Anthro in the news 1/30/12

• Big male sports in U.S. universities
Orin Starn, a Duke University professor of cultural anthropology is a longtime critic of Duke’s participation in Division I athletics. As quoted in the New York Times, he objects to sports occupying “this gigantic place in the university landscape.” He calls basketball “a strain of anti-intellectualism” that claims too much time and attention. Starn, who teaches a course on the “Anthropology of Sports,” provides an anthropological interpretation: “Big-time sports have become a modern tribal religion for college students.” There are sacred symbols (team logos), a high priest (Coach K) and shared rituals (chants and face painting). “This generation loves pageantry and tradition. School spirit is in right now. Now it’s hip to be a joiner and it’s hip to be a sports fan.” Also, he observed, “these kids have grown up with the idea that sports are really a major part of American society and something they should care about.” [Blogger’s note: maybe this is a good time to look into big-time sports rejectionists…like students who don’t opt for the Greek system — how do they fare in terms of their future “success” and “happiness”?]

• More on macho
The Gazette (Montreal) carried an article about how the male stereotype of the “…all-powerful protector and provider is doing a disservice to men – pressuring them to conform and ultimately leaving many powerless to face the challenges of modern society.” Many academics working in the area of masculinity studies consider how the culture of maleness affects men. The article notes the work of Wayne Martino, of the University of Western Ontario, whose research on is on masculinity, gender and role modeling.

• And more…Oxford University report says it all boils down to macho
The New York Daily News, along with several other mainstream media outlets, carried a piece about “male warrior” behavior and its role in the world’s conflicts: “From the football field to the front lines, scientists are blaming conflict on what they call the ‘male warrior’ behavior, a natural instinct that causes men to be aggressive to ‘outsiders.'” According to the news, evolution shapes men to be fighters, while women have historically resolved conflicts peacefully. “Our review of the academic literature suggests that the human mind is shaped in a way that tends to perpetuate conflict with ‘outsiders,’” said professor and study author Mark van Vugt.

• But wait..possibly nice Norse marauders?
The Bronze-age Norse may have an inaccurately bad reputation. Archaeological research in the Outer Hebrides suggests peaceful intermixing and continuity of Hebridean culture. The research team has looked at hundreds of sites.

• Car flags, racism and push-back in Australia
An op-ed in the Herald Sun (Australia) states that Australia Day has developed into “kick an Australian Day.” “It is almost an industry. In the past few days you have been told that if you enjoy Australia Day, there’s a fair chance you are a drunk, a redneck, and flying the flag, not because you are proud, but because you are racist.” The author addresses a study by Farida Fozdar, a cultural anthropologist at the University of West Australia which revealed a correlation between showing an Australian flag on one’s car and racist attitudes. “She also found that 91 per cent of flag bearers thought migrants should adopt Australian values and only 76 per cent of non-flag wavers felt the same, which makes you wonder about the question. Why would anybody who embraces Australian values not think they were good for all? The problem here is fairness. Yes, it’s a nice headline for an academic, but it is offensive to anybody who flies the flag, and such a small sample is hardly definitive.”

• The immortal words of MM
The Hindu (India) carried an article recalling Margaret Mead’s wisdom. Sixty years ago, the world renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead recorded her essay for the series: “This I Believe.” She calls for understanding “the other” and not just trying to look for similarity in other cultures or to influence others into one’s own way of life: “I believe that to understand human beings it is necessary to think of them as part of the whole living world. Our essential humanity depends not only on the complex biological structure which has been developed through the ages from very simple beginnings, but also upon the great social inventions which have been made by human beings, perpetuated by human beings, and in turn give human beings their stature as builders, thinkers, statesmen, artists, seers and prophets.”

• Disgust could be a good thing
Another “invisible anthropologist” (meaning someone who is an anthropologist by training but not so identified in the mainstream media) is Dr. Valerie Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She received front page coverage in the New York Time’s Science section in an article entitled “Survival’s Ick Factor.” The article reports on a recent conference on Disgust held in Germany. Curtis is a leading researcher in this area with contributions to public health initiatives related to promoting the use of handwashing with soap. [Blogger’s note: CIGA brought Dr. Curtis to GW for a talk; click here to see a recording].

• Be careful what you tweet
Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University, has new findings indicating that Twitter and Facebook encourage people to say things they regret, largely because of the absence of normal human interaction on such websites. Facial expressions, reactions such as laughter and vocal tones are all vital natural tools in helping people judge what they say, and their absence in extreme cases can lead to online bullying. These findings are based on a survey of 2,000 internet users. A quarter of those polled admitted writing personal remarks to someone online which they would never say to their face and a similar proportion admitted posting material or comments on social media sites which they later regretted. One in five admitted that they “rarely, or never” stop to check what they have written before clicking “send.”

• Forensic anthropology of U.S. war dead
CNN covered the work of forensic anthropologists at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, the world’s largest skeletal identification laboratory. More than 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists of Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command are working to put names to the remains of 84,000 U.S. service members who have gone missing during war or military action. The unit researches war records, battle sites, and aircraft crash sites around the world.

• Argentine forensic anthropologists in Vietnam
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) has helped Viet Nam confirm identification of people missing after wartime battles, according to EAAF President Louis Fondebrider. The cooperative plan was established in 2010 following the Vietnamese Government’s request for technical assistance. In 2011, two EAAF experts went to Vietnam to provide training in forensic anthropology and identification of remains in Ha Noi and HCM City. The two sides will cooperate in the search for the remains of missing soldiers and also confirm identification of natural disaster victims.

• Drought exposes ancient Constantinople
Archaeologists have made an extraordinary discovery 13 miles west of the center of Istanbul. The find is Bathonea, a harbor town dating from the second century B.C. As quoted in the New York Times, Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery, says that Bathonea has the potential to become a ”library of Constantinople.” After an extended drought exposed a sea wall, Dr. Aydingun discovered that the harbor had been equipped with docks, buildings, and a jetty, probably dating to the fourth century. In the last dig season, the archaeologists uncovered port walls, elaborate buildings, an enormous cistern, a Byzantine church and stone roads spanning more than 1,000 years of occupation. ”The fieldwork Sengul has conducted over the last few years is spectacular,” said Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who surveyed Bathonea for two field seasons. ”The discoveries made are now shedding a completely new light to the wider urbanized area of Constantinopolis. A fantastic story begins to unveil.”

• Hello doggy
A 33,000-year-old dog skull unearthed in a Siberian mountain cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication which, along with an equally old find in a cave in Belgium, suggests multiple ancestors of modern dogs.

• Simply elegant: Neanderthal stone tools
Dr Metin Eren, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, conducted experimental flint knapping to learn about Neanderthal stone tool-making. On the basis of his study, he said: “The more we learn about the stone tool-making of the Neanderthals and their contemporaries, the more elegant it becomes.”

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