Anthro in the news 2/7/11

• Tahrir Square speaks
“What happens there determines what happens in Egypt,” according to cultural anthropologist Farha Ghannam of Swarthmore College who is quoted in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Ghannam has been studying the cultural meaning of public space in Cairo for 17 years and is the author of Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo.

• Yemen: revolution not just a tweet away
CNN called on Daniel Martin Varisco, professor of anthropology at Hofstra University, for commentary about political upheavals in the Middle East and the Maghreb. Varisco points to contrasts between Tunisia and Yemen: Yemen’s population is more rural, Yemen’s literacy rates are lower, and Yemen has the presence al Qaeda. Compared to Egypt, Yemen’s President Salah does not rule by the iron fist but rather by playing off internal rivalries. Blogger’s note: Something to watch out for: Yemen’s per capita gun ownership is second highest in the world after the United States.

• Prisons without walls
In Mexico, some prisons are under control of criminal gangs. Cartel vehicles arrive and load up gang members who walk past guards to freedom, according to the Washington Post. The article quotes prison expert Elena Azaola Garrido, a researcher at Mexico’s Center for Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, who comments on a recent prison break-out: “It seems like an extreme, shocking incident, but to a lesser extent it’s happening all around the country.”

• Where’s mummy?
Secrets of the Silk Road, a much anticipated exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Archaeology, opened Saturday with many people in attendance in spite of the absence of the centerpieces: two mummies from China. The Museum had to resort to a fall-back plan. It created two dummy mummies for display in lieu of the real mummies. The media is not saying why China banned the display of the mummies after many months of negotiation with the Museum. An article in the Washington Post points out that the mummies are from China’s Xinjiang province, with its large Uighur population, and the mummies exhibit Caucasian features. The silent message of the mummies is that they may not be sufficiently “Chinese.”

• Reburial of human remains in question
Many archaeologists in the UK are concerned about the implications of 2008 legislation introduced by the Ministry of Justice requiring all human remains excavated in England and Wales to be reburied within two years of recovery. Archaeologists say that two years does not give them enough time for study. An extension has been granted. The Ministry has no guidelines about where or how remains should be reburied, or what records should be kept.

• Our shrinking brains
Human brains have been shrinking over the past 30,000 years. Brian Hare, assistant professor of biological anthropology at Duke University, says that shrinking size does not mean that intelligence is declining. Instead it may be that intelligence and skills are developing in more sophisticated dimensions. Further, if even less comforting, studies of brain size of other domesticated animals show similar decreases. Blogger’s note: in the hominid fossil record, Neanderthals have the largest brains. Just imagine Neanderthal Jeopardy.

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