Anthro in the news 9/12/11

• The costs of war(s)
The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken 225,000 lives and will ultimately cost more than $3 trillion, according to a multidisciplinary study by professors at Brown University. The “Costs of War” study brings together the work of more than 20 economists, political scientists, legal scholars and anthropologists in what its authors say is the most comprehensive accounting of the fiscal and human toll of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international relations at Brown and a leader of the project, is quoted in the Chronicle for Higher Education as saying: “There has been a tremendous loss involved whether you’re talking about lives or money… The public needs to know these numbers, and sometimes they’re difficult to find. These aren’t the kinds of numbers that just pop up on Google.” PBS also covered the study. Blogger’s note: see the conversation with Catherine Lutz on

• Debt is a hot anthro topic
You have to admit that cultural anthropology is a rising power (or something close to that) when a PhD in cultural anthropology, Gillian Tett, writing for the Financial Times, reviews a book entitled Debt, also by a cultural anthropologist. Tett is in fact the US managing editor and an assistant editor of the Financial Times, and she appears frequently on my weekday news feed, Morning Joe. Here’s what Tett says: “If you want to get a fresh perspective on the issue, take a look at a fascinating new book called Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber, a social anthropologist who teaches at the University of London. Admittedly, Graeber is not typical fare for your average Financial Times reader, let alone an economist or banker. A self-avowed ‘anarchist.’ Graeber holds radical political views and has previously published books with titles such as Direct Action: An Ethnography and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Still, Graeber’s book is not just thought-provoking, but also exceedingly timely.”

• Welcome students and why don’t you go away?
Cultural anthropology professor Paul Stoller, of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, published an essay in the HuffPo. His pitch is that his undergraduate students are too settled, too complacent, and they should go away — that is, study abroad and learn a language other than English. Stoller writes: “During the first class session of my introductory course in cultural anthropology, I always ask how many students speak a foreign language. In some classes a few students raise their hands, but more often than not, my introductory classes are filled with monolingual college students…I teach at a public university at which students can receive a quality education at a reasonable cost. Most of my students come from middle and lower middle class suburban households. Many of them have never traveled outside of the United States. Some of them think that once you leave America, the living conditions deteriorate and the world becomes dangerous. In January of this year, according to the State Department, 114,464,041, or 37 percent of Americans, held passports, meaning that about 2 of 3 Americans can’t even go to Canada or Mexico–or anywhere else beyond our borders.”

• Repatriation of indigenous artifacts in Australia
A lengthy piece in the Sydney Morning Herald presented divergent views on repatriation of indigenous artifacts in Australia. Ethnographer Arthur Palmer is one of the main voices informing the article. He finds the argument for repatriation of material culture from museums “overwhelming.”

• Ambassador Ishi
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a conference at UC Berkeley held in association with the opening of the new exhibit about Ishi, referred to him as a cultural ambassador. September 7, 2011, is exactly 100 years after the man mythologized as “California’s last wild Indian” entered the white world.

• Archaeology of genocide in Montana
The decimation of the Crow Indians in Montana by white incomers is being documented by an archaeologist hired by living Crow descendants, according to an article in the New York Times. Tim McCleary, professor of archaeology at Bighorn Community College, will work to document and preserve remains at a site dating from 1880.

• Did they or didn’t they: modern human interbreeding with other hominins in Africa
We also interbred with other species of hominins back in thecradle of Africa, according to new DNA research led by geneticist Michael Hammer, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Research Scientist of the University of Arizona. Hammer and his colleagues searched for evidence of interbreeding in Africa by examining the DNA of living populations and using mathematical models to predict what that evidence might look like. In terms of hominin species interbreeding in Africa, Hammer’s research says: yes they did. Findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

• More DNA insights into human evolution
The Chronicle for Higher Education offers an article with a hard-to-resist title: How Our Brains Got Big and Our Pensises Lost Their Spines [Blogger’s wish: would have preferred the latter part to say ….”and Penises Lost Their Spines” — the “Our” doesn’t really grab me, as a female reader!). The article quotes Chet Sherwood, associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Philip Reno, assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University, Alex Pollen who is a graduate student at Stanford University, and Nina Jablonksi, professor of anthropology at Penn State University.

• Fabulous fossils from South Africa
No need for further evidence than the past week’s media buzz, worldwide, to show once again how hot old fossils are. The news spread from Australia to Ireland, and everywhere in between. It’s about some 1.9-million-year-old fossils found in South Africa, including substantial remains of a hand. First described in 2010 by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of Witswatersrand, these fossils were given the species name Australopithecus sediba. Berger and his team have now proposed more analysis and the claim that Sediba is in the human line, and the earliest fossil evidence of it. Paleoanthropologists around the world have weighed in. BBC News gives a nod to Professor Chris Stringer who, with the help of a cast of a fossil Sediba skull, describes the similarities that this species has with modern humans . Bernard Wood of the George Washington University in Washington, DC, gets a lot of room in the New York Times, along with Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Brian Richmond, also a professor at GW, was interviewed by NPR. Time Magazine, Science Daily, and many more mainstream media jumped on the missing link bandwagon. Berger et al.’s findings are published in Science.

• Kudos
Stephen Houston, a professor of anthropology at Brown University, received the Order of the Quetzal in the rank of Grand Cross from the president of Guatemala in July in recognition of his extensive work on Maya civilization. The award is the most prestigious the Guatemalan government can grant. Houston comments: “I’ve spent close to three decades studying the archaeology of Guatemala — I suspect that’s not a record matched by many other colleagues.” Calling the award an “overwhelming honor,” he said that his work deciphering Maya writing has helped increase the understanding of the culture and the history of the Americas.

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