Anthro in the news 9/2/13

Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru. The Amazons. 2012.
Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru.2012. From The Liquid Serpent by Nicolas Janowski

• A photo is worth a thousand words

The New York Times highlighted the work of Nicolas Janowski, a freelance photographer who was trained as an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In recent years, he has traveled around the western part of the Amazon in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. One result of his ongoing project is a photographic essay called The Liquid Serpent, referring to an indigenous term for the river that flows through the heart of the Amazon. The title offers a glimpse into Janowski’s conception of the region as having magical and mystical qualities. He says in his introduction: “The Amazon is neither man nor animal; she is nature’s hybrid.”

• The shifting odds of life and death in the Alto

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, published an article in Natural History magazine describing changes in a shantytown in northeastern Brazil. She first lived in the Alto as a Peace Corps worker in 1954 and later returned to do fieldwork on poverty, hunger, and child death. Those experiences led to her book, Death Without Weeping and many other publications.

Death Without Weeping
Book cover

The undercurrent driving the book is the very high rate of infant and child mortality at the time. Parents responded through delayed bonding until a child made it through the early years.

Fifty years later, fertility rates are down in Alto as are infant and child mortality rates. Scheper-Hughes writes: “…the bottom line is that women on the Alto today do not lose their infants. Children go to school rather than to the cane fields, and social cooperatives have taken the place of shadow economies. When mothers are sick or pregnant or a child is ill, they can go to the well-appointed health clinic supported by both state and national funds. There is a safety net, and it is wide, deep, and strong.”

Yet, now “The people of the Alto do Cruzeiro still face many problems. Drugs, gangs, and death squads have left their ugly mark. Homicides have returned with a vengeance, but they are diffuse and chaotic … One sees adolescents and young men of the shantytowns, who survived that dangerous first year of life, cut down by bullets and knives at the age of fifteen or seventeen by local gangs, strongmen, bandidos, and local police in almost equal measure.”

As Scheper-Hughes has written so compellingly for many decades, the “modernization” of life and death churns on, taking different shapes in different contexts. One wonders what the next fifty years will bring to the people of the Alto.


• Gardening matters for refugees

An article in The Omaha World-Herald describes the importance of community gardens in Omaha for immigrants, focusing on refugees from Bhutan.

The article quotes Barbara Dilly, an anthropology professor at Creighton University who points out that for many migrants, it is unusual, or even uncomfortable, to live in a city where they spend most of the day inside:

Phul Maya Gurung in the shared Root Down Community Garden. Mark Davis/World-Herald
Phul Maya Gurung in the shared Root Down Community Garden. Mark Davis/World-Herald

“In their own culture, they weren’t house-bound. They were involved in gardening. That was their employment. That was their economic contribution … that’s a role for them. That’s an identity.”

Access to garden plots helps make the immigrants feel happier and provides them with fresh foods.

• Violence, loss, and reconciliation

As reported in The Orange County Register, a ceremony at Gugulethu, South Africa, marked the death, 20 years ago, of Amy Biehl, Stanford University graduate, Fulbright Scholar in South Africa, and rights activist. She was killed by a group of South African men on August 25, 1993. Since then, her family has pursued a path of forgiveness and reconciliation with her killers.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley, attended the memorial service, bringing with her three signs she carried during the march to Gugulethu the day after Amy Biehl’s death. One of the signs read: “Stop the Senseless Violence.” Scheper-Hughes is quoted as saying: “I’ve spent many years thinking about what violence really means … Amy’s death was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. But it ended in 20 years of solidarity and redemptive forgiveness.”

She noted that two of the men convicted of murdering Amy Biehl have “lived their apology.” Scheper-Hughes brought the Biehls and the two men together in a meeting 14 years ago. But she never imagined that their relationship might blossom into one that has become a shining example of reconciliation: “They’ve done the impossible … They’ve turned bad into good. They have transformed each other as well as the lives of thousands of children and families” [through the Amy Biehl Foundation].

• Why anthropology matters: immigration policy

Arlene Torres
Arlene Torres

Gina Athena Ulysses, associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University, writes in The Huffington Post about Arlene Torres, director of the Chancellor’s Latino Faculty Initiative at the City University of New York and Hunter College professor. Torres has received a grant to conduct an ethnographic study of community formations in Paterson, N.J., where over 50 different ethnic groups reside. The city is also home to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

Ulysses writes: “As politicians continue to debate immigration policy, efforts to better grasp the particularities of life in diverse communities have become even more relevant. To achieve this end, the National Parks Service is turning to anthropology as they seek to fulfill their local mission “to preserve and interpret for the benefit of present and future generations certain historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the Great Falls Historic District.”

• Uproar in Oregon over bikini baristas

Coffee cup and beach, Cefalú, Sicily, Italy
The beach in Sicily--one setting where bikinis and coffee might be expected to mix. Flickr/l0da_ralta.

In the Hillsboro Tribune (Oregon), Aaron Greer, assistant professor of anthropology at Pacific University in Forest Grove, published a brief commentary on “the recent uproar over the bikini clad baristas” in Hillsboro.

His discussion covers (or uncovers) how different contexts and class settings in the United States affect views of female bodily exposure in public, especially breasts.

[Blogger’s note: this is all news to me. I checked out the bikini-baristas.com website where I learned that Seattle is the home to the bikini barista trend that is said to be “sweeping the world.” Hm … maybe not the whole world quite yet.]

• Perils and potentials of voluntourism

The Washington Post magazine included a feature article about the volunteer work of Laura Spero, of Bethesda, Md., now living in Hartford, Conn., where she works as an alternative medicine provider.

For many years, Spero was involved in promoting dental health care in a rural area of Nepal where she founded an NGO, Eva Nepal. The article describes the complexities of “voluntourism” that she faced.

It quotes David Citrin, a lecturer in anthropology and global health at the University of Washington, who said that voluntourists can often become unwitting pawns in local politics: “They help politicians look like they’re doing good stuff.”

Citrin’s dissertation research was on “ephemeral health care” interventions in Nepal and he recently gave a TEDx talk on the topic.

• New exhibit on memory, exile, nostalgia, and migration

The Chico Enterprise Record announced the opening of at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology in Chico. Cultural anthropologist and artist Lydia Nakashima Degarrod provides “Geographies of the Imagination: An Ethnographic Installation of Memories of Exile, Nostalgia and Migration,” a blend of ethnography and art.

While working as Artist in Residence at the California College of Art, she interviewed Chilean men and women about their experience of leaving their homeland to escape the Pinochet dictatorship. She created images, maps, and videos that depict individual journeys. The exhibit goes until September 25.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…get your dream job as a conservationist/educator in New Hampshire. Six years ago, fresh out of grad school, Amanda Littleton landed her dream job as district manager of the Cheshire County Conservation District, the government agency that protects the county’s land and water resources and promotes agriculture. She had studied anthropology and psychology at the University of Rhode Island and then went on to earn a graduate degree in environmental education at Antioch University New England.

As an undergraduate student intern, she founded the Monadnock Localvores Project to encourage people to grow and buy local foods, and she now chairs the group. She also serves on the leadership board of the Monadnock Sustainability Network, and is a longtime board member of the Hannah Grimes Center, which supports start-up businesses and local entrepreneurs.

…and become a pianist, composer, music journalist, and music producer. Michael Gallant, who studied music and anthropology at Columbia University, now plays with his folk-rock band Aurical as well as with a jazz trio. Before he was 18, he had won classical piano competitions at two DC-area conservatories and had written the music for his first professional theater production. He also writes arts advocacy articles for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as for the jazz magazine, DownBeat, and for Keyboard magazine.

Michael Gallant Trio Completely
Michael Gallant Trio Completely

Gallant is the founder of the New York firm Gallant Music, where he scores videos for projects like the award-winning feature film Remedy, and the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial anniversary video narrated by James Earl Jones. Earlier this year, he released the critically acclaimed Completely, which breaks the rules of the traditional piano trio format, melding jazz and grunge with electric and acoustic influences.

…become a dance teacher, choreographer, and dance studio director. Sky-Marie McDonald earned B.A. degrees in dance and social anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Formerly of Wichita, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas where she directs a nonprofit arts organization that she founded, the Early Spring Arts Conservatory. This year, she is opening a branch in Wichita Falls. She has also worked on research projects to preserve Native American dance forms and performed with the Chuck Davis African Dance Ensemble.

• Forensic anthro: Grave excavations begin at Florida reform school

University of South Florida researchers have begun exhuming dozens of graves at a former Panhandle reform school in hopes of identifying the boys and learning how they died. The work at the site of the former Dozier Boys School will continue until Tuesday, with researchers hoping to unearth the remains of four to six boys before resuming at a later date, said Erin Kimmerle, the USF anthropologist leading the excavation.

USF has worked for months to secure a permit to exhume the remains, finally receiving permission from Governor Rick Scott and the state Cabinet after being rejected originally by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who reports to Scott.

• More forensic anthro: Facial reconstruction of murdered man in Louisiana

The investigation into what happened to Tony Procell continues, with the help of Louisiana State University forensic pathologist, Mary Manhein. Police say Procell was kidnapped at gunpoint by Robert Barthelemy, a fellow Louisiana national guardsman and 2-year veteran of the Natchitoches Police Department. Authorities say the abduction was captured on home surveillance video. That work, along with dental records, is expected to help confirm that it is Procell’s body, and how he died.

• Lost and found in Scotland

The remains of an Iron Age village have been discovered on the banks of an ancient loch — the first of its kind in Scotland.

Archaeologists at the remains of an extensive iron age 'loch village' in Wigtownshire. Picture PA
Archaeologists at the remains of an extensive iron age 'loch village' in Wigtownshire. Picture: PA

Archaeologists made the find during a small-scale excavation of what was originally thought to be a crannog, a loch-dwelling often found on the banks of a loch or sited on an artificial island. Instead, they discovered at least seven houses built in wetlands around the now in-filled Black Loch of Myrton, near Wigtownshire, in south-west Scotland. Called a loch village, this type of site is unique in Scotland and there are few other comparable sites elsewhere in the British Isles. Graeme Cavers, of AOC Archaeology and co-director of the site, said that because the land was abandoned after the Iron Age, the buildings were well preserved.

• Pompeii gets help from Germany

According to an article in The Guardian, Italy under pressure from Unesco is seeking German assistance to help preserve Pompeii. The nearly 2,000-year-old ruins have long been the subject of international concern: in January, Unesco documented a series of shortcomings at Pompeii, warning of a lack of qualified staff, structural damage, and vandalism. In June it warned Italy it had until the end of the year to adopt urgent measures to curb the decline.

The German-led plan will start next summer and will not duplicate ongoing activities. It will focus on one particular apartment building and will look to develop long-term solutions and preventative restoration. Project leaders are professor Erwin Emmerling of TUM and Klaus Sedlbauer, director of the Fraunhofer. Their work to combine traditional materials with hi-tech aids such as nanotechnology.

“The first step will be drainage, followed by new types of protective structures,” Emmerling said. A longer term goal is establishing a training site for conservationists from around the world.

Salvatore Settis, a professor of classical archaeology at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, said the German-led project was good news. He rejects the idea that German involvement send the message that Italy needs outside help, emphasizing that several domestic institutions are involved as partners. “Science has no boundaries. Moreover, at Pompeii, there’s room for everyone,” he told La Repubblica.

• Paleo diet pros and cons

Paleo diet fans believe the ancient past holds the secret to lean bodies and good health through a return to a diet of fish, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat, eggs, organic vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds. No grains, dairy, legumes, refined salt, and sugar.

Paleo diet books
Paleo diet books. Flickr/Pesky Librarians

Paleo diet proponents contend that early modern humans were doing just fine until the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago. An article about the growing popularity of paleo diets quotes biological anthropologist Tina Moffat, associate professor at McMaster University: “I’m very critical and skeptical…It’s a bit of a weird idea people have that we’re fixed in paleolithic times, and that our bodies haven’t evolved and we’re maladapted.”

She maintains our early ancestors did more gathering than hunting and had varying diets, dictated by the environment and what foods were available. Moffat calls it a “paleo fantasy” to think we can mimic Cro-Magnon man’s menu. And she worries that a long-term, meat-heavy diet could lead to cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Furthermore, shunning grains as paleo purists do conflicts with Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of six to eight servings of grain products per day. Studies show that the healthiest people are those who eat a lot of vegetables, grain and fish, and small amounts of meat, Moffat says. The culprit behind obesity and ill health, she adds, isn’t agriculture but our reliance on processed food, refined carbs, sugar and high-fructose syrups.

• Neolithic skull found in England

Archaeologists say an “exceptional” find of a 5,000 year-old skull by a dog walker in Worcestershire, England, raises more questions than answers.

The Guardian quotes Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist: “When I first saw the skull, I thought it may have been Anglo-Saxon or Roman but I knew that it was not recent due to the colou r… we were all surprised when the radiocarbon dating put it at between 3,338 BC and 3,035 BC, or about the middle neolithic period … It is so well preserved, it is unthinkable that this had been in the river for any length of time which begs the question as to where it has come from.”

• Do you want (very old) fries with that (very old) burger?

The Herald Sun (Australia) reported on findings from residue analysis of ground stone artifacts that appear to be evidence of Australia’s very first burger and fries — loosely defined (probably no catsup, pickle or cheese with that burger).

The analysis reveals evidence of grains, animal collagen, and tubers, a combination that approximates a burger/fries combo meal. The research is being led by Birgitta Stephenson, director of In the Groove Analysis, who has combined a pharmacy background with archaeological methods to unearth residues buried deep in the matrix of grinding stones and identify them using biochemical staining. She is working with Canberra archaeologist Colin Pardoe.

• It’s all in the knees

Olympic Park, London Olympic Games, 6 August 2012
Women's 800 metres. Olympic Park, London Olympic Games, 6 August 2012

Runner’s World reported on a long-term study of Jamaican sprinters which has found a link between childhood bone structure and adult speed. The study was led by Robert Trivers, a professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Rutgers University.

In 1996, Trivers and his team took lower body measurements of 270 rural Jamaican children, whose average age at the time was eight years. Using a measure known as fluctuating asymmetry, or how much variation a given body structure deviates from perfect bilateral symmetry, they assessed the children’s lower leg symmetry. The researchers re-measured most of the original participant’s symmetry in 2006. Findings are reported in PLOS ONE.

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