Anthro in the news 12/19/11

• Russia’s middle class protesting the most
The Times of India carried an interview with Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov who teaches social anthropology at Cambridge University, England. Currently in Moscow, he spoke with Srijana Mitra Das about anti-government protests in Russia, a changed public mood and influences like the Arab Spring.

• Anthro of hackers
“Anonymous is by nature, as well as design, difficult to define,” said New York University assistant professor of media, culture and communication Gabriella Coleman at a gathering at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 9. “It made my life as an anthropologist very difficult at times.” She has spent the past decade studying hackers, meeting with members of the hacking community and using formal academic tools to understand this emerging sector of society.

• The future of shopping in the U.K.
Sean Carey, contributing blogger at aw, published a piece in the New Statesman on what Westfield London reveals about the future of shopping in the U.K. He writes, “The key element in Westfield’s success is the same as for street markets: offering consumers something different from what is available in convential high streets.”

• Anthropology, sociology and Occupy Wall Street
The Hindustan Times (India) carried an article about the differences between anthropology and sociology and the implications for understanding the OWS movement.

• Sports, masculinity and sexual excess in India
Also from India, an interview in the Bangalore Mirror with cultural anthropologist Joe Alter, professor at the University of Pittsburgh focuses on his new book, Moral Materialism: Sex and Masculinity in Modern India. Son of missionary parents who lived in India, Alter explains why he chose to look at celibacy and masculinity together.

• Experiencing a rationed Christmas
Residents of Hearne, Texas, were able to experience a Christmas styled in the 1940s when Camp Hearne featured a “Rationed Christmas 1944.” Camp Hearne was a prisoner of war camp during World War II. “The prisoners here were from the German Afrikan Korps and there were about at its peak about 4,500 prisoners…,” said Michael Waters, an anthropology professor at Texas A&M University. The short program discussed how local residents had to ration goods like sugar, and so cookies were made with sugar substitute. People were able to visit the camp and learn about what life was like there nearly 70 years ago.

• Take that anthro degree and…
…become a brand anthropologist: Richard Wise is the resident Brand Anthropologist at the experiential marketing firm, Mirrorball. He received a masters at the University of Sorbonne in Paris. He has spoken at various conferences, most recently the Future Trends Conference in Miami. You can follow him on Twitter @CultureRevealed or his Tumblr where he highlights cultural trends and offers insights. You can read an interview with him at Curiosity Matters. In response to the question, “As a cultural anthropologist, you approach planning from an intellectual, academic angle. How valuable is the study of cultural trends to brands?” he responds, “Look at the list of problems brands bring you to solve. They almost always come back to cultural issues.”

• Maya musical scale played its own tune
The pre-Columbian Maya had a musical scale different from the western one, according to experts who examined and played 125 instruments recovered from Maya sites, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. After 18 months of work, researchers have identified the possible sounds played at funerals, at agricultural ceremonies to bring rain, and when hunting birds by attracting them with imitation birdcalls. Museum director Diana Magaloni said this research project will continue with some 200 pre-Columbian instruments from the Gulf cultures and 40 more from the Mexica culture.

• Yale returns artifacts to Peru
NPR carried a story about how Yale University is giving back thousands of ceramics, jewelry and human bones from the Peabody Museum in New Haven to the International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture. Yale anthropology professor Richard Burger has been in charge of the ancient artifacts for nearly 30 years. Standing in the courtyard of a museum in Cuzco, Peru, he says the historic building was placed above an Inca palace — set atop a foundation of ancient Inca stone walls: “The Inca who built this palace was the son of Pachacutec or Pachacuti, as he’s sometimes called,” Burger says. “Pachacuti was responsible for building Machu Picchu, so in some way, the materials are returning to the son of the builder of Machu Picchu. It’s like bringing back the family goods.”

• At the bottom of the pyramid: Mexican ceremonial finds
According to an article in the Washington Post, Mexican archaeologists announced that they reached the base of Mexico’s tallest pyramid, in the Teotihuacan site north of Mexico City. They found what may be the original ceremonial offerings placed on the site of the Pyramid of the Sun before its construction began. The offerings include a delicately carved green serpentine stone mask that may have been a portrait, 11 ceremonial clay pots, bones of an eagle as well as bones of feline and canine animals that have not yet been identified. The article quotes INAH archaeologist Enrique Perez Cortes: “We know that it was deposited as part of a consecration ritual for the construction of the Pyramid of the Sun.'”

• Facebooking archaeology
A rare discovery in Jerusalem a dig revealed unique V–shaped carvings discovered at the City of David dig near Jerusalem’s Old City. Archaeologists have not been able to come up with a plausible explanation for them. The V-shaped carvings were cut into the limestone floor, and each V is approximately two inches deep and 20 inches long. Israeli archaeologists came up with a novel way to solve the mystery: set up a Facebook page and ask the public. A Facebook page entitled Help Solve a 3,000 Year Mystery in the City of David asked: “If one of our Facebook Friends has seen something similar to this anywhere in the world, we would be very happy if you would let us know asap. Perhaps together we can solve this mystery!” “We really didn’t know what it was so we thought the public might come up with an insight or a different way of thinking,” site archaeologist professor Roni Reich, of Haifa University, told The Irish Times. Reich said that “Ideas ranged from mirrors, to signs of ancient scripts to some kind of device for agricultural use, or even a suggestion from a dentist who said the markings could be the base for an ancient dental chair!” More than 20,000 suggestions came in from all over the world. One contributor suggested it may have been the original McDonalds sign.

• At the bottom of the lake: prehistoric finds in Lake Michigan
Archaeologists from the University of Michigan exploring the bottom of Lake Huron found a 5 1/2-foot long pole, tapered and pointed that is 8,900 years old based on carbon dating. This discovery provides evidence of human activity along a land bridge that once linked northeast Lower Michigan to central Ontario. “The first thing you notice is that it appears to have been shaped with a rounded base and a pointed tip,” said U-M anthropologist John O’Shea, who talks about the discovery and the search for ancient hunting sites in a video. The discovery made last summer was reported this week in a news release from the university, where O’Shea also is Curator of Great Lakes Archaeology at the U-M Museum of Anthropology.

• Marine archaeology in Canada takes a dive
The maritime archaeologist overseeing Ontario’s estimated 4,000 shipwrecks and artifacts, including the immortalized Edmund Fitzgerald, has lost his job. Simon Spooner provided advice for underwater cultural heritage in Ontario’s 250,000 lakes and more than 100,000 kilometres of rivers. Spooner was laid off Dec. 2.

• We smell better than Neanderthals did
Science Daily covered findings that Neanderthals and modern humans have independently evolved brains of roughly the same size but with differing shapes. This could indicate a difference in the underlying brain organization and ability to smell. In a study published by Nature Communications, led by Markus Bastir and Antonio Rosas, of the Spanish Natural Science Museum (CSIC), high-tech medical imaging techniques were used to access internal structures of fossil skulls. They found that the human temporal lobes, involved in language, memory and social functions as well as the olfactory bulbs are larger in Homo sapiens than in Neanderthals: “The structures which receive olfactory input are approximately 12% larger in modern humans than in Neanderthals,” the authors explain.

• Neanderthals as home builders and interior decorators
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 44,000 year old Neanderthal building in eastern Ukraine that was constructed using the bones from mammoths. The circular building, which was up to 26 feet across at its widest point, is believed to be the earliest example of domestic dwelling built from bone. These findings indicate that Neanderthals built structures where they lived for extended periods of time. Many of the bones had been decorated with carvings and ochre pigments.

• New dating reveals site of oldest Homo erectus tools in Kenya
The New York Times covered findings reported in the journal Nature, showing that tools from a site near Lake Turkana in Kenya were made about 1.76 million years ago. Previous dates of such tools range from 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago. Stone tools are a hallmark of Homo erectus, reflecting forethought and manual dexterity.

The assemblage of hand axes, picks and other cutting tools was collected in the 1990s by French archaeologists led by Hélène Roche of the National Center for Scientific Research. American researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, established the age of the Turkana tools using a paleomagnetic dating technique.

• Elephants on and off the menu in human evolution
Science Daily reported on the role of elephants in the Homo erectus diet. But the significance of this specific food source, in relation to both the survival of Homo erectus and the evolution of modern humans, has never been understood — until now. Tel Aviv University researchers Dr. Ran Barkai, Miki Ben-Dor, and Prof. Avi Gopher of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies have examined the published data describing animal bones associated with Homo erectus at the site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel. They found that elephant bones made up only two to three percent the total, but elephants likely provided up to 60 percent of animal-sourced calories. The findings, which have been reported in the journal PLoS One, suggest that the disappearance of elephants 400,000 years ago was the reason why Homo erectus declined in the Middle East and the rise of modern humans there.

• In memoriam
Phillip Harold Lewis died in Evanston, Illinois at the age of 89. He participated in expeditions to Papua New Guinea, studied Melanesian culture and brought hundreds of items back to Chicago for display at the Field Museum. As a curator of anthropology at the Field Museum for nearly 40 years, Mr. Lewis oversaw the museum’s collections of what was known at that time as “primitive art.” “He was the first and only curator of the museum to focus on the concept of how art and society relate to each other,” said Ryan Williams, associate curator and current chair of the anthropology department at the Field Museum. “Over the long duration of his service at the museum, he helped bridge the gap between what natural history museums do and what art museums do.”

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