Wulf Schiefenhövel: Modern models of the past: Fieldwork among the Eipo: Highlands of West-New Guinea
13:00 - 14:00
Prof. Dr. Wulf Schiefenhövel
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Human Ethology Group
Seminar Room House 4, Tea & Coffee 12:30h
Modern archaeology has made substantial progress in interpreting finds stemming from our early ancestors. Yet, stones, bones and beads cannot tell the full story of prehistoric life. When, in 1974, interdisciplinary research began to explore the hitherto isolated Eipomek Valley and its people, we met neolithic gardeners-gatherers-hunters who lived according to their traditions and had hardly any knowledge of the outside world. To learn their language and understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviours was a fascinating adventure. Humankind is united by evolved universals, which are much stronger than the separating effects of culture. This also true for natural science: the Eipo are extremely skilled observers of nature, their botanical and zoological taxonomy matches our scientific Linnaean system. Since the early 1980ies, the Eipo have turned to Christianity, a political, rather than a theological decision, and have so far fared rather well. From stone adze to computer in less than two generations was a transition easier than expected by us. The human brain is extraordinarily flexible – one does not need to have to read Aristotle to be a functioning member of modern society. Anthropological, ethno-archaeological and archaeological fieldwork undertaken jointly with Marian Vanhaeren and her team of Bordeaux University is likely to yield new insights concerning the early history of human inhabitance of the second largest island of our planet; it began 60,000 years ago.