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Friday, December 28, 2007

Indigenous Christmas Origins

> Indigenous Christmas Origins
> Pagan and Sami Roots of Today's Santa Claus Myths

> (c) Tyson Yunkaporta

> Dec 11, 2007
> fly agaric, the original xmas gift, mwrop
> Flying reindeer, Santa coming down the chimney, elves with pointy hats, mistletoe - all
> these Christmas myths originate from Aboriginal cultures.
> European Pagan Origins of Xmas

> The pagan festival of the invisible sun at the winter solstice is a European tribal
> tradition celebrated for the last ten thousand years at the shortest day and longest night
> of the year. European native peoples since ancient times have held ceremonies for the
> recovery of the sun god at this time, a time which later became known as "Christmas".

> Indigenous traditions from many native peoples have been borrowed for modern Christmas
> celebrations, such as mistletoe from Celtic fertility rites and holly (originally to ward
> off evil) from the Druidic tradition. Originally Santa Claus was not red and white, but
> was first depicted like this due to a seasonal link to native spiritual traditions
> involving hallucinogenic red and white mushrooms known as fly agaric. Later the Coca Cola
> company would patent these colours and popularise the now universally accepted colours of
> Santa's costume.

> Sami Ceremony and Entheogenic Mushrooms

> The red and white fly agaric mushrooms also played a part in the aboriginal origins of the
> flying reindeer image that is now popularly associated with Christmas. These mushrooms, or
> plant teachers, have always been used in rituals involving the sacred reindeer by the
> shamans of the Sami tribal peoples, who are still practicing traditional lifestyles as
> nomadic reindeer herders in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia today. The Koryak shamans
> of Siberian tribes gained notoriety in the grand western narrative of discovery when their
> winter solstice rituals involving the fly agaric were observed and recorded by
> anthropologists/adventurers, giving rise to several modern Christmas myths.

> At this ceremonial time, the Koryak tribespeople would work ritually with the mushrooms in
> their family tents. Their shamans would also work with the mushrooms to reach a
> non-ordinary state of reality that allowed them to do spirit-walking. (Note - the western
> interpretation of this is that it was an hallucination, but written here from an
> Indigenous viewpoint it is framed differently. For Aboriginal peoples, supernatural
> abilities like spirit-walking are as much a part of concrete reality as Christmas trees
> and the presents under them. So in this article, the spirit walking is fact rather than
> belief.)
> Spirit Walkers Bringing Gifts

> Koryak spirit walkers would visit the tents of their fellow tribesmen on their flying
> reindeer, the reindeer being a sacred totemic being for Sami tribal peoples. Once there,
> they would enter the tent through the smoke hole in the roof and distribute more mushrooms
> as gifts. Then they would exit through the chimney hole and fly away on their reindeer
> beings once again. It has been suggested that the egg-nog Christmas tradition was even
> grounded in these rituals, based on the practice of tribesmen drinking the agaric-spiked
> urine of the shamans who had ingested the mushrooms, perhaps mixed with egg and spices to
> disguise the taste. (Makes you think twice about mulled wine, for that matter!)

> On a more sober note, traditional Sami reindeer herders wear red suits and long felt hats,
> which is where the modern Christmas myth of Santa's elf helpers comes from.

> Clearly, the origins of many western Christmas traditions such as Santa's elves, Santa
> coming down the chimney, gift-giving, Santa's colours, Santa's home base in the Arctic
> North, and mistletoe can all be linked to time-honoured indigenous tribal ceremonies and
> customary practices.
> Aboriginal Christmas Reflections

> Christmas is as good a time as any to acknowledge the contributions of indigenous peoples
> around the planet to the formation of global knowledge, culture and innovations since the
> "age of discovery". So much of the technology, food, textiles, traditions and even
> mathematics that formed the basis for modern western civilisation was borrowed, or
> synthesised, or developed in conjunction with native peoples. And that is one hell of a
> Christmas gift.

> So spare a thought for the planet's fourth-world (indigenous) peoples at Christmas time,
> most of whom are excluded from the bounty of first-world colonies built on stolen native
> lands, resources and knowledge. So many Aboriginal people are even excluded from basic
> rights like education. Bear in mind that in America every year people spend more money on
> Christmas presents for their pets than it would cost to educate every third-world and
> fourth-world person on earth who is currently denied schooling.

> Ho, ho, ho.


> --
> Said American [Indian] Chieftain Acuera in reply to
> the invader de Soto's demand for submission to
> the king and the church so as to 'enjoy the benefits
> of 'civilization' and service:

> "I have long since learned who you [European Christians] are,
> through others of you who came years ago to my land;
> and I already know very well what your customs and
> behavior are like. To me you are professional
> vagabonds who wander from place to place,
> gaining your livelihood by robbing, sacking and
> murdering people who have given you no offense.
> ... Accordingly, I and all of my people have vowed
> to die a hundred deaths to maintain the freedom
> of our land. This is our answer, both
> for the present and forevermore."
> -- "Florida of the Inca" (1591)
> by El Inca [aka Garcilaso de la Vega]
> - First American Author to be published.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cooking Up Bigger Brains
Scientific American Magazine - January, 2008
Cooking Up Bigger Brains
Our hominid ancestors could never have eaten enough raw food to support our
large, calorie-hungry brains, Richard Wrangham claims. The secret to our
evolution, he says, is cooking

Richard Wrangham has tasted chimp food, and he doesn’t like it. "The typical
fruit is very unpleasant," the Harvard University biological anthropologist says
of the hard, strangely shaped fruits endemic to the chimp diet, some of which
look like cherries, others like cocktail sausages. "Fibrous, quite bitter. Not
a tremendous amount of sugar. Some make your stomach heave." After a few tastings
in western Uganda, where he works part of the year on his 20-year-old project
studying wild chimpanzees, Wrangham came to the conclusion that no human could
survive long on such a diet. Besides the unpalatable taste, our weak jaws, tiny
teeth and small guts would never be able to chomp and process enough calories from
the fruits to support our large bodies.

Then, one cool fall evening in 1997, while gazing into his fireplace in
Cambridge, Mass., and contemplating a completely different question — "What
stimulated human evolution?" — he remembered the chimp food. "I realized what a
ridiculously large difference cooking would make," Wrangham says. Cooking could
have made the fibrous fruits, along with the tubers and tough, raw meat that chimps
also eat, much more easily digestible, he thought—they could be consumed quickly
and digested with less energy. This innovation could have enabled our chimp­like
ancestors’ gut size to shrink over evolutionary time; the energy that would have
gone to support a larger gut might have instead sparked the evolution of our
bigger-brained, larger-bodied, humanlike forebears.
Wrangham, who first encountered chimps as a student of Jane Goodall’s in 1970,
began his career looking at the way ecological pressures, especially food
distribution, affect chimp society. He famously conducted research into chimp
violence, leading to his 1996 book Demonic Males. But ever since staring into
that fire 10 years ago, he has been plagued with thoughts of how humans evolved.
"I tend to think about human evolution through the lens of chimps," he remarks.
"What would it take to convert a chimpanzeelike ancestor into a human?" Fire to
cook food, he reasoned, which led to bigger bodies and brains.

And that is exactly what he found in Homo erectus, our ancestor that first appeared
1.6 million to 1.9 million years ago. H. erectus’s brain was 50 percent larger than
that of its predecessor, H. habilis, and it experienced the biggest drop in tooth
size in human evolution. "There’s no other time that satisfies expectations that we
would have for changes in the body that would be accompanied by cooking," Wrangham
So Wrangham did more research. He examined groups of modern hunter-gatherers all over
the world and found that no human group currently eats all their food raw. Humans
to be well adapted to eating cooked food: modern humans need a lot of high-quality
calories (brain tissue requires 22 times the energy of skeletal muscle); tough,
fibrous fruits and tubers cannot provide enough. Wrangham and his colleagues
that H. erectus (which was in H. sapiens’s size range) would have to eat roughly 12
pounds of raw plant food a day, or six pounds of raw plants plus raw meat, to get
enough calories to survive. Studies on modern women show that those on a raw
diet often miss their menstrual periods because of lack of energy. Adding high-energy
raw meat does not help much, either—Wrangham found data showing that even at chimps’
chewing rate, which can deliver them 400 food calories per hour, H. erectus would
needed to chew raw meat for 5.7 to 6.2 hours a day to fulfill its daily energy needs.
When it was not gathering food, it would literally be chewing that food for the rest
of the day.
Wrangham’s theory would fit together nicely if not for that pesky problem of
fire. Wrangham points to some data of early fires that may indicate that H. erectus
indeed tame fire. At Koobi Fora in Kenya, anthropologist Ralph Rowlett of the
of Missouri–Columbia has found evidence of scorched earth from 1.6 million years ago
that contains a mixture of burned wood types, indicating purposely made fire and no
signs of roots having burned underground (a tree struck by lightning would show only
one wood type and burned roots). The discoveries are consistent with human-controlled
fire. Rowlett plans next to study the starch granules found in the area to see if
could have been cooked there.

14000 year old Natufian Toolkit

December 27, 2007

ABOUT 14,000 years ago the owner of an
ancient tool kit plonked it down near the
wall inside a small hut in what is now
It contained everything that could come in
handy on a trip to gather food: a sickle to
cut wild wheat, spearheads to hunt gazelle,
and even bead-making materials to while away
a few hours waiting for more prey to appear.

But it lay there, forgotten, for thousands of
years, until now. The collection of 36
objects has been unearthed and studied by
Australian archaeologist Phillip Edwards,
providing a rare insight into life for
prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

Dr Edwards, of La Trobe University, said the
implements had probably been carried in a
shoulder bag made of animal hide or twined

"The most plausible explanation is that it
served as a tool kit for use on foraging
excursions," he said. But it was not known
whether the owner was male or female.

The ancient people of this region were known
as Natufians and built their earthen-floored
huts near sources of water, gathering wild
barley to eat as well as wheat.

The sickle in the tool kit was made of two
pieces of animal horn and 10 small stone
blades, which had been placed in two rows
according to their colour. This showed the
hunter-gatherers were interested in
appearance, not just utility, said Dr
Edwards, whose research is published in the
latest issue of the journal Antiquity.

The more than 20 sharp pieces of flint in the
tool kit could have been used to make spears
or arrows to kill the many animals in this
lush area of the Jordan Valley. The large
number of spares in the tool kit might have
allowed a lone hunter to re-arm while
pursuing an animal.

Other possible weapons in the tool kit
included a clutch of smooth pebbles. "The
smaller stones may have been used as
slingshot projectiles," Dr Edwards said.

But there may also have been some time for
handicrafts. The kit also contained five toe
bones from gazelles, which the Natufians used
to turn into beads by drilling holes in them
and cutting them to the same shape.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Natufian Toolkit Discovered

14,000 year old tool kit found in Jordan, unique sickle in two
carefully grooved horn pieces is a marvel of form and function.

"There was a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of
flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth
stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone (maybe for striking flint
pieces off the flint core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were
used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool," he said.

Ancient Toolkit Gives Glimpse of Prehistoric Life
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Dec. 13, 2007 -- Before the end of the last ice age, a hunter-gatherer
left a bag of tools near the wall of a roundhouse residence, where
archaeologists have now found the collection 14,000 years later.

The tool set -- one of the most complete and well preserved of its
kind -- provides an intriguing glimpse of the daily life of a
prehistoric hunter-gatherer.

The contents, as described to Discovery News by Phillip Edwards, a
senior lecturer in the Archaeology Program at Melbourne's La Trobe
University, show the owner of the bag was well equipped for obtaining
meat and edible plants in the wild.

"There was a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of
flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth
stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone (maybe for striking flint
pieces off the flint core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were
used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool," he said.

Edwards outlines the finds, attributed to the Natufian culture from a
site called Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan, in the latest issue of

He believes the tools were enclosed in a hide or wickerwork bag with a
strap that would have been worn over the shoulder. Such bags rarely
had compartments, so the owner probably protected valuable items by
wrapping them in rolls of bark or leather before placing them at the
bottom of the bag.

The sickle, constructed out of two carefully grooved horn pieces, was
fitted with color-matched tan and grey bladelets. It would have been a
marvel of form and function for its day and is the only tool of its
kind ever linked to the Natufian people.

The rest of the items were designed to immobilize and then kill game
such as aurochs, red deer, hares, storks, partridges, owls, tortoises
and the major source of meat -- gazelles.

"A lone hunter or a group of hunters might wait for gazelles to cross
their path while waiting behind a low 'hide' made of twigs and brush,"
Edwards explained.

"They might have worked on making bone beads to wile away the time.
Then a hunter could get off a shot while the animals were off their
guard. A first shot might wound, but not kill, and then a hunter or a
group of them will track the wounded animal."

He added, "We don't know if Natufian hunters had the bow and arrow, or
just spears."

The mountain gazelles targeted by the Near Eastern hunters probably
weighed between 39 and 55 pounds, so a strong adult "could carry an
entire carcass over his shoulders without much trouble."

But the bag's owner wasn't necessarily a man; women are thought to
have been in charge of plant gathering. The tools, therefore, either
belonged to a woman hunter-gatherer, or work activities were more
gender-blind than thought during prehistoric times, Edwards theorized.

Francois Valla, director of the French Research Center in Jerusalem
and a noted archaeologist, told Discovery News that similar ancient
clusters of tools have been excavated, but this latest one is "the
most spectacular of them all."

"The clustering of these items is due to a decision made by some
Natufian individual," Valla said. "As such, it is a rare testimony of
the behavior of a person 14,000 years ago."

The toolkit's showpiece item, its double-bladed sickle, is now on
display in the museum of the Faculty of Archaeology & Anthropology at
Jordan's Yarmouk University.
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