Tucked away in the mountainous region of a southern Indonesian island, the Tana Toraja people practice elaborate funerary rituals. A unique ceremony custom is performed after a Toraja member dies. Very often, the ceremony is held weeks, months, and even years *after* their death. This gives families that need time a window of opportunity to raise the costly funds of funeral expenses. In the meantime, the body is wrapped in cloth and temporarily placed under their homes. The Torajans believe the soul lingers around the village until the ceremony, which frees the soul so that they can begin their journey to the “Puya” (a place for spirits).
After a ceremony that spans 6 days that includes dozens of machete-slaughtered water buffaloes, pigs, and chickens, the body is properly laid to rest in a cave, a stone grave on the side of a mountain cliff, or in a coffin that is hung off a tree or cliff. Babies are placed inside of trees. They are now free to begin the Puya journey.
In another yearly ritual called “Ma’Nene,” the dead are exhumed, washed in the river, bathed with local herbs, and brought back to ‘walk’ and ‘dance’ in the village. It is not uncommon to see dead Torajans sitting fully dressed in their family homes for years.
Of course, the more money a member has allows them to have a better funeral arrangements. The Toraja people don’t save up for retirement, they literally save up for death. The Tana Toraja region is on UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list.
Anthropologist Kelli Swazey explores the Torajan’s cultural funerary practices in this TED-MED Talk:
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.