Anthropologists are not always popular people. Sometimes their findings and theories are startling and controversial. Sometimes they reveal to us things that we may rather not have heard or known about. Some findings, of course, are better left unsaid, we may think. While some anthropological revelations may not be pleasing to the ear, we may also regard some of the theories as the rantings of an over zealous scientist. And so it may well be. It is a possibility, that many theories are clouded by personal judgments and biases, while others have proved extremely useful in uncovering some of the mysteries of humanity.
The study of Anthropology focuses on humanity and all the forces that come to bear on our life, including the evolution of our species over time. Since Francois Preon first coined the term "Anthropology" in the 1800s, to describe his findings on Tasmanian Aborigines in Australia, anthropologists have been engaged in numerous studies and theories about humanity in various fields of anthropology. Here are a few recent, controversial topics for 2008.
You have probably heard in your history studies about the "Asian passage to North America". It was believed that this exodus happened in one continuous passage. Not so, the anthropologists say today. As reported by anthropologist Connie Mulligan of the University of Florida, this migration happened in three stages with a 20,000 year sojourn on what is now the Bering Strait. These were the ancestors of the current native population that experienced many mutations to their genes during the layover. Their journey was halted by two major glaciers which trapped them in Beringia now the Bering Straits. They survived by fishing and hunting and were only able to continue their journey 15,000 years ago after the melting of the glaciers.
Another controversial study contends that "Human Evolution Is Speeding Up". This theory challenges the belief that human beings showed up about a half a century ago and have remained essentially the same since then. But Henry C. Harpending, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, sees a different trend. On reason given for this is the increase in population over the last 10,000 years from millions to billions, which has created new environments to which humans have to adapt as well as the increase in mutations due to the larger population size.
Should prostitution be criminalized? In wake of the latest political /prostitution scandal, there are renewed suggestions that perhaps many prostitutes make conscious choices about the profession they are perusing and that perhaps it is time to "Decriminalize Prostitution".
Patty Kelly, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, saw prostitution in a different light when she visited Mexico. She worked at a legal state regulated brothel in Mexico (as an anthropologist of course), and found that it was not all bad. While there were abuses as in any occupation, generally the women who worked at the brothel were free to set their own hours, their own rates and the type of activities they would participate in. Her conclusion; not all sex workers are victims and not all clients are monsters.
Anthropology has always been a fascinating subject to me. But any discovery or idea that affects our comfort zones, or challenges what we think we already know, could be viewed as controversial. It is interesting to note that what was controversial just twenty years ago, is common place today. And as we continue to evolve, many of the new discoveries will continue to be replaced by newer discoveries. Can we foresee the future legalization of prostitution and marijuana in the US today? Will time reveal that we were not really the descendants of chimps? Only time and more scientific inquiry will tell.