PHD THESIS PROPOSAL - DOCTORAL SCHOOL 227 MNHN-SU OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, PARIS, FRANCE
- Applicable students' background: Archaeology or Anthropology or Human Population Genetics
- Lab: Eco-anthropologie UMR 7206, Musée de l’Homme, Paris
- Duration: 3 years (starting Fall 2020)
- Supervisors: Franz Manni and Evelyne Heyer
- Net salary: 1,400 Euro
- Contact Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
- How to apply:
Contact us before the 11th of June 2020, sending a short motivation letter, a CV and a list of available Master 2 exams scores.
Candidates will be contacted back.
- The best candidate will have to prepare some paperwork by the June, 19, 2020 to be admitted to a formal Skype interview of 20 minutes (10 minutes to illustrate the project and 10 minutes for questions) to be set 1-3, July, 2020.
- Description of the PhD project:
For a French version see the PDF below at page 85
This PhD project is aimed at investigating the spread of ancestral body piercing practices in relation to past human migrations. This is to say that body piercing is here considered as a vertically transmissible cultural trait, maybe having a limited number of origins in time and space.
Like other body modifications (skull deformations, teeth alterations, scarifications, tattoos, neck elongation, etc.), body piercing relies on a very specific and quite complex know-how. Although its symbolism is variable, diachronically and synchronously, the practice actually relies on the method used to create, heal and enlarge a “tunnel” in the flesh: when the know-how is lost, the practice becomes hardly possible. This is the research hypothesis of the thesis: The ancestors of the populations who practice(d) body piercing learned how to do it by contact with other populations. The history of body piercing is likely to mirror past human contacts and migrations.
To be clear: This doctoral project concerns ONLY the study of traditional body piercing practiced by many peoples in the world, it DOES NOT directly concern “modern” body piercing emerged in California (the “Modern Primitives”) in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, this recent renaissance has shown that several years have been necessary to develop, ex nihilo, a viable body piercing technique, meaning that it is not easy to reinvent body piercing. This is why ancestral ("traditional") body piercing may have persisted only where the know-how related to it has been transmitted through direct learning, generation after generation.
The oldest body piercing ornament is dated 46,000 years ago (Langley et al. 2016). Although other body modifications (ex: tattooing) can be as old, body piercing leaves more durable evidence: the ornaments. Easily recognizable by their shape (rounded, cylindrical, conical, or toroidal), their symmetry, weight and polishing, body piercing ornaments will be the major object of study of the thesis. Contemporary or old, they are available in many collections (public or private), this is why fieldwork will not be necessary.
The project stems from an exhibition that took place at the Musée de l'Homme , Paris, France (March 2019/2020; curator F. Manni) and related work. The candidate will benefit the help of the research network at the origin of the exhibition (40 researchers, 12 countries: archaeologists, ethnologists, anthropologists, curators). Currently the Network is involved in the writing of a manual on body modifications to be published by an international academic publisher. The outcome of the thesis can be included in it.
Objectives of the thesis and worksteps:
Which ones are the populations practicing or having practiced body piercing? Where are they located? When was body piercing invented? How many times was it invented? How did it spread?
None of these issues have been addressed so far. Although body piercing ornaments are not uncommon in archaeological excavations, they have not yet been the subject of systematic attention.
At first, the PhD student will create a georeferenced database of the populations practicing (or having practiced) traditional body piercing. Then, she/he will address the issue of its spread. The aim is to test if body-piercing transmission relies on independent origins or, rather, on a vertical transmission in a limited number of populations, disseminating through their migrations and contacts. Likely, some of these migrations are known, described by population geneticists and historical linguists. The interpretation of the diachronic and synchronic cartography of piercing will be based also on them. Studied ornaments will be classified according to their i) shape, ii) materiality, iii) manufacturing techniques and iv) decorations, in order to obtain discrete features leading to a computational phylogeny and classification (matrix of discrete characters, for example presence / absence ) aimed at testing propagation models. The corresponding graphs (phylogenetic trees), the vectors of description, will be aligned with population-genetic, linguistic and archeological classifications in order to test their congruence, compatibility. This is a well-characterized approach within our lab (CNRS UMR 7206).
In a first attempt, the candidate will focus on the labret ornaments (pertaining to body piercings practiced next to the lips) that are found in the Americas: they are specific to this continent because distinct from those found in Asia and Africa (Cybulski 1991; Keddie 1994). The research question is to confirm if this American typology (found from Alaska to the Amazon) originated in the Bering Strait region, later spreading to the East and to the South, following the peopling of the Americas.
Cybulski J.S. 1991. Soc. Scie. Hum. Res. Council of Canada [Report]. Grant # 410-89-1337
Keddie G. 1994. Session VIII, Prehistoric Trans-Pacific Contacts. Seattle, Aug. 1-6, 1989
Langley M.C. et al. 2016. Quat. Sci. Rev, 154: 199-213.