The Maneater

Renowned scientists Napoleon Chagnon, Martin Daly join MU Department of Anthropology

Napoleon Chagnon and Martin Daly are joining the faculty as research professors.

Napoleon Chagnon, an American anthropologist who specializes in ancient warfare, poses for a portrait in his office Thursday. Chagnon's new book, "Noble Savages," detailing his experiences with the Yanomami tribe, will be released next month. He joined MU's anthropology department Jan. 1.

Nationally renowned scientists Martin Daly and Napoleon Chagnon joined the anthropology department to serve as research professors this semester.

“This is an interesting anthropology department,” Daly said. “It’s one of the most uniformly science-minded in the U.S. or even the world.”

A native Canadian, Daly is a retired psychology professor who taught and studied all over the world. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and worked in countries including Italy, Brazil and Algeria.

Daly, after receiving his doctorate in psychology in 1971, became an active researcher of animal and human behavior and published numerous studies on his work. In 1998 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2009, Daly received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

The soft-spoken scholar said his fieldwork on desert rodents in California, conducted years ago, numbers among his favorite research projects.

“I really like getting in the desert at night,” he said. “It’s quiet, I can see millions of stars, and the animals are fun to watch. The environment is clean, quiet and relatively unmolested by Homo sapiens.”

Daly said he enjoys the department’s focus on biocultural anthropology. He said although he prefers studying animals, other people have a “more enthusiastic interest” in studies on other humans, not rodents.

Chagnon, an anthropologist and recently-elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, came to MU after retiring from the University of California-Santa Barbara. He is most widely recognized for his study of the Yanomamö tribes in the Amazon beginning in the mid-1960s.

After four years of visits to the Yanomamö, Chagnon published a college-level ethnography in 1968 on the tribe that raised some eyebrows in the field of anthropology, he said.

The publication introduced the theory that tribesmen "in a state of nature" are not “noble savages” – docile, altruistic beings that are not easily provoked.

Chagnon wrote that the tribe was, in fact, quite violent. For example, males would abduct females that they wanted for themselves. The Yanomamö also maintained a strict class system. Individuals differed in status and some had more authority and power than others of the same age and the same sex. Chagnon eventually conducted 22 visits to the Yanomamö between 1964 and 1995 that totaled to more than five years of living with the tribe.

Chagnon is also credited with helping develop the first computerized genealogical databases and was a professor for more than 30 years. He said he is excited to continue his research at MU.

“I feel like a battleship shaking off the mothballs and taking to the high seas again,” Chagnon said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for me to bring my unpublished data to publication under the university’s name and authority."

Chagnon’s newest book, “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists” will be available in bookstores Feb. 19.

He plans to continue his research on the Yanomamö and by publishing more articles in academic journals.

Mark Flinn, a professor and the chair-elect of the anthropology department, was a student of Chagnon’s when he was pursuing a doctoral degree. Flinn, Daly and Chagnon have been friends and collaborators for more than 30 years. Flinn is enthusiastic for the department’s newest acquisitions.

“These two hires mean a lot because they fit into a bigger picture,” Flinn said. “They’re two pieces of a puzzle. This is the perfect place for them because there are all these young faculty that complement them. It’s a fantastic synergy.”

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