FWD: Definition of Culture

John Cole. (jrc@TEI.UMASS.EDU)
Sun, 18 Aug 1996 18:34:58 -0400

>On Thursday, 15 August 1996, John R. Cole replied:

>"I can teach someone stone toolmaking basics in hours..."

>How many hours, John? Have you *ever* tried to teach someone how to make
>stone tools? Do *you* know how to make stone tools? Have you actually
>*ever* tried making stone tools?

>"...and I *doubt* it entails any verbiage at all--perhaps grunts of approval
>or disapproval or encouragement--but *certainly* not via a highly verbalized
>explanation." (Emphasis added.)

>It apparently does takes a "highly verbalized explanation"--for us anyway. See:

>Schick, Kathy D. and Nicholas Toth; *Making Silent Stones Speak: Human
>Evolution and the Dawn of Technology*; Simon & Schuster, New York; 1993

>especially Chapter 4, "Fashioning our Future: The Making of Early Stone Tools.
JRC sez:
Whoa--why is this getting weirdly personal?!
First, I have NOT read Schick and Toth so will reserve comment.

Teaching archaeological methods classes and experimental archaeology courses,
I have indeed taught basic flintknapping, altho I am certainly not a master
flintknapper. I have experimentally given detailed verbal instructions and
compared them with basically silent instructions which amounted to "do it like
this" [demo] "good, good," "no!" etc. The imitative teaching/apprenticing
approach won hands down. I might add that in class projects we experimented
with tool uses hypothesized by archaeologists using immitations of prehistoric
artifacts such as "Acheulean hand axes," scrapers, knives, etc., comparing
edge wear with the wear patterns *predicted* by lithic tech. experts such as
Semonev and others--we found the "typical" wear patterns fairly seldomly, by
the way; they were clearer--or more common or easy to find--on simple fresh
flakes rather than extensively retouched edges. We chopped "green" vs. dry
wood, carved and cut and engraved bone and antler (goat, pig, cow, dear and
some small critters such as rabbits and rodents [ATTN: This was BEFORE animal
exper. rules, but I insisted students use materials from naturally dead or
legally slaughtered carcasses!! We also worked with some dried out, "found"
bone and antler; vegetarians could experiment with wood, etc. materials)!!

My Ph.D. dissertation was an interp. stone tools of SW Ecuador--relation btwn
borm and function, style changes vs. adaptation shifts, etc. (I found that
style was more persistent than usually thought or taught--that tool "types"
served various functions, persisted between different cultures and kinds of
economic/ecological/political integration, etc.). I have published a fairl
amount on distinguishing "eoliths" or "naturefacts" from artifacts relevant
specifically to American and European "earlier than you think" claims (For
example, several long issues comments in *CA*, 1977-78 re: American eolith
claims--co=authored with other archaeologists and technologists).

Cook is correcty about my misuse of the term "species centrism," altho it
is common usage; I--and "common"--should refer to Genus-centrism (ie,
Hominids). I'm puzzled that this topic causes much grief, tho--its
pervasiveness in the history of *Western* thought, at least, was a major theme
of my undergrad and graduate education. Similarly, "exceptionalism" is a
standard term social science and the limited philosophy to which I have been
exposed. Cook suggests "family-centrism"as the term I should use. First, that
is incorrect--my whole point was about "human" centrism (it's also there for
the "Family" but much weaker--I was intentionally noting the distinction
commonly made between humans and other apes!)

I just got back from a weekend by a lake--will try to respond later to
some other issues raised such as chimp tool use and hunting. I am *NOT* a
primatologist, but some of my best friends are, and a couple applauded my
posting. Meanwhile, A number of other anthropologists wrote/emailed me
to voice agreement my earlier posts.

I'll close saying that it is silly and discouraging to see this discussion
degenerate into name-calling. Mr. Cook has raised a common and important view
of culture with which I disagree somewhat. It is not entirely surprising that
my own teaching, research and publications are not known universally, but it
IS surprising to see the assumption made that I have NO experience or
knowledge, even if I am *wrong*)!"

--John R.Cole