Anthro in the news 6/17/13

• Unexpected result in Iran’s presidential election

Presidential Election Map of Iran/Wikimedia Commons, Nima Farid.

For New America Media, William Beeman, professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Minnesota, commented on the recent presidential election in Iran: “Much of what transpired in Iran during the presidential election on Friday, June 14 (Flag Day in the U.S.), won by Hassan Rowhani should be familiar to American citizens: A candidate replacing a term-limited president contrasting himself with a former conservative government, campaigning on social and human rights issues along with a promise for an improved economy, combined with a split vote for his opposition that assured his victory by less than a one per-cent margin. Echoes of the American election in 2012 and many earlier elections are clearly present in Iran in 2013. Apparently Iranian and American voters are more alike than either group realizes.”

Paradoxical consequences of elections in Malaysia

In The Malaysia Chronicle, Clive Kessler analyzes the how, paradoxically, the election of a reduced Barisan Nasional presence and increased opposition numbers in parliament has amplified, not diminished, the power of the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), specifically its power within the nation’s government and over the formation of national policy. He also examines the election campaign that yielded this paradoxical outcome. Kessler is emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales.

• Studying abroad at home

Paula Hirschoff, two-time U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and M.A. in anthropology, published an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education on the value of student exchange programs within a country. She describes her positive experiences in a program which placed her in a traditionally black college in the U.S.

Investigation of unmarked graves in Florida delayed

DNA testing begins to further unravel the mystery of the unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys./ Tampa Bay News

According to several sources, including The Tampa Bay News, a request to dig up remains at the controversial Dozier School For Boys in Marianna, Florida, has been put on hold. Researchers at the University of South Florida requested an archaeological permit from the state at the end of May to excavate. Through ground penetrating radar, researchers earlier discovered the remains of close to 50 boys buried in unmarked graves there. The State Archaeologist sent a letter to USF researchers asking for more information before making a decision on granting the permit. Families of those believed to be buried there are frustrated by the delay. Despite the permit delay, forensic experts from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office proceeded with the next step for families, taking DNA samples of three relatives. Researchers are hoping to match the DNA with the remains at the reform school. USF Archaeologist Erin Kimmerle said they will  review the questions from the state archaeologist next week. Once the answers are received, it will be at least another two weeks before a decision about the permit is made.

• Lost and found: Temple city in Cambodia

The Sydney Morning Herald claimed a “world exclusive” with its coverage (video included) of the discovery of a lost medieval city that thrived on a mist-shrouded Cambodian mountain 1200 years ago. The city, Mahendraparvata, includes temples hidden by jungle for centuries and that may never been looted. The University of Sydney’s archaeology research centre in Cambodia brought high level imaging technology to Cambodia. French-born archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Chevance, director of the Archaeology and Development Foundation in London, who was a leader of the expedition, said it was known from ancient scriptures that a great warrior, Jayavarman II, had a mountain capital…We now know from the new data the city was for sure connected by roads, canals and dykes. Over years Dr Chevance and his staff had crossed ancient roads and passed ancient structures they suspected were there but could not see because they were hidden by jungle and earth. The discovery will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

• Indus civilization continues to intrigue

The Times (London) offered an update on how, after almost a century of investigation, the Indus Valley sites are still tantalizing. Two major puzzles have yet to be solved. First, in spite of the high level of urban development at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, with populations in the tens of thousands, no royal tombs or public inscriptions have been found to give names to the elite.

A ritual bath Mohenjo-Daro, Indus Valley, Pakistan./ Ursula Gahwiler, Getty Images/ Robert Harding, World Imagery

Another striking characteristic of Indus culture is the apparent lack of conflict. Some new research, however, suggests that, as in early literate civilizations in the Middle East, violence was a part of daily life. According to an article in the International Journal of Paleopathology, almost half of a sample of skulls from late in Harappa’s history exhibited “serious injuries from violence, the highest recorded in the history of South Asia.” The results contradict “the myth of the peaceful Indus civilisation,” said Gwen Robbins Schug of Appalachian State University, who led the research team. Victims included a child and a woman whose skulls were crushed by heavy blows.

Jim Shaffer, professor at Case Western University, tempers this finding as a characterization for Indus civilization as a whole by pointing out that the sample comes from a late period in the history of Harappa, between 1900 and 1700 BCE, when Indus civilization was in decline.

A third puzzle is discussed in an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science reporting isotopic analyses of teeth from a cemetery at Harappa half a millennium earlier. The study, by Jonathan Mark Kenoyer and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, suggests that many of the males were immigrants. Female skeletons seem to be of local women, raising the possibility that marriage, contrary to the current practice in the region, involved the groom moving to the bride’s community. If confirmed, this pattern suggests a society “where women were powerful,” Professor Kenoyer is quoted as saying. Shaffer adds that it is “one of the few real insights we have” into Indus social structure.

International Journal of Paleopathology, Volume 2, pp. 136-147; Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 40, pp. 2286-229

• Finding your inner Neanderthal

USA Today carried an article about how genealogy and genetics provide more people with insights into their family tree that may be unexpected. “Everyone wants to know how much of a Neanderthal they are,” says genetics expert Spencer Wells, head of National Geographic’s Genographic Project, a worldwide DNA ancestry-tracing effort. In less than a decade, more than a million people have taken such ancestry tests, offered by more than two dozen companies. The “incredible response,” Wells says, reflects a revolution in cheaper DNA testing. Intended by National Geographic as a part of its mission to map and explore the world, the Genographic Project has analyzed the genetic markers of nearly 600,000 people since 2005, specializing in looking to the origins of modern humans in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.

Links include those to the Neanderthals, whose genome or gene map was first published by researchers in 2010, led by Svante Pääbo of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Current thinking is that anyone who is not African probably shares about 2-3 percent of his or her genes with Neanderthals.

• New view of human menopause

Many media including CBC Canada picked up on a new study by evolutionary biologists at McMaster University, published in PLOS Computational Biology, arguing that men’s preference for younger women spurred the evolution of menopause. Evolutionary anthropologist, Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah, is cited because of the grandmother hypothesis with which she is associated and which questions this new theory, suggesting that the causal arrow may be the other way around.  As reported in The Huffington Post, Hawkes said in an email to LiveScience: As human life spans increased, women might have had many healthy years after fertility. As a result, men grew to prefer younger women because older women couldn’t reproduce. Supporting that hypothesis, female chimpanzees see their egg reserves decline around the same age as human females, Hawkes noted. But unlike humans, they die shortly after this age, whereas humans typically have decades of healthy life after menopause.

• Chimpanzee advocacy

Chimpanzee, Ham, getting ready for test flight./ Wikimedia Commons, NASA

Many media covered a proposed new U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal to reclassify captive chimpanzees as “endangered” rather than “threatened,” and source linked the proposal to legendary primatologist and chimpanzee protection advocate, Jane Goodall. For example, from The New York Times: “On Tuesday, Dr. Goodall, 79, now a longtime champion of chimpanzee conservation, participated in what may turn out to be another milestone. She joined the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Daniel M. Ashe, in announcing a proposal to add chimpanzees in captivity to the endangered species list. Wild chimpanzees have been listed by the U.S. as endangered since 1990, but the new proposal, which is open to public comment for 60 days, covers all chimps, including nearly 2,000 captive in the United States. The listing, if adopted, could block most experimentation on them, stop interstate trade in the animals and perhaps discourage use of chimpanzees in entertainment.”

In memoriam

Ward H. Goodenough, a longtime University of Pennsylvania professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology, died at the age of 94 years. He earned his doctorate in anthropology from Yale in 1949, influenced by his mentor George Peter Murdock with whom he did a survey in 1940, and then field work on the Chuuk (Truk) islands in Micronesia in 1947. He maintained a lifelong attachment to Chuuk and its people, and was the author and compiler in 1980 of the Trukese-English Dictionary. Goodenough later did field work later in Micronesia and Melanesia. An expert on kinship, his best-known early contribution was the development of a method for applying componential analysis to the study of kinship terminology. In his later work, he made contributions to linguistic anthropology, economic development studies, and culture theory. Dr. Goodenough taught anthropology for two years at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Penn in 1949. He remained there until his retirement in 1989, serving as the department chair from 1976 to 1982, and as a university professor from 1980 to 1989. His scholarship also had an impact on public policy decisions, including work on emergency planning for the National Research Council, on arms control, and on environmental health. He served on a panel of consultants that advised the Department of Energy on how to mark its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a project for disposing of radioactive waste. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Charles M. Hudson, professor of anthropology and history at the University of Georgia, died at the age of 80 years. He joined the faculty of the UGA anthropology department in 1963, after receiving his doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina. He remained there until retiring as professor emeritus in 2000. Hudson was one of the world’s leading authorities on the early history of Native Americans in the Southeast and author of two groundbreaking books about the region’s native peoples.

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