Anthro in the news 1/10/11

• This mine is my mine
China is pushing to establish its first wholly owned substantial mining project in Australia, in the Weld Range in the western part of the country. The Weld Range is rich in iron ore. It is also the home of Wilge Mia, the world’s oldest known continuing mining operation. For more than 30,000 years, its ochre has been mined and traded. The Australian government has told the Chinese government that it is welcome to develop its projects as long as they do not take over existing producers. Traditional owners are staking a claim to Wilge Mia and other Weld Range sites. They have engaged the Eureka Archaeological Research and Consulting Centre, a University of Western Australia-affiliated anthropology service, to assess the cultural value of the sites. They are also working with Terra Rosa Cultural Resource Management, a private group, to help define site boundaries and prevent their destruction.

• The healers: Bostonians of the year
The Boston Globe named three people Bostonians of the year, and they are all involved in founding Partners in Health in rural Haiti to deliver health care to the poor. They are Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, and Louise Ivers. Since the 2010 earthquake, PIH is also working to heal the local and global health system. Blogger’s note: Yes, you can make a difference, it won’t be easy, and anthro/public health is an effective combo.

• A doctor without borders
The Sunday Times (London) carried a review of Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, which was published in 2003. Eight years later, Partners in Health in Haiti has even more work on its hands, has expanded its clinics, and now incorporates micro-lending services at clinics. Kidder’s documentary of Paul Farmer continues to inspire readers around the world, and the “Paul Farmer effect” endures.

• Survival: learning from Irish Travellers
Dennis Foley, cultural anthropologist at Newcastle University in Australia, will spend several months in Ireland studying the challenges that the Travellers face and comparisons with Australian Aborigines in terms of mobile survival patterns.

• Cultural anthropology for everyone
Cultural anthropology professor Julian C. H. Lee tells his students that everything is fair game for study. Dr. Lee teaches with Monash University Malaysia’s School of Arts and Sciences, lecturing in International Studies.

• Photo work donated to the UK
Kris Hardin, cultural anthropologist and curator of African exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and Michael Katakis, photographer, are donating their collaborative past and future work to the British Library. Hardin is a former associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and is an expert on the Kono of Sierra Leone.

• Cooking shows make people fat and boring (really?)
A Comment and Debate article in The Age (Melbourne) touches on several topics related to food in rich countries including obesity, diet plans, and television shows about food. It mentions biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, author of the popular book, Catching Fire, about the role of cooking in human evolution. The article attributes to him the observation that the US national obsession with food and cooking is “just making us fat and boring.” Blogger’s note: It may be that he never said anything of the sort. But the article says he did, so I pass it on to you for whatever it’s worth (apologies to Wrangham if he was misquoted).

• The message in the skull
Can you tell the “race” of someone from his or her skull? This is a big question, especially since anthropology says there is no such category as “race” that can be scientifically validated on the basis of genetic information. Slate.com took on the question and consulted with forensic anthropologist John Williams of Western Carolina. Blogger’s queries: I recognize that identifying “race” is problematic, but how about gender? Can you always tell the gender of a person from a skull? What would Lady Gaga’s skull tell you?

• Inca “Christmas” in June
For those in the southern hemisphere, the flip side of a northern winter solstice celebration would be “Christmas” in June. Terence D’Altroy, professor of American archaeology at Columbia University, writes in his book, The Incas, that they celebrated the June solstice in honor of Inti, the sun god.

• The message in the lice
According to a new study, our human ancestors started getting dressed about 170,000 years ago. Evidence comes from a study of prehistoric body lice based on the assumption that lice started clinging to humans only after humans started wearing clothing. And that was likely when human ancestors faced Ice Age conditions. The world’s leading expert on prehistoric clothing is Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. He says: “The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing….but it makes sense.”

• Sail away
Archaeological findings of stone tools on Crete indicate sea travel 130,000 years ago. The trip would have been at least 40 miles on open sea. Greek senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki, who was not involved in the study, said: “Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete.” At this point, no one is saying where the early sailors hailed from.

• We’ve come a long way in primatology
Fifty years ago Jane Goodall, the world’s first woman primatologist, began her doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge. Her mentor, Louis Leakey, thought that women innately possess the attributes of a good field scientist. He also mentored Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas. Now, the majority of PhDs in primatology are awarded to women.

• Still a way to go: studying chimps in the wild
NPR included biological anthropologist Jill Pruetz, associate professor at Iowa State University, in “Talk of the Nation.” The theme was “exploration” and Pruetz definitely held her own in her interview section. She has trekked 15 hours to a site in Senegal where she studies savanna chimpanzees. She is the first to document many chimpanzee behaviors including using spears to hunt and seeking shelter from the heat in caves.

• You gotta carry that weight
The latest theory about why early human ancestors left life in the trees for life on the open plains of Africa has to do with increasing weight of babies in utero; size of infants at birth, especially cranial size; and weight of nursing babies. Blogger’s note: so how do orangutans maintain a largely arboreal life?

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