Anthro in the news 8/30/10

This week’s anthropology in the news is the final posting made with the assistance of Graham Hough-Cornwell. For the past year, Graham has been a vital force behind the blog from inspiration, contributing his own posts, editing, photo-research, publishing posts, checking analytics, and more. He is now moving on to intensive study of Arabic this fall in Morocco and then perhaps to doctoral study in the history of the Middle East. Fare thee well, Graham, and don’t forget us!

• Read my lips
An article in the New York Times magazine about how language shapes people’s perception of reality rose to the top of the list of articles emailed, blogged, searched and viewed last week. It was all about linguistic anthropologist Benjamin Whorf‘s theory that language has the power to shape how people think. This is Anth 101 stuff, and if it can go big time in the mainstream media, then there is hope that other basic questions in cultural anthropology can similarly engage the public.

• Trafficked sex workers in China
Cultural anthropologist Tiantian Zheng, of the State University of New York at Cortland, spoke before the US Congressional Executive Committee on China. An expert on the sex trade in China, she said that police raids are counterproductive: “Usually when a woman is ‘rescued’ from the sex trade and put into police custody, she is subject to possible sexual assault by the police, deportation to her hometown, and forced relocation into more dangerous work areas. In my research on migrant sex workers in China, frequent police raids, crackdowns, and raid-and-rescue have pushed sex work underground and made it more dangerous.”

What do Haitians want
The New York Times quoted Louis Herns Marcelin, cultural anthropology professor at the University of Miami, as saying that Haiti has become an “apartheid country” and most Haitians want “an opening out of the ghetto, an opening out of the permanent prison and segregation they are living in.”

• At the top of your game and being studied
Cambridge University cultural anthropologist Mark de Rond first studied the Cambridge boat race squad. Then military surgeons in Afghanistan. Now he is launching a study of comedians and doing fieldwork in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival. The Scotsman provides some insights about why he is focusing on comedians: “They are very smart…and go out in front of the audience and make themselves vulnerable…if things don’t go well…it affects them terribly personally.”

• DNA and the Dirty War in Argentina
Forensic anthropologists, aided by DNA technology and a growing database of DNA samples from victim’s relatives, have been able to speed up their identification of victims of state violence in Argentina.

Out of the fog
Science Daily covered a service program in Morocco in which several Rice University students participated in a project to harvest drinking water from fog. Inspiration for the project came from a guest lecture by Jamila Bargach in a course on Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development. Bargach has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Rice. Faculty who supported the project include Eugenia Georges, cultural anthropologist and chair of the anthropology department.

Take me home
A prominent article in the New York Times style section highlighted the current writing project of Mary Catherine Bateson, cultural anthropologist and daughter of two cultural anthropologists: Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. It’s about home and homemaking and about not being selfish. Sounds like a much-needed tonic for many of us (blogger included).

• Enviro lessons from the past
The BBC interviewed Spencer Wells of the National Geographic Society about his new book, Pandora’s Seed. He shared lessons from the Neolithic about global warming and population growth.

• Push back the date
Stone tools found in southern France indicate that early human ancestors were there 1.57 million years ago which is 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. Similar tools in East Africa date to 2.5 million years ago.

• They got up and went

The Maya of Kiuic (kee-week) in the Yucatan, Mexico, seem to have left quite suddenly. The rapid abandonment may shed light on the “Maya collapse.” USA Today quotes several archaeologists in its coverage of this story.

• A high honor
The latest theory about Oetzi the Iceman is that he may have ended up in a high Alpine pass not by walking there but by being taken there for a ceremonial burial.  Professor Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome believes he was laid to rest several months after he died by an arrow wound. Findings are published in Antiquity.

New tech for Jordan’s antiquities
A Web-based system has been developed to provide access to records about Jordan’s archaeological sites, allow for updating information, and make it possible to monitor the conditions of the sites. The Getty Conservation Institute is one of the partners. Its director, Timothy P. Whalen, told the New York Times: “The classic rule in preservation is that you can’t preserve something until you know you have it.” The system is scheduled to open in September to authorized users. The project was originally intended for Iraq, but continuing unsettled conditions there prompted moving the project elsewhere.

What goes with socks?
Sandals of course. It seems that the popular British combo may derive from the Romans. The suggestive evidence is from a find in Yorkshire of a rusty sandal nail with impressions of fiber. Blogger’s note: whether or not the Romans needed socks when in Rome, they certainly would have in Yorkshire. Clearly we need to know more: socks have been neglected by scientists and social scientists alike. This finding is a wake-up call about the joy of socks.

• Pulling the plug on grandma
An article in Nature questions the validity of the so-called grandmother hypothesis which says that grandmothering played a significant role in human evolution because it would have increased child survival by allowing mothers to gather food. Thus selection favored women who survived past menopause.  Wired picked up on the article.

• Walking on trees
Scientific American published an article about orangutans standing straight legged on tree branches, suggesting that early human ancestors might have become bipedal before they hit the ground. Blogger’s note: This is all very interesting especially in light of the fact that most human evolutionists discount orangutans as having much to offer to the story of human evolution.

Happy birthday to Gananath
A birthday tribute to Gananath Obeyesekere appeared in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). He is turning eighty. Congratulations, Gananath, and here’s to the next ten years and many more!

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