Letter: What's so eccentric about eating earth?

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Sir: Russell Ash (Miscellany, 21 March) amuses himself by quoting what he considers to be ludicrous titles of books written by Berthold Laufer, one of the world's top Asia specialists during the early 1900s and a former curator at this museum. Mr Ash pokes fun at such titles as The Tibetan Sexagenary Cycle, Oriental Theatricals, Geophagy, and American Plant Migrations. He concludes that Mr Laufer 'was nothing short of a Grade-A loon'.

As one of Mr Laufer's successors, and a fan, I feel I should offer a defence. Many of the books Mr Ash mentions are still used frequently and all are on serious topics. What is ridiculous about the 60-year calendar cycle used by Tibetans, or traditional Asian drama, or the psychological problem of compulsive earth-eating, or the introduction of potatoes, maize, tomatoes, etc, into places such as England?

Did Mr Ash really misunderstand the titles he mentions? Or did he think your readers were incapable of understanding them? Maybe he is simply a Grade-A nit? Or maybe he hopes to divert attention from something else: say, a secret fondness for geophagy?

Yours sincerely,



Asian Anthropology

The Field Museum