Anthro in the news 9/27/10

Hacker culture
Gabriella Coleman published an article in the Atlantic Monthly on the anthropology of hackers. A cultural anthropologist, she is assistant professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University in its School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The article is based on her undergraduate class on computer hackers and walks the reader through the 13 weeks of the class with a concluding note on what’s missing.

Fighting for survival
The Kalinago people of Dominica are considering options for tribal survival including intermarriage policy, becoming a living museum, and ethnobotany projects. Dominican anthropologist Lennox Honychurch expressed a negative opinion about the living museum idea to Discovery News: “…Dominica has already been through colonization…This is not a living museum or zoo.” Jonathan Marks, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte commented on the difficulty of preserving a culture through marriage and ancestry alone. The Kalinago say that they want to prosper in their own land in ways that are self-sustaining economically and culturally. But they could use some government help to do so.

Listen to the music
Music Rising, founded in 2005 by U2’s the Edge, has formed a new partnership with Tulane University for a study of New Orleans and Gulf Coast music. Tulane anthropology professor Nick Spitzer is developing the curriculum which will be adapted for elementary and high schools. Spitzer is also the founder of the American Public Media radio program American Routes.

She who makes engineers think differently
The only anthropologist working with Intel, Genevieve Bell, continues to get media coverage including, this past week, in Fortune magazine. Intel’s research head comments on how the company relies on her insights when they look at emerging markets. She’s serious, as you can see from this quotation from Bell: “If you do it right, if you make the thing in such a way that people love it, it will be part of everything…It sounds macabre, but it has to be so important that you bury people with it.”

This land is my land
Ian Barber, senior lecturer in anthropology at Otago University, offers a new interpretation of the first Maori-white contact which was violent. Instead of Maori fear of strangers, Barber links the violence to Maori interests in protecting their food sources since the Dutch ship anchored near an important area of cultivation during the harvest season. Barber admits that the fact that the crew were not even allowed to land is puzzling. Blogger’s note: the only remaining “uncontacted” people who live on North Sentinel Island in the Andamans also violently resist attempts by outsiders to land on their island. Very smart people.

Neanderthal techies
The joy of science is all about overturning previous perceptions. One of the biggies is that the Neanderthals were, well, losers. Now archaeologists and paleoanthropologists are gaining ground by being able to show how Neanderthals were actually pretty successful, more like us: creative techies. This week’s media covered Neanderthal technological innovations as big news in the archaeo world. The BBC quotes Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado in Denver, who has led a team of researchers in a long-term study of Neanderthal tools in several sites in Italy: “Basically, I am rehabilitating the Neanderthals.”

Neanderthals vs. volcanoes
This from Nat Geo: taking on one of the most compelling questions about Neanderthals–their demise–Naomi Cleghorn, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, argues that several massive volcanic eruptions in Europe in 40,000 BCE were the precipitator because they dramatically altered the landscape and its food sources. Others (you are not surprised to hear) are skeptical including anthropologist John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado. He points out that the Neanderthal population had declined before that time due to incursions of modern humans from Africa. He comments: “Perhaps…the volcanic eruptions just dealt the final blow.” Cleghorn responds. Stay tuned: Neanderthal news will long be part of our culture.

Follow the tools
From BBC news: push-back for the timing of early human migrations out of Africa. According to archaeologist Michael Petraglia of Oxford University, stone artifacts from the Arabian Peninsula and India point to the migration of modern humans from Africa 80,000 years ago or earlier. This estimate pre-dates estimates by genetic analysis of 60,000 years ago. Petraglia goes so far as to suggest a start date for out-of-Africa at 120,000 years ago (and see the following item).

Stone age treasure in India
A rich find of stone tools and weapons dating to 80,000 years ago have been found near Chennai, south India. The discovery was made by Professor S. Rama Krishna Pisipaty and his student of the Department of Sanskrit and Culture at Sri Chandraskeaharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya. The combination of both tools and weapons at the site is significant in terms of paleolithic cultural evolution.

Long gone
In an article in Psychology Today, archaeologist Rosemary Joyce of the University of California at Berkeley complicates ideas that we can easily understand our early human foraging ancestors by studying contemporary foragers (“hunter-gatherers”).

In memoriam
Burton Benedict, professor emeritus of social anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and former director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, died on September 19 at age 87 years. Benedict did research in the Seychelles on gender and economics and on Islamic sects in London and Boston. His contributions to the Hearst Museum (formerly the Lowie Museum) were innovative and substantial. He chaired the Department of Anthropology and served as the first dean of social sciences for the College of Letters and Sciences and established teaching laboratories for undergraduates in physical anthropology. He retired from UC Berkeley in 1994 but continued to be active as a docent at the Hearst Museum and teaching.

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