Anthro in the news 12/5/11

• David Graeber, the Occupy movement, and debt
An article in the New Yorker magazine called “Pre-Occupied: The origins and future of Wall Street,” focuses on the Zucotti Park occupation in Manhattan. It mentions the formative role of anarchist anthropologist David Graeber and notes his communications with Berkeley activist, Micah White. White recently nominated his entry on Wikipedia for deletion on the grounds that he is “non-notable.” The Guardian (London) carried a review article called “Books for Giving: Economics”. One of the books reviewed is Graeber’s monumental study called Debt: The First 5,000 Years. The reviewer says that is has become “one of the year’s most influential books.”

• Drug wars in Mexico threaten potters’ art and livelihood
The Dallas News carried an article about the loss of pottery sales and traditions in Chihuahua, Mexico, due to drug-related violence. It focuses on the small village of Mata Ortiz, located 150 miles from the U.S. border. It is home to some of the most prominent potters in the world. But the drug wars have driven the tourists away. The article mentions anthropologist Spencer MacCallum who has studied and written about the potters of the village. He says that the consequences for the potters are “devastating.” He notes: “With no demand for their pottery and nobody coming, I hate to see fine artists working on the road-building up in the sierra.”

• Pop-up shopping in London
Sean Carey, our contributing blogger, published a piece in the New Statesman on what is reputedly the first pop-up shopping mall. With his usual, on-the-ground lively reporting, Sean takes us to Boxpark: “It’s midday, and I am walking along Shoreditch High Street headed towards the northern end of Brick Lane. I turn into Bethnal Green Road. There is a lot of activity going on — lots of young people of various nationalities purposefully moving stuff around while others stand back and survey the results of their endeavours. I wonder what’s happening as this is normally a dead area — except on evenings at weekends, when the affluent young people of London and their counterparts from overseas come out to play and move between the various bars, clubs and restaurants in Greater Shoreditch.” There’s more, and it’s interesting, so read on.

• Take that anthro degree and…MA grad in anthropology is a documentary film-maker
Life and its various forms have always fascinated Rajive McMullen, an Indo-Canadian research scholar at the Punjab University, India. McMullen earned BA and MA degrees in anthropology from the University of Toronto. After 15 years away, he returned to India and made an anthropological documentary called The Lover and the Beloved: A Journey into Tantra, released earlier this month. The film portrays tantriks, aghoris and other holy seekers of northern India who call themselves the disciples of Guru Gorakhnath, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The film offers a dramatic insight into tantriks’ ideas about the life cycle, especially about death. Express India quotes McMullen as saying, “It is a realistic attempt to understand both the practice and the illusive theory behind Indian Tantrism, and is intended to challenge widespread Western misinterpretations of this stream of thought.”

• Take that anthro degree and…sports/anthropology major now co-founder of Afrikids Ghana
The Daily Telegraph (London) ran a long article about AfriKids, and NGO that works in Ghana to prevent the infanticide of physically deformed infants, child labor, homelessness, and human trafficking. One of the organization’s co-founders is Georgie Feinberg, who lives in Buckinghamshire. During part of her gap year, at the age of 18, she went to Accra and volunteered in a children’s home. She returned to England and earned a BA in sports and anthropology at Oxford Brookes University. She also raised L30,000 for the children’s home. She returned to Ghana, and from then on became a driving force in creating AfriKids Ghana.

• What’s for lunch in Cambridge (in the Iron Age)?
A major excavation in the Cambridgeshire fens has revealed six boats and hundreds of other artifacts from 3,000 years ago. It is the largest Bronze Age collection found thus far in Britain. An article in the Observer quotes David Gibson, head of Cambridge University’s archaeology unit: “One canoe would be great. Two exceptional. Six almost feels greedy.” How about lunch? Containers of food, one with a spoon stuck in it, hold remains of nettle stew.

• Not just smoke and mirrors: comparative study of dung burning has contemporary relevance
The Gazette (Montreal) carried an article describing the research of Chinese archaeologist Li Zhengyu. He sets fire to dung heaps to see how the smoke rises. He is specifically interested in the properties of wolf dung, given indications in ancient Chinese writings that wolf dung has special properties, when lit, for warning that an enemy is coming. He did a comparative study of the smoke from burning several kinds of dung. Results: no differences at all. The article draws a connection to pollution caused by burning solid fuels, including dung that is used by many people around the world for cooking food. In the end, perhaps improved cookstoves may keep the wolf from the door.

• Construction versus preservation in Xi’an, China
The Straits Times (Singapore) reported on the conflict between construction projects and cultural heritage preservationists in Xi’an, the capital city of Shanxi province in China’s northwest. Many want the city to become an economic hub for the region, not just a center of archaeological and cultural tourism. Cases of illegal construction have been reported. On the other hand, construction of the subway carefully avoided many sites, with detours and delays leading to far-above budget costs. One developer is quoted as saying, “Having to report the discovery and wait months for the investigation and excavation to be completed would cause a lot of delays and losses…” In response, archaeology expert Liu Qingzhu of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes the price is worth it: “We must always consider the big picture in development – if these relics are destroyed, they can never be restored…”

• Earliest Maya funerary evidence in southeast Mexico
Mexican archaeologists have discovered human remains of pre-Columbian Mayas from 2,000 years ago in the Yucatan peninsula. Archaeologist Angel Gongora Salas says that these are the first pre-colonial discoveries in the region and will provide evidence of funerary customs on the region. One burial of a complete skeleton was found in a squatting position with its hands on its head. Placed within a vessel, it may have been a second burial of the remains from a first burial.

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