They suspect, also, that the pieces are now in the United States, although active attempts at collaboration between Mexican and US police have yielded no clues.

The eight museum guards on duty when the pre-dawn robbery happened on December 25 have been dismissed and may be charged with criminal negligence. Initial suspicions that they may have been involved were dismissed after reports that they were either sleeping or drunk when the thieves entered the building.

In the morning empty glasses and cakes were found in the museum, suggesting the guards had enjoyed a small Christmas Eve celebration.

Police are calling this the ‘Santa Claus robbery’. It has emerged that the thieves entered the museum through a basement door and clambered through the building’s air conditioning ducts to the treasures.

The crime was discovered some five hours after the thieves had left and not reported to the police for another eight hours. It took a further 24 hours for US Customs officials to be notified.

A famous Aztec sculpture, known as The Plumed Coyote, was stolen from the museum 20 years ago and recovered in the US a year later. Another Mexican sculpture stolen in the 1970’s – more than 1,000 years old – also surfaced north of the border.

Don`t copy text!