This summary will share some of the exciting work being done by researchers with HRAF data from the eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases as well as Explaining Human Culture (EHC), Teaching eHRAF, and other open access materials from HRAF. Want to be informed of the latest eHRAF research? Sign up here to receive an email when our next summary is available.
Cross-cultural researchers from many disciplines utilize eHRAF data as the source for new and ongoing research into hundreds of fascinating topics. The eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases facilitate these types of studies by indexing vast stores of ethnographic knowledge across over 468 cultures and traditions. The collections are indexed by culture and subject, and organized by subsistence type, region and sub-region, as well as popular cross-cultural sample filters such as the Probability Sample Files and Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.
Several recent publications focus on material culture in foraging and pastoralist communities, including how tool use and other cultural knowledge is taught, learned, and transmitted to children; new findings about the use of wooden clubs for past and present hunting and violence among foragers; and how myths are transmitted across generations. The titles and a brief abstract for each paper are included below.
Toys as Teachers: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Object Use and Enskillment in Hunter–Gatherer Societies
Felix Riede, Sheina Lew-Levy, Niels N. Johannsen, Noa Lavi & Marc Malmdorf Andersen
Against the backdrop of a cross-cultural database of ethnographically documented object use and play in 54 globally distributed foraging communities, we here discuss the ways in which children make and use tools and toys. We provide a cross-cultural inventory of objects made for and by hunter–gatherer children and adolescents. … Our data suggests that children’s self-directed interactions with objects, especially during play, has a critical role in early-age enskillment. Placed within a niche construction framework, we combine ethnographic perspectives on object play with archaeological evidence for play objects to offer an improved cross-cultural frame of reference for how social learning varies across early human life history and what role material culture may play in this process.
Cultural Learning Among Pastoralist Children
Temechegn G. Bira and Barry S. Hewlett
Although studies exist on children’s learning in subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherers, comparable cross-cultural studies have not been conducted for pastoralists. The purpose of this paper is to identify and describe patterns of cultural learning in pastoralists and to compare these patterns to what we know about cultural learning in hunter-gatherers. The study utilizes 13 cultures coded as pastoralists in eHRAF World Cultures. […] Several differences in cultural learning between the two groups were identified: pastoralist ethnographers were less likely than hunter-gatherer ethnographers to mention learning from peers and more likely to mention learning via local enhancement and stimulus enhancement.
There is a popular idea that archaic humans commonly used wooden clubs as their weapons. This is not based on archaeological finds, which are minimal from the Pleistocene, but rather on a few ethnographic analogies and the association of these weapons with simple technology. This article presents the first quantitative cross-cultural analysis of the use of wooden clubs and throwing sticks for hunting and violence among foragers. Using a sample of 57 recent hunting-gathering societies from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, it is shown that the majority used clubs for violence (86%) and/or hunting (74%). […] The great variation in the forms and use of clubs and throwing sticks among recent hunter-gatherers, however, indicates that they are not standardized weapons and that similar variation may have existed in the past. Many such prehistoric weapons may therefore have been quite sophisticated, multifunctional, and carried strong symbolic meaning.
Cross-cultural forager myth transmission rules: Implications for the emergence of cumulative culture
Michelle Scalise Sugiyama and Kieran J. Reilly
For most of human evolution, accumulated cultural knowledge has been stored in memory and transmitted orally. This presents a daunting information management problem: how to store and transmit this knowledge in a portable format that resists corruption. One solution–widespread among foragers–is to encode knowledge in narrative. […] We hypothesize that these rules subserve high-fidelity transmission across generations. […] To test these predictions, we searched the forager ethnographic record for descriptions of myth performance, and coded them for prescriptions/proscriptions regarding narrator age, performance context, audience composition, narrative delivery, and audience comportment, as well as sanctions associated with rule transgression or compliance.
eHRAF has also been used to explore environmental stressors, including adaptation to drought in traditional agrosystems and risks of gender-based violence during extreme water insecurity.
Small-scale farming in drylands: New models for resilient practices of millet and sorghum cultivation
Abel Ruiz-Giralt, Stefano Biagetti, Marco Madella, Carla Lancelotti
Finger millet, pearl millet and sorghum are amongst the most important drought-tolerant crops worldwide. They constitute primary staple crops in drylands, where their production is known to date back over 5000 years ago. […] Here, we present new models that focus on the ecological factors driving finger millet, pearl millet and sorghum traditional cultivation, with a global perspective. The interaction between environment and traditional agrosystems was investigated by Redundancy Analysis of published literature and tested against novel ethnographic data. Contrary to earlier beliefs, our models show that the total annual precipitation is not the most determinant factor in shaping millet and sorghum agriculture. Instead, our results point to the importance of other variables such as the duration of the plant growing cycle, soil water-holding capacity or soil nutrient availability.
Water insecurity and gender-based violence: A global review of the evidence
Paula S. Tallman, Shalean Collins, Gabriela Salmon-Mulanovich, Binahayati Rusyidi, Aman Kothadia, Stroma Cole
We reviewed the existing literature documenting the association between water insecurity and gender-based violence to (1) describe the characteristics and contexts of available studies, and (2) identify and classify documented gender-based violence across domains of water insecurity (access, affordability, adequacy, reliability, and safety). […] We conclude that there is a dearth of information assessing gender-based violence and water insecurity, especially in Latin America, North America, and Southeast Asia, and involving locally-based scholars. We suggest that the spectrum of what is considered “violence” in relation to water insecurity be expanded and that scholars and practitioners adopt the term “gender-based water violence” to describe water-related stressors that are so extreme as to threaten human health and well-being, particularly that of women and girls. Finally, we encourage the development of cross-culturally validated measures of gender-based violence, which can be deployed in conjunction with standardized measures of water insecurity, to evaluate interventions that target these linked threats to global health.
Romantic love is a popular topic for cross-cultural research using eHRAF. Data from eHRAF World Cultures was used to test the importance of romantic love as the basis of marriage in non-industrial societies:
Love, Marriage, Family Organization and the Puzzle of Neolocality in Non-Industrial Societies: A Cross-Cultural Study
Victor C. de Munck, Andrey Korotayev, and Vadim Ustyuzhanin
In this paper we answer the question, “What features of family organization promote romantic love as a basis for marriage in non-industrial societies?” We also directly address Rosenblatt’s findings and those of a follow up study by Lee and Stone that, counterintuitively, show non-neolocality rather than neolocality to be correlated with love as a basis for marriage. Ember and Levinson and even Lee and Stone have thought this finding to be puzzling. We have recoded Rosenblatt’s original measures … using ethnographic data taken from eHRAF World Cultures […] Using these data sets we obtained 109 cultures and tested how post marital residence and marriage types affected the importance of romantic love as a basis for marriage using multiple ordinal regression. Nuclear family organization by itself (including polygynous families) is not significantly correlated with our dependent variable.
Research from HRAF
Based on our NSF-funded Natural Hazards and Cultural Transformations project, HRAF Researchers published a cross-cultural comparison of coping mechanisms in response to natural hazards:
Local knowledge and practice in disaster relief: A worldwide cross-cultural comparison of coping mechanisms
Rachele Pierro, Carol R. Ember, Emily Pitek, Ian Skoggard
We have systematically examined 90 societies from the ethnographic record to explore and document the strategies that people in the past have implemented in response to serious natural hazards. Our review reveals a rich diversity of coping mechanisms and contingency plans used by societies around the world in response to different hazards, particularly floods and droughts. We collect, classify, and compare different types of coping mechanisms, focusing on four major types: technological, subsistence, economic and religious. We find that most societies employ multiple types of coping mechanisms, although our data suggest that technological coping mechanisms are the most common coping mechanisms in response to fast-onset hazards, whereas religious coping mechanisms are the most common mechanism used in response to slow-onset hazards. We also find that religious and nonreligious coping strategies are not antithetical to each other.
A team of researchers (including HRAF President Carol R. Ember) on another NSF grant project – Towards an Integrated Understanding of Natural Resource Use and Management – tested theories explaining variations in land ownership:
Drivers of global variation in land ownership
Patrick H. Kavanagh, Hannah J. Haynie, Geoff Kushnick, Bruno Vilela, Ty Tuff, Claire Bowern, Bobbi S. Low, Carol R. Ember, Kathryn R. Kirby, Carlos A. Botero, Michael C. Gavin
Here we conduct a global empirical test of long-standing theories from ecology, economics and anthropology regarding potential drivers of land ownership and territoriality. Prior theory suggests that resource defensibility, subsistence strategies, population pressure, political complexity and cultural transmission mechanisms may all influence land ownership. We applied multi-model inference procedures based on logistic regression to cultural and environmental data from 102 societies, 71 with some form of land ownership and 31 with no land ownership. We found an increased probability of land ownership in mountainous environments, where patchy resources may be more cost effective to defend via ownership. We also uncovered support for the role of population pressure, with a greater probability of land ownership in societies living at higher population densities. Our results also show more land ownership when neighboring societies also practiced ownership. We found less support for variables associated with subsistence strategies and political complexity.
Another recent publication from anthropologist and HRAF Director of Academic Development & Operations, Francine Barone, explores how open educational resources can contribute to more inclusive course materials for teaching and learning anthropology with an example from Teaching eHRAF.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced myriad challenges for teaching anthropology and has altered the academic landscape for years to come. However, it has also brought new opportunities for improving coursework with creative digital methods and online resources. Can an entire anthropology course be taught using only freely available web-based materials? If so, what could it look like? I embarked on this digital learning experiment hoping to create open educational resources (OERs) that could be shared and adapted by anthropology instructors. Aimed at introducing students to the fundamentals of cultural anthropology, Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures is an engaging 13-week syllabus supported by carefully curated readings, videos, and activities. I reflect on designing these resources as adaptable tools for online or hybrid learning during the pandemic and share feedback from instructors and students who have used them. Finally, I suggest that flexible approaches to education implemented out of necessity to buffer the uncertainty and disruption of a global public health crisis will continue to have long-term effects on teaching and learning anthropology.
Are human-dog relationships the same throughout the world? Researchers used eHRAF World Cultures to uncover a link between the function and characteristics of human-dog bonds in a global sample.
Function predicts how people treat their dogs in a global sample
Angela M. Chira, Kathryn Kirby, Theresa Epperlein & Juliane Bräuer
Dogs have an extraordinary relationship with humans. We understand, communicate, and cooperate remarkably with our dogs. But almost all we know about dog-human bonds, dog behaviour, and dog cognition is limited to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) societies. WEIRD dogs are kept for a variety of functions, and these can influence their relationship with their owner, as well as their behaviour and performance in problem-solving tasks. But are such associations representative worldwide? Here we address this by collecting data on the function and perception of dogs in 124 globally distributed societies using the eHRAF cross-cultural database. […] Overall, our study shows the mechanistic link between function and the characteristics of dog-human bonds in a global sample. These results are a first step towards challenging the notion that all dogs are the same, and open questions about how function and associated cultural correlates could fuel departures from the ‘typical’ behaviour and social-cognitive skills we commonly associate with our canine friends.
Cross-Cultural Research (CCR)
Cross-Cultural Research: The Journal of Comparative Social Science (CCR) is sponsored by the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) and is the official journal of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research. The mission of the journal is to publish peer-reviewed articles describing cross-cultural or comparative studies in all of the social/behavioral sciences and other sciences dealing with humans, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, human ecology, and evolutionary biology. Learn more on this page.
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Would you like to see your eHRAF-based work research featured here? To submit items for consideration for the next edition, please email links to your recently published research (including an abstract) to Francine Barone by 5pm EST on June 19th, 2023.