anthro in the news 11/13/17

Chitimacha baskets from Louisiana. Credit: National Museum of the American Indian, Joseph Keppler Collection, gift of Dr. Margaret J. Sharpe.

ancestry rights and wrongs

The Washington Post described the efforts of a group of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in asserting their identity and rights as American Indians. Environmental changes have made their current island home in the Mississippi delta uninhabitable, so they must relocate. Inaccurate documentation of their identity by a Smithsonian anthropologist in the early 20th century hampers their attempt to gain federal recognition which would give them a larger role in deciding about their new location. The good news is that the Smithsonian Institution is working with the community to support their ancestral claim while simultaneously improving their understanding of their collections. Some community members, including the chief, recently visited the Smithsonian. The connection they were able to make to the anthropological artifacts offers “an identity trajectory that can be proven,” explained Gwyneira Isaac, director of the Recovering Voices program. “It allows them to say, ‘These materials, these techniques, this way of life is our way of life.’”

activism for moral accountability

Gate to Mar-a-Lago. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/tommietheturtle.

Commons Dreams (Portland, Maine) published commentary by George Karandinos, an MD/PhD student in anthropology at Harvard University, and three co-authors who are also pursuing medical degrees. All four are health justice advocates. They write: “Over the course of the past year, several healthcare-related organizations have decided to stop holding fundraisers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Some of them had held annual events at Mar-a-Lago for decades, but given the president’s consistent escalation of racist, sexist, and transphobic comments and policies, these organizations felt that they could no longer financially support him. In addition to outcry from local and national communities, tenacious pressure from healthcare professionals was a key factor in this exodus from Mar-a-Lago, demonstrating the impact that our sustained engagement can have in successfully holding our institutions accountable. We write to highlight some successful elements of our campaign and to encourage our peers to speak up when their home institutions are not living up to their stated principles.”

rethinking volunteer tourism

The Conversation published a piece by Andrea Freidus, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She writes: “The problems outlined here do not necessarily mean that volunteer work should be abandoned. In an increasingly violent and xenophobic world, these kinds of cross-cultural engagement can help people understand and appreciate each other. But if this is to be achieved, volunteer experiences need to be reframed and programmes reworked…Many of these programmes are associated with college campuses or organised religious groups that have the capacity to learn about, teach, and support a more sophisticated cultural exchange…If volunteers can understand the people they work with as citizens with rights rather than objects of charity, they can begin to think about long-term partnership, justice and structural change.”

blood feuds

BBC carried an article about the continuing reform of state and judicial institutions required in Albania in order to eradicate blood feuding. The article quotes Olsi Lelaj, a researcher at the Institute of Social Anthropology and Art Studies in Tirana: “It’s not a matter of having a strong state institution but rather of having a just state institution. It is a matter of justice and a justice that is collectively shared.”

goodbye to bullshit jobs

La Tribune (France) reported about on the growing number of workers in France who are leaving their well-paid but boring and meaningless “bullshit jobs” in order to do something more meaningful. The article quotes David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economic and inventor of the term bullshit job: “Le phénomène a été largement médiatisé et étudié ces dernières années, notamment par David Graeber, initiateur de la formule « bullshit jobs » (que l’on peut traduire par « boulots à la con »).”

take that anthro degree and…

…become an architect and heritage activist. Salima Naji is a Moroccan architect who specializes in construction that blends in with local traditions and the environment. Rather than using concrete, she favors adobe and mudbrick. “First I look at what’s available on the scene, rather than bring things in from elsewhere,” she said. She was baffled as to why “at a certain time people stopped building with local materials” and how they had “turned their back on this heritage.” Naji has an Architecte Diplômé from the Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris La Villette and a Research Doctorate in anthropology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

…do social research. Kiran Morjaria is a User Researcher at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in London. HM Courts & Tribunals Service is responsible for the administration of criminal, civil, and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales and for non-devolved tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It works with an independent judiciary to provide a fair, efficient and effective justice system. Morjaria has a Level 3 CeMAP (Certificate in Mortgage Advice Practice) from the IFS School of Finance, a B.A. in anthropology and law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a M.Sc. in social and cultural anthropology from University College London.

new orangutan species

As reported in The New York Times, a seventh great ape species has been identified: the Tapanuli orangutan of the highland forests of Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. While the population was discovered in 1997, it has taken the intervening 20 years to prove that it is a distinct species. The article quotes Biruté Galdikas, a Canadian primatologist who has studied orangutans for 46 years and led conservation efforts on the neighboring island of Borneo. She said she was pleased, but not surprised: “It was the talk 50 years ago, that there were two types, including one that had long fingers,” she said of descriptions made by residents of that area of Sumatra. “So what they have done is solidified the evidence, using anatomical evidence and genetic evidence, and evidence from the population.” Galdikas, who is president of Orangutan Foundation International, hopes that media attention over the announcement will further efforts to protect remaining orangutan populations of Borneo and Sumatra.

identifying war casualties

CBC Canada reported on the work of Sarah Lockyer, co-ordinator and lone forensic anthropologist of the Casualty Identification Program of Canada’s Department of National Defence. She travels twice a year to France to study the remains of Canadians found by construction workers or farmers in old battlefields. She usually carries back with her a piece of human bone for examination and creation of a DNA profile before returning it to France for burial.

anthro in the news 11/6/17

Credit: Pixabay

the casting couch

The Guardian published commentary by David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, about his awakening to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the U.S.: “This is a very difficult column for me to write because it’s about my mother…Mom was a prodigy. Arriving in America at age 10, speaking not a word of English, she skipped so many grades she was in college by 16. Then she dropped out of college to help the family (it was the Depression) by getting a factory job sewing brassieres. The union had the crazy idea at that time to put on a musical comedy performed entirely by garment workers. The play (Pins and Needles) surprised everyone by becoming a smash hit on Broadway, with mom (then Ruth Rubinstein) as female lead…[she] was featured in Life, met FDR and Gypsy Rose Lee, and for three years hobnobbed with celebrities and was gossiped about in gossip columns. Then she went back to working in the factory again…When I later asked [why she left show business] she’d just say, “I lacked self-confidence.” But once I remember the phrase “casting couch,” came up and I asked her if such things had existed in her day. She threw her eyes up and said, “well, why do you think I never pursued a career in show business? Some of us were willing to sleep with producers. I wasn’t.” …In endless ways, the violence of powerful men plays havoc with our souls. It makes us complicit in acts of mutual destruction. It’s too late now for my mother. She died ten years ago…Let’s stop pretending these things can’t really be happening…

transgender health and social justice

Waria of Indonesia, 2015. Credit: Sharyn Davies/Flickr. No changes were made to this photo.

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried an article about the challenges that socially excluded transgender people, waria, in Indonesia face in accessing health care. It provides a profile of Sandeep Nanwani, a doctor from Indonesia who is a candidate for a master’s in global health delivery at Harvard University. As part of his graduate studies field work, Nanwani provides medical care to many   waria in Yogyakarta. The article quotes Byron Good, professor of medical anthropology at Harvard University, who says the young doctor’s commitment to social justice is rare even among global health physicians. Good compared him to medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer, who is known for his work providing health care to the rural poor in Haiti. “Sandeep has a remarkable commitment to the poor and to issues of social justice,” Good said. “It’s difficult to find physicians anywhere in the world like that.”

divorce rate variation in India

An article in The Hindu (India) described findings about state-by-state variation in reported marital divorces and separations in India. While rural-urban differences within states are not marked, those between regions are, with northern states having the lowest rates compared to states in the south and east. The article quotes Sreeparna Chattopadhyay, study co-author and faculty member in the School of Advanced Studies and Research of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru, Karnataka: “In some of these States where rates are higher, patriarchal norms are less entrenched, women have greater workforce participation and support from their natal family — so the socio-economic penalty of divorce is lower.”  Among the northern states, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar had the lowest rates of marriage dissolution.

still here: Monocan Indians of Virginia

Page from an 1862 manuscript, Smithsonian collections. credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Daily Press (Hampton, Virginia) reported on a talk in a lecture series at the Virginia Air and Space Center about Virginia Indian history, entitled Stone, Bone and Clay, given by anthropologist and poet Karenne Wood (Monacan). Wood is director of Virginia Indian Programs at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville and research professor at the University of Virginia. According to Wood, the mainstream view of Virginia Indians basically covers Pocahontas and John Smith and by 1700 “we disappear — we become extinct or something…We were taught it was only great white men who did anything…And the names and the dates. That’s not what history is about — it’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. So many people of all colors, and women, have done extraordinary things, and we haven’t told those stories.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a professional martial artist. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is a professional mixed martial artist and currently the Flyweight champion of the Bellator Fighting Championship. A pupil from Punahou High School, Honolulu, an establishment attended by President Barack Obama, from a middle class family, she seemed headed to become a teacher after college. In an article in The Telegraph, Macfarlane says that her journey to becoming a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter is as much a surprise to her as it is to friends and family: “I did my undergrad in Cultural Anthropology. I did my Masters in Liberal Studies with a focus on indigenous issues. It’s something I hold dear to my heart. I’m always working with indigenous people, natives, organisations. I still try to do that whenever I can, when I’m not in training.” So how did it happen? San Diego State is in the heartland of MMA, and, according to The Telegraph article, “She had wrestled a bit. But partied a lot more. Unhappy with getting out of shape, Macfarlane hit the gym. Hit it so hard, in fact, that those in MMA sat up and took notice, and encouraged and cajoled her to up her game. It was a no-brainer…” Macfarlane has a B.A. in cultural anthropology and an M.A. in liberal arts and sciences from San Diego State College.

…become a design researcher.  Loic Shorter is design director and principal user researcher with Orange, in the Paris area. Shorter’s work involves conducting user research studies (analytics, survey, and ethnography), building strategic design vision, contributing to anticipatory projects, and evaluating user tests, so far, in France, Ivory Coast, and Morocco. Shorter has a Master’s in international relations from the Université Panthéon Sorbonne and a Master’s in ethnology and ethnomethodology from the Université Denis Diderot (Paris VII). 

…work in business administration.  André Englert is commercial assistant at Vitamin Delta in Munich, having recently returned from a year working with Pagos Digitales Peruanos in Peru. Englehart has a B.A. in social anthropology from Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, an M.A. in general management from Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, and an M.A. in business administration and management from the Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Lima.   

13,000 year-old site in Alaska

Alaska Public Radio reported on the work of archaeologists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in excavating a site near the Delta River west of Fort Greely that was first inhabited by people some 13,000 years ago. “Ten different times people came to the site and laid material down,” said Ben Potter, professor of anthropology at UAF. “The earliest is around 13,000 years ago – so (they were) some of the earliest people to the continent.”

sourcing Hopewell copper

Hopewell copper falcon. credit: Wikimedia

An article in The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) reported about research on the source of 52 copper artifacts found at six Ohio Hopewell sites.The team includes Mark Hill, associate professor of anthropology at Ball State University; Kevin Nolan, director and senior associate at Ball State University; Mark Seeman, emeritus professor of anthropology at Kent State University; and Laure Dussubieux, laboratory scientist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. They compared the chemical signatures of the copper artifacts with the signatures of raw copper specimens collected from sources in the Lake Superior region and the southern Appalachian Mountains. They found that, as expected, the majority of the copper came from Lake Superior. But, surprisingly, 21 percent came from southern Appalachia.

highway revelations and collaboration

The Citizen-Tribune (Iowa) carried an article about how local officials, archaeologists, and historians are collaborating with local descendants of American Indians in order to recognize and preserve sites and artifacts that have recently been found in Little Sioux Valley near U.S. Highway 20. The sites date to 1,000 years ago. Preservation plans include an area dedicated to showing how indigenous Americans lived in the area. There have been some seminars in recent months on items found through the highway digging, and officials and experts are committed to undertaking “good consultation” with the local American Indian community. In September 2017, the Iowa Department of Transportation released a video on YouTube titled Landscapes that Shape Us as partial mitigation for damages incurred in the construction of Highway 20, part of the Memorandum of Agreement with local tribes.

modeling the Neanderthal demise

The Washington Post and other media reported on the results of a simulation study by evolutionary biologists that uses ecological and migration data to show that the Neanderthals could have died out simply because of the far greater numbers of Homo sapiens migrating into their regions, and not because of a selective advantage of Homo sapiens. The article includes a comment from Wil Roebroeks, professor of archaeology at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, saying that this study fits with other research that aims to understand the Neanderthals’ demise without suggesting humans had an evolutionary leg up on our cousins.

anthro in the news 10/30/17

Elia Fester & children, Kalahari Khomani San Bushman, Boesmansrus camp, Northern Cape, South Africa. credit: South African Tourism

maintaining minimalism and equality

The Guardian published a piece by anthropologist James Suzman, author of Abundance without Affluence. He describes how the Bushmen long maintained social equality and abundance without overconsumption and damaging the environment and draws lessons from their culture for our times: “Crucially, their success was based not on their ability to expand and grow into new lands or develop new productive technologies, but on the fact they mastered the art of making a good living where they were. It is no coincidence that the continent with the evidence of the longest continuous human habitation is the only place unaffected by the extinction events that put paid 75% of the megafauna species – including mammoths, cave bears and sabre-tooth cats – when Homo sapiens expanded into Europe, Asia and the Americas.” Their minimalist consumption patterns were maintained through derision directed at boastful, self-aggrandizing people which had a social levelling effect.

clock time vs event time

Quartz carried an article about the sociological classification of people into those who follow clock time or event time. It includes commentary from Kevin Birth, professor of anthropology at Queens College (CUNY) in New York City. He notes that for most of human history, event time was the norm:  “Clock time really came into its own, he explains, when wage hours took over as a handy tool that employers used to start standardizing labor costs in the 18th century, when people began migrating for work. Suddenly, a day’s wages could equal a wide range of output depending on the length of “days” in locations at different latitudes. Employers began thinking in terms of wages per hour, and work days came to be demarcated by the clock, not the rising and setting sun.”

“fixing” Afghanistan

Politico published a lengthy article profiling cultural anthropologist Scott Guggenheim, long-time friend of Afghanistan’s president. Ashraf Ghani, and his senior advisor since 2002 [Blogger’s note: Ghani also has a Ph.D. in anthropology]. The author writes, “Guggenheim has been serving the Afghan state off and on for as long as the United States has occupied it…Over that time, amid Afghan politics’ literal palace intrigue and Hobbesian infighting, Guggenheim has somehow become one of the most powerful people in the country. He often functions as a connector—between Kabul and Washington, between Washington and its many allies, and sometimes even among the various branches of the American and Afghan governments.” The author quotes Guggenheim on the current situation: “What the British achieved was turning one of the oldest civilizations into warring tribes…What the Americans did was empowering the mujahedeen without thinking through the consequences. In the second round, the Americans brought back warlords. How do you lose a popularity contest against the Taliban? They [the U.S.] found a way.” As the article moves on, through the change from the Obama to the Trump administration, Guggenheim’s growing disillusionment with “the project” of democratization becomes clear. The author asks him why he bothers at all, and he responds: “What I’d like to see is countries with deep historical legacies, that are struggling, pull it off…Some sense that they will finally get their act together and they are going to be democratic and there is going to be basic freedoms. Kids can go to a movie theater and not worry about being blown up, that sort of thing. I’m still a deep idealist on those scores.” And, finally: “What you are doing is doomed,” he said. “But isn’t that the story of life? And so, you do it anyway.”

omen peace builders 

The Guardian reported on the conflict in the Central African Republic that started in late 2012 when rebels – mostly Muslims, and many from Chad and Sudan – began seizing control of towns and eventually overthrew the president. Predominantly Christian fighters retaliated. Thousands have died in the fighting, more than 1.1 million people have been displaced, and two-thirds of the country is controlled by armed groups. The article quotes Louisa Lombard, assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University: “If you’re Muslim, you have this sense that even though you’re Central African no one ever takes you seriously as a Central African. You’re always called a foreigner and every institution of government is biased against you.” At the same time, Christians feel threatened, even though both groups have lived peacefully together for generations. Fed up with the violence, Eiwa Djabou, a Muslim woman in one town in the southwest, gathered women of both religions to convince the militias to put down their arms. Their efforts brought peace to the town and may serve as a model for elsewhere.

tech, tech, tech: whatever happened to people? 

The Guardian published commentary by cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell, director of the Autonomy, Agency & Assurance Innovation Institute at Australian National University and the university’s inaugural Florence Violet McKenzie Chair. Before taking up her position at ANU, she was a resident anthropologist with Intel in the U.S. where she worked at the interface of culture and technology. She writes: “My time in Silicon Valley has left me with the distinct sense that we need to keep reasserting the importance of people and the diversity of our lived experiences into our conversations about technology and the future. It is easy to get seduced by all the potential of the new and the wonders it promises. There is a lot of hype and not so much measured discussion. So it is time for a conversation about our possible digital and human futures and about the world we might want to make together. What actions can we take, individually and collectively? Is there a particular Australian thread we could follow? I want to suggest four things we should do in Australia.”

spotlight on headwrapping

South African singer Simphiwe Dana at the Rathausplatz in Vienna, 2007. Credit: Tsui/Wikimedia

Public Radio International reported on the October 29 Headwrap Expo in Dearborn, Michigan, an annual event since 2013, organized by self-employed anthropologist and entrepreneur, Zarinah El-Amin Naeem of Detroit. The event includes fashion, panels, and vendors, from a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds:  “Broadening the understanding of the practice [of headwrapping] is important because women’s dress, and in particular Muslim women’s dress, has been politicized so much in today’s world,” says El-Amin Naeem. “Many Muslim women feel like it is a burden that they and only they bear. However, when you see the full scope of the head covering practices, it causes you to wonder why one group — Muslim women — have been the focus of this debate.”

book review

The Irish Times published a review of James Suzman’s Abundance without Affluence: “Deprived of their traditional territories, first by the slow encroachment of Bantu agricultural peoples from further north, and then later by white colonists, most bushmen are no longer permitted to hunt. Few of the young know how to hunt anyway. And the game fences that run for hundreds of miles across the Kalahari thirstlands, erected to protect cattle herds from wild diseases, have blocked ancient migration routes, killing off most of the game.There is, it seems, no way back to that garden. But Suzman’s talent for evoking the region’s vast and haunting landscapes, his elegiac account of a passing covenant with nature, and his warm and compassionate character sketches of individual Ju’/hoansi, make this a fascinating and at times profoundly moving work of literary non-fiction.”

take that anthro degree and…

…work in a zoo. Kristen Ritchotte Is a Play Partner Program Specialist at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. She oversees its Play Partner volunteer program, supports the development and management of Our Big Backyard programming, handles a variety of exotic animals, performs routine maintenance of Our Big Backyard structures, supervises interns, and conducts study design, implementation, and data analyses. Ritchotte has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in physical and biological anthropology from Tulane University.

…become an endangered language teacher. Jesse DesRosier, a Pikuni (Blackfeet) warrior and veteran of the United States Marines Corps, believes it is his duty and obligation to protect his country and lands, as well as to uphold the tribe’s traditions and culture while safeguarding its natural resources for future generations. He teaches at the same Blackfoot-language immersion school he attended nearly 20 years ago, the Cuts Wood School, a program under the Piegan Institute. He also teaches a native language class once a week at the University of Montana and has started offering an online course to some Yale University students. DesRosier has a B.A. in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Montana.

teach in China. Matthias Scappi teaches English to two children and lives with the family in Shenzen, China, through the Shenzhen AU PAIR International Cultural Exchange Co., Ltd. Scappi has a B.A. in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Vienna.

rocking the cradle of humanity

CNN’s Inside Africa series includes a video detailing the discovery at Jebel Irhoud, a site in Morocco, of fossil and artifact evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens there 300,000 years ago. Ethiopia was previously the site of the oldest Homo sapiens fossils, and East Africa has long been considered the “cradle of life.” The Morocco discovery greatly extends the geography of very early Homo sapiens while also pushing the date back by 100,000 years. “It’s like a puzzle,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution in the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and head of the German team collaborating with Moroccan archaeologists. “We have to put together, to reconstruct, not just the anatomy of these humans but also their lifestyle, their activities.”

oldest known tsunami victim

The Guardian reported on the analysis of a 6,000 year-old skull found in 1929 in a coastal area of Papua New Guinea. It indicates the individual’s death in a tsunami event. A multidisciplinary group of scientists examined geological deposits at the riverbed site where the skull was found, identifying clear signs of tsunami activity. They spotted microscopic organisms from the ocean in the sediment, similar to those found in soil after the 1998 tsunami. “We also employed chemistry and examined the size of sediment grains,” finding they were indicative of a tsunami, said Mark Golitko, assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame.

nature, culture, and sleep

An article in The Huffington Post reviewed findings of a biological anthropology study published in July in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Researchers tested the sentinel hypothesis in humans by looking at the sleep patterns of a rural Tanzanian tribe. Over the nearly three weeks of the study, they found that 99.8 percent of the time, at least one adult in the tribe was awake. The adults averaged just over six hours of total sleep a night and spent nearly two-and-a-half hours awake each night after initially falling asleep. And whether intentionally or not, somebody was nearly always “on guard.” Implications for people in contemporary societies afflicted by insomnia are noted by study co-author Charles L. Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology and global health at Duke University: “Maybe the ideal of a block of consolidated eight hours of sleep is not … how natural selection has shaped human sleep.” Study co-author David Samson, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, is quoted as saying: “It may be that such variation was adaptive in our ancestral past, and we have an occurrence of ‘evolutionary mismatch’ ― where our ancient hardware conflicts with our modern social and technological context.” 


anthro in the news 10/23/17

Credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

clarifying the “Nuclear Deal”

The Huffington Post published commentary by William O. Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, clarifying the U.S. role in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), nicknamed the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” He writes: “Iran is on solid ground in claiming its right to nuclear development…Foremost, the United States government has no authority to interpret the NPT [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty], an international treaty, on its own with no input or ratification from the other nearly 200 signatories. Aside from that, however, if Washington takes the position that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium under the NPT, it is acting unilaterally and is uncoordinated with its allies and with the very organizations it cites on this policy…”

book review and author interview

book cover, from amazon

The Sunday Times (South Africa) carried a review of a new book, The Truth about Crime, by Jean Comaraff, Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard University, and John Comaroff, professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard University, along with a brief interview with the two authors. The reviewer says: “In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.”

back on the barricades

An article in the Orlando Sentinel described the protest against Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, who spoke at the University of Florida. It included a comment from Bill Marquardt, faculty at the Florida Museum of Natural History where he is curator of the South Florida Archaeology and Ethnography collection and director of the Rendell Research Center. He said he never thought he would see the day where people openly espousing white nationalist ideology gathered publicly: “I haven’t been on barricades since 1970.” Marquardt was holding a sign that read, “White guys for diversity.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a chemistry professor. Rachel Popelka-Filcoff is an associate professor of chemistry and physical science at Flinders University. Her research uses radioanalytical and spectroscopic methods in addressing cultural, environmental, and forensic questions. She conducted the first comprehensive characterization of Australian Aboriginal natural mineral pigments on cultural heritage materials, including ochre. She also analyses uranium materials by a variety of methods for international nuclear forensics projects and has worked on diverse materials for forensic and environmental projects. Popelka-Filcoff has a B.A. in archaeology and classics from Washington University St. Louis and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Missouri.

…become a musician and pilates trainer. Meg Berry is the founder of Artful Body, a wellness company, where she offers pilates training. A founder of the Pilates Historical Society, she has also  been writing songs since 1998. Berry has a B.A. in anthropology from Harvard University.

rethinking the demise of the Easter Islanders 

The Independent published an article by Catrine Jarman, a researcher in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol. Concerning the demise of the Easter Island population, she offers an alternate explanation to Jared Diamond’s ecocide theory: “The real answer is more sinister. Throughout the 19th century, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the native population. By 1877, the Rapanui numbered just 111. Introduced disease, destruction of property and enforced migration by European traders further decimated the natives and lead to increased conflict among those remaining. Perhaps this, instead, was the warfare the ethnohistorical accounts refer to and what ultimately stopped the statue carving.”

very old fossil ape teeth

Deutsche Welle (Germany) reported on the discovery by a team of German archaeologists of two 9.7-million-year-old teeth that seem to belong to a species only known to have appeared in Africa several million years later. According to an announcement by the Museum of Natural History in Mainz, the teeth do not appear to belong to any species known in Europe or Asia. They most closely resemble those belonging to the early fossil hominins, Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), both discovered in Ethiopia. But these teeth, found in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Mainz, are at least 4 million years older than the African fossils. The scientists were so puzzled they held off publishing for a year. Herbert Lutz, director of the Mainz Natural History Museum and head of the research team, said: “They are clearly ape teeth. Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim.” Although there is abundant fossil evidence that great apes roamed Europe millions of years ago, there has been no confirmed cases of hominins (ape species closely related to humans) on the continent.

disappearing shell middens of Maine

Drawing of a Florida shell midden by Jeffries Wyman, 1875. Credit: Wikimedia

An article in The New York Times described the importance of ongoing archaeological research on prehistoric shell middens in Maine given the accelerating damage to them from climate change. “We know that there are over 2,000 shell heaps on the coast of Maine,” said archaeologist Alice Kelley, associate research professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. “In virtually every case here in southern Maine, they are disappearing or they are gone.” While many of New England’s Native American artifacts have decomposed in acidic soils, those in middens are often well preserved because the calcium carbonate in the shells creates more alkaline conditions.

stone structures in the desert

The New York Times reported on the discovery by archaeologists of nearly 400 previously undocumented stone structures they call “gates” in the Arabian Desert. The structures may have been built by nomadic tribes thousands of years ago. The article quotes David Kennedy, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and author of a paper forthcoming in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy: “We tend to think of Saudi Arabia as desert, but in practice there’s a huge archaeological treasure trove out there and it needs to be identified and mapped…You can’t see them very well from the ground level, but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully. They don’t look like funerary, for disposing of dead bodies. They don’t look like structures where people lived, and they don’t look like animal traps…I don’t know what they are.”

spit analysis provides imprecise DNA information

The Inquirer (Philadelphia) quoted two anthropologists in an article about how the rising popularity of DNA tests to trace one’s ethnic ancestry is not matched by the accuracy of the results. “It’s very difficult to accurately find your ancestry under any circumstances,” said Jonathan Marks, professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “There has been genetic mixing for thousands of years. These tests are fun but rarely accurate — 10 percent Scandinavian could be no Scandinavian because the test could very easily be 10 or 15 percent off. ” Deborah Bolnick, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas commented: “The methodology they use in determining the DNA markers is solid…The challenges come with interpreting those DNA sequences to say something accurate about your ancestry.”

ancestral bones come home to Alaska

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the return of the bones of 24 ancestors to the village of Igiugig, southwest Alaska. The remains were excavated in 1931 by Aleš Hrdlička, who was then head of the anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove Hrdlička to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington, D.C., for research. Annie Wilson, an elder in the village, attended the reburial service and explained that Hrdlička’s excavation was fundamentally objectionable in Yupik culture. The bones were accompanied to Alaska by the current director of the NMNH, Kirk Johnson. He reflected on the importance of the museum’s repatriation work to tribes nationwide: “Some of their grandparents or their more recent relatives are actually in museums as collection items, which just doesn’t make much sense from a human point of view…There is something that is very unfair that was done here, and we want the tribes, groups or corporations to be able to petition to have their bodies or their funerary objects returned to them.”

anthro in the news 10/16/17

School girl, India. Credit: Google Images Commons/Pexels.

educated brides sought, but not working wives

Japan Today published an opinion piece co-authored by cultural anthropologist Rachael Goodman, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She and her co-author base their comments on ethnographic fieldwork in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India: “Even in remote rural areas of Uttarakhand, an Indian state in the foothills of the Himalayas, most young women now earn bachelor’s degrees while their mothers often did not finish high school and their grandmothers were lucky to attend primary school at all… many families expect prospective brides to have college degrees, even if the groom does not. Educated women are seen as higher status and are expected to raise children who will be even better educated…Rather than leading directly to increased participation in the formal labor market, the greater interest in educating girls has changed the landscape of arranged marriage…While expectations for brides have changed, those for wives have not.”

sexual harassment in anthropology

A teal ribbon stands for awareness of sexual harassment and assault. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/MesserWoland

Newsweek reported on the occurrence of sexual harassment in many professional contexts, outside of Hollywood. The article mentions a new study of sexual harassment in anthropology fieldwork and academia co-authored by Robin Nelson, assistant professor of biological anthropology at Santa Clara University and quotes her as saying: “We have that same dynamic happening in academia and academic fieldwork [as in Hollywood].”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/16/17”

anthro in the news 10/9/17

Territories of the United States. Credit: Wikipedia

colonies of the U.S.

The Washington Post published a piece by David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University. He writes: “Why, in 2017, decades after the civil rights and decolonization eras, does the United States still have colonies and citizens who lack full democratic rights by law? The answer is largely simple, but troubling: Because the desires and power of the United States military have overwhelmed the desires and rights of colonized peoples.”

testing the social fabric in Puerto Rico

People lining up for water delivered by the Puerto Rico National Guard, September 24. Credit: U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Alexis Velez

The New York Times carried an article about a strengthened sense of community in Puerto Rico following the recent hurricanes with a cautionary note about limits to that solidarity given the challenges. The article quotes Diana Lopez Sotomayor, professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus, who is among those who fear that the social fabric may begin to fray if residents are forced to deal with months without reliable employment, food, and energy: “There is a new feeling in Puerto Rico, a new ‘nosotros’ [sense of we]. “More people in the street are saying, ‘Buenos Dias, Como estas?’ You’re in a queue for hours, and of course you become friends. In the same lines are rich and poor. It’s breaking the barriers of class.” However, she added, “When people are starving they will get violent. If things don’t get better the new ‘nosotros’ is going to break down.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/9/17”

fishing for answers

SDSU anthropologist Matthew Lauer with local fishermen (Credit: Matthew Lauer)

San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauer is teaming up with scientists and islanders alike to figure out how fishing practices influence coral reef health.

As climate change dramatically alters the dynamics of sea life in and around coral reefs, it is important not to forget that humans, too, feel the effects of an altered reef ecosystem. Although we aren’t sea creatures, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world depend upon the fish and other marine life that coral reefs sustain. A $1.6 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauerand colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Florida State University will help investigators explore the complex interplay between fishers, their communities and coral reef ecology.

Fishers on the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean tend to prefer algae-eaters like parrotfish. Too few parrotfish mean that algae can grow unchecked, smothering the reef and robbing it of nutrients, potentially permanently damaging or killing the coral population. How exactly these fishers choose their quarry, monitor fish populations and think about the dynamics of their catch—and how this interdependent food web will respond to pressures such as climate change—is an unsolved question.

Continue reading “fishing for answers”