A world in a room

In the Trobriand Islands, a man’s worth is measured by the size of the pile of yams he builds in front of his sister’s house and leaves to rot. Beads mean fertility in South Africa. The Swedes are obsessed with shelving. Anthropology’s great strength – that it considers human practices objectively – is also its fatal weakness; it leaves nothing standing.How can this gallery be leaving visitors, not crushed by the species’ quintessential absurdity, but buoyed up, exhilarated, even to the point of tears?

Visiting the Horniman Museum’s new World Gallery for New Scientist, 26 June 2018