Anthro in the news 7/29/13

• Female genital cutting: a practice in decline

Several mainstream media sources discussed the findings of a comprehensive new assessment led by UNICEF about the practice of female genital cutting in Africa and the Middle East. The data indicate a gradual but significant decline in many countries.

Female genital mutilation Economist
Source: Economist

Teenage girls are now less likely to have been cut than older women in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. In Egypt, for example, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, survey data showed that 81 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds had undergone the practice, compared with 96 percent of women in their late 40s.

Generational change appears to be playing an important role in the decline with the difference in Egypt especially marked: only a third of teenage girls who were surveyed thought it should continue, compared with almost two-thirds of older women.

Researchers say the progress in Kenya makes sense, given efforts there to stop female genital cutting starting in the early 1900s. But they were at a loss to explain why the rate has plunged in the Central African Republic, to 24 percent in 2010 from 43 percent in the mid-1990s. Concerning the findings about the Central African Republic, The New York Times quotes Bettina Shell-Duncan, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Washington who was a consultant on the report: “We have no idea, not even a guess, noting that researchers need to study the causes of the decline there.

Blogger’s note: for a list of related readings, see the global∙gender∙current blog post.

• Indigenous people’s knowledge and climate change

An article on the importance of indigenous knowledge in addressing climate change in The Democratic Daily cites the work of Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, Brazilian cultural anthropologist and emeritus professor of the Department of Anthropology at Chicago University and the University of São Paulo.

She says indigenous people have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and scientists should listen to them because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world. Their knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted by others, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge.”


• Zafimaniry: Handicrafts of Madagascar

Taku Iida
Taku Iida/Asahi Shimbun

An article in The Asahi Shimbun profiles the work of Japanese cultural anthropologist Taku Iida has devoted the last 19 years of his life to studying cultures of Madagascar.

This past spring, the associate professor of anthropology brought the fruits of his research back to Japan in a special exhibition, Zafimaniry Style: Life and Handicrafts in the Mist Forest of Madagascar at the National Museum of Ethnology in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

• A tribute to cultural anthropology

An opinion piece in The Toronto Star by columnist Rick Salutin makes that case that many cultural anthropologists “help more in understanding how the world works today than other experts do.” He cites the work of David Graeber, Sir Jack Goody, and Tanya Luhrmann.

According to Salutin: “The strength of anthropology at the moment, I’d say, comes when it turns its eye to our own society as just another tribe or collection of humans trying to make symbolic sense of their experience — rather than looking back on other collectivities as if we alone have reached some satisfying, inevitable progress toward which those primitive versions are striving.”

• GOP could benefit from cultural anthropology insights

An opinion piece in Forbes Magazine argues that the U.S. Republican party and “libertarian populism” does not have what it takes to reform conservatism and libertarianism.

The authors prescribes a dose of cultural anthropology to understand what is going on in America: “…the urgency of an anthropological conversation is underscored by the fact that what’s a stumbling block on the right is a stumbling block for America more broadly. Not even Republicans can agree on what experiences define our human being — much less all of us together! Republicans are attacked as the party of mean people, and Republicans are divided politically, and America is divided politically, because Republicans and Americans lack a shared anthropology. Libertarian populism might make good policy and good political sense, but critics…are right to warn that this is not much to cheer about if it doesn’t move and inspire a very large portion of Americans.”

• Take that anthro degree and…

Chester Missing
Chester Missing/Baxter Theatre Centre

…become a famous comedian. Chester Missing is the puppet creation of South African comedian, Conrad Koch, who has an M.A. degree in social anthropology (Cum Laude) from Wits University in South Africa where his studies focused on corporate and African culture.

According to a review of his work in Eyewitness News, his anthropological training “…is the secret to his gripping comedy that South African audiences have come to love. He combines cultural insights, puppetry and hilarious commentary to create a theatrical comedy tour de force.” In addition to his popular comedy show with Chester Missing, Koch has extensive experience implementing culture change programs.

Blogger’s note: You can follow Chester Missing on Twitter and Facebook.

…become a law professor. Anya Bernstein first received a B.A. from Columbia College, studying religion, then went on to pursue a certificate program in China at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center before earning Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago, with a dissertation on political participation in Taipei, Taiwan.

She is quoted as saying, “I came to feel like anthropology wasn’t really getting me at the questions I wanted to get at. I’m interested in how the state is organized and how people within the state operate, questions that I think are essential to help understand government and law in general. I thought studying law might help me get there.” She received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2010. After a year clerking, she taught legal research and writing and “Topics in Chinese Law” at the University of Chicago Law School. Bernstein will join the University of Buffalo Law School faculty in the fall as an associate professor. She says she is delighted to be in a place where scholars bring social science disciplines to bear on questions of law.

…become a successful restaurateur and food business owner. Sara Martinelli, co-owner with her husband Lenny Martinelli, earned a B.A. degree in anthropology from the University of Colorado and then an advanced degree in graphic arts. Through various twists and turns and over several years, she and Lenny have developed a successful multi-restaurant business and food company named Three Leaf Concepts (they have three children, the inspiration for the name).

• AAA objects to TV show

According to a report from Inside Higher Ed, the American Anthropological Association has written to the Travel Channel objecting to and asking for changes in the TV show Dig Wars, in which contestants are sent to various locations with metal detectors to see if they can locate and dig up antiquities, called “loot” and evaluated for their financial value:

Diggers hunt for gold in the abandoned mining town of Ruby, AZ. Source Dig Wars Travel Channel Facebook
Diggers hunt for gold in the abandoned mining town of Ruby, AZ, on Dig Wars. Source: Travel Channel Facebook page

“Reasonable viewers watching this program may be mistakenly led to believe that such behaviors are ethically acceptable,” says the letter. “On the contrary, the looting as portrayed in the show is deeply disturbing. The overall message is that this nation’s cultural and historical heritage is ‘loot’ that is up for grabs for anyone with a metal detector and shovel. This is the wrong message to give the public, especially in an age when so many historical sites are disappearing.”

The association offered to identify trained archaeologists who could help the network “communicate the excitement of discovery and of history in a more responsible, ethical and engaging manner.”

• Archaeology of shame

Kooskia Internment Camp. ca. 1944.
Two men making biscuits. Kooskia Internment Camp. ca. 1944. Flickr/University of Idaho Digital Initiatives

KBOITV (Boise) and several other media including The Huffington Post covered the discovery of remains of the Kooskia Internment Camp in the mountains of northern Idaho. It provides evidence of a little-known portion of a shameful chapter of American history.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, about 120,000 people of Japanese heritage who lived on the West Coast were sent to internment camps. In many cases, people lost everything they had worked for in the U.S. and were sent to prison camps in remote locations with harsh climates. Nearly two-thirds were American citizens, and many were children.

Researchers from the University of Idaho are working at the site and are determined that it will not be forgotten to history. “We want people to know what happened, and make sure we don’t repeat the past,” said anthropology professor Stacey Camp, who is leading the research.

There are no buildings, signs or markers to indicate what happened at the site 70 years ago, but researchers sifting through the dirt have found broken porcelain, old medicine bottles and lost artwork identifying the location of the first internment camp where the U.S. government used people of Japanese ancestry as a workforce during World War II.

For more photos of Kooskia, go to the project’s photo archive on Flickr.

• Which Europeans got to the New World first?

In the Appalachian foothills of western North Carolina, archaeologists have discovered remains of a 16th century fort. The fort, the earliest one built in the region by Europeans, is a reminder of a neglected period in colonial history, when Spain’s expansive ambitions were as yet unmatched by those of England. If the Spanish had succeeded, according to Robin A. Beck Jr., a University of Michigan archaeologist on the research team: “Everything south of the Mason-Dixon line might have become part of Latin America.”

After years of searching, a team of archaeologists led by Robin Beck, Christopher B. Rodning of Tulane University in New Orleans, and David G. Moore of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., found what they have described in interviews as clear evidence of the defensive moat and other remains of Fort San Juan. The discovery was made five miles north of Morganton, N.C., at a site long assumed to be the location of an Indian settlement known as Joara.

• Ancient coins have tales to tell

Israeli archaeologist Yoav Farhi is piecing together ancient Israel’s history, one unearthed coin at a time from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel. Using a pick axe and metal detector, he has found more than 60 ancient coins at this archaeological site overlooking the Valley of Elah, where the Bible records the battle of David and Goliath taking place some 3,000 years ago. Among them are coins from the time of Alexander the Great, imprinted with the face of the Greek goddess Athena.

• Very old olive press

Ancient olive press found in Jerusalem
Ancient olive press found in Jerusalem/Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Post carried a report on the discovery by archeologists from the Antiquities Authority of an ancient olive press in a Jerusalem excavation. The press was found in a karst cave while digging out the grounds upon which a student dormitory will be built for the nearby Jerusalem College of Technology.

“This ancient press for producing olive oil, whose date could not be clearly ascertained, was in all likelihood one that belonged to an old town or a farm that was on these premises,” read a statement from the Antiquities Authority. The Jerusalem College of Technology and the Antiquities Authority will create a rest area at the site where students and visitors can learn about how the press was operated in ancient times.

• Anthro summer camp for young children

According to ChicoER News, several children ages 5 to 11 have been attending summer camp at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology at Chico State University. Last week they learned to “Think Like a Paleontologist.” They excavated seashells, made dinosaur eggs from papier-mâché, painted a fish and made fish prints on paper, and participated in activities to help them identify herbivore dinosaurs from carnivores.

• Anthropology building hit by trees

Source Albuquerque Journal
Source Albuquerque Journal

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the University of New Mexico anthropology building was hit by two large pine trees, toppled during a storm on Friday. The building appears to be largely undamaged.

• Kudos

UC Santa Cruz cultural anthropology professor Triloki Pandey has been named winner of the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award given by the American Anthropological Association and Oxford University Press.

The award, established in 1997 to recognize teachers who have contributed to and encouraged the study of anthropology, will be presented at the AAA’s annual meeting in Chicago in November. Over the past 45 years, Pandey has taught nearly 5,000 undergraduates in more than 300 courses since he joined the faculty in 1973. More than two dozen alumni submitted letters of support adding to a trove of unsolicited letters received over the years.

Several writers noted that they were inspired to enter the field of anthropology because of his classes. Pandey’s areas of research include the religion and politics of the Pueblo Indians of the American southwest and the tribal peoples of Himalayan Terai and northeast India. He has done fieldwork among the Zuni, Hopi, and the Navajo in the southwest, and more recently among the Tharus of India and Nepal, and among the Khasi, Garo, and Naga in northeastern India.

• In memoriam

Mike Morwood, an Australian archaeologist with the University of Wollongong, has died at the age of 62 years. In 2003, he led a joint Australian-Indonesian team of archaeologists that uncovered what appeared to be the bones of a previously unknown species of human being on the Indonesian island of Flores. This discovery is hailed as one of the most sensational findings of modern times. The discovery of the well-preserved female skeleton, named after the Tolkien creation, the Hobbit, has revolutionized the understanding of human evolution as well as launching a long-running and sometimes acrimonious debate among scientists.

In 2004 Morwood and his colleagues proposed that the bones belonged to an entirely new species, named Homo floresiensis. They suggested that it could have been a descendant of Homo erectus that arrived early on Flores, perhaps using boats, and which, under completely isolated conditions, evolved to become very small. They also proposed that H. floresiensis lived contemporaneously on Flores with Homo sapiens.

Professor Mike Morwood Photo POLARIS EYEVINE Telegraph
Prof. Mike Morwood. Photo: POLARIS EYEVINE/Telegraph

The son of a baker, Michael Morwood was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on October 27 1950 and took B.A. and M.A. degrees in archaeology at Auckland University. In 1976 he moved to Australia, where he took a Ph.D. at the Australian National University with a dissertation on “Art and Stone: Towards a Prehistory of Central-western Queensland.” He began his career as an archaeologist working for the state of Queensland, becoming a leading authority on Aboriginal rock art, and in 1981 became a lecturer at the University of New England. In 2007 Morwood moved to Wollongong University, where he was a Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies.

Malcolm Todd, an internationally acknowledged expert on the history of the Romans in Britain, has died at the age of 73 years. The son of a miner, Todd was an eminent historian and archaeologist of the Roman Empire who furthered understanding of Roman settlements in Britain by leading several important excavations in the West Country and the Midlands.

He was also an authority on the marauding Germanic tribes on the borders of the empire. In 1965, he joined the faculty of the University of Nottingham and was promoted to Reader in 1977. In 1979 he took up the position of Professor of Archaeology at the University of Exeter. In 1996, he was selected as the next Principal of Trevelyan College, University of Durham and was concurrently Professor of Archaeology. From 1996 to 2000, he was an archaeological consultant to Durham Cathedral. He retired in 2000. Outside of his academic posts, he served on the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England from 1986 to 1992 and on the Council of the National Trust from 1987 to 1991.

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