Anthro in the news 8/9/10

• Life in the camps is a daily struggle
The latest information from Haiti is that 1.7 million displaced people are living in 1370 registered camps. Mark Schuller is there with eight student assistants doing research on a sample of the 861 officially registered camps for displaced people in the Port au Prince area. His article in the Huffington Post offers a preliminary look at the findings, and they are not pretty. One of the major roadblocks to providing safe housing for the displaced people is the government’s lack of commitment to providing land for new housing. Schuller comments that it comes down to a question of “…whose rights matter more, the 1.7 million homeless or the hundreds of private landowners?” Schuller is professor of African American studies and cultural anthropology at York College of the City University of New York.

• Stop stop stop
Several anthropologists are among the 57 signers of a letter to the Guardian supporting an end to US coca fumigations in Colombia. They cite environmental pollution affecting thousands of people as a result of the fumigations.

• Returning U.S. troops are strangers in a strange land
Zoe Wool, an anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, is writing her dissertation on how U.S. soldiers injured in the Iraq war adjust to civilian life when they come home. She says that returning soldiers face the huge divide between “warriors” and civilians who are not involved in the process of war and have little understanding of its effects on soldiers. She says that the soldiers “…are a small group of people carrying a huge burden on behalf of everyone else.” Blogger’s note: Sebastian Junger’s book War, and his film with Tim Hetherington, Restrepo, also highlight the difficult situation of soldiers coming home and rejoining civilian life. We could benefit from studies of soldiers who do manage, against tough odds, to readjust and become civilians whose lives are free of violence. If our society must have soldiers then it must have ways to bring them back to a life that is safe for them and their loved ones. If our society fails to do this, and so far the record is not looking too good, then we don’t compare all that well to the Romans who watched gladiators fight and die.

• Witness to extinction with a dash of hope
The Australian weekend edition carried a review of Singing Saltwater Country, a book by cultural anthropologist John Bradley with Yanyuwa Families. The book documents the songline traditions of the coastal Yanyuwa people of the Northern Territory of Australia. As Bradley compiled and studied their songs, he learned of their importance for the older generation as a way of transferring their heritage to the younger generation. Right now there are only 11 fully competent speakers of the language. The elders lament that the “children…are standing in ignorance, they know nothing. We are talking to them, but they do not listen.” So where’s the hope? The elders feel that if the youth gain even some understanding of their heritage, then they will want to know more, and eventually they will express their heritage in creative, new ways.

• Toward pharmacovigilance
Drug Week picked up on a publication by medical anthropologist Sylvie Fainzang and her colleagues on prescription drug use in France, doctor-patient communication, and pharmaceutical industry discourse. The authors juxtapose an ethics of care with an ethics of information. Fainzang works in the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in France.

• Nneka in NYC
Hip-hop musical phenomenon Nneka performed in New York City on August 2. Born in Nigeria, she moved to Germany at the age of nineteen and since then has become a star. In the meantime, she also earned a degree in anthropology in Germany.

• Cars r us
Authors Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez discuss their book, Carjacked, during a lecture August 12 in Vancouver, Canada. They argue that North Americans are at a tipping point in car culture. Lutz is a cultural anthropology professor at Brown University. Lutz Fernandez, a former corporate executive who specialized in management and marketing of consumer brands, is now a writer and teacher of English.

• Pets r us
Paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Penn State University made headlines this week for her theory that one thing that sets humans apart from other animals is our care for other animals. Shipman argues this point in an article in Current Anthropology in which she says that humans gained an evolutionary advantage from relationships with animals. Blogger’s question: then why do so many people around the world abuse animals?

• Take your bridge…
Emeritus archaeology professor, Sandra Bowdler of the University of Western Australia, says that building a bridge over the Aboriginal site at Brighton would be like building a bridge over Stonehenge or Buckingham Palace. She and Tasmanian Aborigines are fighting the project. They are joined many non-Aborigines.

• A site of her own
For women archaeologists, Virginia Woolf might have phrased her famous line about what a woman needs (a room of her own) to something a little different: a site of her own. South Africa has many of the richest prehistory sites in the world, sites that have made many paleoanthropologists famous and securely employed and, perhaps, even rich. Now, for the first time, a woman has a permit for a dig in South Africa. Christine Steininger leads the excavations at Cooper’s Cave. She says: “At the beginning my male colleagues would test me to look for weaknesses. My own site manager refused to step into my office or take orders from me because I was a woman. So I fired him.”

• Demise of the Easter Islanders
Archaeologist Karina Croucher rejects the explanation of Easter Island civilization’s collapse that says “it was their fault” (environmental degradation, infighting, lack of civilization). She points the compass of blame to the arrival of Europeans and their diseases and enslaving economy. Easter Island’s demise would then fit in with the vast swath of disaster that European colonialism left in its wake around the world.

• Timbuctoo again
The historic African American site in Timbuctoo, New Jersey, has been noted earlier in this blog, and we try to avoid repetition of anthropology in the news. Nonetheless, Timbuctoo made it to the front page of the Washington Post — below the crease, but still on the front page and therefore worth a second mention.

Home old home
Japanese archaeologists have found the remains of the world’s oldest human-built structure built by Homo erectus, ancient human ancestors who lived in Japan around 500,000 years ago. The archaeologists found post holes which indicate the existence of a hut-like structure. Findings are published in the New Scientist.

• Home deco in the Stone Age
The earliest evidence of home decoration in the British Isles comes from, where else, the Orkneys, and dates from 5,000 years ago. A special touch was a zigzag chevron pattern in red. You could try this at home.

• It takes time
Paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley strikes back at a “cheap shot” slamming scientists for taking so long to publish findings from publicly funded research. He felt that the comments unfairly implicated his Middle Awash Project in Ethiopia. White and his team discovered a fossil skull of Ardipithecus ramidus in 1995, and he and several colleagues finally described it and other findings from the project in 2009.

• Evo debate heats up down under
Peter Brown of Hobbit fame and the University of New England has jumped into the “out of Africa” versus “multiregional” debate by stating that Nacurri I, a fossilized skull that is around 12,000 years old, supports the former model of population evolution in the Old World rather than the latter. He bases his argument on the paleo practice of skull modification.

• Orangutan efficiency
A study of orangutans in captivity shows that they are highly efficient animals, and more efficient than humans in terms of diet and energy use for activities. Herman Pontzer, an assistant professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis led the study; findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

• In memoriam
Susan Russell died in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, at the age of 62 years. Susan earned a BA and MA in anthropology at Carleton University, a M.Ed. at Queen’s, and a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Toronto. She taught for fourteen years in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University. Her scholarly articles on gender and education and living with multiple sclerosis are widely cited. She wrote short stories published under the title, “Black Cat.” Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1975, she tried many treatments in Canada, the United States, and Greece.

One thought on “Anthro in the news 8/9/10

  1. Pingback: Around the Web | Savage Minds

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