Tag Archive: anthropology


The Sumerians are known in world history as being the first civilization dating back to around 3000 B.C.  They excelled in many areas for a civilization of that time.  Furthermore, they established the basics for socio-economics and intellect in the area known as present-day Iraq, nestled in-between the Tigris and Euphrates River.  Many breakthroughs and inventions assisted in the foundations of the Sumerian society which lasted for approximately 1000 years.
Their society was headed by a king and divided into four sets of classes: nobles, clients, commoners, and slaves, which all contributed in some way to their flourishing culture. The Sumerians were heavily involved in trade, whether it was with other nearby civilizations or in the Persian Gulf.  Within their own city-states, citizens were involved in various types of trades, such as masonry, metalworking, and pottery to contribute to the culture within, and trade with foreign entities outward.  Agriculture was a necessity and therefore led to an intensive system of irrigation being created by digging canals from the major rivers.  This lead to rich land for growing food.
Moreover, the Sumerians established a system of writing which was depicted in several forms: pictographs, ideograms, and phonetic signs.  This system of writing bridged the gap between Sumerian city-states and their following generations.  Mathematics, specifically geometry and trigonometry, played a huge role in assisting the Sumerians in erecting structures, such as palaces, temples, ziggurats, canals, et cetera.  Lastly, the Sumerians also used a system of medicine to rid citizens of sickness (or rid them of evil spirits).  Several different treatments were used to help cure the sick and these treatments consisted of magic, surgery, and prescriptions, or even a combination of all three.
All of the aforementioned reasons laid the groundwork for a flourishing civilization in Mesopotamia.  Their influence and culture followed onto other civilizations that conquered in the same geographical region such as the Semites and the Babylonians.  Ultimately, Sumerian culture helped form political and economic stability in the civilized world for the following civilizations to come.

Maps can tell a great story without words, especially by showing a temporal depiction of the change of cultures and boundaries. Throughout history though, various empires conquered many lands across most of Asia and left behind many cultural influences that have molded today’s ethnic groups and languages in the region.

There are three main language families in this region depicted in the below map: Semitic (Yellow), Indo-Iranian (Orange), and Turkic (Green).

Semitic language roots trace back to the days of the Sumerians and Akkadians estimated around 2400 BC. These languages have evolved over time into the most commonly known languages of Arabic (commonly used in all Arab States), Hebrew (commonly used in Israel), Amharic (commonly used in Ethiopia), and Tigrinya (commonly used in Eritrea).

Indo-Iranian language roots trace back to 6th century BC. Indo-Iranian is most commonly known today as the Persian language family consisting of mainly Kurdish, Farsi, Pashto, Tajik, and Dari. Other Indo-Iranian languages are located in Pakistan and India.

Turkic language roots trace back to the early Middle Ages (around 8th century AD). Before the Turkic expansion occurred, most Turks were located in the Area known as Mongolia today. In the years following the early Middle Ages, the Turks expanded in all parts of Asia from Siberia to India to Turkey covering a vast land mass and influencing many cultures along the way. Today, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and the languages of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia make up what is part of the Turkic family.

The following maps are courtesy of the Gulf/2000 Project funded by Columbia University:

Linguistic Composition of Southwest Asian States: Present Day

The following group of maps reveals historic changes as a result of the various conquerors, empires, and cultures from 1450 to 2000 AD. Throughout the years, the only long standing empires have been the Ottoman/Turkey and Persia/Iran.

Islamic States ca. AD 1450
Islamic States ca. AD 1510
Islamic States ca. AD 1550
Islamic States ca. AD 1625
Islamic States ca. AD 1700
Islamic States ca. AD 1750
Islamic States ca. AD 1800
Islamic States ca. AD 1840
Islamic States ca. AD 1850
Islamic States ca. AD 1900
Islamic States ca. AD 1925
Islamic States ca. AD 1950
Islamic States ca. AD 2000
Everything happens for a reason.  At least that is what a mentor told me years ago when I was just walking into the real world for the first time.  Culture is the basis behind every action throughout the world.  All people do things for a reason and this has a lot to do where one is raised or lives.  In the anthropology field, this is called a person’s “Worldview” – A person’s worldview ties into their geography greatly.  In addition, this carries over not only in our everyday lives, but for the militaries across the world.  Moreover, Military Geography is not only used by the military, but also by academics and politicians in order to understand the geopolitical sphere through a militaristic lens.
Knowledge and expertise of military geography is a critical factor in analyzing the enemy.  Military geography of a specific region is the discipline regarding geographic aspects that affect military planning and the execution of operations.  In addition, this discipline is divided into several sub-classes of study: cultural, economic, political, and physical geography.  Each one of the areas of study establishes the base for knowledge of a region or area.  The more expertise of a geographic region, the better suited an analyst will be in order to analyze raw intelligence and apply it to an analysis.  Outcomes regarding past U.S. conflicts have been determined by regional knowledge of military geography and have ultimately formulated standards of knowledge for today’s intelligence to be successful. 
Regional, area, and cultural expertise is vital knowledge required for understanding an enemy’s intentions and vulnerabilities.  Also, this knowledge can result in improved battle tactics by understanding the terrain, weather, soil, and lines of communication that are prominent in an area which may ultimately effect enemy movement.  Expertise in these areas allows for a commander, decision-maker, or analyst to establish an overall picture for planning and executing operations.  Understanding culture is becoming a more important factor for military operations across the world.  Unlike the days of the Cold War, enemies of the United States are now integrating into civilian societies.  These enemies may use certain key locations to take cover that are not allowed to be bombed or attacked to their advantage such as hospitals, schools, and mosques.  Therefore, the U.S. military needs to be cognizant of cultural and social norms within a region in order to identify any anomalies or something that is just not normal within a foreign society. 
Regarding military geography, cultural friction is one of the more significant causes of surprise in enemy action.  When in conflict with an opposing force, enemy intentions may be unpredictable, but it may be the culture of the enemy that is most often misunderstood in this sense.  This causes confusion among the friendly force because they are unfamiliar with the norms of their enemy’s society.  The expertise acquired in studying a certain region, area, or culture will overall determine the course that an operation must take in order to be successful, but at the same time limit civilian causalities.  In my opinion, regional expertise is more beneficial for strategic planning than tactical planning.  Understanding the military geography of an area is essential prior to executing enemy forces in a battle.  Knowing when, where, and how to attack an enemy is also influenced by this expertise and has a major effect on the planning stages of a military operation.
There have been several examples of this type of expertise not being utilized that have occurred throughout history.  A somewhat recent example of this took place in the 1990’s in the country of Somalia.  Somalia is a very unstable region that is in a constant state of conflict.  U.S. military forces where not very familiar with certain aspects of the area of Somalia where they were in conflict, in addition to not having basic knowledge of Somali society.  These aspects included the lack of decent geospatial intelligence.  Based on my overall knowledge of this conflict, I believe our forces attacked our enemy as ordered, but did not do their research prior to the battles in ensuring a successful outcome.  This opinion is based on the continuous failures during the conflict in the streets of Mogadishu that U.S. forces endured.  Overall, this was probably due to a lack of expertise in the region known as the Horn of Africa.  However, the United States has been in many other battles that have resulted in similar consequences that have forced U.S. troops to disband and leave the area of conflict.
In order for military forces to act successfully in a foreign land, they must be mindful of where they are located.  Furthermore, they must be reliant on intelligence analysts to supply them with accurate intelligence.  This ties into the that the United States continues to be involved more with asymmetric conflicts across the world, and fewer conflicts against political or organized entities similar to the past.  Military geography also allows for knowledge of an area to be applied to certain operations.  Tactical, operational, and strategic planning rely on this knowledge to avoid any uncertainties and create a successful battle plan.
Overtime, regional and cultural subject matter expertise continues to become a more substantial key component for intelligence operations.  Education, cultural appreciation, and regional experience of analysts are often insufficient for providing insight for an understanding of the enemy.  Also, there is little knowledge of any historical aspects that create social norms different than in the United States or even the language of the local population which can purely affect an overall analysis of a network’s true intentions.  Overall, this is unsatisfactory and proves why knowledge of military geography of a specified area is vital in understanding and analyzing the enemy.  This seems to be a common issue across the world and probably has led to initiatives such as human terrain analysis also known as human geography and other elements that cater more towards regional studies in academia.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications in social science are becoming more and more frequently used throughout the world in understanding several sub-fields of geography.  For this posting I will be discussing specifically the human geographic aspect that concentrates on understanding local populations and the implications of social change from effects of economic, political, geographic, and ethnographic issues through the use of GIS.  The typical uses or norms of GIS applications usually include science-related mapping, utility mapping, and/or disaster response/humanitarian efforts, and last but not least, map-making in general.  The social sciences and human geography are often overlooked and many people that I have encountered in life, school, and work are doubtful of the possibility of mapping human cultures.  This may be because in a global world today, most cultures are becoming more intermingled than ever before.  However, though globalization is beginning to merge many cultures, the majority of cultures still have unique characteristics that history has lent to them.
In GIS, there are many layers that would assist in developing spatial relationships among various aspects of human geography. This application is becoming more and more reliant by the United States government as a result of the issues with our military not understanding the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan before the invasions earlier in the century. Not only do federal governments have a vested interest in human geographic applications, but non-government organizations also have their fair share of a need to understand the world from a social science perspective.
As a proof of concept, the following 3 layers are an integral part of this overall system, but keep in mind there many layers that are needed in order to understand the big picture.
Ethnicity Layers: These layers would consist of the cultural groups within say for instance in Iran such as the Azeris, Kurds, Iranians, among various other smaller cultural groups. A polygon layer would represent the generalization of where these groups mainly have geographic control over;  however, there may be overlap among the polygon layers in a macroscopic view of the region. This would provide a baseline for understanding any implications the Iranian government would enforce on the local population.
Neighborhood/City Layers: These layers would provide more of a microscopic view of the parts of the regions, specifically cities or urbanized areas. Within these urban areas, a mixture of cultural groups may be present. Identifying the neighborhoods specific to a particular group would help to isolate groups and provide geographic context to conditions under the assumption that segregation is prevalent in the city.  I have noticed through my studies that even in a global world, there is still much segregation in neighborhoods because ethnic groups and religions tend to stick with like people.  Also, the mix of ethnicity would be more visible with these polygon layers, because at larger scales, a GIS user can begin to see the relationship and isolation of each of the groups.  A new technique such as settlement mapping can also divide formal from informal neighborhoods assisting in identifying certain demographics of people.
Religious layers: These point layers will help identify any historic or religious sites across an urban area to assist in the overall analysis of identifying spatial attributes to a particular group. Examples of point shapefiles would be churches, mosques, religious sites, relgious institutions, religious monuments, et cetera.  Alternative to point layers, polygons may also be helpful from a macroscopic scale for identifying which religions tend to favor certain geographic areas over others.  This may be from diasporas or history.
Researching human geography can be done and converted into geospatial information.  Another thing to keep in mind is that geographical text can be extracted and developed into data, which is one thing in any social science field, is part of the data collection.  One would have to convert text into geographic data, not only from information with geographic locations, but the surrounding context.  There are many ways to go about finding information.  Many anthropologists and other related fields have published many studies regarding cultures and civilizations.  These types of papers have an abundance amount of geographic insights, references, and data that can be extracted in to spatial data.
Commerical remote sensing imagers (i.e. Orbview, Geoeye, DigiGlobe) may also lead a helping hand; many cultures or ethnic groups in the eastern hemisphere have their own specific characteristics for architecture, buildings, and homes.  Many of these architectural distinctions are observable from space, especially with a favorable look angle.  If the imaging platform takes a snapshot of an area at nadir, it may be more difficult.  Other ways to find information is through social media sites that promote collaborative mapping and that may also provide insight into human geography.  Sites like Wikimapia, openstreetmaps, and amateur cartographic sites provide insight into cultural data.  Of course there are many different sources of information, and it would be someone’s job who is involved in human geographic mapping to analyze all possible layers to establish a final cartographic map that details the human geography of an area.
Keep in mind, if you are expecting 100 % accuracy on any of these layers, then you are in the wrong business, as you should always question the data since nothing is perfect.  There are many things to take into consideration when looking at mapping human geography.  You also have to consider what is the end use or final deliverable for the project.  Some geographic layers that are important to conduct such analyses are terrain, elevation, roads, buildings, hilltops, rivers, transit zones, local language, ethnicity, education, and demographics.  Where does one get all of this information?  The data can be acquired via remote sensing, various open sources, or other means.  All this data plays into the bigger picture, but most of us take them for granted.

Ease of mobility is a huge factor in cultural mapping.  In rural areas across Asia, even if the groups are forced out, they tend to stick together.  Not all populations have the luxury to send their kids to Tehran University or hop on the highway to go to Kashmir on a nice scenic vacation.  Ethnicity is another hindering factor like race is still an issue in America.  Therefore the infrastructure plays a huge role in identifying areas where cultures are prevalent.  In the United States, when people emigrate there, they tend to stick together with like-minded and like-speaking peoples hence why we still see segregation in our urban cities.  It’s not much different when cultural groups are forced to flee their land to another part of a country or to neighboring countries, hence why you see other ethnicities such as the Turkmens in Afghanistan or Iran even though there is a country of Turkmenistan.

Furthermore, there are many factors involved in understanding this and aggregating information is the key to success.  You need to acquire as much data and information that one can.  In addition to data, information is a key aspect to this in providing context to areas.  The world is not as isolated as it once was and there is a plentiful amount of information and data that would be suffice for a fairly accurate assessment of an area; you just need to know where to find it.

I just wanted to provide a little taste of what could be done more than the typical GIS applications that everyone knows about.  Hope this helps!

Brian G – @geocrusader80
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