Anthro in the news 6/4/12

• Nuclear militarism: Review of Nuclear Savage
Barbara Rose Johnston reviewed the film Nuclear Savage in CounterPunch, launching her comments with a question to the reader about how to make sense of recent nuclear news about toxicity in Japan. Some extracts: “… Nuclear Savage: The Islands of Secret Project 4.1 is a poignant, provocative, and deeply troubling look at lingering and lasting effects of nuclear disaster and the human consequences of US government efforts to define, contain, and control public awareness and concern. Nuclear Savage recounts the experiences of the Marshallese nation in the years following World War II, as they played host to the US’s Pacific Proving Grounds and served as human subjects in the classified, abusive pseudoscience that characterized the US government medical response to civilian exposures from the 1954 Bravo Test, the largest and dirtiest hydrogen bomb detonated by the United States…in the populated nation of the Marshall Islands.” And… “It is this story of human subject experimentation with unwitting subjects that forms the core of the Nuclear Savage film, illustrating both the abusive disregard and human consequences of experiments that violate US law, the Nuremburg Code, and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that ‘no one shall be subject without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.'” Barbara Rose Johnston is a cultural anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology. She is currently assisting to document the human rights consequences of nuclear militarism in the Marshall Islands, and supporting advocacy efforts to bring Marshallese citizens to Geneva so their voices can be heard.

• Remembering Mabo
It has been 20 years since Australia’s High Court “Mabo decision” which overturned the doctrine that the land belonged to no one before white settlement. Native title groups are still struggling and many indigenous groups lack the tools to benefit when their claims for native title of their lands are recognized. Toni Bauman, an anthropologist and co-editor of a book to be launched at the upcoming anniversary celebration, says that while groups have done very well out of agreements, many “are really, really struggling.”

• Michigan’s Abu Ghraib?
Brian McKenna, assistant professor at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, published an article in CounterPunch describing his experiences teaching introductory anthropology in a women’s prison in Michigan. He says, “Every prison has a story. We need prison stories (investigative journalism) for every town in America. And we need more prison teachers.”

• More cultural anthropologists needed in T&T
An article in The Trinidad Express notes a major gap between the “uniqueness and potential for Trinidad and Tobago to become a well known area of study and role model for other nations” and the lack of cultural anthropologists to “uncover, record and preserve our national heritage.” Further, the image of anthropology as useful needs to be promoted: “Anthropology as a discipline is scorned and in my own experience includes blank stares and mutterings about ‘a waste of time’. It is definitely not a waste of time to understand where we came from, why we are the way we are and where we are going.” [Blogger’s note: the author of this article is not an anthropologist but is an MSc candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics.]

• Social capital in spaghetti dinners
The Superior Telegram carried an article about an anthropologist’s focus on “ubiquitous spaghetti dinners” in the Northland in her class on Community Anthropology. Deb Augsburger, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, noticed how many social benefits involved spaghetti dinners, so she decided to use it as an example in her classes: “…these meals that are very important…they mean a lot, they have a lot of symbolism…and they’re forms of social interaction and support.”

• Land of milk and money
The Sacramento Bee reported on a webinar, The Way We Eat: Looking Beyond Nutrients to Help Clients Build Better Diets, sponsored by the Dairy Council California. The session included a presentation by culinary anthropologist Polly Adena, who talked about the evolution of milk and milk products and their consumption in the U.S. The webinar, attended by over 300 dieticians and nutrition educators, is available online.

• Sex, death, and law in Mauritius
Anthropologyworks contributing author Sean Carey published an article in The Independent describing reactions among U.K. and Irish journalists “at events both inside and outside the Supreme Court in the Mauritian capital Port Louis at the trial of Avinash Treebhoowun, 30, and Sandip Moonea, 42, who are accused of the premeditated murder of Northern Irish honeymooner Michaela McAreavey.” As always, Sean presents this case in social-cultural context.

• Sunken colonial heritage in Jamaica
A campaign supported by the Jamaican government was launched this week to secure UNESCO World Heritage status for the sunken city of Port Royal, a key British outpost in the 1600s, and known as the world’s “wickedist” city with one tavern per every ten people. Surveys by a team of experts are under way to mark the land and sea boundaries of Port Royal, which was decimated in 1692 by an earthquake and tsunami. Robert Grenier, a Canadian underwater archaeologist who has worked closely with UNESCO on the site, comments: “There is outstanding potential here.” Donny Hamilton, Texas A&M University nautical archaeologist, said the consulting team has completed the fieldwork for the world heritage assessment and is working on a management plan.

• Sound of music ever older
The New York Times described new findings of older dates for the oldest known musical instruments in the world, flutes made of bird bone and mammoth ivory. Scientists led by archaeologist Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford reported that improved radiocarbon tests determined that animal bones found with the flutes were 42,000 to 43,000 years old as opposed to dates of 35,000 years ago for other flutes found in Germany. The new findings, published in The Journal of Human Evolution, “are consistent with a wide range of innovations coming from the Upper Danube,” according to Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist at Tübingen University in Germany. Conard is one of the authors of the report and the excavator of the artifacts.

• What lovely tartar you have
Tartar, also known as dental calculus, is something that modern humans spend many hours and much money removing. Prehistoric people, without regular dental care, therefore have substantial amounts of tartar on their teeth, a new-found treasure trove for researchers who can learn about diet from its analysis. Fox News picked up on recent findings by several scientists including biological anthropologist Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany. Henry has been studying Neanderthal diet, especially that they ate plants regularly. In one location, in present-day Iraq, Neanderthal plant foods has been processed. The article also noted the work of Jaime Pagan-Jimenez, a Puerto Rico-based anthropologist working at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who is analyzing calculus in his study of diets throughout the Caribbean islands.

• Humans not born to violence
In an article in Salon Magazine, biological anthropologist Agustin Fuentes, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, writes that science actually disproves the myth that people are born violent. The article is based on his forthcoming book, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You. He writes, “The concept that humanity has a violent and evil core is widespread; it is one of the oldest and most resilient myths about human nature. From historical and philosophical beliefs to current popular and scientific beliefs, the view that a savage and aggressive beast is a central part of our nature permeates public and academic perceptions. Given this view, it is a common assumption that if you strip away the veneer of civilization, the restraints of society and culture, you reveal the primeval state of humanity characterized by aggression and violence.”

• Some U.S. heads getting bigger
A widely covered story is the finding of some forensic anthropologists at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that white Americans’ heads are getting bigger. The researchers studied about 1,500 skulls dating from the mid-1800s through the 1980s (they studied only skulls of white people since that population yielded the largest sample size). The skulls gradually became larger, taller, and narrower, and faces have become longer. The research team now is trying to pinpoint a cause for this growth. So, why? The article in The Huffington Post quotes Lee Meadows-Jantz of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center, “The varieties of changes that have swept American life make determining an exact cause an endlessly complicated proposition…It likely results from modified growth patterns because of better nutrition, lower infant and maternal mortality, less physical work, and a breakdown of former ethnic barriers to marriage. Which of these is paramount we do not know.” The researchers also didn’t rule out obesity: “Increased calories, nutritional adequacy and decreased activity have probably been important factors.”

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