What's It To You?

Aug 21, 2018

Find out as we explore human behavior, past and present, and how that shapes our appreciation for diversity. Brought to you by the USU Museum of Anthropology.

Immigration: Lessons From The Past

Archaeologists observe that people in the past experienced social unrest and adaptations similar to what we see today with immigration.

The material record shows us that Utah’s very first farmers, the Fremont, emerged when two very different cultures encountered one another. About 2000 years ago, indigenous Utah hunter-gatherers found their territory occupied by agriculturalists immigrating from the Southwest and Mexico. The immigrants brought with them new values, beliefs and languages. Over generations, the blending of many ideas and practices fostered cultural flexibility and ultimately the long-term success of a new Fremont culture. 

Who Were The Fremont?

Corn agriculture spread quickly throughout Utah with the emergence of the newly developed culture that we now call the Fremont. Their population peaked with widespread agriculture, large villages, and artistic expressions between 900 and 1200 AD. During their final centuries in Utah, the social fabric holding Fremont culture together became strained by scarcity in land, drought, and population growth. These stressors caused conflict and inequality, resulting in the abandonment of a distinct Fremont lifestyle. However, the Fremont way of life did not end suddenly. Rather, Fremont culture ended much in the same way it began -through the blending of ideas and practices over time.

Decoding Music

Why is music so important to cultures…and to the anthropologists who study them?

Everywhere in the world, music conveys thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  Because it is such a strong medium for expressing identity, ethnomusicologists carefully document musical traditions of the people they study.  They recognize that music serves as a window to deeper elements of culture. For example, music communicates the struggle and oppression of a group. Likewise, music is so fundamental to human experience that it also serves to bridge communities and cultures. By learning about a culture’s music, we discover how people define themselves, relate, and co-exist.

Teaching Through Tradition

Anthropologists recognize traditions as the shared knowledge about, and continuation of, practices from the past. Traditions appear in many forms including ceremonies, oral traditions, and arts. Community memories, values, and skills are preserved through the maintenance of traditional practices and arts. For the San Ildefonso Pueblo of northern New Mexico, ceramics embody a tradition passed down through generations. One of the pueblo’s most famous potters, Maria Martinez, learned this tradition from her aunt. Maria passed her skills and knowledge down through her children and grandchildren as well, raising awareness of her community’s history and culture. Maintaining cultural traditions, such as pottery making in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, is an important expression of cultural and community identity. 

Unweaving Textiles

Textiles are products of weaving, knitting, or felting. Textiles, including flooring, clothing, bedding, and stationary, are present all around us. Examining ancient, historical, and contemporary textiles inform us about how people express meaning, belonging, and identity. Amongst a plethora of knowledge that we can learn from textiles, the use of textiles can reveal the status of persons who wear or own specific items. Our shared use of textiles can create and symbolize unity among or within communities. In our own culture, textiles and their meanings unite us but also allow us to express our individuality. Using textiles to outwardly demonstrate your political party can unite you with some people and distance you from others. Other uses, such as wearing pink to support breast cancer awareness, can unite communities and nations.  Do you wear or use any textiles to promote a cause or convey a specific meaning? 

Indonesian Textiles

Indonesian textiles often feature dyes derived from indigo leaves, turmeric roots, and morinda bark, which not only produce different colors of dye but also demonstrate some of the ways that Indonesian weavers function within their tropical environment. Styles and designs, such as batik and ikat, vary by region of creation in Indonesia, but these styles of textiles also demonstrate the interconnectedness of the region. The geography of textiles can inform on material origins and trade relationships. Symbols and patterns of Indonesian textiles also inform us about outside influences. Octagonal patterns reveal a history and progression of Islamic influences in Indonesia, and the integration of yellow triangular shapes, distinctive in Indian patterns, shows a strong cultural influence from India. Examining textile details tells us not only how it was made, but cultural processes behind the product.

Message On A Body

The history of body modification is as old as humanity itself. Some of the most common body modifications present in American culture, including dyed hair, makeup, tattoos, piercings, and implants, are those that we observe around the world and throughout time. Nose piercing is mentioned in the Old Testament, and tongue piercing was practiced by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans of Central America. Otzi, a bronze age ice mummy, bears evidence that his ears were not only pierced but gauged. His remains also show that he had at least fifty-seven tattoos on different parts of his body. Body modification today is practiced for the same reasons it has historically been popular - rites of passage, social belonging, and fashion.


Language is more than how we talk with one another. It is central to the human experience, communicating identity and embodying the very culture in which it is spoken. We can look to the Aztec culture as an example of linguistic analysis for understanding the relationship between language and culture. The Spanish arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1517, subjugating the Aztec people and destroying nearly all the written records they saw. Only a mere 22 documents survive of the Aztec pictographic language. For the Aztec, language manifested differently in spoken and written forms. One object that remains is a 25-ton Sun-Stone Calendar carving used to time the planting of crops, marriage, rituals, and war. Aztec pictographs are the only surviving evidence of this relationship between language and culture. 


Myths and legends, universal to all cultures, are stories about events. Often myths include something supernatural, and they are passed down orally from generation to generation. It is very common for a group of people to share a belief about their creation. One creation story from the Bantu tribe of Central Africa begins, “in the beginning, there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still, in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and, finally, some men…” Stories such as this provide a shared sense of community and connection to the past.  

Human Evolution

Our species is African. This is the place where we first evolved and spent the majority of our time on Earth. The fossil record from Africa preserves evidence from the earliest footsteps of hominids to their most recent adaptations. Through material culture, hominids developed complex physical and mental adaptations permitting them to occupy a range of landscapes. The initial spread of humanity across the Earth was driven primarily by food and climate. Nomadic tribes of up to a few dozen people likely followed the migration patterns of the herd animals they hunted. Climate change opened new areas for hunting while technology, such as mastery of fire and meat preserving, allowed humans to live in less than ideal conditions.

Anthropology - What's It To You?

Anthropology is more than the mere study of cultures; it is the study of human behavior - past and present. We ask the big questions about humanity such as: Who are we and where did we come from? How have we changed and where are we going? What is culture and how do we share it? Anthropologists have developed a number of methods to answer these questions through specializations in linguistic, cultural, biological, and archaeological inquiry. When we bring these fields together and compare different cultures, we have a greater understanding and appreciation of the diversity and universality of human experience. 

Settlements And Sediments

Water shapes our settlement and development. Anthropologists have interpreted the progression of Egyptian settlements, noting that daily life in ancient Egypt revolved around the Nile and the fertile land along its banks. The yearly flooding of the Nile enriched the soil and brought good harvests and wealth to the land. The earliest settlements of people built small mud-brick homes near the banks; they would have grown their own food and traded for goods they could not produce.  Most ancient Egyptians worked as field hands, farmers, craftsmen, and scribes, and a few were nobles. Together, these different groups of people made up the population of ancient Egypt. Over the millennia, the Nile settlements developed into the large planned communities with advanced infrastructures that come to mind when we imagine ancient Egypt.