The Cross-cultural Longterm Research Program
and the Human Ethology Film Archive
founded by Prof. Dr. I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt
text published January 2002
During the second half
of the 1960s Prof. Dr. Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Prof. Dr. Hans Hass
developed a comparative approach to Human behaviour recording unstaged
and undisturbed social interactions of everyday life, rituals and other
activities on film and tone documents. For these cross-cultural studies
a number of traditional societies with different subsistence strategies
were selected for our documentations to provide us with informations on
behaviour in societies with different kinds of human social organisation.
They have been selected to represent a wide a geographical range as possible:
Fig. 1: I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt filming in the field
in Papua New Guinea: "The Eipo mother and
her child were as interested in my behaviour
as I was in theirs." Photo: Dieter Heunemann
The G/wi, !Ko and !Kung Bushmen
of the Kalahari (Botswana and Namibia), who during the first years of our
investigations (1970-1975) still lived in small groups as hunters and gatherers.
They are relatively peaceful people living on what might be considered
a Palaeolithic subsistence strategy with Palaeolithic technology.
The Yanomami (Yanomamö, Waika)
of the upper Orinoco and the Sierra Parima in Venezuela (studied since
1969), who are hunters and simple horticulturists. In contrast to the Bushmen
they are rather belligerent.
The Eipo and other Mek-speaking
tribes of Western New Guinea (Irian Jaya; studied since 1975). They lived
totally isolated from the modern world and were first contacted with an
interdisciplinary team initiated by Gerd Koch and Klaus Helfrich, with
whom the group worked closely. At the time of contact these were intact
Neolithic horticulturists entirely free from external influences.
The Himba of Namibia (studied since
1971) who as nonacculturated Herero-speaking people are traditional belligerent
stock-farmers and pastoralists.
The Trobriand islanders (studied
since 1981), a culture of horticulturists and fishermen who, despite civilising
influences, maintain many aspects of their culture.
The Balinese (studied since 1965)
as a non-western peasant society.
Local communities of these cultures
are visited, if feasible, at regular intervals. We also make spot checks
of other cultures in Europe, central Australia (Walbiri, Pintubi) and Arnhemland
(Gidjingali), the Philippines (Tboli, Tasaday, Agta) and other geographic
The cross cultural approach to
human behaviour was initiated in pilot studies in the 1960s. Systematic
documentation began in 1969. Until January 2002, a total of 279.699 kilometres
of 16 mm-film and 3371,47 ( correspond to 38457,83 meters) minutes of videofilm
(Mini DV, Hi 8, S-VHS) has been recorded. In the majority of cases film
documents are accompanied by a sound track. This makes the Film Archive
of Human Ethology the most extensive documentation of human behaviour world-wide.
In contrast to the variety of ethnological or anthropological films, which
in most cases deal with performed activities, the Film Archive of Human
Ethology mainly records unstaged and minimally disturbed social behaviour.
In order to achieve such records, the right-angle reflex lens technique
was employed, as developed by Prof. Dr. Hans Hass. This permits the photographer
to film subjects without pointing the camera at them (Figs. 1 and 2).
The archives are housed in the
former Research Institute of Human Ethology in Andechs near Munich which
is associated with the nearby Max-Planck-Institute for Behavioural Physiology
in Seewiesen. Strict guidelines have been laid down aimed at preserving
the uncut original documents for future generations of scientists. The
availability of this primary documentation is another methodological advantage
of the Film Archive of Human Ethology, since most ethnological films have
been subjected to potential manipulation through being edited and cut.
Together with some old ethnological or anthropological films the older films of our Archive offer unique and unreproducible
documentation of traditional societies, because some of the recorded societies
have been subject to strong enculturation. The original unedited records
provide opportunities for various interdisciplinary analyses of human behaviour.
Until now only a few selected elements of human behaviour have been fully
analysed by our local and fellow researchers (publications
of the Film Archive). So there is plenty of virgin material that would
reward further investigation.
Fig. 2: Camera with dummy lens placed in
front of the true lens showing the side
window for the right-angle reflex lense.
The technique was developed by Prof. Dr.
Hans Hass. Photo: Renate Krell
Up to 1998 as many as 234 films
on Human Ethology and Ethnology have been published based on the Archive's
resources (published films) in co-operation with the
Institut für den wissenschaftlichen Film IWF (later: IWF Wissen und Medien) in
Goettingen, Germany, and most recently with the
Federal Austrian Institute for Scientific Film (Österreichisches Bundesinstitut
fuer den Wissenschaftlichen Film, ÖWF) in Vienna, Austria. Most of
the published films were included in the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica
(EC) of the IWF, either because they met the rigid standards for scientific
documentation or because they were judged to be of great importance for
the scientific community. Each of these films documents a certain scene
in such detail that it could be used as a source in further research and
education. The films are accompanied by publications in which the verbal
interactions and songs are transcribed and all important side information
The reconditioning of our large
film and sound resources are far from being complete. By November 1997,
another 21 films were offered and accepted at the EC of the IWF in Goettingen.
Due to the emphasis placed on collecting this priceless record over the
years, only half of the published films are so far accompanied by publications.
In addition there is a need to improve the archiving of our documents.
No scientific work on the uncut material should touch the valuable originals
(sources). Therefore 1:1 copies (work copies) have to be prepared. Due
to the early "birth" of our Film Archives more than two decades ago, computer-based
indexing is not yet available. In order to increase the effectiveness of
the scientific use of the Archives, in 1994 we began developing a computer
index for the original documents. For the use of the Archives in future
it is essentially to integrate all important information (subject names,
demographic data, traditional genealogical relationships, behavioural keywords
etc.) on each scene of the films into a database to enable complex inquiries. Only after this database is complete will the full
potential of the Archive become available online to foreign scientists
and institutions. In the meantime using the Archives requires the assistance
of a handful of people who have worked with it over many years.
We estimate that at least 4 years
will be necessary to accomplish the indexing of the large resources of
the Archive of Human Ethology, if we could hire enough skilled ethologists
for this purpose. Due to the chronic shortage of funding and the fact that
our director Prof. Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt reached retirement age on June 30
1996, the Senate of the Max-Planck-Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft,
MPG) decided to close down the Research Institute of Human Ethology,
which had financed the documentation, evaluation and publication of our
films in co-operation with the IWF. We are very pleased by the fact that
the MPG offered Prof. Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt an emeritus-working place including
the rooms of the Archive for a few years, to enable completion of the ongoing
scientific evaluations and the indexing of the archive. Unfortunately this
support alone could not finance the time and human resources needed to
index the Archive. In this desperate situation the Volkswagen Foundation
recognized the importance of the Archives of Human Ethology and saved our
database project for at least the next two years.
text on the website of the former
Human Ethology Film Archive in the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, January 2002
Beginning of 2014, Irenaeus
Eibl-Eibesfeldt and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft agreed upon signing over the Human Ethology
Film Archive to the Senckenberg Gesellschaft fuer Naturforschung. Through this transfer
ideal conditions are met for the future of the scientific work of the Human Ethology Film Archive.