anthro in the news 6/6/16

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest: Boxer and social activist

Muhammad Ali in 1966. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Muhammad Ali in 1966. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Newsday reported on the death of Muhammad Ali. It quoted cultural anthropologist Orin Starn of Duke University on Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam-U.S. war in 1966: “There was a lot of noise and confusion but not a lot of understanding of his motivation…The great patriotic tradition is to go off and fight wherever the Stars and Stripes call you. For somebody to say, ‘I’m a conscientious objector’ on religious reasons, ‘I’m not going to go to fight in Vietnam,’ was something most people didn’t know what to make of.” [Blogger’s note: The Newsday article says that Starn is a professor at Georgetown University; the Internet says he is still at Duke].


When a “hobo” could be famous

Caption: Century-old graffiti under a bridge in Los Angeles. Source: AP Photo, J.C. Hong.
Century-old graffiti under a bridge in Los Angeles. Source: AP Photo, J.C. Hong.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel and other media described the research of cultural anthropologist Susan Phillips of Pitzer College.  After spending many years studying the graffiti that covers walls, bridges, and freeway overpasses in the LA area, she was surprised to find graffiti nearly a century old and made of grease pencil, not spray paint. “It was like opening a tomb that’s been closed for 80 years.” Back then, people signed their names as Oakland Red, the Tucson Kid, and A-No. 1.  A-No. 1 was the name used by a man once arguably America’s most famous hobo, one of the many itinerant wanderers who traveled from town to town in the 19th and 20th centuries, often by freight train, in search of work and adventure.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a university president. Medical anthropologist Claire Sterk will become president of Emory University in September. Sterk has been a member of the Emory community since 1995, when she was appointed to the faculty of the Rollins School of Public Health. She has served as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Public Health, chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, associate dean for research, and senior vice provost for academic affairs. In 2013, she was named provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.  At Emory, Sterk has held faculty appointments in anthropology; sociology; and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Her primary research interests are addiction, mental health, and HIV/AIDS, with a focus on community-based interventions. She is a leading international figure in the fields of public health and anthropology and the author of three books and more than 100 articles and book chapters. She has a Ph.D. in sociology from Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a Ph.D. in medical anthropology from the University of Utrecht.


The lost art of dental modification

The Guam Daily Post reported on pre-colonial practices of dental modification in the South Pacific with a focus on the Chamorro people of the Mariana Islands. The article mentions the research of two bioarchaeologists: Cherie K. Walth, cultural resources program director in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Rona Ikehara-Quebral, of the International Archaeological Research Institute Inc. Also mentioned is an article by Ikehara-Quebral and Michelle Toomay Douglas published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology which states that: “deliberate modification of human teeth has been described in populations worldwide.” Dental modification, they wrote, has been documented in populations in Africa, the Americas, India, Malay Archipelago, the Philippines, New Guinea, Japan and Oceania.


Very old tattoos

Source: Anne Austin/Stanford University
Source: Anne Austin/Stanford University

The Toronto Star and other media reported on the research of archaeologists at Stanford University led by Anne Austin. In examining a 3,000 year-old Egyptian mummy, she noticed blue lines on the woman’s neck. Using infrared photographs and other imaging equipment, Austin identified about 30 different tattoos etched into the woman’s arms, shoulders, back and neck. They include figures, snakes, lotus blossoms and eyes. Austin is quoted as saying:   “Many of the tattoos are linked with the goddess Hathor…The deeply religious imagery of the tattoos suggests that this woman had an important and unique religious role.” Austin believes the woman’s religious position was likely public and long-term because her tattoos were inked in visible areas of her body.


Very old stone carvings

Hikers on the Caribbean island of Montserrat found several pre-Columbian stone carvings. The Guardian reports that archaeologists have confirmed that the carvings were made between 2,500 and 4,000 years ago. The article quotes George Mentore, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia who studies indigenous cultures of the Caribbean and Amazonia. He notes that similar engravings have been found along rivers in the north of South America where Arawak- and Carib-speaking groups live today: “They’re obvious statements of human presence…I think it’s pretty obvious that they’re sacred, in one way or another.”


Follow the food

The Washington Post carried an article about archaeological research confirming historical and linguistic theories that Borneo and Madagascar, though separated by 3,000 miles of sea, were connected through colonization by seafarers from Borneo. “Linguistic and genetic studies … only give us the modern picture,” says Alison Crowther, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland. “Archaeology is important for providing direct evidence of how, when and why past people made this journey across the Indian Ocean, including where else in eastern Africa they might have landed.”  Crowther and colleagues are investigating a new line of evidence: ancient plants. She has found that early food crops in Madagascar are dominated by ancient Asian cultivars, especially mung beans and rice. “These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar.” The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The stones moved

Stonehenge quarry. Source: The Telegraph
Stonehenge quarry. Source: The Telegraph

The Telegraph reported on current thinking about the origins of the stones of Stonehenge. Research by archaeologists at University College London and the University of Leicester indicates that the stones were brought by Welsh settlers to their current location in Wiltshire, England. The rationale is that the stones represented their ancestors, and the migrants did not want to leave them behind. Mike Parker Pearson of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London believes that Stonehenge was first a Welsh monument to the dead. Many of the stones were quarried in Wales, but, he says: “The Welsh connection isn’t just about stones it’s likely to be a long term movement from west to east at this particular time.” Archaeologists have found the actual quarries that produced the stones.

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