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Oldest tattoo tool in western North America discovered

Washington State University archaeologists have discovered the oldest tattooing artifact in western North America.

Andrew Gillreath-Brown.Andrew Gillreath‑Brown, an anthropology PhD candidate, chanced upon the pen‑sized instrument while taking an inventory of archaeological materials that had been sitting in storage for more than 40 years.

With a handle of skunkbush and a cactus‑spine business end, the tool was made around 2,000 years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Basketmaker II period in what is now southeastern Utah.

“Tattooing by prehistoric people in the Southwest is not talked about much because there has not ever been any direct evidence to substantiate it,” Gillreath‑Brown said. “This tattoo tool provides us information about past Southwestern culture we did not know before.”

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CAS undergraduate receives Sigma Xi research grant

AnnMarie McCracken, an undergraduate student at Washington State University, has been awarded a research grant from Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society’s Grants‑in‑Aid of Research program.

Only 12 percent of the 810 grant applications in 2018 were approved for funding, and only 17 of the approved proposals were from undergraduates.

McCracken is pursuing a double bachelor’s degree with majors in French and in anthropology.

She will receive an $847 grant from the Sigma Xi program’s ecology category for her project “An Isotopic Examination of Dietary Niche Partitioning Between Lynx and Bobcats in a Range Edge Environment.”

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John Chau Wanted to Change Life on North Sentinel Island. Was He Wrong?

The death of a young American missionary on a tropical island at the hands of an indigenous group has left us to wonder: Are they better off with us or without us?

Because of their isolation, researchers say, the islanders have no immunity to infections and diseases of the outside world. Even a common cold could kill them. They posit that Mr. Chau put these people in grave danger and he should have never visited.

John Bodley.

John Bodley, an anthropologist at Washington State University, agrees.

“There is no question that this attempt to make contact was totally wrong and a major violation of their human rights to autonomy,” he said. “Outsiders need to respect their wishes and treat them with dignity as fellow human beings. Respect means we don’t assume to know better how they should live.”

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Archaeology offers insights into climate change strategies

Once again, humanity might be well served to take heed from a history lesson. When the climate changed, when crops failed and famine threatened, the peoples of ancient Asia responded. They moved. They started growing different crops. They created new trade networks and innovated their way to solutions in other ways too.

Kyle Bocinsky.
Kyle Bocinsky

So suggests new research by former WSU anthropologist Jade d’Alpoim Guedes and Kyle Bocinsky, an alumnus (PhD ’14) and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, a senior researcher with the Village Ecodynamics Project, and the William D. Lipe Chair in Research with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado.

Their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, describes a computer model they developed that shows for the first time when and where in Asia staple crops would have thrived or fared poorly between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago.

When the climate cooled, people moved away or turned to pastoralism—herds can thrive in grassland where food grains can’t. And they turned to trade. These strategies eventually coalesced into the development of the Silk Road, d’Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky argue. In some areas they also diversified the types of crops they planted.

With their new computer model, the researchers were able to examine in detail how changing climate transformed people’s ability to produce food in particular places, and that enabled them to get at the causes of cultural shift.

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Molecular analysis turns up an unexpected twist in smoking habits of ancient tribes

Tobacco plays a big role in Native American history and culture, predating Christopher Columbus’ arrival by well more than a millennium. But what did ancient tribes smoke? And can history help modern-day tribes put tobacco in its proper place?

A newly published study by Washington State University researchers traces the smoking habits of indigenous peoples in southeastern Washington state over the course of centuries, based on a molecular analysis of residue extracted from smoking pipes found at archaeological sites.

Shannon Tushingham.
Shannon Tushingham

“This is the longest continuous biomolecular record of ancient tobacco smoking from a single region anywhere in the world—initially during an era of pithouse development, through the late pre-contact equestrian era, and into the historic period,” the research team, led by WSU anthropologist Shannon Tushingham, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Back when Columbus got his first taste of tobacco, Native Americans viewed smoking as a ceremonial and religious ritual, marking occasions that ranged from prayers to peace treaties.

Today’s dominant strain of commercial tobacco, known by the scientific name Nicotiana tabacum, was introduced to tribes in the western United States by European settlers in the 1800s. Before contact, Western tribes ranging from Alaska to California used instead wild strains of tobacco, such as N. quadrivalvis (Indian tobacco) and N. attenuata (coyote tobacco).

Some tribes also were known to smoke an entirely different kind of plant called kinnikinnick or bearberry (which is now a popular ornamental plant for Northwest gardens).

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