Anthro in the news 11/01/10

• Sex work: beyond the Swedish model
At a symposium in Adelaide, experts discussed different models for regulating prostitution including the Swedish model  in which selling sex is decriminalized but procuring sex is illegal. Swedish social anthropologist Petra Ostergren said that the Swedish model is not pragmatic, treats sex workers like children, and has driven sex work underground. Catherine Healy, national coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, reported that a five-year review of decriminalization there found that it was a success with laws working to protect sex workers’ health and safety.

• Anthro of zombies
NPR covers an anthropology class on zombies and their cultural importance that anthropology professor Jeffrey Mantz teaches at George Mason University. Key lessons include: they are everywhere, they will eat you if you get too close, and a zombie attack is probably not the worst thing that will happen to you.

• Anthro of spooky
The Chronicle for Higher Education carried an article about the research of cultural anthropology professor Misty Bastian, of Franklin & Marshall College, on the paranormal research industry and people who believe in the paranormal. The article includes a link to a video clip of Bastian and her student, Jessica Garber, discussing their work.

• It takes a student
Thomas Prince is a student of anthropology and economics at Concordia University. In 2009 he spent time in Uganda building homes with other Concordia students. While there, he visited jewelry stores to find gifts to take home for family, friends, and his girlfriend, Laura Schnurr, an international business student at Concordia. Now, both Thomas and Laura have founded Beads of Awareness, a small business to help sell Ugandan jewelry and spread awareness in the West, and, with its profits, to support community initiatives in Uganda.

• An Oxford first
Two students attending Oxford University are the first Australian Aboriginals to do so. Paul Gray and Christian Bumbarra Thompson are both recipients of a Charles Perkins scholarship which is named after a trailblazing Aboriginal soccer player. Thompson is pursuing doctoral study on the anthropology collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Gray is examining the effects of early experiences of abuse and neglect on children in foster care.

• Paleo push back (a regular mini-feature of anthro-in-the-news): stone tool making
A method of making stone weapons called pressure flaking was previously thought to have emerged first in Europe. Evidence from Blombos Cave in South Africa shows that pressure flaking was being done there 55,000 years earlier than evidence from France and Spain. Africa News quotes Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado of Natural History and co-author of the paper in Science describing the find: “It’s a very skilful and advanced technique that no one expected to occur at such an early age in SA.”

• More paleo pushback (I told you so): modern humans in China
Modern humans reached Asia much earlier than scientists have thought. An international team analyzed fossils from southern China that are from a modern human but date to 100,000 years ago. The team includes Wu Liu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and two US researchers: Erik Trinkaus from Washington University and R. Lawrence Edwards from the University of Minnesota. Scientists say this finding is controversial and so, guess what: more research in China is needed.

• Terracotta Army marching on
An hour’s drive out of the city of Xian in northwest China, the vast Terracotta Army continues to emerge from 2000 years of burial.  So far, over 7000 figures have been excavated from Pit 1. Excavations are now underway at Pit 2 with 68 figures found so far. Four museums exist at the vast complex as well as a Subway sandwich shop.

• Qatar: archaeo back to you
The demand for higher education, and the ability to pay for it especially in the Middle East and Asia, is supporting the construction of Western-style ivory towers overseas. University College London (UCL) signed a deal to build a new campus in Qatar funded by the Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Museums Authority. It will offer courses in archaeology, conservation and museum studies to university students and professional training to those working in galleries. UCL also recently opened satellite operations in Australia and Kazakhstan.

• iPad leads the way to paperless archaeology
The Times (London) quoted Steven Ellis, professor of archaeology at the University of Cincinnati, in an article on how the iPad is transforming site excavations: “The iPads help us replace field notebooks, clipboards of forms, large drawing boards with piles of A3 paper for drawing and even little things like calculators and to do lists.” In spite of the steep learning curve for the excavation team, Ellis has found that it pays off when it comes to the team’s ability to process and share information on everything from architectural details to fish bones as well as the bigger picture of sequential change.

• It’s not our fault: New World not to blame for syphilis in Europe
One of the most debated questions in the study of paleopathology is the origin and spread of syphilis. Severely syphilitic  skeletons  from a London cemetery dating to the 13th century indicate that the disease existed in Europe well before Christopher Columbus voyaged to the New World and back. Brian Connell, osteologist with the Museum of London, has studied the bones and is certain they are pre-Columbian.  Don Walker, another osteologist with the Museum, said that the bone markings indicate that the victims suffered from the venereal form of the disease rather than yaws, the non-venereal form.  Thus it is inaccurate to label syphilis “the American disease.” Paleopathologists will now have to decide which way to point the compass of blame.

• Roman recyclers
Fragments of glassware unearthed in Norfolk, England, show evidence of recycling. Romans used antimony and manganese to decolor old glass. More than half the glass samples found contained these elements. The findings are provided by Harriet Foster of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service and Caroline Jackson, an archaeologist from Sheffield University.

• DIY Neolithic
It’s hard to imagine what “Trading Spaces” might have been like during the Neolithic as the options for redecorating one’s house were a bit more limited than today. Archaeologists have found that people on Orkney, 5000 years ago, painted the walls of their houses in red and orange using a mixture of minerals, eggs, and fat. Blogger’s note: dining room walls painted red are found in many British “great houses.” Perhaps Orkney offers insights about the origin of this custom. Question: what were the sources of the  red and orange pigments?  

• In memoriam
Honor Frost, amateur archaeologist and pioneer in underwater archaeology, died at the age of 92. Starting in the 1950s, she led many excavations in the Mediterranean region and worked six seasons with the excavation at Jericho, led by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. She was, however, convinced of the importance of studying ancient harbors and shipwrecks as a way of understanding  Mediterranean prehistory and once said that “time spent on the surface was wasted.”

Ehud Netzer, Israeli archaeologist famed for discovering King Herod’s tomb and excavating Herod’s winter palace,  died at the age of 76. He fell several feet while at the site. His discoveries contributed to the understanding of ancient Israel, especially Herod who controlled the Holy Land under the Roman occupation. As a professor at Hebrew University, he shaped Israeli archaeology and trained many students.

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