Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rites of Passage: Marriage

In my last post I talked all about adulthood and what the really means in a society. Between my thoughts and the comments of some other we pretty much concluded that adulthood is unique to each individual culture and society. Also it was pointed out that the “rites of passage” that I mentioned (sweet 16, getting a car, getting a job, etc) are not really “rites of passage” like the elaborate ceremonies in other cultures. The same can all be said about another rite of passage: Marriage.

Many of you know how I feel about marriage and if not think about how my journey into “finding myself” and becoming an adult has no mention of a spouse. It’s true I’m a very cynical person, but I’m talking about the concept of marriage as a whole, not love. Let’s take a step back and look at marriage in the United States first. First off we have crazy one night celebrity weddings, drunken Vegas weddings, weddings that are showcase for the parents of the bride, weddings that are broadcast nationwide and then you have the simple madly in love sharing their love with their family and friends weddings. Talk about a mismatch of ideas and practices yet the government still wants to restrict marriage (though don’t get me started on that issue…).

Now many of you might yell at me for this next part, but bear in mind that I’m looking at it from an anthropological perspective. Marrying out of love is something that has only become popular in the past couple of centuries. Marriage was, to many in ancient times, the same thing as their journey into adulthood. Girls would be married off at a young age for many different reasons and they were hardly ever love. There are many examples even in the Judeo-Christian Bible of girls being married off to satisfy their family debts. This still goes on in some societies around the world. So once again I point out that “love” and “Marriage” being intertwined is a newer concept.

So before one enters into a marriage they go through the rite of passage of the actual wedding. I happen to be one of those people who thinks the thought of parading yourself and spouse in front of hundreds of people to say “I love you” and want to spend the “rest of my life” with you (Yes they are in quotes for a reason, I’m not just quote happy) is an unnecessary measure. What I do like though is the rituals that many other cultures have that are associated with the wedding (imagine that a pagan like me who loves rituals…).

My favorite of all the wedding rituals happens to be the Russian wedding. First of all it is important to note that like in many European countries this is a multiple day event, sometimes even lasting a week. The first step in the wedding is the vykup nevesty which means “Paying of the Ransom,” and yes it is what it sounds like. The groom shows up with money or jewels to “pay” for his bride. This is all done in a very comical way even sometimes the bride hiding and him having to find her, or even a friend dressing up as the bride to fool the groom.

The next part is the actual wedding ceremony which consists of three parts: the optional traditional service, the betrothal and then the main service in either a church setting or the civil setting. During the civil ceremony, the parents give the couple two crystal glasses, which they break. The more pieces it breaks into, the more years of happiness they have. It is also customary for the married couple to release either balloons or two white doves to symbolize their love and partnership which is written in the sky for all to see. The bride also releases another balloon with her maiden name written on it, symbolizing her new life journey with her husband. After all of this the couple and their guests embark on a tour of the city where they have the opportunity to take pictures at historical landmarks.

Then comes the best part (well at least I think so): the reception. At the reception instead of toasting with champagne or wine like we do here in America, they toast with shots of vodka. The first toast is made to the newlyweds and after the first shot, the guests begin to shout Gorko, Gorko, Gorko, Gorko means “bitter.” To combat the bitterness, the couple must kiss for a long time. The second toast is made to the parents. Then the new couple dances the first dance of the night. As the night continues the guests dance, sing, play games, and make toasts (thus getting incredibly drunk). This celebration lasts several days, as the family continues to eat, drink, and celebrate. This part of marriage I could definitely get into.

The Russian example is just one in many elaborate rituals an ceremonies surrounding marriage. Once again though at its core marriage isn’t about love, religion or any of the other things it has been turned into. It is about two people entering into a partnership that they will both benefit from. Some marry out of necessity, some out of tradition and some out of love. Now we Americans marry out of love along with stupidity, drunkenness and greed.

Now let’s go back to the definition of what marriage is, which has to be broken down by cultures. There is no one umbrella definition for marriage which is why it irritated me when people use the argument “Same sex marriage is going to change the definition of marriage.” David Schwimmer, an anthropology Professor from the University of Manitoba says in the best. He talks about how in general, Western cultures consider marriage as “an exclusive and permanent bond between a man and a woman that is centrally concerned with assigning sexual rights in each of the partners and establishing parental responsibility for the children of the union” (Schwimmer 2003).

Traditionally, it also organizes parents and children into domestic groups in which basic roles are distributed. Variations and changes, such as same-sexed marriages, are seen as an affront to a divinely ordained order. However, other cultures have developed very different conjugal arrangements, which suggest “that other solutions to basic human problems have worked in different social contexts and that changes in Western patterns might not necessary lead to social and moral decay” (Schwimmer 2003).

So that fuels the fire that there is no one definition of marriage. Elaborate ceremonies and rituals aside marriage is something that is so much different at its core in so many different societies. There are some anthropologists that devote their whole life to studying marriage and trying to find out just what it is.


“Defining Marriage” by: Brian Schwimmer, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
September 2003

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rites of Passage: Adulthood

In the past couple of months a lot of things have happened to transition me firmly into “adulthood.” I got a full time job, cut my hair shorter, started paying off student loans, applied for Grad School and last night officially bought a car under my name. All these things are the staples, the milestones if you will, in the journey to becoming an adult. Or so this is what our society says.
This then got me thinking about all the societies and cultures out there, past and present. The definition of adulthood and the milestones involved with it are completely different than ours. The official definition of adulthood is “the period of time in your life after your physical growth has stopped and you are fully developed” (Webster’s Dictionary). So what it seems to come down to is a biological condition. On the other level it’s defined as the “state (and responsibilities) of a person who has attained maturity” (Webster’s Dictionary). So basically if we combine that together on an anthropological level we can determine this definition of adulthood: The period of time in your life after you are fully developed and you have taken on responsibility after attaining mental maturity.
Already we can see tons of holes in that definition. First, everyone matures physically at different rates, especially when it comes to the different sexes so how do we calculate that? Second, what exactly defines mental maturity? Lastly, what sort of responsibilities are we talking about? These questions are the ones that cause all these different staples of the journey into adulthood in different societies.
So let’s start with our society then. In American culture initial adulthood starts at puberty, thus fulfilling the biological requirement. Then you have the usual graduating from High School and going either into college, trade school, traveling around the world or right into a job. Then after any of those you journey into your “career” whatever that may be. At that point some move out of their parents’ house (some even before this) and take on the responsibility of paying for their own rent, insurance, bills, etc. Thus you have reached the pivotal point in adulthood.
Other societies are nothing like this, especially when you look at past societies. In most hunting and gathering societies adulthood was achieved at the same time biological maturity did. Boys became men around the ages 13 – 15 and jumped right into foraging for food and killing animals for sustenance, fur and other things. Girls matured usually around this same period and tended to the household of their parents or they married another man in the tribe and took to his household. In some other societies during times of war a boy would become an adult as soon as he could fight properly and in some just wield a weapon. They were then sent off to fight alongside their fellow clansman/tribesmen.
These two examples are still going on now in some parts of the world. They then would constitute the taking on of responsibilities as part of biological/mental maturation thus becoming an adult.
When we think about it, all of these things even in our own society are rites of passages. Even though I usually don’t like quoting Wikipedia I really like their definition of rite of passage: “A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person's progress from one status to another. It is a universal phenomenon which can show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures.” So the journey into adulthood itself is a rite of passage and then there are various others associated with it. For example graduating from High School/College, getting a job, getting a car, etc. are all rites of passage for our society. In the other societies, taking on the responsibility of hunting, caring for the household and going off to war would be the rites of passage. Now those might not seem like the other ritual events that you think of when you think of rites of passage (wedding ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, ritual dances, etc) but at their core they are.
What it comes down to on a personal level is that my journey into adulthood started with my going through puberty, becoming a “woman” and everything, but it is still ongoing. There are many rites of passage along the way that I still have to go through. What defines these in my opinion is based on the different cultures and societies. Everyone’s is different and goes through different stages. There are anthropologists out there who spend their whole life studying these rites and delving more into this whole concept of “adulthood.” The before mentioned just happens to be my take on it so go ahead and put your own takes in, you know I love discussing things! (Pending that Blogger decides to actually let me comment on my blog).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marcus Aurelius: Order of the Universe, and Man’s Place in that Universe.

Marcus Aurelius was a great political theorist of his time and has greatly influenced the way that the world looks at politics. Marcus rings a bell in most minds as being one of the great Roman Emperors of his time. He ruled Rome from 161 BCE until his death in 180 BCE and was consider to be the last of the “Five Good Emperors” (“Marcus Aerulius web-1). He was best known to the philosophic community as being a great Stoic philosopher. Some even argue that he was the best Stoic philosopher of all times, and really stuck to the Stoic Creed with his theories (Sellars web-1).
Marcus Aurelius’ most famous work was his Meditations. The style of this book is more like a journal that Marcus during his journey through central Europe. In fact the first part of the work reads more like an autobiography, but the entries have no chronology and many theorists suspect that this was written separate from the rest of the work. The rest of the work outlines his theories, mainly regarding his Stoic philosophy (Sellars web-2).
He was greatly influenced by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, and according to other theorists, Marcus was very familiar with Epictetus’ Discourses. In Marcus’s Meditations he even outlines some of the Stoic Creeds relating it back to political theory (Sellars 2). He mentions the three topoi (according to Epictetus). The three topoi are: desires and aversions, impulse to act and not to act and freedom from deception, hasty judgment and anything related to assents (Sellars web-3).
In this paper, I will examine how Marcus Aerulius viewed the world and man’s place in the world and how that applies to political theory. I will outline what Marcus Aerulius theories were, specifically explained in his work Meditations and explain how they apply to political theory both in his time and in the 21st century. Also in this paper I will provide critiques of other scholars in the field of political science on Marcus Aerulius’s theories.
Before we can understand more about Marcus Aerulius as a theorist and how he influenced 21st century thought, we must first examine his life. He was born Marcus Aerulius Antonius Augustus on April 26th 121 B.C. in Rome. He was taught by Emperor Hadrian, but later was taught by Emperor Antoninus in 138 AD. Marcus was studied rhetoric later in his life by Fronto but later became more interested in philosophy. Later in his life he became Emperor of Rome, and at first ruled alongside Lucius Verus in 161 AD, then by himself in 169. Because of all the attacks that went on through his rule, he was constantly moving around central Europe. During his reign, even with all the moving around he was able to establish four chairs of philosophy in Athens one for each of the four principle philosophical traditions: Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurean (Sellars web-1).
Marcus’s life was full of so many different environments and different influences that it influenced his philosophy on life. Most of his philosophy came from the teachings of Epictetus, especially Stoic philosophy which he based his book Meditations on. The focus of Marcus throughout his work is the order of the universe and man’s place within that universe.
P.A. Brunt wrote an article titled “Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations” in which he outlines his interpretations of Marcus Aurelius’s work Mediations and how they can apply to the world. Brunt describes the first part of the work as being an autobiography of Marcus Aurelius’s life because it alludes to his personal experiences and on occasion refers to his family. Brunt also says that the purpose of this first part of the work isn’t to make his own life “a paradigm for the instruction of humanity” (Brunt 8). Thus the first part of Meditations is just Marcus Aurelius talking to himself, since it was never his purpose to create a moral treatise for the masses to read. Brunt then questions if the first part of the work should even be studied along with the rest of the book which takes a more philosophical take.
Brunt then describes the rest of the book as Marcus Aurelius’s outline of the order of the universe and the place that man finds himself in that universe. Marcus Aurelius’s first point in his work is that man should take the gifts from god over everything else, and reject tyranny. This way man remains honest, and virtuous within the world. Marcus Aurelius revels in the idea of the “Stoic” creed and the focus of the individual in society. The individual then becomes responsible for his own actions within the universe otherwise he will feel the repercussions from the order of the universe (Brunt 5).
Throughout Brunt’s article, the word courage comes up a lot when he is talking about Marcus Aurelius’s views of both the leader and the citizens. Courage was a chief idiosyncrasy that Marcus felt everyone should have some degree of. Along with courage, Marcus Aurelius thought one of the biggest problems with man is that it is too easy for him to succumb to earthly sins. Marcus was an advocate for the rejection of temptations of sensual and greedy nature, because these are the marks of tyrannical behavior (Brunt 7).
The concept of “truth-finding and truth-telling” are extremely important and Brunt points out that Marcus Aurelius uses the example of Achilles and Odysseus from Greek history to illustrate this point. Marcus takes this contrast of Achilles and Odysseus from Plato’s teachings. Achilles then is the “most straightforward and truthful of men” where Odysseus is the more typical Greek (Brunt 9).
Brunt focuses on Marcus Aurelius’s views on associates for a good part of his article. Marcus’s chief concern with the associates of rulers is that too much trust is put into them. He believed that man shouldn’t be so trusting of the ones that work under him, because we must “remember that men are but jagged and crooked instruments” (Brunt 12).
Brunt then moves off of Marcus Aurelius’s focus on man, and now takes a turn and moves to Marcus’s focus on the order of the universe and what man’s place is in it. Marcus says that man should be in devout service to the gods and then goes on to define just what “the gods” are. According to Marcus the universe, gods, kosmos, nature, are all interchangeable depending on the point of view and the culture of man. Marcus sticks with his Stoic doctrine and goes on to prove that all laws are bound by the kosmos. He says: “The kosmos consists of passive material and of a casual substance which gives it the form and is the source of every change” (Brunt 15). Marcus here is now talking about the appeal to reason that we all know today as “logos” (Brunt 15).
Brunt then comes to a conclusion about Marcus Aurelius’s philosophy when it comes to man and the universe. Brunt thinks that Marcus Aurelius had a very idealistic look when it pertained to man. It seems that Brunt feels that the ideas that Marcus had, at times contradicted themselves especially when it came to the concept of the truth versus the secrecy of the ruler. Brunt also once again questions the purpose of the autobiographical portion of the work and whether it was necessary, or if the editor who put the work together after Marcus’s death just threw it in for good measure (Brunt 18).
Like Brunt, James Ker wrote an article outlining the philosophy of Marcus’s Meditations, In Ker’s article has a more critical take on Marcus’s work, even going as so far as calling is pessimistic. He calls Marcus “a Stoic half-way to Platonism, so overawed by the brevity of human life within the infinite procession of eternity that he almost lost faith in his own existence” (Ker web-1). Ker, like Brunt, also uses the teachings of Epictetus to explain the Meditations, and how they are very Stoic in their doctrine.
Ker goes onto say not only did Marcus follow the Stoic creed, but that his work Meditations followed the three basic principles of Epictetan disciplines which correspond to the “tripartite Stoic system of logic, physics and ethics” (Ker web-1). This three tripartite system that Marcus uses in his work also correspond to the Epictetan topoi which were mentioned at the begging of the paper (desires and aversions, impulse to act and not to act and freedom from deception, hasty judgment and anything related to assents).
Ker also notices the self-address that is used in Meditations. He then points out that Marcus’ purpose in his writing “was not to invent or to compose, but to influence himself and produce an effect upon himself” (Ker web-1). So basically what Ker is implying was even thought Marcus’s aims were selfish and that he wasn’t planning on writing a moral treatise for the masses, he ended up doing so.
At the end of his article Ker praises Marcus for his philosophy, and even though his motives were selfish and pessimistic he ended up influencing the course of political theory throughout history. He says “what is personal and most distinctive about the text is its emergence from Marcus’s day-by-day attempts to actualize Stoic doctrine within a lived life-not its doctrine or even its imagery” (Ker web-2). So what Brunt regarded as day to day nonsense and unnecessary in general, Ker praises as the one thing that made Marcus’s teachings more understandable to the masses.
So despite the two author’s opinions of Marcus’s work, all can agree that its main doctrine was a Stoic one that taught where man fell in the grand scheme of things. Marcus’s basic belief system that he had still finds its place in the 21st century. He is still heralded as one of the great Emperors of his time. He has even been glorified in many books, movies, and television shows.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this was in the 2000 film Gladiator where Richard Harris played the great Emperor. On his death bed in the film Marcus muttered these words that truly show his influence on the world:
Yet you have never been there. You have not seen what it has become. I am dying, Maximus. When a man sees his end... he wants to know there was some purpose to his life. How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant...? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self? There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter (Harris, Gladiator)
And in the end it is the philosopher in Marcus Aerulius that we remember and his philosophy that we used throughout time that still finds its place in the 21st century.
As mentioned before, Marcus spent a good bit of his work talking about how man shouldn’t succumb to earthly sins such as lust and greed. This is something that in the 21st century we still believe in and try to follow in our everyday lives. Also the concept of rejecting tyranny and the fact that tyranny comes out of succumbing to the earthly sins.
Many rulers of the 21st century have followed the ideas that were outlined in Marcus’s work. One of the most prominent is Bill Clinton who even has a copy of Meditations on his bedside table. He was asked once in an interview what was the most important book to him other than the Bible, and he replied Meditations. Clinton followed the idea that “Individuals however can endure life’s futilities through the performance of duty and the application of reason. Central Stoic doctrines include the obligation to play a role in public affairs and indifference to life’s pains and pleasures” (Coates A12). Clinton really took the idea to hear that he should get involved, obviously going so far as becoming president of the United States and using Marcus’s theories to get him there.
One of main things that Clinton likes about him was “his ability to concentrate Stoic thought into tight, pithy expressions that can be very quotable” (Coates A12). The author of this article though goes onto say that even though Marcus is very quotable his theories can only be in small doses otherwise they become repetitive and increasingly boring.
Despite this feeling that Coates has for his theories, he does call Marcus “no mere philosophical speculator: he was the sole ruler of one of the greatest political entities history has ever known, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders is ever there was one.” (Coates A12). So we can see that whether the critics are denouncing him, calling him boring, singing his praises, or living by his creeds, Marcus Aerulius still has a strong hold on political theory today in the 21st century.
Marcus Aerulius had a lot of great theories that he outlined in his work. He had great experience with political theory from traveling around so much during his rule so he saw more than the other theorists did. His view of the world and man’s place in it was built off of other theorists, but he put his own spin on it. I agree with his concept that we answer to a higher power and to make that power happy we can’t fall prey to the earthly sins that are around us.
The only thing that was a weakness when it came to Marcus Aerulius was that he had an extremely idealistic view on the world. He wanted man to be perfect and to follow the laws that were set down by the gods strictly. He also wanted the rulers to remain incorruptible and above the rest of the citizens, thus revered by the ruler’s followers. Obviously no one is incorruptible because everyone is human and falls prey to the sins of this earth.
Marcus Aerulius was a great philosopher no matter how he is spun, he was smart, he had the background, he had the knowhow, and he had great theories. It is safe to say though that when he wrote Meditations he didn’t mean for it to be used as a doctrine for people to live their lives, which it did become over the years. It started out as a sort of self-address to point out the flaws in society and how he himself should work to correct those flaws within his own rule. His work has become so much more than that, which we can see since his doctrines are still relevant in the 21st century.
In general political theory shapes our everyday society. Without the great philosophers our government would be in shambles. Everywhere one looks in the government there are influences from political theorists. Our governmental system in general is derived from the Greek philosophers and rulers, our presidents have long quoted and used philosophic doctrines in their presidencies, and our Constitution is derived straight from the basic philosophical ideals of the greats.
Political Theory is open to interpretation. Everyone is always going to have their own take on how the government should run and the structure that it should undertake. Back when the theorists were coming up with their theories about politics a lot of them were scorned for their ideas. Some, like Machiavelli were even hung for their beliefs. This just shows how different people have different opinions and usually the opinions of the majority are the ones that take over.
The theories of the great philosophers not only influence our political system and the governing bodies’ ideals, but our everyday life. Without political theory our society would be in ruins. Forget not having our democracy that we pride ourselves on, we wouldn’t even have a presentable society. Everyday values and morals that we live by wouldn’t exist, and our society would be in ruins if we didn’t have political theory.

Works Cited
· Brunt, P.A., “Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations”, Journal of Roman Studies 64 (1974):
· Coates, Steve. "The book on Clinton's bedside table.” Wall Street Journal [New York, N.Y.] 20 Jan. 1993, Eastern edition: A12
· Gladiator. Dir Ridley Scott. Perf. Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris and Connie Nielsen. DreamWorks Pictures, 2000.
· “Marcus Aerulius.” 11 March 2009. 15 March 2009
· James Ker. . "The Inner Citadel. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. "Journal of the History of Philosophy 38.1 (2000): 116-118. Research Library Core. ProQuest. 18 Mar. 2009
· Sellars, John. “Marcus Aerulius.” The Internet Encyclopedia of 2005. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 13 March 2009

Image courtesy of

Friday, June 10, 2011

Zoroastrianism (No relation to the Legend of Zorro)

There are many things in life that I tend to like simply because they have incredibly cool names. The Zoroastrianism is one of them. I first learned about this religion when I took a Comparative Religions class in high school and found it fascinating. I was then reintroduced to it when I took classes that had to do with the Near East and their religions. So for all of you out there who have no clue what I’m talking about (or simply want to learn more) here is Zoroastrianism in a nut shell.
So first you should know that Zoroastrianism is extremely old. It was estimated to be started around 1500 BCE by Zarathushtra and it is based on the Avesta, ancient scriptures. It is also a monotheistic religion, which back then was something that was rare (besides of course Judaism). Zoroastrianism started as a simply spiritual expression of a group of people in Persia, (which is modern day Iran) who called themselves people of righteousness (asha). These people had enemies, a polytheist majority which they referred to as the People of the Lie (druj).
The Avesta was destroyed by Alexander the Great and was reportedly written by Zarathushtra himself. In the 13th century part of the Avestra were found and pieced back together to be read. It was written in old Iranian, and contains four main parts. The Yansa which is the oldest component containing mostly songs, the Vispred, the Yashts (hymns of praise) and the Videvdat which is a collection of purification rituals.
The image above is the symbol of Zoroastrianism called the Faravahar. It depicts a man emerging from a disk flanked by wings spread wide. It has been commonly accepted as the symbol of Zoroastrianism since the nineteenth century, when the term “Faravahar” was first applied to it. However, the Zoroastrians have been using the image for more than 2000 years. Some non-Zoroastrian Persians (Iranians) also use the symbol as a representation of national pride ( Some of you Whedon fanatics (like me) might recognize that this symbol was used in the show Angel when "the Beast" was trying to blot out the sun.
In its origins, Zoroastrianism began with a single divine spirit, Ahura Mazdah who created the heavens and the earth. Gradually, six deities were named as aspects of Ahura Mazdah which were names the Amesha Spentas. As time went on, these aspects of the single god were personified in many texts, (somewhat like archangels). Like many other religions, especially Native American ones, these gods all had opposing evil spirits who they constantly fought. The leader of these evil spirits was known as Ahriman. They believe we exist in the third of four stages of existence, and that when the fourth stage arrives, Ahura Mazdah will defeat Ahriman and good will prevail.
As mentioned before the Zoroastrians believed in opposing sides, this is known as dualism and there are two kinds: Moral and Cosmic. Cosmic dualism Cosmic dualism refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe. It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God's equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God's creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this (BBC Religions).
Like I’ve mentioned in my previous post about the Native American Religions, cosmic dualism has these notions life and death, day and night, good and evil. These notions cannot exist without one another. Balance has to be maintained by these like many other religions also believe.
Moral dualism refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of mankind itself rather than in the deities. Man has the ability to choose whether he wants to go down the path of good or evil. The path of Evil leads to misery and ultimately Hell. The path of good leads to peace and everlasting happiness in Heaven (not unlike Christianity). Like with cosmic dualism, we have the opposing notions but with an emphasis on choice. This choice is crucial as it determines whether we are the helper of Ahura Mazda or the helper of Angra Mainyu. When all of mankind chooses the former over the latter, evil will finally be defeated and Paradise on earth will be realized. Modern day Zoroastrianism has a very positive outlook unlike its ancient followers. It teaches that Mankind is ultimately good and that this goodness will finally triumph over evil (BBC Religions).
Zoroastrianism had some influence on Judaism, and consequently, Christianity over the years. It was became the official religion in Persia until 650 CE when Islamic Arabs invaded Persia and many of the Zoroastrian followers fled to India. An estimated 140,000 people still practice Zoroastrianism today. Most of its followers are in India, but several remain in Iran, and even some have spread across to North America.
Now obviously that is a very summed up look at Zoroastrianism as a whole, but hopefully you get the picture. It is easy to see parallels to other religions and practices (I know shocker, me an anthropologist comparing cultural beliefs) simply because it was around before most religions and like mentioned above, influenced many religious beliefs. So what started out as just a really cool sounding religion to me, opened up my eyes to see just how similar most religions are at their core.

BBC Religions
Ancient Mythologies (

Monday, June 6, 2011

Archaeologists Don’t Dig Dinosaurs, Doesn’t Mean We Aren’t Interested in Them

I was going to make a bad joke out of that, but I should leave the jokes to the professionals. In a previous post I pointed out some common misconceptions when it comes to anthropologists and archaeologists mainly the notion that archaeologists dig up dinosaur bones and fossils. This of course is false, it is the paleontologists that dig up and study dinosaur bones and fossils. Really the main reason of this is because archaeologists strive to understand humans and cultures through physical artifacts. Dinosaurs were around way before humans existed, which of course is another misconception people have (I like to blame The Flintstones for that one).
This being said, dinosaurs are still fascinating and a lot of anthropologists and archaeologists study paleontology in their course work. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fit paleontology classes into my course load but in other classes we touched on the existence of dinosaurs and the timeline they lived in. Especially in my Landscape Archaeology class we studied the subsequent wipe out of the dinosaurs and what caused this. So needless to say when it comes to dinosaurs and fossils I don’t know as much as many other people do.
So like I do with anything else, I have been doing research on it over the years. When I was younger at one point I wanted to be a paleontologist and like any other phase I went through I had to get my hands on everything on the subject. This meant journeying to the Natural History Museum and looking at all the exhibits, reading all the books I could and watching endless educational programs on the matter. Of course it didn’t help that at this time I was in my Christian school where we were told that dinosaur bones were put on the earth to “test us.” (Which I always laughed at and questioned which like everything else I said at my school resulted in long talks with the teachers).
Of course like any other childhood phase this one was replaced by something else (which at the time ironically I think was archaeology) and the dinosaurs fell by the wayside. Still the concept of fossilized materials and dinosaur bones always continued to fascinate me. When I got to Penn State the concept came up in anthropology and archaeology classes and in my geology classes as well. Still it fell to the wayside while I learned the difference between male and female skulls, cherts and shards, endogamy and exogamy, test shovel pits and transects and hundreds of other anthropological facts.
For awhile now my love for dinosaurs and fossils has been quelled by my love for cultures, religions, artifacts and bones. That was until I found an awesome discovery on Saturday. My father and I were driving around Laurel, MD and off Contee Road behind an Office Park we found a place called “Dinosaur Park.” Apparently this park has been around for about a year and the site was actually discovered by Smithsonian paleontologists in their study of Dinosaur migrations down the East Coast. What is fascinating is that what has now been turned into a park was the site of where they found hundreds of dinosaur bones. All of this happens to be right off of Interstate 95.
Of course the both the inner archeologist and the inner child came out in me when we pulled up and saw a huge mound where adults and children alike were poised with trowels searching for any other fossils. Unfortunately it’s only open from 12 – 4 on Saturdays and it was almost 4 so we couldn’t actually dig. I did though read all the informational plaques that they had set up that overlooked the site. Granted the information was broken down so that the populous could understand and was mostly information that I had previously known.
So you better believe the next Saturday that I have free (which in the month of June are very scarce) I’m gonna unearth some Dinosaur fossils probably alongside some 7 year olds. The funny thing about this is when it comes to attractions like this that are archaeology based I always cringe when it comes to “civilians” digging up and possibly destroying artifacts. I know when I go I’m going to be that annoying person who is going to be looking around at what everyone else is doing and making sure they’re not driving their trowels into fossils.
Of course I will give a full report to you guys when I find my rare fossils in this mound (oh you better believe I’m going to find something). Even better if anyone lives in the MD area and wants to come along, the more the merrier! Fair warning though I get way too excited about these types of things and I tend to talk people’s ears off when it comes to the history of the area (I do after all work for the Laurel History Museum). So if you’re willing to put up with my sometimes overenthusiastic anthropologist self then come and join me! Otherwise stay tuned for updates!

Photo Courtesy of the "Dinosaur Park" website