Category Archives: Archaeology

30 TED Talks on Anthropology and Archaeology

Here is a collection of TED Talks (and TedX) regarding anthropology and archaeology on a wide variety of topics.

These are curated by me after years of bookmarking TED talks.
Each talk has an idea or a random element within the talk that broadened my thinking and hope they will provide the same for you.

How Language Transformed Humanity – Mark Pagel

Evolutionary biologist Mark Page shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.


How Archaeology Teaches Sustainable Architecture – Rachel Prinz

Architectural designer and historian Rachel Preston Prinz believes that  integrating ancient building forms by modern architects and builders result in a visually stunning  sustainable architecture that also reflects our heritage.


New York — Before The City – Eric Sanderson

400 years after Hudson found New York Harbor, Landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson shares how we made a 3D map of Mannahatta’s fascinating pre-city ecology of hills, rivers, wildlife–accurate down to the block–when Times Square was a wetland and you couldn’t get a delivery. This video may be helpful for those practicing GIS archaeology, landscape archaeology, GIS, 3D mapping.


A Rosetta Stone for a Lost Language – Rajesh Rao

Computational Scientist Rajesh Rao explains how he is implementing modern computational techniques to try and decipher the 4,000 year old Indus script.


Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land – The Future of the Past – Thomas Levy

Thomas Levy showcases cutting-archaeological methods that are helping create a new and objective future of the past.


What Separates us from Chimpanzees? – Jane Goodall

Primatologist Jane Goodall states the only real difference between humans and chimps is our sophisticated language and advises us to start using it to change the world.


America’s Native Prisoners of War – Aaron Huey

Photographer Aaron Huey takes you on an anthropological journey through a series of photos from his five years of work with the struggling native Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.


DNA Clues to our inner Neanderthal – Svante Paabo

Geneticist Svante Paabo shares the results of a massive, worldwide study and the DNA proof that early humans mated with Neanderthals after we moved out of Africa. Paabo also discusses who we were able to identify a whole new humanoid species based on  a fragment of a baby bone.


Ancient Wonders Captured in 3D – Ben Kacyra

Digital Preservationist Ben Kacyra invented a groundbreaking 3D scanning system and is using it to scan and preserve the world’s heritage in archival detail that are under threat from pollution, war, and neglect.


Changing the Way We See Native Americans – Matika Wilbur

Native American and Photographer Matika Wilbur wants to change the way Native Americans are portrayed and seen by showing the viewers photographs that show their truth and beauty.


Tracking Ancient Diseases Using Plaque – Christina Warinner

Archaeological geneticist Christina Warinner uses the microbial DNA in fossilized dental plaque to track ancient diseases from past to present.


A Dig for Humanity’s Origins – Louise Leakey

Paleoanthropologist Louise Leakey takes you on a quest to the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa in order to answer the question “Who are we?” Digging for evolutionary origins of humankind, Leakey also suggests a stunning new vision of our competing ancestors.


Cultural Heritage: A Basic Human Need – Sada Mire

Somalian archaeologist Sada Mire believes that cultural heritage is a basic human need based off her archaeological experience.


Dreams from Endangered Cultures – Wade Davis

A personal favorite anthropologist/ethnobotanist of mine, Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world’s indigenous cultures through photos and stories that are also disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate.


A Family Tree for Humanity – Spencer Wells

Genographer Spencer Wells talks about his genographic project that uses the shared DNA common bits that all humans share from our African ancestors to figure out how all are truly connected – despite our diversity.


Redefining Success: Archaeology as a Way to Embrace the World – George Bey

Anthropologist and Mesoamerican archaeologist George Bey discusses archaeology as a way to engage the world.


Lessons From Easter Island – Carl Lipo

Archaeologist Carl Lipo discusses the history of Easter Island and how merging his former engineering background led to his discovery on how the Moai Statues were moved.


The Search for Humanity’s Roots – Zeresenay Alemseged

Paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged searches for humanity’s roots in the badlands of Ethiopia, revealing his discovery of finding the oldest skeleton of a humanoid child and how Africa holds the clues to our humanity.


Will our Kids be a Different Species? – Juan Enriquez

Throughout human evolution, multiple versions of humans co-existed. Juan Enriquez suggests we could be in mid-upgrade right now and shows us how technology is revealing evidence that suggests rapid evolution may be under way.


Archaeology from Space – Sarah Parcak

Space archaeologist Sarah Parcak introduces the field of “space archaeology” that uses satellite images to search for clues of ancient civilizations and lost sites.


What I Dug Up From New York City’s Streets – Alyssa Loorya

Urban archaeologist Alyssa Loorya talks about her NYC urban archaeology adventures and the discovery of artifacts that help tell a story about our past.


The Story About our Past – Sjoerd van der Linde

Professor and archaeologist Sjoerd van der Linde talks about archaeologist’s subjectivity on cultural heritage and explores questions like is the past dead?, who does the past belong to? and how should we preserve it? Linde is also a proponent on giving communities the tools of archaeology so that they can preserve their history.


We are all Cyborgs – Amber Case

Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case argues that technology is evolving us. 21st century humans rely on “external brains” like cell phones, computers, and other connected gadgets to remember, communicate and for almost everything else. Case offers surprising insight into our ‘cyborg’ selves when exploring whether these machines will ultimately connect us or conquer us.


The Anthropology of Mobile Phones – Jan Chipchase

User anthropologist Jan Chipchase has made some unexpected discoveries throughout his investigation on how we interact with technology that has led from the villages of Uganda to China.


A Monkey Economy as Irrational as Ours – Laurie Santos

Experimental/cognitive psychologist Laurie Santos works with primates to search for the roots of human irrationality and shows us a series of experiments in “monkeynomics” that reveals some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.


Skin Color is an Illusion – Nina Jablonski

Anthropologist Nina Jablonski teaches that differing skin colors are simply our bodies’ adaptation to varied climates and levels of UV exposure – alerting us that Darwin disagreed with this theory, but that’s because he didn’t have access to NASA, she explains.


The Gentle Genius of Bonobos – Susan Savage-Rumbaugh

Primatologist Susan Savage-Rumbaugh  lifelong work with bonobos forces us to rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology and how much is determined by cultural exposure.


2600 Years of History in One Object – Neil MacGregor

Director of the British museum Neil MacGregor takes us on a journey of 2600 years of Middle Eastern History through one single object: a clay cylinder covered in Akkadian cuneiform script that is a powerful symbol of religious tolerance and multi-culturalism.


Analyzing the Past – Chemistry, Archaeology, and Art – Ruth Ann Armitage

Chemist Ruth Ann Armitage describes analytical chemistry research on historical and archaeological materials, colonial bricks, ancient rock paintings, and tiny fragments of textile to explore the questions of what chemistry can and cannot answer about our ancient past.


A Forensic Anthropologist who Brings Closure for the “Disappeared” – Fredy Peccerelli

Forensic anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli and his team uses DNA, archaeology, and storytelling to help families find the bodies of their loved ones among the 200,000 civilians killed in Guatemala’s 36-year conflict.


On “Ostracoda” – My First Mini-Science Documentary

For a long time, I have been fascinated by the use of film, voice, and music to communicate science information in a storytelling manner. Science can sometimes be so soaked in jargon that it will scare off the non-science person. Film has the power to convey ideas with visual stimuli and seduce the viewer’s mind with a storytelling narrative. Carl Sagan realized this and went on to create Cosmos, a 13 part science-storytelling series that influenced millions, including myself.

About two years ago, I had created a simple small video based on pictures and myself doing a voice over to introduce NAGPRA in the latter part of the video for a North American archaeology course. This video-presentation was created out of my slight fear of public speaking. However, this placed the seeds of understanding the mechanics of storytelling via digital media and its power to communicate information. These mental seeds kept germinating, leading me to search my current university for applicable courses. Sure enough, documentary filmmaking courses existed.

The first course that I registered for was called “Directing the Documentary.” As an added benefit, there was a last minute change with the course’s instructor: Peter Schnall ended up being the professor. Peter Schnall has directed many National Geographic documentaries, that include Inside the White House, Inside the Secret Service, and George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview. I particularly enjoyed his 2013 All The President’s Men Revisited, hosted by Robert Redford – one of my favorite actor and activist.

Schnall turned out to be one of my most liked professors due to his authentic passion in teaching students. He went beyond the prescribed syllabus and dispensed real-world knowledge, answering every question with Zen-like wisdom. He even brought in his newly acquired circa $50,000 camera/lens kit to teach us the fundamentals of the actual hardware used in his productions and in the real-world. Show off 😉

Schnall and documentary classmates. Photo: A. Kuilan
Schnall, his camera, and documentary classmates. Photo: A. Kuilan

Well, I didn’t have a $50,000 camera, but I did have my trusty Canon T5i. I also decided to shoot the entire documentary on a Canon 50mm prime lens that cost $99.

Armed with Schnall’s teachings and some camera/audio equipment, I set forth to attempt to capture the ostracod research story at Rutgers via video. This is the resulting ten minute documentary, “Ostracoda”:

One of the biggest challenges in creating Ostracoda was not only how to create a story out of something laced in scientific jargon, but how to shape the story out of the footage and interviews that I gathered. In the editing process, I have realized the importance of the art of crafting questions. Luckily, I had good access to my subjects and I was privileged to re-interview them a 2nd time.

I believe visuals are a HUGE deal in conveying material and concepts, especially in science related subjects. Although I’m slightly disappointed on my zero knowledge of creating animations, I did manage to get some informative shots in this documentary.

Some self-critique on my own work are:

  • A lengthy 3 minute talking head segment with NO b roll footage.
  • A couple of transitions are not quite smooth.
  • Font selection and size.
  • Lack of a proper title ending.
  • Some audio hiss/un-normalized levels.

The rendering process consumed quite a bit of time and I uploaded as-is by request to meet the deadline for submission. I’m reworking some parts to hone the issues listed above; I’ll update the original YouTube link and this post when completed.