Anthro in the news 10/8/12

• Goudougoudou lives on in Haiti

Since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, there has indeed been some progress, writes cultural anthropologist Mark Schuller in The Huffington Post…”but the on-the-ground realities are more complex and sobering.” Schuller has visited eight camps in a longitudinal study over seven visits. Schuller is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership Development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. His most recent book is Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs, with a foreword by Paul Farmer.

• Romney as a transactionalist

An article in The Atlantic, typified Mitt Romney as a “transaction man: someone who moves assets around with a speed and force that leaves many of the rest of us bewildered. The insurrection in business has profoundly affected the lives of most people who work, pay taxes, and get government benefits. It’s the backdrop of this Presidential election.” The article proceeded to link this characterization to a debate in anthropology detailed here “over transactionalism kicked off by the 1959 monograph Political Leadership among Swat Pathans by Norwegian social anthropologist Fredrik Barth. Anthropology had for decades been dominated by structural functionalism’s focus on society’s forms and norms. Barth instead focused on the role of the individual’s rational self-interest in northern Pakistan’s Swat Valley.” And, further, that Obama’s “You didn’t build that” is to structural functionalism what Romney’s “We built it” is to Barthian transactionalism. [Blogger’s note: see the response on Savage Minds which dismisses the value of this inerpretation and various comments on Twitter].

• Tailgating parties about sharing

Photo credit: The Independent

According to cultural anthropologist John Sherry, pregame tailgating is a complex community-building exercise that hearkens back to ancient harvest festivals: it “…is more about sharing than it is about competition” and helps build the brands of people’s favorite teams. “The individual traditions that they are creating add to the larger tradition,” he says. “They see it as participating in the team experience.” Sherry, who is in the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, conducted a two-year study of college tailgating and found that the parking lot parties are rooted in harvest celebrations in ancient Rome and Greece and in picnics during Civil War battles. They also share similarities with modern-day camp-outs at Jimmy Buffett concerts and Occupy Wall Street encampments: “The idea of getting out of your house and feasting and drinking somewhere else is a pretty old tradition,” Sherry says. “People eat and drink and build up community in the process. It’s one last blowout before we hunker down for winter.”

• Patio dreaming

After a dreary few years, the U.S. housing market is showing signs of life. A mid-September report from the National Association of Realtors found that home resales rose 7.8% from a year before. New housing is up, too. What do American home buyers want: outdoor living spaces where adults can relax and kids can play. But…”Anyone who studies how Americans spend their time eventually comes to a stark conclusion: Impressions and reality differ a great deal.” The article mentions a “fascinating book” called Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, based on an anthropological study of middle-class Los Angeles families. Researchers from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families recorded hours of footage, documented possessions, and clocked how people spent their days to the minute. While these families may yearn to spend time on their patio, in fact, they don’t.

• National workshop on museums in India

According to an article in The Times of India, cultural anthropologist Dr. S. R. Sarkar spoke at India’s the national workshop on Anthropology and Museums at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya. He pointed out that rapid globalization has affected museums and heightened their value in imparting knowledge.

• Is she the one?

Photo credit: The Independent

Archaeologists hope that one of two skeletons unearthed in a Tuscan convent will be shown to be that of the model who became Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In their hunt for the remains of the most famous portrait-sitter in history, experts have been digging in the former convent of St. Ursula in Florence since April. The team, led by Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage, is convinced that remains of Mona Lisa, or Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, are buried in the basement of the building. He will use the skull to reconstruct the sitter’s face. But not all experts are convinced by the claims of Vinceti and his team. Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said on her blog: “Although the excavation is being carried out in a professional manner, Vinceti’s quest to dig up the ‘real’ Mona Lisa is not grounded in scientific research methodology…The news media’s breathless coverage of it threatens to signal to the public that archaeologists are frivolous with their time, energy, and research money.”

• Bronze age metal worker was a woman

Archaeologists believe they have found the remains of a woman metal worker from Austria’s Bronze Age, a discovery that challenges ideas about the gender division of labor in prehistoric times. She was buried with an anvil, hammers, flint chisels, and some jewelry. She lived in the Bronze Age, which began more than 5,000 years ago and was the first time metals were regularly used in the manufacture of tools and weapons. Ernst Lauermann, director of the prehistory department at Austria’s Museum of Ancient History, said that it was normal in those days for a person to be buried with the items that were part of their daily working lives. He added that the tools found would have most likely been used in the making of jewelry. British experts, however, urged caution, commenting that the significance of common objects placed in Bronze Age graves is unknown. Professor Sue Hamilton, of University College London, is quoted as saying that “We shouldn’t presume a one-to-one relationship. Maybe her father was a metal worker or she herself was a metal worker.”

• Ancient warrior queen of Guatemala

Archeologists believe they have discovered the tomb of a great Mayan warrior queen in Guatemala, according to National Geographic. Known as Lady Snake Lord to her friends and Kaloomte, or “supreme warrior” to her subjects, Lady K’abel ruled the Wak kingdom in present day Guatemala between CE 672 and 692. Archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, have found what they believe to be her burial site inside the main pyramid temple of the ancient city of El Peru-Waka. Other items found in the ruins include ceramic jars, and jewelry. She reigned as one of the most powerful rulers of the Classic Maya civilization. The dig produced a critical clue to the decayed bones’ identity: a stone alabaster jar that has the carved head of an old woman. Hieroglyphics on the other side of the jar list her known nicknames, including Lady Snake Lord, NBC News reported. “It’s as close as to a smoking gun as we can get in archeology,” said expedition co-director David Freidel, an archeologist from Washington University in St. Louis. However, there is the possibility that she handed down the jar as an heirloom to another royal who was ascending to the great beyond, said Freidel. David Stuart, a professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, told National Geographic there was a “fair chance” it was Lady Snake Lord.

• 50 skulls found at Aztec temple site

Mexican archaeologists have uncovered the largest number of skulls ever found in one offering at the most sacred temple of the Aztec empire dating back more than 500 years. The finding reveals new ways the pre-Columbian civilization used skulls in rituals at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor. The 50 skulls were found at one sacrificial stone. Five were buried under the stone, and each had holes on both sides, indicating they were hung on a skull rack. Archaeologist Raul Barrera of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the other 45 skulls appeared to have just been dumped on top of the stone. Barrera said the 45 skulls were those of women and men between 20 and 35 years old and could have been dug up from other sites and reburied.

• Maya ball court with ritual purpose

Mexican archaeologists say they have determined that the ancient Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop the ceremonial ball court at the temples of Chichen Itza to observe the equinoxes and solstices. The discovery adds to understanding of the many layers of ritual significance that the ball game had. The bases of the structures, which are look-out boxes set atop the walls each with a small slit running through it, had been detected before, but archaeologist had not been sure what they were used for.. A team led by archaeologist Jose Huchim confirmed that the sun shone through the slit-like openings when the setting sun touches the horizon at the winter solstice. The ball court was built around 864 C.E. Huchim said he knew of no similar structures at other Maya ball courts. Huchim said the slits may have been used to determine when ball matches were played or used “like a calendar, to mark important periods for agriculture,” like planting the core crop of corn.

• Welcome home Perak man

The 11,000 year-old skeletal remains of Perak Man, which are currently exhibited at Malaysia’s National Museum in Kuala Lumpur, are expected to be brought back to Lenggong Valley where they were unearthed in 1991. Lenggong Valley was declared a World Heritage site on July 1, and the move was proposed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). “Efforts are underway by Heritage Commissioner Professor Datuk Dr Zuraina Majid and the National Heritage Department to bring home Perak Man to the Lenggong Archaeological Museum for display. We are targeting it for next year.” The Lenggong Archaeological Museum currently has a replica of the skeleton. During a talk on archaeological research held here recently, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Professor Dr. Mokhtar Saidin sounded alarm bells when he said that Lenggong Valley was in danger of losing its Unesco world heritage site listing if a management plan on its preservation, conservation, tourism and development was not submitted by 2014. Mokhtar, who is also Centre for Global Archaeological Research director, said that a draft for the overall development of the entire valley should be prepared by August 2013 to show commitment in preserving Lenggong’s heritage value.

• In memoriam

Barbara Pillsbury Milne, an applied cultural and medical anthropologist, died at the age of 67 years. Pillsbury Milne spent much of her career consulting for the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the nonprofit Global Health Council. Her work took her to more than 100 countries. Her expertise was in women’s health, reproductive medicine, family planning, and HIV/AIDS prevention and education. She received a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in 1973 where she studied under Margaret Mead. Pillsbury Milne was past president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

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