anthro in the news 8/8/16

Olympic sports vs. favela life

Rio’s Rocinha favela in the foreground. Source: Wikipedia
Rio’s Rocinha favela in the foreground. Source: Wikipedia

An article in The Chicago Tribune juxtaposed the lavish display of competitive sports at the Olympics with the lack of options for recreation, especially for children and youth, in Rio’s favelas. It quotes Benjamin Penglase, a cultural anthropology professor at Loyola University in Chicago who has studied the city’s favelas for nearly 25 years: “A lot of parents see the lack of recreational opportunities as a major threat to the safety of their children.”


WikiLeaks and “anti-Americanism”

WikiLeaks logo. Source: Creative Commons
WikiLeaks logo. Source: Creative Commons

The Huffington Post published an article looking at the anti-U.S. slant in WikiLeaks’ published material and how it can be partially attributed to the fact that WikiLeaks is an English-language platform. The organization cannot control who is leaking to it, and its lack of transparency means it is impossible to determine what proportion of the material it receives is published. The article quotes Maximilian Forte, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Concordia University who has written about WikiLeaks: “Non-English releases have generally been met with silence or near silence, which is not good for an organization that needs to be in the limelight of transparency causes on a fairly regular basis.”


Human rights must be linked to climate change

The Dhaka Tribune published an op-ed co-authored by Mickael De Souza, an undergraduate student at Concordia University in Montreal, where he is double majoring in anthropology and sociology and double minoring in Human Rights and Human Environment. He is currently a visiting researcher at the International Center of Climate Change and Development in Dhaka. De Souza and co-authors ask: “If denying people access to fresh water, food, health services, and proper education all violate human rights, why then is climate change not seen as the world’s largest human rights violation?…Compared to any time in the past, accomplishing a world of dignity, a world of peace, a world of fairness, a world of justice may remain a far cry if we fail to factor in innovative ways to provisioning human rights of the climate-affected people.”


Channeling Evans Pritchard

bookcover 81716A letter to the editor of The Los Angeles Times called attention to the roots of girls’ problems in South Sudan. The author, a historian and Africanist, notes that their situation is caused by war and poverty, not a culture that commodifies women. He notes that “…many undergraduates learn about this in anthropology 101, when they read E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s classic monograph, Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer.”


Language rights and politics in Pakistan

Bookcover-8716An article in Dawn (Pakistan) discusses political dynamics in Pakistan with a focus on Punjabi nationalism and activism. In noting government crackdowns on political dissidence, the article mentions Surkh Salam, by Kamran Asdar Ali, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Texas Austin, which offers the example of violent repression of a workers movement in Karachi.


Anti-Israel = Anti-Semitic?

The New York Times carried an article about an American protest group, Students for Justice in Palestine (S.J.P.).  In response to charges that the S.J.P. fosters anti-Semitism, members point to its mission statement: Chapters must be vigilant against “homophobia, sexism, racism, bigotry, classism, colonialism, and discrimination of any form” and it condemns terrorism. The article quotes Amahl Bishara, a Palestinian-American and associate professor of cultural anthropology at Tufts University:  “Criticism of Israel is a criticism of a state.”


Much is lost, but not all

Bangladesh, showing Brahmanbaria. Source: Facebook
Bangladesh, showing Brahmanbaria. Source: Facebook

Mahbub Pial, social anthropologist at the Independent University in Bangladesh and folk singer, published a reflection on the waning rich cultural heritage of his home in The Daily Star (Bangladesh). Brahmanbaria, located in east-central Bangladesh, has produced many noted musicians in the classical tradition as well as having a vibrant folk music tradition. Much of the Brahmanbaria region now, however, is being inundated by the Titas River and much of its material and cultural heritage is endangered.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a bead maker. Zachary Curcija of Phoenix, Arizona, specializes in argillite bead production, using prehistoric techniques. He has an M.A. in anthropology from Northern Arizona University. His thesis research included an assessment of possible bead production techniques used at sites across the Southwest U.S.


Maya tomb in Belize

The Guardian reported on the discovery of one of the largest Maya tombs in Belize at the site of Xunantunich. About 1,300 years old, it holds the remains of a male between twenty and thirty years old.  Archaeologist Jaime Awe, who led a team from Northern Arizona University and the Belize Institute of Archaeology, said preliminary analysis by osteologists shows the man was athletic and “quite muscular” at his death. In the grave, archaeologists also found jaguar and deer bones, jade beads, obsidian blades, and ceramic vessels. At the base of the stairway, they found two offering caches that had nine obsidian and chert flints and eccentrics, chipped artefacts that resemble flints but are carved into the shapes of animals, leaves or other symbols.


Debates about early use of fire

The New York Times carried an article about two new studies pointing to possible negative health effects of fire during early human evolution. Most scholars, especially Richard Wrangham, biological anthropologist at Harvard University, have pointed to the benefits of the use of controlled fire for warmth, deterring predators, and cooking food. The article quotes Wrangham’s opinion of the two studies about negative health effects of fire and smoke, such as cancer. He says: “It’s a question that’s just starting to attract more attention. I would say it’s mostly barroom talk at the moment.” Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, suggests that cooking led to advantageous changes in human biology, such as larger brains.


Homo naledi remains pose a big question

The Globe and Mail (Canada) reported about the ongoing research of archaeologist Marina Elliott, postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand and head of field operations at the Rising Star cave site in South Africa. The project, led by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, has so far yielded over 1,700 bones and teeth from what appears to be a previously unknown species of hominin, Homo naledi (after the word “star” in Sesotho). The team proposes that the remains were intentionally placed there – which would make them the earliest known hominin burial site by far. The article offers a skeptical view from archaeologist and human evolution expert, Mark Collard of Simon Fraser University, who has studied the findings: “…given our current understanding of how brain size relates to sophistication of social behavior.” Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the Rising Star team has made a “decent case” that could ultimately shift scientists’ ideas about the “human spark.”


The elusive free gift

The Daily Mail (U.K.) reported on a study of three groups of farmers in Bolivia which finds cross-group (non-kin) kindness and cooperation, thus contrasting with behavior of other primates. According to the news article, the authors,  Michael Gurven, professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Barbara and Anne Pisor, anthropologist and postdoctoral scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, view such behavior as strategic, aimed to gain support networks and access to resources. It thus conforms to an adaptive framework. Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.


For their own good?

The Guardian carried an article about formal condemnation in Brazil of the argument put forth by two American biological anthropologists for “controlled contact” with Brazil’s isolated tribes to ensure their survival. In an open letter signed by 18 experts, Brazil’s Department of Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI) rejected the proposal by Robert Walker of the University of Missouri and Kim Hill of Arizona State University that isolation is “not viable in the long term” for the estimated 50 to 100 remaining tribes in Brazil who have had no contact with the outside world. The open letter insists: “leave them alone.” Walker and Hill published their view in Science magazine that “controlled contact is the only possible strategy for protecting these people”.


Saints reconstructed

As reported in The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), Paulo Miamoto, a forensic anthropologist and forensic dentist, is working with other scientists around the world to use the latest technology to reconstruct the faces of Roman Catholic saints and other holy people, producing life-size busts. Dental and anthropological analysis and historical research findings are uploaded onto 3-D software that uses algorithms to rebuild the face by applying volume to muscles, tissue, and skin tone. “Our aim is to create an individual face from the skull that we believe to be the most compatible with the person when they were alive,” said Miamoto, who is based in Santos, Brazil. “Everything is designed to take into account the period during which the person lived and to give life to their features as accurately as possible.” The scientists were first commissioned to work on Saint Anthony’s skull by the University of Padova in Italy in 2014. This work led to a request to reconstruct the face of Mary Magdalene from a preserved skull kept in a church in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in southern France. Catholics believe Mary Magdalene fled to France, from Palestine, to avoid persecution and died there.

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