Anthro in the news 2/13/12

• A kiss is just a kiss?

It’s that time of the year again with articles and blog posts popping up all over, addressing various romantic topics as we approach Valentine’s Day. For starts, an article in the U.K.’s Independent is titled “Pucker Up” (it goes on from there). No surprise: the subject is kissing. Among other tidbits dropped into the piece is a nod to the vast cultural variation in what makes sex exciting and fulfilling: “In 1929, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski visited the Trobriand Islands and discovered that lovers there would go through several phases of sucking and nibbling during intercourse before biting off each other’s eyelashes at the point of orgasm.” And, to keep everyone happy, also a nod to biological determinism: “According to Rutgers University Anthropologist Helen Fisher, kissing evolved to facilitate three essential needs: sex drive, romantic need and attachment. Each is a component of human reproduction and kissing bolsters all three. In this theory, kissing helps people find a partner, commit to them and stay with them long enough to have a child.” [Blogger’s note: more research needed on the function of kissing in keeping a partner committed?]

• Republicans and Democrats in the bedroom: so close but so far apart?

Helen Fisher is cited again in a Washington Times article describing new research from the University of Binghamton’s Institute for Evolutionary Studies. A survey conducted in conjunction with includes over 5,000 adults in the United States. Respondents were asked 135 questions about their romantic attitudes and lives as well as their political party. Fisher, a consultant on the study, comments: Liberals and conservatives are looking for entirely different things…their attitudes toward romance and how they court are really dramatically different. There’s almost no overlap.” [Blogger’s note: Just thinking…there may be some overlap that the study has missed? In any case, the political culture of lovemaking is another topic that requires more research].

• The science of love
An article in London’s Sunday Times on changing patterns of emotional relationships mentions new research by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University. His new book, The Science of Love and Betrayal, will be coming out in April. In it, he defines five key criteria for emotional closeness: having the same sense of humor, the same interests and moral values, a similar level of intelligence, and having grown up in the same area. [Blogger’s note: it’s not clear from the article what Dunbar’s source of data is. So you may have to buy the book].

• Down turn on high street?
Sean Carey, regular contributor to anthropologyworks, published an article in the Guardian about how to transform the U.K.s declining high streets into a welcoming space.

• U.S. family law a rude shock to some immigrant men
The Daily Nation (Kenya) carried an article about Kenyan immigrants living in the United States and marital struggles taking place in a new legal culture: “Kenyan women quickly discover that the US takes violations of women’s rights very seriously…” Kenyan men pointed to state laws that require a man to continue paying child support for a child even if he discovers later that he is not the biological father. The article mentions a 2006 study published by Current Anthropology reporting that two per cent of married men who thought that the child they were bringing up was theirs in fact were not biological parents after paternity tests were conducted. [Blogger’s note: I am trying to trace this publication; in the meantime, just be happy knowing that The Daily Nation had heard about our flagship journal].

• TV archaeologist quits show in disgust
According to the Sunday Mail (South Australia), archaeologist Mike Aston has walked out on the popular TV show, Time Team, after 19 years. He is not happy that the producers have hired a former model as the program’s co-presenter. The co-presenter, Mary-Ann Ochota, holds a master’s degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge, and, “After graduation, she did some modelling.” Aston, a former academic at Bristol and Oxford Universities, has worked hard to bring archaeology to the public. He is quoted as saying, “It feels sad that I shan’t go on, but this is simply downgrading the product.”

• Deep insights but barely scratching the surface of a Maya city
In more than 25 years of research, Arlen and Diane Chase, a husband-and-wife team of anthropologists at the University of Central Florida, have pieced together “a much more complete story about Caracol,” one of the largest Maya cities. They know, for example, what people ate, and they know that the relatively uniform distribution of pottery suggests a strong sense of shared identity across social classes. Their research offers a portrait of a low-density, agriculturally self-sustaining, prosperous city. It achieved and maintained social integration through “symbolic egalitarianism” — the distribution of luxury and ritual items across the general population. Diane Chase is quoted in Insider Higher Education as saying: “The number of years [of fieldwork] has made it a lot easier for us to think about and answer a number of different questions about the Maya…On the other hand, in terms of the sample, we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

• Treasures of the Queen of Sheba
The Observer (England) carried an article about a British excavation in Ethiopia that may have unearthed a gold mine of the Queen of Sheba. Her domain spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen. The excavation is headed  by archaeologist Louise Schofield.

• Neanderthals as first cave painters?
According to an article in the New Scientist, cave paintings in Malaga, Spain, could be the oldest human cave paintings yet found. It is likely that they were created by Neanderthals rather than modern humans. The images depict the seals that locals would have eaten, says José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain. The paintings have been radiocarbon dated to between 43,500 and 42,300 years old, making them older than the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in south-east France. Researchers are awaiting dating of the pigments for possible confirmation that the paintings were made by Neanderthals rather than modern humans. Neanderthals remained in the south and west of the Iberian peninsula until 37,000 years ago. Increasing evidence indicates that Neanderthals were capable of creating artistic works including decorated stone and shell objects.

• Kudos
Mahmood Mamdani, professor of government in the departments of anthropology and political science at Columbia University and director of the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University, is one of six Africans to receive an honorary degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Mamdani is a Ugandan of Indian origin. He received his Ph.D. in 1974 from Harvard University. The author of several classic books and articles in critical anthropology, his most recent book is Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.

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