Anthro in the news 12/31/2012

From the blogger: Here is the last aitn for 2012. I had to work hard to find any mainstream media mention of cultural anthropology, whereas archaeology continues to attract substantial media attention, and we can almost always count on something about Neanderthals to attract interest. Please check out anthropologyworks’ short piece on the cultural anthropologist who was most in the news in 2012. Stay tuned for 2012 highlights from aitn and my top dissertation picks for 2012. And Happy New Year!

Debt by David Graeber
Debt by David Graeber
• Debt as a best book of 2012

The Global and Mail (Canada) asked several writers and avid readers to comment on their top book of 2012, from contemporary fiction to classic literature and nonfiction. Novelist Sheila Heti chose Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

“I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t read David Graeber‘s paradigm-shifting book on the ethics of debt. He’s an anthropologist and one of the Occupy movement’s greatest thinkers. Here, he shows how debt has been a central economic, political, and social tool throughout human history. It’s an essential read, particularly for those who, in the wake of the financial crisis, believed we were at the beginning of “an actual public conversation about the nature of debt, of money, of the financial institutions,” and were stunned not to see that conversation happen.” Heti’s most recent book is the novel How Should a Person Be?

• Hadrian’s auditorium found under streets of Rome

Several media sources, including the BBC, covered the findings in Rome of an ancient auditorium 18 feet below one of Rome’s most-trafficked junctions. Italian archaeologists announced the discovery of a 900-seat arts center dating back to the second-century reign of Emperor Hadrian.

Marble bust of Hadrian at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums.
Hadrian bust, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums/Wikipedia
Archaeologists believe the structure was an arts center or auditorium, built by Hadrian where, beginning in 123 C.E., Roman noblemen gathered to hear rhetoricians, lawyers, and writers recite their works. According to the archaeologists running the excavation, Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s.

• 800 year-old skeletons unearthed in Cholula, Mexico

Archaeologists in central Mexico uncovered the bones of 12 children and adults who may have been buried 800 years ago, according to an expert with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The skeletons were discovered as the archeologists supervised the installation of a new drain in an old neighborhood of Cholula, a city located 120 kilometers north of the Mexican capital. They were found buried just a few centimeters below a paved section of asphalt, said archeologist Ashuni Romero Butron, who added “fortunately they were not damaged by erosion before the paving.” He said most of the 12 skeletons are complete and laboratory analysis is ongoing.

Relief from the Sanctuary of Khonsu Temple at Karnak depicting Ramesses III
Ramesses
• Judean temple found

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a rare temple and religious figurines dating back to the Judaean period nearly 3,000 years ago. The discoveries were made at Tel Motza, outside Jerusalem, during archaeological work ahead of new highway construction in the area. Anna Eirikh, a director of the project, said the discoveries were rare evidence of religious practices outside Jerusalem in the Judaean period. The findings date to the 9th-10th century B.C.E.

• Death of a pharoah

Scans of the mummy of Ramses III reveal that his throat was slit. The pharaoh Ramses III ruled Egypt in the 12th century B.C.E. A plot by his wife to kill him in order to place her son on the throne is documented in an ancient papyrus, but the exact circumstances of Ramses’ death have been unclear. ”The big cut is in his throat, and it was very deep and large,” said Albert Zink, an anthropologist at the European Academy, who was involved in the research. ”It would have killed him immediately.” Zink and colleagues from Egypt, Italy and Germany, published their findings in the British Medical Journal. [Blogger’s note: so now we know the immediate cause of death, but we still don’t know who did the deed].

• 4,000 year-old spear heads found in Sinaloa, Mexico

Spearhead
Credit: INAH
Researchers have discovered 4,000-year-old spearheads and other artifacts at a site in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Archaeologist Joel Santos Ramirez said that the find “will change the chronologies of the antiquity of human settlement in the northwest of the country.”

• Neanderthal genome mapping update

According to a piece in CBC news, renowned archaeological geneticist Svante Paabo is almost finished with the mapping the DNA of Neanderthals, a distant cousin of modern humans.

Paabo has found that many people today carry within their DNA about 3 to 5 percent in common with Neanderthals. Paabo says it is important to learn more about Neanderthal DNA to reveal the differences between us and them, differences that have seen modern humans survive and thrive over the millennia while Neanderthals have become extinct.

Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
He is quoted as saying: “I really hope that over the next 10 years we will understand much more of those things that set us apart. Which changes in our genome made human culture and technology possible? And allowed us to expand and become 7, 8, 9 billion people and spread all over the world?”

• In memoriam

Glenys Lloyd-Morgan died at the age of 67 years after a career devoted to the understanding of Roman archaeology. She graduated from the archaeology department at Birmingham University in 1970 with a dissertation on Roman mirrors. In 1975, she joined the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, where she catalogued collections and did re-enactments as a Roman lady. Later, she became a finds consultant specializing in Roman artifacts. She was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1979.

Anthropologist of 2012

The cultural anthropologist most in the news in 2012 was Jim Yong Kim. Kim was trained as both a physician and medical anthropologist, one of the first students to go through Harvard’s joint Ph.D./M.D. program. Later he became chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and then president of Dartmouth College from 2009 to 2012. Along with Paul Farmer, he is co-founder of Partners In Health.

Jim Yong Kim. Source: World Bank website
Jim Yong Kim. Source: World Bank website
When President Barack Obama nominated Kim for the presidency of the World Bank, policy insiders expressed widespread dismay, with much commentary pointing to his being an anthropologist as a discrediting factor for the position.

After his appointment was approved, however, talk of his anthropological credentials died down. In other words, a connection with anthropology was taken as a weakness by his opponents. Now that he is president of the World Bank, his identity as an anthropologist has been quietly erased.

Dr. Kim, president of the World Bank, physician and medical anthropologist, is anthropologyworks’ anthropologist of 2012.

Last year’s anthropologist of the year was David Graeber. Before that, anthropologyworks named Paul Farmer as the anthropologist of the decade, 2000-2009.

One more thing most people don't know about nutcrackers

A recent letter to The Express (UK) offered a list of “Ten things you never knew about… nutcrackers.” Here is the list:

  1. The earliest known nutcrackers have been identified by archaeologists as pitted stones used to crack nuts between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago.
  2. Cracked nut
    Cracked nut. Flickr/Michael May
  3. The earliest known metal nutcracker dates back to the 3rd or 4th century BC.
  4. Metal screw nutcrackers became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries with the development of the screw-cutting lathe.
  5. The earliest known mention of nutcrackers in English is in Customs Accounts of 1481.
  6. There is a Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington. It is home to over 6,000 nutcrackers.
  7. According to German legend, nutcrackers bring good luck to your family and protect your home.
  8. For that reason, nutcrackers were popular Christmas presents for children.
  9. The heroic Nutcracker of Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes from a story The Nutcracker And The Mouse King by ETA Hoffmann.
  10. According to Guinness World Records, the largest nutcracker measures 10.10m (33ft 1in) high and was made in Germany in 2008.
  11. Aristotle is said to have invented the first nutcracker with a lever action.

With all due respect, anthropologists would add an important number 11: our primate relatives, chimpanzees, have been cracking nuts for millennia.

Anthro in the news 12/24/2012

• Hopes dashed for Chagossians

Aw’s Sean Carey published two articles in The Independent about the recent consideration of the Chagossians‘ claim for a right to return to their homeland.

Chagos
Chagos. Source: refusingtokill.net
In his first piece, he reviews the marathon battle that began in 1998 in the British courts, led by electrician Olivier Bancoult, the newly appointed leader of the Chagos Refugees Group. Although all of the judges in the lower courts unanimously found in favor, in 2008 the Law Lords decided against the Chagosssians’ right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority. The islanders are supported by the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, novelist Philippa Gregory and conservationist Ben Fogle.

In his second article, Carey reports on the decision: “Yesterday, there was huge disappointment amongst Chagossian communities in Port Louis, Mahe, Crawley, Manchester, Geneva and Montréal. A seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided by majority that the case regarding the right of return of the exiled islanders was inadmissible. Geographically and legally, it has been a long journey with many twists and turns for the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers. The decision by the Strasbourg court means that they continue to be barred from returning to their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago, after their forced removal by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973, so that the US could acquire Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, for its strategically important military base.” After eight years, a decision of inadmissable.

• Declining monkhood in Thailand

In Thailand, Buddhist temples grow lonely in villages as consumer culture rises and there is a shortage of monks. According to an article in The New York Times, monks in northern Thailand no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early morning walk through the community to collect food. The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to the distracted iPhone generation. Although it is still relatively rare for temples to close down, many districts are so short on monks that abbots here in northern Thailand recruit across the border from impoverished Myanmar, where monasteries are overflowing with novices.

”Consumerism is now the Thai religion,” said Phra Paisan Visalo, one of the country’s most respected monks. He continues, ”In the past people went to temple on every holy day,” Mr. Paisan said. ”Now they go to shopping malls.” William Klausner, a law and anthropology professor who spent a year living in a village in northeastern Thailand in the 1950s, describes the declining influence of Buddhist monks as a ”dramatic transformation.” Monks once played a crucial role in the community where he lived, helping settle disputes between neighbors and counseling troubled children, he wrote in his book, Thai Culture in Transition. Klausner says that today most villages in northern Thailand ”have only two or three full-time monks in residence, and they are elderly and often sick.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/24/2012”

Women who become men in the Balkans

Throughout the Balkan region, some women take on male roles and appearance. They are referred to, in English, as sworn virgins. Slate, among other publications, carried a photo essay of several sworn virgins of Albania. The anthropological and related literature on sworn virgins is thin. Some studies refer to the women as “cross dressers,” which seems to be an inadequate label. It is unclear whether the practice is dying out or continuing as always.

Two job openings (Brookings and AusAID)

Readers might be interested in two positions — Principal Sector Specialist (Education) at the Australian Government Overseas Aid Program (AusAID) and Research and Recruitment Advisor for the Global Scholars Program at the Brookings Institution. The listings are embedded below:

Principal Sector Specialist (Education)
Principal Sector Specialist (Education)http://www.scribd.com/embeds/117700548/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-1vyoliz3c43eah8ti0e1

Research and Recruitment Advisor
Global Scholars Program, Research and Recruitment Advisorhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/117700546/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-1y1m0kloulogmb5q90p3