2016 Conference Sessions
Birds as Relationship: An Ethno-ornithology of Reciprocity
Around the world birds are honored for their powers to communicate, teach, and transform. Through these powers birds are understood to represent key cultural values, such as reciprocity in complementary relations with others. These relations include other birds and animals, plants and people, land and sea, as well as spirit beings. In prayers and ceremonies of both asking and giving thanks, birds participate in a circle of rights and responsibilities that reach out to incorporate others. While the papers presented here examine observed behavior of various species, the emphasis is on birds as social beings in cultural context. To fully appreciate why they are important in a particular society requires that we consider how they are perceived as portraying behavioral norms with moral underpinnings and spiritual consequences. Ethnoornithological research also demonstrates the centrality of traditional environmental bird knowledge for documenting and understanding climatic change, as birds are indicator species for assessing variations within ecological zones. These papers address historical and contemporary contexts that incorporate observations of bird behavior, archeological evidence, linguistic analysis, and the knowledge of ancestors, elders, and children. The specific topics examined include communication and language, behavioral data, clothing and dance, medicine and food, fire and rain, as well as tricksters and teachers. These presentations are based on research conducted in societies of Australia, Canada, China, England, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States, with special emphasis on the traditional environmental knowledge of indigenous and First Nations peoples.
Ethnobiologists generally agree that in local understandings of nature, different taxa may have different culturally determined significance according to their respective relevance in a given local context. Such relevance is, for example, called “value” or “salience”. Venomous animals, due to the threat they pose (snakes, scorpions, etc.) but also due to the probable usefulness of their venom (e.g. centipedes for the preparation of arrow-poison) can be recognized to have a very high cultural relevance. Knowledge about these animals and the effect of their venom may thus be comprehensive and detailed.
In fact, already early ethnographers were interested in treatments of snakebites or scorpion stings, with herbal remedies and possible antidotes, and the use of natural venoms by locals. Nevertheless, reports concerning men and venomous animals are often purely descriptive ones, mentioning, for example, the use of a plant species in order to treat envenomation. What seems to be lacking, is an extensive inquiry on how venomousness is perceived and handled in a given cultural context. In other words, it seems not only interesting to state what a snakebite can have as effects, but also to ask why the snake’s venom is believed to cause these effects, and why a remedy is expected to cure them.
Such an extensive inquiry could lead to a comprehensive understanding of venomousness including an animal’s venom, the health of the affected person (or poisoned game, etc.) and the potency of natural treatments. Adopting such a comprehensive approach to the topic may allow us to study how local scientific knowledge of nature is constructed. It may also allow us understand how and why different knowledge systems differ or coincide. Comparing, for example, how local sciences explain envenomation and healing and how “western” sciences do it may give important insights in what one considers “knowledge” and in how one perceives “science”.
In an attempt to draw from different disciplines and to enhance interdisciplinary discussions, the conveners of the panel come from different scientific fields (ethnobiology, zoology and medical anthropology). We encourage interdisciplinary approaches or those which, if not interdisciplinary, try to outline where their research could be located in an interdisciplinary context. We are interested in all kinds of contributions that make an attempt to enlighten how venomousness of animals is understood and handled in a given cultural context. We don’t demand that a contribution is obligatorily based on the above outlined comprehensive approach which we consider more as a future perspective of research on venomousness. Nevertheless, we expect that manifold contributions presented in this panel interact and thus give, in their entirety, something close to a comprehensive representation of the topic.
Ethnobiology Ethics Lab (eeLab)
The eeLab brings together our community of ethnobiologists to discuss today’s ethical issues. A goal of the eeLab is to produce a set of standards that will form the foundation for a multi-year review and update of the Society of Ethnobiology’s code of ethics. The eeLab is organized in the spirit of learning with and listening to the Society’s members so that we can construct a participatory and collaborative set of governing principles.
Ethnobiologists continuously face ethics problems and make ethics choices in the course of our work. Ethnobiologists confront ethics issues when designing research projects, obtaining research permits, securing funding, conducting fieldwork, interacting with our collaborators and members of surrounding communities, as well as while doing document-based research, and translating our research for scholarly and general audiences. Among the potential issues panelists may discuss are: collaborative ethnobiology; biodiversity legislation (e.g., in Brazil), protection, and/or degradation; Indigenous languages; climate change and/or politics and governance; research visas and permits (e.g., in Indonesia or Native American nations); variations in ethics depending on cultural context; open access publishing; ethnobiology research methods; visual representations (satellite images, drones, from social media); bioethics; classroom teaching; field training; collaborative knowledge production; risky environmental management strategies (e.g., prescribed burning, species introductions); multispecies involvements; intervention in local environmental management when the environment is being severely degraded; the ethics of archaeologists’ relationships with Indigenous communities; the Society’s current Ethics Code; and sovereignty.
Panelists are invited to propose other topics not listed here. The eeLab and discussion questions will be designed around panelists’ expertise.The format for the ethics session will begin with opening statements from the panelists and will continue with a group discussion among panelists and the audience focused around several key questions.
Ethnobiology in National Parks
In the spring of 2015, the United States’ National Park Service purposed changing its rules, concerning Indigenous Peoples collection of plant material within park lands. This change is focused on establishing procedures for parks and federally recognized tribes to established collecting agreements. These agreements would allow for the harvest of culturally significant plants, while maintaining the National Park Service’s mission, to preserve resources and create recreation opportunities for the public. If the rule change is accepted, there maybe a demand for ethnobiologists to conduct research with Native American Communities and park managers. In this session, we will reflect upon past research in National Parks, and present lessons, which may inform future research concerning indigenous use of resources found in parkland.
First Farmers, First Farms: Landscape Ecology of the Early Neolithic
One of the principal ways in which humans interact with their environment is through food procurement, perhaps most intensively in early farming societies. Neolithic farmers dramatically transform local ecologies to meet their needs and yet remain subject to regional, hemispheric, and global-scale climate phenomena. Thus, an understanding of past environments is essential for painting a more complete picture of early Neolithic societies. Papers in this session explore the environmental conditions experienced during the Neolithic worldwide through the lens of landscape ecology—an explicitly geospatial approach that emphasizes environmental heterogeneity and complexity. The authors examine interactions between ecological and anthropogenic processes at multiple scales using state-of-the-art methods including mathematical and computational modelling, advanced GIS applications, paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental reconstructions, soil analysis, zooarchaeology, and paleoethnobotany. Their results are testament to the power of landscape ecology to describe and understand past socioenvironmental processes—processes very likely to be at play in farming societies today.
Foraging Theory, Zooarchaeology, and Archaeobotany
For over three decades, zooarchaeologists and archaeobotanists have employed foraging theory from evolutionary ecology to guide research concerning various aspects of plant and animal exploitation by humans. Using various predictive models from this theoretical approach, researchers have developed multiple lines of evidence centering on resource choice, patch choice, transport decisions, and settlement location in order to understand the hunting and gathering of wild foods and the adoption and utilization of domesticates. As a result, foraging theory provides precise test implications for evaluating how foraging efficiency varied over time and space and has been used to understand human subsistence economies around the world. Contemporary researchers continue to use this powerful approach to explore a variety of archaeological questions, which is the subject of this organized session.
Multiple scales of human interaction with aquatic environments
Humans living near salt and freshwater bodies worldwide have developed different forms of interaction with aquatic environments. These interactions are investigated through various forms of evidence -- including but not limited to archaeological remains, historical records, fisheries data, and local knowledge -- which in turn provide an understanding of human activities at multiple temporal and spatial scales. However, developing more nuanced understandings of human-environment interactions requires integrating knowledge across these scales; from daily activities to long-term continuous practices, across local, regional, and continental scales. This session explores the interconnection of multiple scales of human interactions with aquatic environments, with the aim of gaining a fuller understanding of these activities.
Talking past one another?: the place of ethnobiology in the “multi-species turn.”
In this session participants will explore the intersections between the “multi-species turn,” and ethnobiology's long-term, yet rarely acknowledged contributions to this emergent field of inquiry. Building on a conversation started in our organized session at last year’s SoE meetings in Santa Barbara, and in light of this year’s special JoE issue, “Botanical Ontologies,” we hope to encourage discussion on how the increasing academic and theoretical attention to nonhuman agency relates to ethnobiological research, theory and ethical commitments.
Shared concern over species loss and the increasingly precarious position of the environment have led many scholars previously unconcerned with the non-human to decentralize and challenge the privilege of the human in order to do justice to the multi-species worlds in which we live. How might the theoretical and methodological insights of these multi-species ethnographers enliven the work of ethnobiologists? Conversely, how might the theoretical and methodological contributions of ethnobiology, and the indigenous and traditional knowledge that has been the heartland of the discipline, enrich and enliven the “multi-species turn?” Why is it that we seem to be talking past one another? This session also aims to invite reflection on what the ethical implications may be for rethinking nonhuman agency and what valuable insight ethnobiologists can and should be bringing to the multispecies table.
Session format: six presentations of 15 minutes each, with 15 minutes for discussant feedback and 15 minutes for conversation with session attendees at the end.
The Historical Ecology of Cultural Keystone Places of the Northwest
For many Indigenous people around the world, their traditional lands are archives of their histories, from the deepest of time to recent memories and practices. Some of these landscapes hold particular importance to the identity and well-being of cultural groups today. Such places, recently termed “Cultural Keystone Places” (CKPs), are iconic for these groups and have become symbols of the connections between the past and the future of people and place. In this session, we present the historical ecology of Cultural Keystone Places of the Northwest. Researchers bring together the data and knowledge gleaned from interviews, oral histories, and ecological, archaeological, and botanical studies to recreate the deep and recent histories of these cultural landscapes. These CKPs are vivid examples of the historical secrets held within the lands, water, and ecosystems of the Northwest. Extensive management and use of culturally valued resources and ecosystems – reflected in a continuum of native fruit orchards, berry gardens, intertidal root gardens, and clam gardens – belies the appellation of Northwest Coast peoples as “hunter-gatherers” and their landscapes as “wild”.
Zooarchaeology in the American Southwest and Northwest Mexico: New Pathways and Future Directions
Zooarchaeology is relevant to a wide array of socio-environmental concerns as well as to disciplines as diverse as ecology, conservation biology, geography, and geology. This is especially true in the Southwest/Northwest region, where the rich and tangible material culture, long history of archaeological research, and pressing environmental issues combine to produce a promising arena for theoretically-driven ethnobiological research on archaeofaunal remains. The papers in this session assess the current state of zooarchaeology in the Southwest/Northwest and explore new directions for archaeofaunal research.