Anthro in the news 10/15/12

• Reforming the World Bank

Jim Yong Kim speaking in Tokyo

One of the world’s most influential cultural anthropologists (and a medical doctor, scientist, and former university president), Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, outlined his plans to overhaul the development institution, saying he wants to create a “solutions bank” that can more quickly meet the needs of the world’s poorest countries. “We must become faster, more innovative and more flexible,” Kim told finance ministers and central bankers gathered in Tokyo for the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings.

• Architecture and anthropology for public health

Butaro hospital. Credit: John Cary and Courtney E. Martin

In 2006, Michael Murphy, a 26-year-old architecture student, approached Paul Farmer, global health pioneer and medical anthropologist, after a lecture at Harvard. Murphy asked which architects Farmer had worked with to build the clinics, housing, schools and roads he had described in his talk. Murphy was hoping to put his design degree to use by apprenticing with the humanitarian architects aiding Farmer’s work. It turns out, those architects did not exist. Soon after, Murphy flew to Rwanda where he and other students became Farmer’s architects. Murphy lived in Rwanda for over a year while the Butaro Hospital in northern Rwanda, which laborers built with local materials, was designed. The site, once a military outpost, is now a 150-bed, 60,000-square-foot health care center. In its first year, it served 21,000 people. It employs 270 people, most of them local. According to The New York Times, “For the 340,000 people who live in this region of Northern Rwanda, the project marks a literal reclamation: an area that was once a site of genocidal violence is now a center for state-of-the-art medical care. Healing happens there. An unmistakable grace permeates the place.”

• UNESCO and gender equality

Norway will donate $20 million to support the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), giving priority to education programs as well as those protecting the environment, cultural heritage and freedom of expression. A Programme Cooperation Agreement will be signed in Paris on Thursday. Following the signing ceremony, Norway will host a debate on women’s issues, entitled “Nora’s Sisters, Women Worldwide: Challenges of Freedom”‘ at the Paris Institut du Monde Arabe. The panel includes women’s rights experts and activists including  French-Nicaraguan anthropologist Milagros Palma, Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif, and Bunker Roy, an Indian social activist, entrepreneur and educator.

• Not born to be selfish: Ayn Rand vs. data

An essay in The Financial Post of Canada addresses the issue of “rugged individualism” as a centerpiece of the human condition and brings forward data from cultural anthropology and primatology to demonstrate the key role of community and social communication. The author draws on the work of Christopher Boehm who has been studying the interplay between the desires of an individual and that of the larger group for more than 40 years. Currently the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and professor of anthropology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, Boehm has conducted fieldwork with both human and nonhuman primates and has published more than 60 scholarly articles and books on altruism. In his newest book, Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame, Boehm synthesizes this research to address the question of why, out of all the social primates, humans are so altruistic. “There are two ways of trying to create a good life,” Boehm states. “One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue.” Boehm’s theory of social selection does both. Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. What he has found is in direct opposition to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideal: generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and co-operation being dominant moral values.

• Take that anthro degree…

…and become an activist for social justice and women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. Dawn Purvis lost her East Belfast Assembly seat last year but has not slipped into obscurity. She has worked on a ground-breaking report on educational under-achievement among working class Protestants and taken a voluntary post with the post-Troubles group Healing Through Remembering. She is now program director at the first Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Northern Ireland. Purvis left school at 16, but returned to education and took a degree in women’s studies, social policy and social anthropology.

• Forensic anthropology for human rights in Argentina

Forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti who has led human rights research in her native Argentina. Image: Richard Renaldi

Mercedes Doretti, a New York-based forensic anthropologist and co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, has been working since 2003 to identify bodies in Ciudad Juárez. Her report to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights led in 2009 to an order for reparations to all the families and a condemnation of the Mexican justice system. That small victory cemented Doretti’s resolve to probe deeper. She has spent her life supporting human rights. She studied anthropology in Buenos Aires, during the height of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” when the right-wing regime kidnapped, tortured and murdered some 20,000 students, activists, journalists and guerrillas. Her team’s work identifying remains of the Desaparecidos—the disappeared ones—continues today, and evidence she collected in the 1980s is still making its way through the country’s legal system. In 2007 the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a “genius grant” for her work investigating human rights abuses around the world. She serves as a Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

• Where Caesar died

Marlon Brando as Julius Caesar.

Fox News picked up on the latest findings about where Julius Caesar met his end, near a bus stop in today’s Rome which, in 44 BCE, was at the bottom of steps in an area of the Senate. Spanish researchers believe they have pinpointed where Caesar fell after matching finds at the dig to historical evidence. Antonio Monterroso of the Spanish Research Council is quoted as saying: “This finding confirms that the general was stabbed right at the bottom of the Curia of Pompeii while he was presiding over a meeting of the Senate.”

• Very old tomb in southern Mexico

Mexican archaeologists discovered the tomb of a person who may have led a region in what is now the southern state of Oaxaca approximately 1,300 years ago, according to the National Institute of Anthropology and History. In the Copalita Main Temple site, experts detected a tomb made of stone blocks and measuring 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) tall and one meter wide containing the bones of a possibly male individual between the ages of 20 and 23 years. Project leader Raul Matadamas said the tomb dates back to C.E. 700 and is the first to be discovered at the site. He added that the tomb could be associated with groups that were in contact with Zapotec Indians from Oaxaca’s central valleys. Further, “This discovery will help us understand the funerary practices of the civilizations that occupied Copalita, mainly of the governing group, of which we had no information before,” Matadamas said. The individual, he said, was wearing a necklace with five jade beads and over his rib cage there were remnants of three small bags, which when put on his chest must have contained red paint because some of his ribs are stained that color. ”

• Neanderthal feather art?

Neanderthals may not have painted pictures on cave walls, but a new study supports increasing evidence that they had “artistic sensibility.” They shared with early modern humans the mental ability to transform concrete objects into representations of to represent abstract ideas and beliefs, says evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum and his colleagues. According to a paper published online September 17 in PLoS ONE, Neanderthals used bird feathers in various symbolic ways. Debate about this conclusion is ongoing. Anthropologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona in Tucson is quoted as commenting: “It’s difficult on the basis of the information presented to float the claim that birds were a central and widespread prop in Neandertal ritual.”

• On fire and humanity

The archaeological debate about which hominids first started cooking goes on. An essay in Slate Magazine reviews various claims, including those by Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard, who claims that hominids became humans with traits big brains and dainty jaws by mastering fire, specifically for cooking food. He places this development at about 1.8 million years ago: “For those who see cooking as morally, culturally, and socially superior to not cooking, it is scientific validation of a worldview: proof that cooking is literally what makes us human. For the rest of us, it means we have a clever retort the next time one of those annoying raw-food faddists starts going on about how natural it is never to eat anything heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.” The article goes on in discussing:  Who really mastered fire, in the sense of being able to create it, control it, and cook with it regularly? Was it Homo erectus, Neanderthals, or modern humans?”

• On meat-eating and humanity

A skull fragment discovered in Tanzania shows that early human ancestors were  eating meat for at least 1.5million years ago. Anthropologists unearthed the two inch fragment of a human skull at Olduvai Gorge, the “the cradle of mankind.” in northern Tanzania. Charles Musiba, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado who helped make the discovery, said: “Meat eating has always been considered one of the things that made us human, with the protein contributing to the growth of our brains.” [Blogger’s note: vegetarians may want to chime in here].

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