anthro in the news 4/23/18

Bison Truck! Central San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, 2016. Credit: Joey Zanotti/Flickr

the damage humans do

Several media, including  NBC News, reported on a study of the correlation between humans and the decline of large mammal populations, expanding previous analyses from North America all the way back to the earliest humans in Africa. Over the past 125,000 years, the average size of mammals has shrunk, due to humans, not climate change, according to research on the fossil record by paleo-biologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico and her team. They found that, consistently, large mammals were abundant as people arrived and spread: “For example, a striking feature of the Pleistocene was the abundance and diversity of extremely large mammals such as the mammoth, giant ground sloth, woolly rhinoceros, and saber tooth tiger on all habitable continents.” When humans arrived, the rate of extinction for big mammals rose, and the process is still going on:  “Wild mammals are in decline globally because of a lethal combination of human-mediated threats, including hunting, introduced predators and habitat modification.” The study is published in the journal Science.

who cares about the environment

An article in The Christian Science Monitor pointed to the hypocrisy of environmentalism: Concern for the environment often rises alongside people’s material wealth, yet consumption of the wealthy in turn drives environmental destruction. Thus higher income people may support environmental causes but at the same time their lifestyle works against those causes. Studies show that low-income people are also aware of environmental problems and care about the environment, but they may be less financially able to act on their concerns. Just because there’s a kind of general prevailing idea of what sustainability and preserving the environment are, does not mean that people of color, poor people are not really concerned about the environment or involved in it,” says Melissa Checker, Hagedorn Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College and a faculty member in the Ph.D. program in anthropology at the City University of New York. “There are just different ways to think about nature and caring about it. All equally valid.”

university ethics and the environment

The St. Louis Dispatch (Missouri) reported on how activist students and faculty are questioning the ethics of Washington University’s fossil fuel connections, especially endowments and investments, and putting pressure on administrators to sever those ties. According to the article, the university’s many fossil fuel connections have sparked criticism across swaths of students and faculty members supporting divestment. While many at Washington University say climate change provides a moral argument to divert money away from those industries, some tout other, additional reasons for their support of the movement:  “The corruption of research ethics is what I harp on,” said Bret Gustafson, associate professor of anthropology. He, along with others on campus, suggest that fossil fuel influences compromise the school’s official research integrity policy.

environmental injustice

The Outline (New York) carried an article about the mismanagement of human waste in the United States and practices of transferring waste from more powerful areas, like New York City, to areas that are willing to take it, for a price. The specific case discussed is a train carrying 5,000 tons (or nearly 19 days’ worth) of processed excrement from New York and New Jersey that sat for two months at a railyard in a town in Alabama, waiting for a landfill site to accept it. The article quotes Kelly Alley, Alma Holladay Professor of Anthropology at Auburn University:  “That was the result of a deal that was done between the city’s managers and Chemical Waste Management, Inc. The residents didn’t find out about it until they saw the trucks coming into town.” Alley, who has done long term research on wastewater management in India, comments that the question of what to do with the stuff we flush down the toilet is a universally vexing one. “You flush your toilet, it goes away somewhere, it’s nasty, and people don’t want to think about where it goes…In big urban centers, there’s nowhere to put this stuff. They’re going to be shipping it out.” She added, “[New York] sends it to several states — it’s not just Alabama.”

seeking beauty in China

South Korean actress Rujia Baike. Credit:

The South China Morning Post reported on the role of social media site in shaping views about cosmetic surgery. Focusing on one site, it says that over 53 per cent of SoYoung’s users were born in and after the 1990s, while the oldest members turn 28 this year. To them, cosmetic surgery is just another luxury item that they are willing to spend on. Along with increasing affluence, social media enables the sharing of “beautified” photos, and the popularity of celebrities who have plastic surgery is also influencing the views of what is acceptable, according to Jianhua Zhao, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Louisville:

“Many people, especially the younger generation, are unapologetic about their ostensible favouritism toward beauty….It has almost become accepted that beautiful people are naturally entitled to an easy life, and those who don’t take advantage of their own beauty, but resort to their talents, are incomprehensible.” For young Chinese women, South Korean actresses offer an aspirational beauty image.

remembering the Waco siege

Lex18 News (Lexington, Kentucky) interviewed Emily Craig, forensic anthropologist and Kentucky State Medical Examiner until her retirement in 2010, about her role in the siege at Waco, Texas. Craig was there on April 19, 1993, the day the siege ended. New in her role at the time, she was brought in to help identify the remains of the men, women, and children killed at the Branch Davidian compound. Craig said that it was her first mass fatality and to date, one of her toughest: “The children were lead like lambs to slaughter, they had no idea what was coming, the adults were there by their own free will.” [with audio]

forensic anthropologist a featured speaker

The Stuttgart Daily Leader (Arkansas) reported on the latest event in a local speaker series in which Thomas Holland, author and Scientific Director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Central Identification Laboratory, gave a presentation on forensic anthropology and how it works to identify missing-in-action service men and women and other cases. In his position at the Central Identification Laboratory, the largest skeletal identification lab in the world, Holland has led forensic recoveries around the world, from Vietnam to Korea to Europe. He and his team continue to find America’s MIAs.

take that anthro degree and…

…work in business management. Guita Ranjbaran is director of operations and recruitment at Simpla, Inc., an IT consulting firm located in the greater New York City and Los Angeles areas. She plays multiple roles including operations, business development, recruiting, and public relations.  Using her understanding of diverse cultural settings, she works to build trusting relationship with clients, IT hiring managers, business teams, consultants, and third-party vendors. Ranjbaran has a B.A. in anthropology from the City College of New York and an M.A. in anthropology from the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

anthro in the news 4/16/18

encounters in anthropology

A triple book review in the New York Times looks at Katherine Verdery’s latest book, My Life as a Spy, and reflects on it in terms of two other new works: Matthew Engelke’s How to Think Like an Anthropologist, and Stuart Kirsch’s Engaged Anthropology. The driving question is about the relationships between sociocultural anthropologists and the people with whom they study. In the end, the reviewer notes the “benefit of the approach” of sociocultural anthropologists who get close to people in their research, with all the pros and cons for the researcher and the researched along the way.

talking hair

The Atlanta Journal Constitution carried an article about the cropped hair style of Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaker at the March for Our Lives, and a founder of #NeverAgain. The article points to her hair style as political and quotes anthropologist Grant McCracken who wrote in his book Big Hair, that hair is a “court of deliberation, the place where we contemplate who and what we are.” So, people may attribute many meanings to Emma González’ cropped hair. But here is what she said a few weeks before the shooting on her school’s Instagram account: “I decided to cut my hair because it was a pain in the neck, if you’ll forgive the pun. It was really hot all the time; it was very cumbersome and very heavy, leading to a lot of headaches. It was expensive to keep it up, and as prom time came around, I figured it would be cheaper to not have to worry about doing my hair.”

don’t want to go there

Hong Kong Free Press reported on the challenges faced by the many seniors in China who, according to longstanding traditions, want to age at home in the care of, ideally, a devoted son and his wife, and not in some institution for the aged. The article mentions preliminary findings of a joint study with the polling organization Gallup as reported by Jing Jung, professor of anthropology at Tsinghua University in Beijing: Only one percent of rural seniors said they were willing to live in nursing homes, compared with 10 percent in urban areas. Even if they were disabled, only 30 percent said they would accept to live in nursing homes. Aside from tackling the practical issues of quality regulation, cultural perception of the demands of filial piety also limits nursing homes’ appeal to Chinese people.

Nacirema in the news

Many, but not all, readers will know who the Nacirema are – if so, here’s an update for you. If not, welcome to their world. The Guardian carried a piece about a new book by social critic Barbara Ehrenreich in which, among other topics, she writes about the requirement in Western societies for regular health checks:  “There’s an argument that health checks have value as rituals, that beeping machines in sterile rooms provide the kind of reassurance to modern western consumers that shamanistic drumming and animal horns do in more “primitive” cultures. Ehrenreich quotes from a 1950s spoof anthropology paper, Body Rituals Among the Nacirema (“American” spelled backwards), in which supplicants lie on hard beds within temples, while magic wands are inserted in their mouths and needles jabbed in their flesh. Modern medicine invokes science in its defence. But whereas science is ‘evidence-based’, medicine tends to be ‘eminence-based’, with patients in thrall to the doctor’s superior prestige. It’s no coincidence, Ehrenreich thinks, that most American medical schools still insist on the dissection of cadavers. That’s how living patients are expected to be – as passive and silent as corpses.

marine archaeology

An article in the San Diego Tribune highlighted the work of several San Diego’s scientists who are traveling “the globe to unearth new discoveries, [to] solve deepest mysteries.” One of the scientists profiled is Tom Levy, Distinguished Professor and Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of the Department of Anthropology and Judaic Studies Program and leads the Cyber-archaeology research group at the Qualcomm Institute, California Center of Telecommunications and Information Technology. He will travel to Israel with a team from the university’s new Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology to conduct a marine archaeology field school. He will also lead an expedition exploring the question of how climate and environmental change affected the collapse of civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean region around 1200 B.C.E.

anthro in the news 4/9/18

Plate scraping. Credit: jbloom/Flickr

reducing food waste

Tri-States Public Radio (U.S.) reported on how the Food Recovery Network aims to reduce food wasted in college cafeterias. Food Recovery Network unites students on college campuses to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from their campuses and communities and donating it to people in need. The group delivers cooked but unserved food from the kitchen to local nonprofits, amounting to more than 13,000 pounds of food last year. Food waste is, however, not just a problem in college cafeterias. The article quotes Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, professor of anthropology at Western Illinois University, who said food waste is a global issue. It also contributes to global warming because discarded food from kitchens or grocery stores produces methane when it reaches landfills, and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. McIlvaine-Newsad noted that, at the household level, people can decrease the amount of food they waste: “If you go to a little more effort of planning your meals before going to the grocery store and buying exactly what you need, chances are you’re going to have less left on your plate after you finish.” [Blogger’s note: And let’s not forget composting]

culture and Irish literature

The Irish Times carried an article about a new book by Helena Wulff, professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University, about the culture of Irish literature and the Irish literary scene. The reviewer writes: “The patronising hauteur once maintained by anthropologists has long since been dislodged. In Wulff’s work, it is replaced by partisan but at times flinty commentary. In carrying out her fieldwork, she made friends, moreover, with many of the authors she dissects. Dinner party discussions as well as formal interviews form the basis of her analysis. As she admits, there is a fundamental kinship between authors and anthropologists; examining Irish writers involves ‘studying sideways’, making sense of one’s peers. But this closeness does not prevent her from grappling with besetting but seemingly jaded debates. Foremost among these is the question as to whether the term Irish writer carries any validity.”

dumpling complexity

Steamed dumplings (shu mai). Credit: America’s Test Kitchen

An article from SuPChina about the complexity of Chinese dumplings quotes Gene Anderson, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California Riverside and author of The Food of China: “There is a vast number of Chinese dumplings — at least three dozen canonical ones…I’ve lost count!”

hamburgers: masculine and violent

For National Public Radio (Illinois) Barbara J. King, professor emerita of anthropology at The College of William and Mary, reviewed a new, short book on burgers, including meat burgers and meatless burgers. She writes: “Consider this list of names for hamburgers that are now, or have been, on the market: Thickburger, Whopper, Big Mac, Big Boy, Chubby Boy, Beefy Boy, Super Boy. Notice a pattern there? Writer Carol J. Adams does. This list comes from her book Burger…As the hamburger business gradually grew over time, Adams explains, so did the size of the hamburger — and the gender associations…Adams approaches her topic as an animal rights advocate as well as a feminist. She reminds us what the  ‘everyday object’ of a hamburger really is: ‘The burger — minced, macerated, ground — is the renamed, reshaped food product furthest away from the animal.’ In this way, taking into account the lives of cows, as well as women, Adams convincingly explores the ‘violence at the heart of the hamburger.’

take that anthro degree and…

…become a researcher and social activist. Emile Schepers is a longtime civil and immigrant rights activist, now writing from northern Virginia. He has worked in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966 and is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, and other issues. Schepers has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University.

…become an herbalist and writer. Lisa M. Rose is an herbalist, forager, and author. An expert at using natural resources to make food and herbal remedies, she has been exploring the outdoors since she was a young girl living in Michigan. But it was not until college that Rose realized her passion for foraging: “It was during university that I studied anthropology and the rise of agriculture in the Neolithic age, which solidified my love of food systems and ethnobotany. It’s been a passion of my life ever since, a calling even…Eating foods from the wild binds me to where I live: the lakes, rivers, animals, smells, sights, and sounds. Ingesting bits of the land make the place literally a part of you…I think foraging wild foods is a skill that should be accessible to everyone, not an exclusive trend that is just featured in high-end markets. So, without getting into food justice issues, I like to make sure everyday people know how foraging and preservation can be tools to extend their family’s food budget and be healthful, too.” Rose has a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in public administration from Grand Valley State University.

long-awaited repatriation

USA Today reported on the return to Mexico of two Mesoamerican busts that had been missing since the 1980s. German authorities found the wooden pieces in 2008, when they seized them from an artifacts dealer. In a ceremony in Munich, German authorities returned them. The busts are from the Olmec civilization and are dated to around 1,200 B.C.E. Stolen from their excavation site, they eventually ended up in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection. Maria Villarreal of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology said that the return of the ancient pieces was important for her country: “The recovery is very significant, since Olmec culture represents one of the first civilizations in ancient Mexico and only 13 pieces exist with the same characteristics.” Mexican archaeologists believe that the Olmec people had wrapped all 15 pieces in a fiber-like material before burying them at El Manati. The find consisted of the two recovered busts, axes, knives made of stone, and wooden containers. The archaeologists believe that the theft of the two busts could have occurred shortly before the excavation that uncovered the remaining 13 pieces. The busts will eventually be exhibited at the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology.

modern humans out of Africa: follow the inner ear

United Press International reported on how the human inner ear changed as early modern humans migrated out of Africa. The article quotes Marcia Ponce de León, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich: “This typically human variation pattern is also known from comparative genetic data…It shows that all humans are very closely related and have their roots in Africa.” Researchers also found that the further away a population was from South Africa, the more likely the population’s bony labyrinth differs from a South African bony labyrinth. The pattern mirrors the relationship discovered between genetic and geographical differences identified by previous genomic surveys. Despite the important role the bony labyrinth plays in assisting balance and hearing, human evolution has allowed for a surprisingly large amount of variety inside the ear. “This is probably due to random changes in the genetic material,” said Christoph Zollikofer, professor of anthropology at the University of Zurich. “Such changes may have few or no functional consequences, but the associated structural changes provide a record of human dispersal and evolution history.” The study is published in the journal PNAS.



anthro in the news 4/2/18

Cheapest guns in USA! Union, West Virginia. Credit: Taber Andrew Bain/Flickr

the social life of guns

The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester) reported on a symposium held in Rochester, N.Y., that convened experts to discuss revising U.S. gun laws. The event was organized by Kate Mariner, assistant professor of anthropology and visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester. Mariner is quoted as saying: “I think basically a gun violence conference at almost any time would seem as though the timing were impeccable because these kinds of things are happening all the time…We were planning this before the Las Vegas shooting happened.” The multidisciplinary conference brought together scholars and activists from Rochester and across the U.S. to share their research and experiences related to guns in American culture.

the social life of national stereotypes

American tourist and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Credit: Andy Hay/Flickr

The Telegraph carried an article about national stereotypes noting that, whether or not they are accurate depictions of an entire country, they do exist. Some are negative, some are positive and, no matter what, international travelers may come face to face with them. Jane Nadel-Klein, professor of anthropology at Trinity College in Connecticut is quoted as saying: “When I [an American] am in Britain, I tend to speak more softly, knowing that Brits tend to ‘hear’ Americans as loud, and not wanting to confirm that stereotype. And when I return home after doing fieldwork, having been immersed in local British culture, I find American voices loud – for a few days, that is, when I’m probably just as loud as everyone else.”

take that anthro degree and….

…become a professional clown and go into politics. Steve Lough, a professional clown, is seeking a role in U.S. politics. After working as a professional clown for 31 years, he was laid off in December 2017 from a job he had doing anti-bullying shows at elementary schools through the McDonalds Corporation. Now he is running for a Democratic nomination in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. His campaign slogan — “Aim High! Vote Lough!” — is a play on the phonetics of his name, which is pronounced like “low.” Lough has a B.A. in anthropology from Dartmouth College and a degree from Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Clown College.

mummy rights in question

Several media, including TODAY (Singapore), reported on results from DNA analysis of a tiny Chilean mummy, nicknamed Ata, showing that the remains, once rumored to be of an alien, are those of a human infant. Several Chilean scientists condemned the new study as unethical, and the government began an investigation into grave robbing. “It’s offensive for the girl, for her family, and for the heritage of Chile,” said Francisca Santana-Sagredo, a biological anthropologist at the University of Antofagasta and the University of Oxford. Chip Colwell, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said that the dispute over Ata is part of a long series of conflicts: “It’s hardly unique in the bigger story about human remains.”

the archaeology of children’s toys

Terracotta miniature bull, Indus Valley civilizations. Credit: Sindhishaan Gallery

ABC News (Australia) published an article by Michelle Langley, research fellow in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University. She writes: “While we have been steadily finding more and more evidence for how children learnt the necessary skills for adult life, those items which we most strongly associate with childhood — toys — are only just beginning to surface. New research into what children might have been playing with in the deep past suggests that archaeologists should be finding tiny copies of the everyday tools their parents were using — such as weapons, domestic utensils, baskets. They should also be finding clay figurines and dolls made from the raw materials most common to their environment. The challenge at the moment is determining which tiny items were children’s toys and which were votives used in adult ritual practices — for miniature artefacts could be either (or even both).”

very old footprints in Canada

An article in The New York Times described archaeological research on Calvert Island, western Canada, that discovered prehistoric human footprints. Archaeologist Duncan McLaren, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria, led a team which included representatives from the Heiltsuk First Nation and Wuikinuxv First Nation. The area, which can only be accessed by boat, is covered with thick bogs and dense forests. At the close of the last ice age, from 11,000 to 14,000 years ago, the sea level was six to ten feet lower. The footprints were most likely left in an area that was just above the high tide line at the time. The findings, which document the presence of human inhabitants along the Pacific coast and thus support the validity of a coastal route of immigration (though perhaps not to the exclusion of inland routes), are published in the journal PLOS One

vast network of Amazonian settlements

Several media including The Guardian reported on archaeological findings of many prehistoric settlements across a large area in the Brazilian Amazon. “The idea that the Amazon was a pristine forest, untouched by humans, home to scattered nomadic populations … we already knew that was not true,” said Jonas Gregorio de Souza, of the anthropology department of the University of Exeter, and first author of the study. “The big debate is how populations were distributed in pre-Columbian times in the Amazon.” Writing in the journal Nature Communications, de Souza and his colleagues explain how the sites were first discovered by satellite imagery of the area and revealed by deforestation. The images show evidence of human activity including ditches enclosing sites for fortification, sunken roads, and earth platforms on which houses would have stood. What happened to all these settlements? The arrival of Europeans may have resulted in widespread deaths caused by contagious diseases which could have spread rapidly through the interconnected settlements. In other words, even without direct contact with Europeans, thousands of indigenous peoples could have been indirectly affected by diseases to which they had no immunity through the extensive social networks linking indigenous settlements. Researchers predict that further discoveries of settlements are likely. Models suggest earthworks might be found over a 400,000 square kilometer area with more than 1,300 sites, more than 60 percent of which have yet to be found.


what do forensic anthropologists do?

Professor Marin Pilloud breaks down what forensic anthropologists do and what education they need.

Forensic anthropologists are tasked with examining human skeletal remains in a medicolegal context.  Typically such work can include identifying the sex, age, ancestry, and stature of an unidentified set of remains.  They also regularly assist in evaluating trauma, to include blunt and sharp force trauma, or gunshot wounds.  Forensic anthropologists can also assist in evaluating the level of decomposition of a set of remains that can help determine the time since death.  All of this work is critical in making a positive identification and in determining the cause and manner of death of the decedent.

Forensic anthropologists are also trained as forensic archaeologists, which means they are adept at the recovery and excavation of human remains.  They are regularly called in by law enforcement to assist in these efforts.  Training in osteology (study of bones) and archaeology is critical for this work, enabling them to not only recover human remains, but also to identify if material is bone, whether or not it is human or animal bone, and most importantly, whether it is of forensic significance (and not archaeological or historic).

To become a forensic anthropologists requires a PhD in biological anthropology and several years of training and experience.  Many forensic anthropologists are university professors who consult on cases with outside agencies (e.g., district attorneys, law enforcement, and medical examiner’s offices).  Other forensic anthropologists are employed full-time at a medical examiner or coroner’s office, at museums (e.g., Smithsonian), by the Department of Defense (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System), or they work in other agencies (e.g., the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Commission on Missing Persons) dealing with human rights issues.

By: Marin Pilloud: Assistant Professor Marin Pilloud studies forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, dental anthropology, prehistoric California, and Neolithic Anatolia. She focuses on how the human skeleton can inform our understanding of human behavior in archaeological contexts and also be used in a forensic context as part of the biological profile.


Note: This post is republished from Nevada Today, with permission


professor challenges conventional ways of studying natural disasters

Prof. Emeritus Anthony Oliver-Smith, anthropology, University of Florida, explores ways to study natural disasters during a lecture on Wednesday.
Vas Mathur / Sun Staff Photographer

Natural disasters must be studied and managed using a “holistic standpoint” that extends beyond an investigation of natural causes, said Prof. Emeritus Anthony Oliver-Smith, anthropology, University of Florida.

During the Wednesday lecture — part of the new Working Group on Disasters — Oliver-Smith explained that he and his team study the “social, economic, political, and cultural roots” of natural disasters to “take a much deeper look at what drives the construction of risks and of vulnerability and of disasters,” he said.

“Denaturalizing” natural disasters by looking beyond the geographical factors is integral to improving disaster risk analysis and management, according to Oliver-Smith.

“The high mortality and destruction that we experience is more [the] failures of society to adapt or protect,” Oliver-Smith said.  “The root causes of disaster lay more in inequality, subordination, and unequal resource distribution.”

To reveal non-geographic causes of disasters, Oliver-Smith used retrospective longitudinal analysis, a research methodology that focuses on learning the history of a particular disaster site.Sara Davis grad, found the method to be particularly insightful.

“Often with development or with policy proposals, we try to fit the same recommendations to lots of different things,” she said, “Because societies have different histories, often that same proposal isn’t helpful.”

Davis believes retrospective longitudinal analysis will help reduce current confusion in risk analysis and allow the formation of more specific and targeted management strategies.

Oliver-Smith also raised concerns that while “the [interdisciplinary] knowledge has existed for a long time,” the “general acceptance and extension throughout the larger research and policy community is slow.”

As such, the next step forward would be to apply the research findings in real life, such as by reflecting new disaster management research in construction codes.

“Risk reduction or construction has to be legally embedded in those codes that construction has to follow,” he said.

Referencing the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Oliver-Smith discussed the factors that led the devastation of the island nationn. He talked about the transatlantic slave trade, debt Haiti had to pay to France and more recently, international pressures as root causes.

“The recent political-economic history of Haiti, is such that international economics in the form of the international monetary fund, free trade, and the lower of tariffs, in effect destroyed rural life in Haiti,” he said.

The “undermining of pillars of the rural economy” prompted many to migrate to cities which were ill-equipped, acording to Oliver-Smith.

“This led to a massive migration to the cities like Port-au-Prince, which were unable to cope with and serve this massive migration. These people began to be living in extremely vulnerable circumstances, extremely exposed circumstances.”

Root cause analysis is useful for identifying “risk drivers” that put people in danger during a disaster Oliver-Smith concluded.

“What happened in Haiti was not just an earthquake, it was an outcome of very recent processes and very historical processes that had nothing to do with natural resources,” he said.

Written by: Winny Sun and Amina Kilpatrick

Note: This post is republished from The Cornell Daily Sun, with permission

anthro in the news 3/26/18

Homeless. Credit: Julian Povey/Flickr

rethinking “the worst mistake”

One of the most influential articles in anthropology must surely be Jared Diamond’s 1987 piece, “The Worse Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” Diamond offered the startling, at the time, insight that the emergence of agriculture brought with it, along with higher food yields, entrenched social inequality. Diamond does not state that the relationship between agriculture and inequality is unavoidable, but the implication is there. Now, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, and David Wengrow, professor of comparative archaeology in the Institute of Archaeology of University College London, have joined forces to ask if the emergence of agriculture necessarily involves social inequality. They write in Eurozine: “For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking…Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story. There is a fundamental problem with this narrative. It isn’t true.”

being African in China

Sixth Tone (Shanghai) carried an interview with American anthropologist Gordon Mathews of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He discusses the research findings in his book, The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace, focusing on the business dealings of Guangzhou’s African traders, their relationships with local people, and their future in China. The African community in Guangzhou has changed the social fabric of the city. The mostly male entrepreneurs have started relationships with Chinese women, and some are now raising mixed-race children. Despite the close ties between Chinese and Africans in the city, racism persists, and racial awareness in the nation generally remains low. “Chinese see somebody like me, and they’re aware of whiteness, but they are simply not aware of Africans, South Asians, and these other groups,” Mathews says.

snow on daffodils

The Village Voice published a piece on the spring snow storms in northeast of the U.S., called nor’easters, appropriately enough. The article cites sociocultural anthropologist Ben Orlove, a senior research scientist in the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and a professor in the School of International and Public Columbia University: “People throughout the metro area are conscious of snow, but for those who live in coastal locations, there’s the big risk of flooding, which is what we’re seeing with more of these storms as well… “We’re only beginning to realize this is a problem with winter nor’easters…We’re all just depressed at this point…No one wants to see snow on the daffodils.” [Blogger’s note: Orlove was a professor at the University of California at Davis for 36 years before moving to New York City. In Davis, daffodils don’t know what snow is].

shameful neglect: Anthropological Museum at Lucknow University

The Times of India reported on the state of disrepair of the K.S. Mathur Anthropological Museum at Lucknow University in northern India. Some artefacts are housed in make-shift glass cases while others, hung on walls or placed on tables or the floor, are covered with a thick layer of dust. Some artefacts had to be thrown away because they were eaten by termites, according to an unnamed source associated with the museum who further states: “I have been looking after the museum since 1991. The main reason why it is in such a bad state is because of improper allocation of funds…Since there is no proper lighting and ventilation, there is a lot of dampness in the museum, which is not good for these precious artefacts.”

LiDAR technology reveals an African city

Quartz published an article by Karim Sadr, senior lecturer and associate professor in the School of Geography, Archeology and Environmental Studies Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand. He describes research findings using LiDAR technology: “Now the same technology which located…Mayan cities has been used to rediscover a southern African city that was occupied from the 15th century until about 200 years ago. This technology…was used to ‘redraw’ the remains of the city…near Johannesburg. It is one of several large settlements occupied by Tswana-speakers that dotted the northern parts of South Africa for generations before the first European travellers encountered them in the early years of the nineteenth century. In the 1820s all these Tswana city states collapsed in what became known as the Difeqane civil wars. Some had never been documented in writing and their oral histories had gone unrecorded….from ground level and on aerial photos the full extent of this settlement could not be appreciated because vegetation hides many of the ruins. But LiDAR, which uses laser light, allowed my students and I to create images of the landscape and virtually strip away the vegetation. This permits unimpeded aerial views of the ancient buildings and monuments. We have given the city a generic placeholder name for now – SKBR. We hope an appropriate Tswana name can eventually be adopted.”

mammoth tusks returned to Canada after 50 years

Woolly mammoth restoration at the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia. Credit: S.F. Wolfman/Wikimedia Commons

CTV News (Canada) reported on the discovery by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation of mammoth tusks in a private collection in an Indiana home. The individual had them as part a massive collection that included indigenous arrowheads, fossils, and shrunken skulls. Federal and provincial laws were enacted in the 1990s to restrict the movement of artifacts across provincial and national borders, including mammoth tusks that are increasingly used to create ivory carvings for trade around the world, said Gerald Oetelaar, a professor of archeology and anthropology at the University of Calgary. After years of work, the FBI and the U.S. State Department began making phone calls in July to figure out how to return the tusks, which are likely between 12,000 and 20,000 years old. The collector, who was 91 years old at the time of the FBI discovery in 2014, died in 2015, and no charges against him were filed.

primatologist works for orangutan survival

The Boston Globe carried an interview with Cheryl Knott, associate professor of anthropology at Boston University, a primatologist whose fieldwork contributes to orangutan preservation:  “I feel rewarded knowing that I’ve helped to protect this critical population of wild orangutans, and made a significant contribution to our understanding of orangutans, great ape biology, and human evolution.” Over her two decades of observation, Knott says, orangutan numbers have declined, but the population she studies in Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia remains a stronghold for the species. Her research project is one of the longest running studies of wild orangutans. Her organization, the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, works to promote orangutan preservation.