Anthro in the news 8/15/11

• Looting in England not “mindless”
The recent rioting and looting in several cities in England are not “mindless” or random, according to cultural anthropologist Sean Carey of Roehampton University. In an article he wrote for The New Statesman, Carey points to the targeted looting of high-end shops, including jewelry and technology stores, as an expression of frustrated consumption.

• Death threats to Guatemalan forensic anthropologist
Members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation testified in the trial of four former soldiers about their role in the massacre of 250 people in 1982 during the country’s civil war. The soldiers were convicted of the killings and sentenced to more than 6,000 years in prison each. The founder of the Foundation, forensic anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli, subsequently received a death threat hand-written in red ink.

• Pilloried without head and feet
An editorial in the Canberra Times comments on a cultural anthropology kerfuffle related to clarity in writing. The quoted sentence is worth reading, and it’s apparently lucid compared to the surrounding text, per a chirpy and quite comprehensible comment from the pilloried writer himself.

• How many people speak Na’vi?
Christine Schreyer, professor in the anthropology department of the University of British Columbia at Okanagan, conducted a global survey asking people about their commitment to Na’vi, the fictional language created for the movie Avatar. She was astonished by the hundreds of responses. Many people visit the Learn Na’vi website where they can study the Na’vi alphabet, read the Na’vi dictionary, and download an application so their GPS can speak Na’vi. Schreyer will present her findings at the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association in Montreal in November.

• Finding missing children in Turkey
BBC news covered the work of Dundee University forensic anthropologist and professor, Caroline Wilkinson, and her student Ozgur Bulut who spent a year at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. Bulut has now established the Forensic Art and Anthropological Examination Unit in Ankara. This unit will help in the investigation of about 1,700 missing children. Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification has become an authority in facial anthropology and forensic facial reconstruction. Wilkinson’s research has led to improving facial identification methods, and she been an expert witness in several court cases. Her techniques have been highlighted in the hit BBC 2 show History Cold Case.

• Career path: cultural anthropologist to Christian pastor
Cultural anthropologist Edson Way was a professor at Beloit College, then director of the Wheelright Museum in Santa Fe, then the New Mexico cultural affairs officer. At age 58, after hearing a voice instructing him, he entered seminary and is now pastor of an Episcopal church. He says that he finds his earlier training and work helpful in many ways including in developing his sermons.

• Career path: cultural anthropologist to artisanal jeweler
An interview with Pippa Small reveals her commitment to designing and selling ethically sourced jewelry, much of which includes materials from former conflict areas in Africa.

• Newly found prehistoric body (legs only) in Irish bog
Human remains, believed to be the result of a human sacrifice over 2,000 years ago, have been found on Bord na Móna land in Co Laois. The National Museum of Ireland says the discovery is very exciting. Speaking at the site, Ned Kelly, keeper at the museum’s Irish antiquities division, said that at present we can see a pair of legs, which are quite well preserved, probably the best preserved part of the body. Apparently, the torso and head, which were in a leather bag, did not survive. The legs were not enclosed in the bag and were preserved by chemicals in the peat. [Blogger’s note: the differential preservation of the various body parts–depending on whether or not they were covered by the leather bag–is a scientific complication, but one thing is certain: this person, said to be possibly female, had a horrible death].

• Elsewhere in Ireland…
A prehistoric flint core or scraper, found tangled in seaweed attached to lobster pots, may indicate the presence of a submerged prehistoric landscape off the north Connemara coast. According to archaeologist Michael Gibbons, it may be 4,000 to 6,000 years old and was likely used to clean hides. The sea level rise on the Galway coast may have been by as much as 10 meters since the first people settled there around 10,000 years ago. Several submerged landscapes have been located along the west coast.

• Possible slave quarters found in at the College of William and Mary
Archaeologists at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, have uncovered the brick foundations of a Colonial-era structure that may have housed slaves who cooked and cleaned for students and faculty. The find is “a little bit of a miracle” for William and Mary, said Louise Kale, executive director of the school’s Historic Campus since the area has been so exhaustively excavated and studied already.

• The kindness of chimps
Several media sources picked up on a new study revealing that chimpanzees in captivity are generous and do share, contradicting received wisdom that chimpanzees are selfish. A team of researchers at Emory University have found that chimpanzees will do favors for others. Brian Hare, an anthropologist at Duke University is quoted as saying: ”These new results suggest chimpanzees may help others proactively simply because they understand they need help.” Findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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