In January 2016, as the founding editor-in-chief, Dr. Colwell launched the new online magazine SAPIENS with a mission to bring anthropology—the study of being human—to the public, to make a difference in how people see themselves and the people around them. Funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, our objective is to deepen your understanding of the human experience by exploring exciting, novel, thought-provoking, and unconventional ideas. Through news coverage, features, commentaries, reviews, photo essays, and much more, we work closely with anthropologists and journalists to craft intriguing and innovative ways of sharing the discipline with a worldwide audience. To expand our reach, we syndicate articles on ScientificAmerican.com, DiscoverMagazine.com, Slate, and elsewhere.
SAPIENS aims to transform how the public understands anthropology. Every piece of content is editorially-independent and grounded in anthropological research, theories, or thinking. We present stories and perspectives that are authoritative, accessible, and relevant—but still lively and entertaining.
Visit SAPIENS, where we regularly deliver fresh, delightful insights into everything human.
Never before have humans been engulfed by so much stuff. Stuff is needed to survive—giving us the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. But stuff does so much more. Smart phones rule our social interactions. Louis Vuitton handbags display status. Air conditioning masters nature. Picassos inspire beauty. Wedding bands promise eternal love. Crosses connect believers to God. Is stuff really who we are?
More than 2.5 million years ago, an ancient ancestor-inventor of ours broke a stone apart to cut a piece of meat. We have been stuck with stuff ever since. Philosophers have argued that our unique ability to transform raw materials into everything we need is what makes us human, while anthropologists have illuminated how it’s the stuff we create, use, venerate, and toss that defines the human story.
But many argue that today we are over-stuffed—addicted to things and their pursuit. We are no longer cave-dwellers shaping stuff to improve our lives. We are now shaped by the very stuff we hope will make our lives better. But is a “have-not” life less happy? Even as our days become dominated by iPhones and airplanes, environmentalists, minimalists, and frugalists are advancing a new social order by insisting that living with less can bring us more. Will the world buy it?
In this new research and book project Dr. Colwell, explores the science of stuff, past, present and future. The book will give a fascinating, around-the-globe view of cultures’ connections to things. It challenges deeply-held beliefs about the meaning, value, and purpose of objects and offers extraordinary insights into the minds of stuff studiers, stuff seekers, stuff worshipers, stuff keepers, stuff addicts, stuff sellers, and stuff haters.
Stuffology uncovers answers to the complex whys of our relationship with objects and paints a fresh picture of the future human condition, made by our material world.
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
On November 16, 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, known as NAGPRA. This expansive law establishes a process -- called repatriation -- for museums to return cultural items and human remains. Over the last 20 years, NAGPRA has radically changed the relationship between Native Americans and museums.
"We feel we have an ethical obligation to try and solve the problems that museums themselves created," said Dr. Chip Colwell.
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has sought new beginnings with many tribes. The Museum recently returned to the Tlingit of Alaska the "Strongman Housepost Robe." Worn in ceremonies for decades by members of the Gaanaxteidi Clan, this dramatic robe was furtively sold in the 1970s when art dealers began offering small fortunes for these kinds of cultural objects. Years later, when members of the Gaanaxteidi Clan learned that the robe had been donated to the Museum, they began consulting with Museum officials. In 2009, the Museum repatriated the robe to the clan, and it is now worn again in ceremonies.
However, perhaps the most difficult and emotional aspect of NAGPRA is human remains. Since 2008, the Museum has received three grants from the National Park Service to address the disposition of human remains that could not be affiliated with any single tribe. The Museum has consulted with more than 142 U.S. tribes and has now come up with agreements for the remains of more than 50 individuals.
"The goal is to repatriate all remains, move beyond this legacy that we've inherited, and repair our relationships with Native American communities. We continue working with the tribes to ensure that these remains are reverently, and finally, laid to rest," said Dr. Colwell.