Anthro in the news 10/3/11

• Culture and chronic pain
Scientific American includes a comment about chronic pain from medical anthropologist/psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman in an article on experiencing pain: “However complicated to articulate and difficult to interpret, the patient’s experience of pain is lived as a whole. Perception, experience, and coping run into each other and are lived as a unified experience… Physiological, psychological; body, soul; mind, body; subjective, objective; real, unreal; natural, artificial – these dichotomies, so deeply rooted in the Western world and its profession of medicine, are at the heart of the struggle between chronic pain patients and their care givers over the definition of the problem and the search for effective treatment.”

• 100th anniversary of ethnography of the Veddah
The Sunday Times (Colombo) carried an article discussing the classic ethnography of Sri Lanka’s indigenous Veddah (or Vedda) people. They include a quotation from the British ethnographers, C.G. Seligmann and Brenda Z. Seligmann in the preface of their 1911 book, The Veddas: “The Veddas have been regarded as one of the most primitive of existing races and it has long been felt desirable that their social life and religious ideas should be investigated as thoroughly as possible.” The article goes on to say that the book “contains views on ethnicity which were acceptable at the time it was published.”

• Deeper history is better history
The New York Times included a major review of new, multi-authored book called Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Authors include an impressive coalition of archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and others (Timothy Earle, Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Clive Gamble, April McMahon, John C. Mitani, Hendrik Poinar, Mary C. Stiner, and Thomas R. Trautmann). The book encourages readers to think big and deep about history and connections between past and present. For example: that shell beads in Europe’s Upper Paleolithic were mass produced on a scale, at the time, as iPhones are today, and what that all means.

• Evidence of ritual cannibalism in Mexico
A cache of cooked and and carved human bones has been discovered in El Salto, Durango State, northern Mexico. The site dates to around 1425 and was formerly home of the Xiximes tribe. As quoted in the Daily Mail, Joe Luis Punzo, an archaeologist with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), said that cannibalism “was a crucial aspect of their world view, their identity.” The cannibalistic rituals were tied to the agricultural cycle of planting and sowing corn, according to the research reported in National Geographic.

• Very old footprints in Mexico
Footprints from early humans that are between 4500 – 25,000 years old have been discovered in the Sierra de Tarahumara mountains in the northern state of Chihuahua. The prints were made by three adults and a child. A local resident informed the researchers of the footprints. “It took us a lot of work to find them because they are not easily identified,” said anthropologist Jose Concepcion Jimenez of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

• Human-animal relationships and human evolution
Interacting with animals on an intimate basis led humans to develop sophisticated tools and evolve enhanced communication skills, including language, Dr Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University told the Observer. Animals, she posits, helped humans to evolve the vital skills of empathy, understanding and compromise: “The longest and enduring trend in human evolution has been a gradual intensification of our involvement with animals,” Shipman is quoted as saying. She added that as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, people have less contact with animals and the consequences are potentially catastrophic.

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