Anthro in the news 8/26/13

• Beware the poison in the gift

The Washington Post carried an opinion piece by cultural anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, professor at George Mason University.

Gifts but do they come with strings attached
Gifts, but do they come with strings attached? Flickr/FutUndBeidl

Gusterson asks: what is the difference between a gift and a bribe, and provides some cultural anthropology insights: “Gifts are given in all cultures, and to remarkably similar effect … gifts by their nature create social ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation. To give a gift is to expect something in return, though it undermines the power and mystique of the gift to spell out too clearly what that something is … The failure to give something in response can end a friendship … Anthropologists have found that gifts create two kinds of relationships: those between equals and those that establish subordination.”

Gusterson goes on to discuss whether a federal grand jury will indict Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell: “…we know that McDonnell and his family accepted gifts including a $6,500 Rolex watch, a $10,000 engagement gift, $15,000 in wedding catering and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, not to mention $120,000 in loans, from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of the Henrico-based company Star Scientific. If prosecutors determine that McDonnell made specific promises to promote Star Scientific’s dietary supplement Anatabloc in exchange for these favors, the governor could soon be spending a lot of time in court … For prosecutors, the key question is whether there was a clearly articulated ‘quid pro quo.’ If so, the gifts were bribes. If not, they were gifts. To me, as an anthropologist, this largely misses the point.”

[Blogger’s note: assuming I am on target here — a gift requires a return, unless it falls into the extremely rare and hard-to-document category of a “pure gift” for which the giver has absolutely no thought whatsoever of any kind of return].

• Benefits of postpartum placentaphagy to moms?

According to reporting in the Monterey Herald, a survey of 189 women who had consumed their babies’ placentas — raw, cooked or in capsule form — revealed that 95 percent reported their experience was either positive or very positive, and 98 percent said they would repeat the experience.

Placenta Capsules
Placenta capsules. Flickr/latisha

The article quotes Daniel Benyshek, co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: “Of course, we don’t know if those are placebo effects and their positive results are based on their expectations.”

The survey results were published in the journal, Ecology of Food and Nutrition. The report disclosed that the first author, Jodi Selander, is the founder of Placenta Benefits, an online information source that also offers training for placenta encapsulators. Benyshek is planning a double-blind pilot study that would compare the effects of placenta capsules and a placebo on women’s postpartum experiences.


• Cultural anthropology important in today’s complex marketing world

According to an opinion piece in Forbes magazine, cultural anthropology is useful: “Today’s marketer’s challenges are complex and ever-changing. After spending 20 years in marketing and reflecting on my education and the state of the industry today, I’m not sure today’s marketing education passes the future-proofing test. Cultural anthropology and certainly linguistics come to mind as more useful in our socially intertwined global marketplace…”

In this age of impulsive growth, surviving organizations will learn to adapt quickly and continually “…efforts will need to be grounded in behavioral science and dynamically adaptable.”

• Take that anthro degree and…

The Moth
Source: Official Moth Twitter handle

…become a senior producer with a New York City-based nonprofit whose staff are advocates for the art of storytelling. Staff members assist people in finding, shaping and presenting their stories in cities all across the U.S. Behind the scenes of the Moth Mainstage is Kate Tellers, senior producer of the Moth’s corporate training program. She grew up in the Pittsburgh area and graduated in 2000 from Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied drama and anthropology.

• Digitizing the past for people today

The Australian reported on how Aboriginal communities throughout the country will have access to documented family histories, photos and artifacts dating back to 1830 as the South Australian Museum in Adelaide digitizes the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Tens of thousands of items in the Aboriginal Material Culture Collection are being photographed and documented. Museum anthropologist Peter Sutton said the collection was the most comprehensive because it contains artefacts from all regions dating back centuries:

South Australian Museum's Sheena Rodriguez is part of the team digitising the collection
South Australian Museum's Sheena Rodriguez is part of the team digitizing the collection

“…we’ve got items from the 1830s and we’ve got things that haven’t been made for a long time.” The collection will take time to digitize because there were culturally sensitive items that can be viewed or touched only by men or by women. Once online, the collection will be accessible internationally, though certain sections will be restricted. Sutton said the museum has been repatriating items to communities for 30 years, as it has done with human remains, but many communities were content to leave artifacts in the Museum for protection and preservation.

• Take me to your villa

According to an article in The Guardian, amateur cavers have mapped a vast network of tunnels underneath Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome, leading archaeologists to revise their views of one of ancient Rome’s most imposing imperial retreats.

Speleologists have charted more than a mile of road tunnels — passages where, in the second century, oxen pulled carts loaded with luxury foods for banquets and thousands of slaves scurried about.

Hadrian's Villa
Hadrian's Villa/Wikipedia

“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrian’s Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site, who is planning to open some of the tunnels to the public. Archaeologists have identified 30 buildings, including palaces, thermal baths, a theater and libraries, as well as gardens and dozens of fountains. Stay tuned for more excitement: cavers recently stumbled on the entrance to an uncharted tunnel.

Vittoria Fresi, an archaeologist working at the site says: “We have tried to squeeze in on our stomachs but we still don’t know where it goes…”

• Making old wine in old bottles

The Guardian reported on research at the University of Catania in Sicily that seeks to replicate ancient Roman wine by growing grapes according to early texts and processing them in terracotta pots. “We will not use fermenting agents, but rely on the fermentation of the grapes themselves, which will make it as hit and miss as it was then — you can call this experimental archaeology” said researcher Mario Indelicato.

• A little spice with your Mesolithic broth?

More than 6,000 years ago, prehistoric Europeans were using garlic mustard to perk up their meat-based broth. The new evidence comes from an archaeological site called Stenø on the island of Zealand, Denmark. The discovery has implications for understanding early cuisine throughout Europe and beyond. It is believed, but not yet proven, that Mesolithic cooks were also using caraway seeds, blue fenugreek and horseradish.

Mesolithic-style cuisine survived into the succeeding Neolithic period in Europe and beyond — as similar traces of garlic mustard seeds being used to flavor both meat and fish broths have been found at later Danish and German sites. Hayley Saul of the Bioarchaeology Research Center at the University of York, said:

“The traditional view is that early Neolithic and pre-Neolithic uses of plants were primarily driven by energy requirements rather than flavour. As garlic mustard has a strong flavour but little nutritional value … our findings are the first direct evidence for the spicing of food in European prehistoric cuisine.” The paper is published in in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

• Endangered rock art site in Libya

milking scene Messak
Milking scene, one of many popular engravings in the Messak/Libya Herald

An article in The Libya Herald describes the Messak area and its extensive rock art as well as the danger it faces from oil development.

Recommendations for its preservation include a first step to limit access to the areas outside oil installations by closing all access tracks. Unesco should be requested to designate the area a World Heritage site and to assist in its protection. Another step is to establish a Sahara Research Institute in the area to enable experts to carry out research, train local researchers, contribute to sustainable development in the area, and develop awareness about the importance of the Sahara heritage and support its preservation. Research at the site has been done by the French ethnologist Jean-Loïc Le Quellec and the Italian archaeologist, Savino Di Lernia.

• In memoriam

Igor Kopytoff, professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, died at the age of 83 years. Kopytoff’s work focused on transformations in social structures, political organizations, and religions. He conducted research all over the world but is most well known for his writings on African slavery and commodification.

Elaine Morgan OBE, died at the age of 92 years. She was an award-winning writer for television with a parallel interest in anthropology and a feminist perspective on human evolution described in her book, The Descent of Woman. She wrote several books about her aquatic ape hypothesis: The Aquatic Ape, The Scars of Evolution, The Descent of the Child, The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, and The Naked Darwinist.

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