Anthro in the news 12/27/10

• Anthro of international relations: U.S. and Uzbekistan
In a guest column in Foreign Policy, Russell Zanca looks at U.S.-Uzbekistan relations and concludes that U.S. diplomats can do little to transform a brutal totalitarian state into a democracy. He looks to history: “Nearly two decades of diplomatic engagement have resulted in a firmly entrenched, barbaric state, dangerous relations between Uzbekistan and most of its neighbors (Kyrgyzstan being the best example), a destitute population whose only realistic chance to achieve a living wage is to work abroad, and an increasingly bad perception of the United States as a champion of democracy and human rights in the eyes of Uzbeks.” Further, Zanca argues that U.S. activities in the region constitute passive support of the situation: “Our convenience in using Uzbekistan as a way station for troops, cargo, and materiel has led us to now and then turn a blind eye to the terroristic policies of the Uzbek state, while also enabling the government to dictate the terms and conditions of diplomatic or strategic engagement.” Zanca is a cultural anthropologist and professor at Northern Illinois University.

• Nepali food gets a shout-out
Food writer Colleen Taylor Sen quoted cultural anthropologist Mark Liechty in an article about the health benefits and tastiness of Nepali food: “Some of the best food I’ve had in Nepal is from Newari kitchens.” Liechty is associate professor of cultural anthropology and history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sen notes that Nepal, a small country about the size of Illinois, has over 100 distinct ethnic groups and a mainly vegetarian cuisine with meat consumed on some special occasions.

• Friend me
Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University, opined in the New York Times about how the human brain limits the number of friends one can maintain to 150. Even in the age of Facebook. For more details, see his book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need?

• Bloody child sacrifice in the Andes
Skeletons of dozens of children discovered in the Cerro Cerillos site of Peru’s northern coast were sacrificed in a way that involved slitting their throats, opening their chests, and hacking their bodies to pieces. The children may have been drugged with the plant Netandra which both paralyzes and prevents blood clotting. National Geographic news quotes Haagen Klaus, an archaeologist at Utah Valley University: “It is so beyond what is necessary to kill a person. It really gives you the chills…But we are trying to understand this on their terms, not ours…They are feeding their ancestors and they are feeding the mountains.” The study appears in the journal Antiquity.

• Neanderthal cousins in Siberia
News first broke in May 2010 about a “previously unknown human relative” found in Siberia. Analysis of DNA from a finger bone and tooth now indicates that a “cousin” of the European Neanderthals lived in Siberia between 400,000-50,000 years ago and interbred with the ancestors of contemporary people of New Guinea. The Australian quoted Colin Groves, professor of human evolution at the Australian National University in the finding: “What it now suggests is that the European branch, the Neanderthaloids, were actually a full Eurasian branch, not just European–and that they had an eastern and western subdivision.” Many anthropologists and other scholars from Germany, Russia, and the United States have participated in the study; lead researcher is Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Findings are published in Nature.

• Neanderthal (possible) family and (possible) cannibal massacre
A possible family group of Neanderthals discovered in a cave in El Sidron, Spain, were also possible victims of a “cannibal attack.” Genetic evidence thus far indicates a biological relationship among the 12 individuals. The condition of the bones suggests cannibalism. Lead researcher is Carles Laueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona. Live Science quotes John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, on the aspect of cannibalism: “I don’t see any reason to question the scenario” but he suggests a comparative look at other Neanderthal sites to put this finding into a wider perspective.

• Barbie for chimps
Long-term field study of chimpanzees in Uganda shows differences in how male and female juveniles use sticks: male juveniles are more likely use them as weapons and female juveniles are more likely to carry them and use them as “dolls.” Researcher Sonya Kahlenberg of Bates College suggests that these different patterns relate to training for adult roles. Co-researcher on the study is Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University. Findings are published in Current Anthropology. Blogger’s note: a related study of chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania, found that female chimpanzees use sticks for termite-fishing at an earlier age than male chimpanzees. While young female were termiting, young males were goofing off.

• In memoriam
Frank Bessac, cultural anthropologist and scholar of China, Tibet and India, died on December 6 in Missoula, Montana, at the age of 88 years. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and taught at the University of Montana. He is famous for his role as an “adventurer” starting with his time in China in 1949 as a Fulbright scholar and his year-long trek from the Gobi desert into western China and Tibet. In 2006, he published the story of his journey in the bo0k, Death on the Chang Tang: Tibet, 1950.

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