Front and back cover caption, volume 28 issue 2
A simple, austere cross hangs on the St. Maria-Magdalena church in the newly constructed Rieselfeld neighbourhood of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Completed in 2004, the building contains both a Protestant and a Catholic church, with moveable partition walls also allowing for the creation of a single ecumenical site when desired. Similarly, a diversity of associations, meanings, and histories are attributed to the symbol of the cross itself in different spaces and times. Its appearance on the wall of a multi-ecumenical space highlights the theological connections between Protestant and Catholic Christianities; its location near the French-German border calls attention to the doctrinal disputes and historical violence that have occurred between these two faiths. The significance of the cross – while often presumed to be self-evident – is complex and ever shifting. Its connotations are produced through processes as diverse as the urban renewal project of the church of Maria-Magdalena and juridical rulings on its display in public spaces. Recently, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim that crucifixes hanging in Italian classrooms were an affront to freedom of conscience and a parent's freedom to educate his or her children. As a symbol, the Court declared, the cross does not stand for Christianity alone, but also for ‘European heritage’. While today, signs associated with Islam are treated as a threat to public spaces in countries throughout Europe, anthropologists can explore how claims made about the cross produce it as a flexible sign connoting not only the story of the Passion, but also European history and secular tolerance.
Gregory Forth inspects what villagers in one part of western Flores describe as a burial mound marking the place where their ancestors interred a group of hominoids they killed in a violent confrontation. After receiving details of the mound and its history from Forth, in 2011 several Indonesian and Western palaeoanthropologists began exploring possibilities for excavating the site and hope to gain permission to begin digging in the near future.
The 2003 discovery on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores of a small, physically primitive hominin interpreted as a new species, Homo floresiensis, came as a surprise to anthropology. Not only is the find extraordinarily recent in geological terms, but the hypothetical species bears a close resemblance to indigenous images of similarly diminutive, hominoid creatures reputedly encountered by local villagers in an even more recent historical era.
The challenge posed by Homo floresiensis to our previous understanding of hominin (or ‘human’) evolution is well documented. But the unexpected find poses challenges for sociocultural anthropology as well. Searches for the physical remains of non-sapiens hominins are typically motivated by prevailing palaeoanthropological theories and interpretations. However, contextual as well as physical peculiarities of the Flores hominin suggest that future investigations of the new species may be crucially informed by ethnographic evidence, the bulk of which was collected prior to, and independent of, the palaeoanthropological discovery.