Anthro in the news 4/18/11

• Ask an anthro

Two articles in the mainstream media this past week recognized the relevance of cultural anthropology to major global issues.

An article in the Guardian discusses the importance of family planning for improving women’s health and reducing poverty in developing countries. It quotes J. Joseph Spiegel: “If you ask anthropologists who live and work with poor people at the village level … they often say that women live in fear of their next pregnancy. They just do not want to get pregnant.”

A review of a new book in the Times (London) (requires login) titled Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven includes a quotation by Lieven: “To understand how Pakistan works, it is necessary to draw heavily on the field of anthropology” because “kinship and patronage” permeate almost all aspects of life in Pakistan.

Blogger’s note: thanks for the shout out to anthropology. In fact, all cultures are equally cultural and therefore inscrutable without a cultural anthropology lens, which can be gained through formal training as well as long-term immersion in a culture other than one’s birth culture. It’s likely that many Pakistanis would view the “West” as “hard” — or something else equally reductionist and view the “West” as lacking kinship values. Depending on one’s definitions, patronage, political favor-giving, and corruption may be widely shared cultural features of state-level societies.

• What would the Buddha say?

The Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan is reputedly stunningly beautiful. It was even more beautiful before two 1,500 year-old monumental Buddhas were blasted to dust by the Taliban. Ten years later, here come Chinese mining companies seeking profits from the area’s copper deposits. A team of French and Afghan archaeologists are working in Mes Aynak to document the cultural richness of the area and to retrieve as many of the portable artifacts as possible. They hope to prevent the mining operation by documenting the cultural value of leaving the area intact. The Independent (London) says that: “What happens in Mes Aynak will have implications across the country. Buried beneath Afghanistan’s mountain ranges are more deposits of copper, iron, gold, lithium, worth $1 trillion…”

Blogger’s note: So, what would the Buddha say? I think he would ask the miners to keep out.

• Egyptian archaeo heritage in the post-Mubarak age

Newsweek carried an article about the effects of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak written by Peter De Manuelian, the Philip J. King professor of Egyptology at Harvard University. Topics covered are: the role of Egypt’s cultural heritage in the post-revolution era, the hoped-for revival of tourism, continued calls for repatriation of Egyptian artifacts and implications of the reinstatement of archaeologist Zahi Hawass as head of the Ministry of Antiquities

• Very old cloth

The oldest textiles in South America, dated to 12,000 years ago, are from a cave in Peru. The textiles were discovered 30 years ago but only recently dated using accelerated mass spectrometry. Findings are published in Current Anthropology.

• Not a dog’s life

Archaeologists estimate that eight million mummified dogs reside in Egypt’s Dog Catacombs. According to Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, the figure is based on an extrapolation from one segment of the total area.

• Language origins make headlines

The most widely covered anthropology story of the week concerns the location of early humans’ first spoken language. It is based on phonemic analysis and indicates that spoken language first emerged southwestern Africa. Quentin Austin of the University of New Zealand published his findings in Science. The Economist picked up on the fact that a paper published about language origins based on ontology appeared simultaneously in Nature. That paper is by Michael Dunn of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

• Peaceful bonobo brains

The Washington Post highlighted a study by James Rilling, associate professor of anthropology at Emory University, comparing brain scans of bonobos (peaceful) and chimpanzees (not so peaceful). Results indicate that bonobo brains have more developed regions of the brain that are thought to be related to empathy. Findings are published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

• In memoriam

Lewis Binford, archaeologist, died at the age of 79 years. He was a professor at Southern Methodist University and previously taught at the University of New Mexico and the University of Chicago. He is most known for establishing the “new archaeology” which moved beyond the study of artifacts to describing prehistoric lifeways and how societies change in response to climate change and population growth.

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