Event Details

Location: Tucson, AZ


Invites You To


Friday, December 1st


Associate Director, Arizona State Museum
Associate Curator of Bioarcheology, Arizona State Museum
Associate Professor of Anthropology, School of Anthropology

The Hatfields vs The McCoys
4000 years ago
Ancient Farming, Feuding, and Fighting in the Sonoran Desert

Perhaps we could have chosen a more festive topic,  but we could not miss the opportunity to have Jim Watson speak to us.  Not only is Jim a cutting edge bioarcheologist,  but as the Associate Director of the Arizona State Museum, his day is also filled with exciting state-mandated projects.  He is a dedicated scientist, an inspired teacher, an effective administrator, and a fine speaker.

The study of graves by Jim is providing new insight into the social and biological factors that might have motivated violent killings and atypical burials thousands of years ago.  The transition to farming in the Sonoran Desert  is signaled by the development of extensive floodplain irrigation and field systems some 4,000 years ago. Funerals in the Sonoran Desert then were similar to today, bodies buried respectfully, while families and mourners honoring lives lost.  Jim’s work, however, documents a considerable amount of interpersonal violence from 4000 – 2,000 BC.  Atypical burials from these sites appear to represent acts of violence upon the corpse at, or after, the death of the individual.  Jim suggests that the socialization of violence and revenge (making it an acceptable group action) facilitated the continuation of these atypical burials in archaeological contexts.  At the root of that violence may be a desire to win prestige which can confer biological benefits including, access to power and wealth, wives, and more offspring.  But why the brutal handling of bodies after death?  Watson uses evolutionary biology’s “costly signaling theory” to explain what might be behind the ruthless post-mortem treatment.  By desecrating the bodies of the people killed, they’re signaling their prowess to gain status, but it’s at a very significant potential cost through the retribution of other groups or tribes.  Their actions in the face of the potential cost enhances its prestige.

While Watson’s work focuses on violence that occurred 2,000 to 4,000 years in the past, he suggests costly signaling theory might also be applied in the context of modern-day violence.  “With some of the issues that we’re seeing today — increased violence and murders in many cities, police shootings, retaliation upon police — a lot of kids are growing up in a culture of violence, and they’re learning different values.  They gain status because they’re good at being violent; that’s how you gain respect; then along with that comes advantages — wealth, women, and offspring.  The high potential cost is arrest and prison.  Jim’s research is fascinating, especially how he is is able to show that his findings from 4,000 years ago are relevant today.

2200 E Elm Street (between Campbell and Tucson Blvd)
Free parking is easy and convenient, across the street from the main entrance

When you RSVP, please tell us if you would prefer the vegetarian/vegan selection.  Since this is a plated-luncheon, the main course for the attendees (including rolls, salad, dessert, and coffee or tea) will be the “Chef’s Choice.”

$30 at the door (cash or check)

Registration starts at 11:30 AM at The Arizona Inn (Tucson Room)
Lunch will be served at Noon

RSVP to Marianne Kaestle at yaleclub.ariz@icloud.com by Nov. 27.

Please treat your reservation as a commitment and notify us if you are unable to attend.

Marianne Kaestle
Yale Club of Southern Arizona
Director of Communications
Marianne Kaestle

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