Anthro in the news 8/1/11

• On the Norway massacre
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, commented on the terrorist attacks in Oslo in several media sources. Please read his essay describing a week of media involvement.

Cultural anthropologist Marcel M. Suarez-Orozco of New York University co-authored an article in the Huffington Post about how widespread in Norway deep anger about immigration may be. He mentions the work of Unni Wikan, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo.

• Central Park takeovers: First American Indians lost it, then African Americans
Central Park, in the heart of Manhattan, is likely one of the most valuable bits of real estate in the world. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was the home of American Indians. A brief historical interlude is coming to light about an African-American community that lived there until the creation of Central Park in the 1850s. The leaders of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History, a consortium of three professors from City College, Barnard College and New York University, won permission from the city to excavate in the park. About two-thirds of the residents of Seneca Village were African-American, while the rest were of European descent, mostly Irish.

• Discovery of very large serpent mound
What may be the world’s largest serpent mound has been discovered in Mariemount Ohio. Ruth Tankersley, wife of University of Cincinnati archaeology professor Ken Tankersley, first noted the unusual shape in a satellite image. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, she showed the photo to her husband saying “What in the world is this?” He responded, “It’s a snake.” Both Tankersleys have been involved in excavations in the area.

• War and “civilization”
Warfare, triggered by political conflict between the fifth century BCE and the first century CE, likely shaped the development of the first settlement that would classify as a civilization in the Titicaca basin of southern Peru. Charles Stanish, director of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Abigail Levine, a UCLA graduate student in anthropology, used archaeological evidence from the basin to trace the evolution of two states in the region.

• DNA says Neanderthals and modern humans had sex
Many modern-day humans are likely carrying a fragment of Neanderthal DNA on one of their sex chromosomes, according to a new study that supports earlier publications stating that Neanderthals and humans interbred. The DNA fragment, found on the human X chromosome, is present in 9 percent of humans across the world from Asia to Europe to America, except in Africa, where it does not appear: “It’s in the Middle East, it’s in Europe, it’s in Eurasia, it’s in America, it’s in Australia,” said researcher Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal.

• Neanderthal demise
New research sheds light on why, after 300,000 years of domination in Eurasia, Neanderthals abruptly disappeared. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that modern humans coming from Africa swarmed the region, arriving with over ten times the population as the Neanderthal inhabitants. Findings are published in the journal Science by Professor Sir Paul Mellars, Professor Emeritus of Prehistory and Human Evolution, and Jennifer French, a second-year PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge.

• All the better to see you
People who live at higher latitudes have larger eyes and more processing power in their brains to deal with visual information compared with those living nearer the equator: “As you move away from the equator, there’s less and less light available, so humans have had to evolve bigger and bigger eyes,” said Eiluned Pearce from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. But, “Having bigger brains doesn’t mean that higher-latitude humans are smarter, it just means they need bigger brains to be able to see well where they live.” Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University and a co-author of the study, said that people whose ancestors have lived within the Arctic circle, have eyeballs 20 percent larger than people whose ancestors lived near the equator and an associated increase in the size of the brain’s visual cortex. [Blogger’s note: so can northerners have more friends, too? — see Dunbar’s number].

• Kudos
Farbodd Ganjifard was “not at all” interested in participating in student government when he came to Oregon State University in fall 2007. But he did get involved, and one thing led to another. Since June 2011, Ganjifard, a B.A. major in cultural anthropology with a minor in peace studies, has been serving as a member of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education. The 12-member board is the governing board of the Oregon University System. Board members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Oregon Legislature.

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