Anthro in the news 1/31/11

• What a turn off
In an article about Egypt’s unprecedented shut-down of the Internet this past week, the LA Times quotes Charles Hirschkind, associate professor of cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley: “The Web, and in particular social media sites, have been an invaluable tool for activists seeking political and social reforms in Egypt…The Egyptian government [is] hoping that cutting off access will help to stopping the demonstrations…But it’s also apparent from the number of people in the street that people have plenty of ways to communication outside of the Internet.”

• A very strong army and more
MSNBC covered support by Minnesotans with ties to Egypt for the street demonstrations expressing political discontent. The article quotes William Beeman, professor of cultural anthropology and chair of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota: “Mubarak has been trying to install his son as the next ruler of the country and that would continue essentially a dictatorship…The population is rebelling against him personally, but in a way against the whole super structure that he’s trying to build to secure his legacy.” Beeman also comments that it cannot be assumed that Egypt, like Tunisia, will succeed in ousting the regime: “The Mubarak Regime has a very strong army and a very strong police force. And they’ve been repressing protests for 30 years.” Beeman goes on to discuss the prospects of Mohamed ElBaradei as a replacement for Mubarak and the future of U.S.-Egypt relations.

• Securing antiquities in Egypt
The Washington Post quoted three archaeologists in an article about damage to the Cairo Museum and possible looting in sites outside Cairo. Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Council on Antiquities reported that no antiquities have been stolen from the Cairo Museum. Sarah Parcak, an Egyptologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggested the likelihood of looting at Saqqara and other sites. Brian Rose of the University of Pennsylvania implored the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to watch out for possible smuggling of antiquities into the United States.

• From anthropology to “radical art”
London-based “radical artist” Susan Hiller is profiled in the Guardian. She comments on her studies in anthropology and her disillusionment with it during the American-Vietnam war: “The Vietnam War showed me that anthropology was not an innocent practice…” She turned to art as a “value-free” medium. Blogger’s note: I have no idea what “radical art” is, but my sense is that Hiller is still an anthropologist at heart, and one with her “values” front and center. Listen to what she says: “Artists have a function. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We’re part of a conversation. It’s our job to represent and mirror back the values of the culture in a way that people haven’t seen before…I don’t aim for my work to be comforting to people who are already comfortable with themselves.” It could be that Hiller went to graduate school in anthropology ahead of her time.

• Newly found old tools and the “escape from Africa”
In contrast to the news-roiling stories of political protests in the Arab world last week, the big story in anthro-land was about very old stone tools in what is now the United Arab Emirates. A team of researchers have found stone tools in eastern Arabia that look like they were made by early modern humans. The fact that they are dated to over 100,000 years ago puts to question the view that modern humans left Africa around 60,000 years ago. Dozens of media outlets covered the story, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NPR. The list goes on. Several archaeologists are quoted to provide interpretations of the tools’ significance. Blogger’s note #1: isn’t archaeology all about new finds, better dating methods, and “push back” when it comes to dates? Blogger’s note #2: The first article I read about the discovery was by Nicholas Wade, in the New York Times. As I read it, I wondered if some disaster had occurred in Africa around 100,000 years ago. Here’s why: para 1, Wade refers to when and how modern humans “escaped from…Africa;” in para 2, he uses the verb “escape” again; para 3, he uses the phrase “got out of Africa;” and para 8, again: “…escape from Africa.” Other accounts use less dramatic terms such as: migrated from, moved, travelled, spread, ventured out, forayed. Does Wade have a problem with Africa?

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