Anthro in the news 4/1/13

• On the varieties of marriage

Amidst ongoing debates and discussion in the U.S. about same-sex marriage, Rosemary Joyce, a professor of archaeology at UC Berkeley, published an article in Psychology Today summarizing exchanges in the past week at the Supreme Court hearings on California’s Proposition 8. She provides insights from anthropology about the many varieties of marriage and family found cross-culturally and  quotes from a 2004 statement from  the American Anthropological Association: “The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.”

• The social history of an Indianapolis neighborhood

Cultural anthropology students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis recently participated in a research project to collect oral histories, photographs, and other memorabilia from what was once one of the most multi-ethnic neighborhoods in Indianapolis. They not only documented the area’s history, but they also brought former residents of the community back together. A book based on the project, The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis’ Southside, describes how African-Americans and Jews once lived together, sharing physical space and friendship. Their ties remained, despite the forces that scattered them including upward mobility in the postwar period and the construction of an interstate. For the last 38 years, 200 to 300 former residents of the community, with their families and friends, have gathered every year in August. The book covers the period from the 1920s to the early 1970s. The University has also established a digital collection of photographs in its library.

• If you don’t believe in fairies…how about termites?

But if you must cleave to science, then there are always termites to explain wondrous happenings such as thousands of circles, some smaller and some larger, thousands of them, found in a stretch of desert from Angola through Namibia into northern South Africa. According to an article in The New York Times, “To the Himba people who live in the region, however, there is nothing to explain. That’s just how it is, they tell anthropologists; the circles were made by their  ‘original ancestor, Mukuru.'” New research suggests that the fairy circles are engineered by a species of sand termites.  In an article in the journal Science, Norbert Juergens, a professor of ecology at the University of Hamburg, said these termites ”match the beaver with regard to intensity of environmental change, but surpass it with regard to the spatial dimension of their impact.” David P. Crandall, an anthropology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah who has studied the Himba people closely since 1990, said the fairy circles ”are a strange and interesting phenomenon” that is vital to their sparse population spread over an area about half the size of Arizona. Even though the people appear to have little curiosity about why the circles are there, they depend on the grasses around them to graze their cattle, goats and sheep. The Himba sometimes put the barren spots to new uses. Examining some Google maps, Juergens was puzzled by what appeared to be black margins to the circles in some pictures. Going to the sites, he found that the Himba had erected temporary wooden fences to hold cattle overnight.

• Forensic anthropology for immigrant families

KCENTV covered the work of Baylor University biological/forensic anthropologist Lori Baker who has been given permission from officials to exhume bodies of immigrants who died along the Texas-Mexico in hopes of identifying them and relaying that information to family members. More than 100 bodies were discovered last year and buried in the Brooks County Cemetery, but only 35 of them have been identified. Baker is making it her mission to reunite several unclaimed immigrant bodies with their families. This coverage includes a video.

• Snow unveils Bronze Age settlements

BBC carried an article about how 4,000 year-old settlements in Wales were found because the right amount of snow fell on the countryside making it possible for experts in an aircraft to spot the Bronze Age remains. Archaeologist Toby Driver said: “The snow provides breathtaking conditions for our aerial reconnaissance. Snow evens out the colours of the landscape allowing complex earthwork monuments to be seen more clearly and precisely.” The discoveries were recorded by the experts from the Aberystwyth-based Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

• Man goes into a jungle…

Barbara J. King, biological anthropology professor at William and Mary, published  a review in The Washington Post of Between Man and Beast, about the explorations of Paul Du Chaillu and his search for gorillas: “In 1856, French adventurer Paul Du Chaillu trekked deep into the interior of Gabon in West Africa with guides and porters from the local Mbondemo tribe. Sometimes walking as many as 20 miles a day through dense forest, carrying quinine to fight off malaria and weapons to shoot wildlife, the party often stopped to listen for large animals. It was the age of European exploration of Africa, and in the same year, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke began their search for the source of the Nile. But it wasn’t geography that compelled Du Chaillu — it was the mysterious gorilla.”

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