These Ancient Eyes: Answering Howl

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I decided to make another post to answer a friend’s questions. These questions came from Midnite (midnitewolf139) on LiveJournal. 😀

What branch of anthropology are you drawn to?

I expected to be drawn to Physical Anthropology, due to my love of working with bones and other physical remains. I was right in this respect, but I hadn’t expected how wonderful I would find Cultural Anthropology, either. So while the branch I am most drawn to is Physical Anthropology (and in some ways Archaeology), I find that I’ve so far enjoyed every branch of the science that I’ve been exposed to and studied.

What specifically was it that made you decide to pursue anthropology as a major?

In a word, convenience. In all honesty, a means to an end. See, I want to be a Paleontologist. But that field of study isn’t something you can focus on until PHD level, meaning I needed my AA, my BA, and my MA in some related field that would translate well into Paleontology when I was up to the level where I could go into it. There are three sciences that easily do that – Zoology, Biology, and Anthropology. Of these three, Santa Ana College only offered specialization in Bio and Anthro. Bio is fascinating, but when you get into any system lower than ecosystem (IE, cellular level, etc), I find it incredibly confusing. It took me two tries to pass beginning Biology with a C. I chose Anthropology also because I thought that perhaps learning more about human evolution and history would help me appreciate the human side of my dual nature – and it did!

What is one thing in your studies in anthropology that you never knew before hand, but caught you off guard?

The belief had been, among Anthropologists and scientists in general, that what separated humans from “lower” species came down to 3 things: Language, Metaphorical Thinking, and Tool Use. We were, they claimed, the only creature in the planet’s history to possess those three things.

But, see, as we’ve studied the other creatures with which we share the planet, we’ve discovered that no – we are NOT as alone in those things as we believed. The first shocker was Jane Goodall proving that Chimpanzees use tools – simple tools, yes, but the concept of using two rocks as a hammer and anvil to break open nuts is something that scientists didn’t believe they had the capability to figure out. Much less the other tools they have been witnessed using.

And language! Language doesn’t have to be spoken, you know – do we say that people who use sign language are lower animals because they’re gesturing to explain things? No! So why should animals that use gestures and body language (far more subtle than anything humans use, in most cases – animals can speak with the way their fur is laying, the tilt of an ear, or the tiniest swish of a tail that means nothing to us) be considered NOT to have language?

It’s recently been proven that dogs, when left amongst themselves, bark for one reason – a certain type of warning. It’s one bark, and it’s the same bark that wolves use for the same warning. But dogs that are around humans have many, MANY different barks to communicate everything from hunger to intruders, to danger of other kinds. So barking as they do is a language dogs have developed for communication with HUMANS. They started barking to talk to US. That shows problem-solving abilities as well that no one had associated with canines previously.

And beyond that, we now have seen all kinds of animals using tools, communicating in ways that can be thought of as language, and demonstrating metaphorical understanding to a point (dogs understand where people point – most animals can’t understand a gesture like that, and dolphins can associate flat 2D pictures with real objects – another thing people thought animals couldn’t do, etc). So where is the line drawn between “higher” and “lower” animals now? Turns out there’s no black and white line.

I suppose what caught me the most off guard was the fact that this has only been discovered so very RECENTLY, and I had just understood it and taken it for granted most of my life.

Last but not least–where/how do you think therianthropy fits into your studies of anthropology?

It fit in very well in both my cultural anthropology class, in which I was able to even write a paper about it for my participant observation paper – well, technically, I wrote about furries, but I had to bring up therianthropy to explain how I came to be aware of the subculture. I also was able to bring it up a lot in our religion class. The teachers have been fascinated and receptive, and in most cases just asked me for more information. 🙂 I think it’s kind of awesome. 😀