Anthro in the news 3/5/12

• On school shootings
Katherine Newman is the James B. Knapp Dean of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a cultural anthropologist by training. In a special report for CNN, she writes about how and why the “quiet kid” whom no one really notices erupts into murderous violence. She brings to this question findings from team research on the rash of school shootings in the U.S. in the late 1990s which she suggests may be useful in understanding what happened at Chardon High School: Initial reports suggest the shooter was a “loner” but were quickly followed by claims that he had friends. The community was taken by surprise, but we learn the shooter texted at least one person about his intentions. These contradictions are consistent with the findings in our book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. Further, Newman says that high school shooters are rarely loners but instead are “failed joiners.” Their daily social experience is of rejection and frustration, not isolation.

• Accordian and solo households revealed
The New York Times Book Review section carried a double review of Katherine Newman’s The Accordian Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition, and Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Both books focus on changing households forms, mainly in the U.S., but with attention to global changes as a wider context. Newman holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, but is known more as a sociologist and academic administrator. Her book addresses the high and rising rates of adult children living with parents. Klinenberg holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, but his doctoral dissertation committee included doyenne cultural anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and he clearly has an anthropological heart.  [Blogger’s note: I have read only the NYT review, not the books themselves, but it seems apparent that both Newman and Klinenberg use cultural anthropology methods including qualitative, in-depth interviews to provide a more fine-grained perspective to complement and enrich the wider global, political, and economic frame in which such household changes are occurring.]

• Paul Farmer, the Global Fund and CCMs
All Africa carried an opinion piece arguing that the funding model employed by the Global Fund is not working for grassroots organizations: “The Global Fund and other international donors need to think from the margins, not just the centre, to find new ways to get funds into the hands of people on the front lines of the epidemic.” The author argues that the Global Fund should consider other approaches: “In his recent New York Times op-ed, Paul Farmer called for increased funding for the Global Fund. He is right. But to really put muscle into the fight against HIV/AIDS, the Global Fund needs to change its top-down approach and find new ways to get funding to grassroots groups. As Farmer points out, the Global Fund has succeeded in getting antiretroviral medicines to millions of people, thus saving many lives. It did this by leveraging multilateral funding to strengthen health ministries and medical services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and insisting that civil society be part of the process of grant management. Yet civil society continues to be marginalised in many countries…”.

• Tracking U.S. corporate abuse of workers in China
Hanqing Chen, a reporter for Asia Blog, is studying journalism and anthropology at New York University. The Atlantic picked up on her article about corporate practices toward labor in China. She interviews corporate social responsibility expert Richard Brubaker, founder of Shanghai-based Collective Responsibility. He points out that abuses are particular to Apple products.

• Malian refugees in need in Burkina Faso
With nearly 20,000 Malian refugees now in Burkina Faso and several hundred more crossing the border each day, the government says it urgently needs more help. Africa News quotes Al Mansour Ag Mahmoud, an independent researcher on health and social anthropology and a refugee currently working for the National Commission for Refugees: “This is the first time that these refugees have been cared for… Our children need to go to school, and there are big families who are packed in houses in Ouagadougou.”

• Pointing a finger at the government of India
Social protests against the Koodankulam nuclear plant are being undermined by the Indian government through its humiliation inflicted on the movement’s leaders, according to Partha Chatterjee, honorary professor of political science and former director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, India, and professor of anthropology at Columbia University, New York. Professor Chatterjee made this point and others during his delivery of the second Erudite Lecture organized by the School of Social Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi University.

• World’s oldest engraving
A colorful pebble bearing a sequence of linear incisions may be the world’s oldest engraving. The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back about 100,000 years ago. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand’s Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News: “Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens.” The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble: “Upon engraving the piece with a sharp lithic implement, it is likely to have produced a markedly bright and dark red-maroon powder,” Rifkin said.

• Oldest musical instrument in Europe
The remains of what could be the oldest stringed instrument to be found in Europe have been discovered in a remote cave on Skye. It is believed to be at least 1500 years old. The burnt fragment, which resembles a bridge of an early stringed instrument, was unearthed in High Pasture Cave, near the village of Torrin and is being examined by experts at Historic Scotland. Rod McCullagh, a Historic Scotland archaeologist, said: “The cave has provided many fascinating discoveries.”

• Neolithic village in Greece needs a bigger museum
According to an article in USA Today, a Greek cave contains the remains of a Neolithic village, burials, a lake and an amphitheater-sized chamber that was sealed from the world, possibly by an earthquake, until recently. “What you see there almost cannot be described,” says archaeologist Anastasia Papathanasiou of the Greek Ministry of Culture, a director of the Diros Project Team. “There is almost no Neolithic (Stone Age) site like it in Europe, certainly none with so many burials.” “They were living in a large village outside the cave,” says Mike Galaty of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, a co-director of the project’s survey efforts with Willam Parkinson of Chicago’s Field Museum. Many of the skulls found there show a lot of signs of healed bumps and cuts. “They fought a lot,” Papathanasiou says. The cave contains a record of some of Europe’s first property owners, farmers for whom claims to tillable acres were doubtless life-and-death matters worth fighting over. “We don’t quite know what was going on with the ritual activities, but it seems they were burning sacrificed animals, smashing pots and other pottery and building large fires inside the cave,” Galaty says. Greek archaeologist George Papathanassopoulos, who led excavations at the site starting in the 1970s, speculated that the ancient Greek notion of Hades, a gloomy and misty home for the dead, may have had its origins in the cave’s rituals. Papathanassopoulos has saved the cave from the fate of becoming a mass tourist site with a light show. Some archaeologists predict the area may hold remnants of a palace from the Mycenaean era, the legendary time when Achilles was riding around the besieged walls of Troy, just before he descended to Hades, Galaty says. “We are going to need a bigger new museum,” Papathanasiou says. “We are just getting started bringing this site to the world.”

• Welcome Solutreans to America
Archaeologists have long held that North America remained unpopulated until about 15,000 years ago, when Siberian people walked or boated into Alaska and then moved down the West Coast. But a discovery made in 1970 has been recently re-examined with stunning results. A scallop trawler in the Chesapeake Bay hauled a mastodon tusk onto its deck in 1970 along with a dark, tapered stone blade, nearly eight inches long. Experts now know that the mastodon relic is 22,000 years old, suggesting that the blade was just as ancient. As the article in the Washington Post states, “Whoever fashioned that blade was not supposed to be here.” Its makers probably paddled from Europe and arrived in America thousands of years ahead of the western migration, making them the first Americans, argues Smithsonian Institution anthropologist Dennis Stanford. “I think it’s feasible,” said Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University. “The evidence is building up, and it certainly warrants discussion.” At the height of the last ice age, Stanford says, mysterious Stone Age European people known as the Solutreans paddled along an ice cap jutting into the North Atlantic. They lived like Inuits, harvesting seals and seabirds. The Solutreans eventually spread across North America, Stanford says, hauling their distinctive blades with them and giving birth to the later Clovis culture, which emerged some 13,000 years ago. The idea of Clovis culture origins in Europe is a major shake-up for understandings of the populating of the Americas.

• Spain says this shipwreck is my shipwreck
The Telegraph (U.K.) carried an article about culmination of Spain’s five-year battle in U.S. courts with a Florida deep-sea exploration firm. In 2007, the firm found the remains of a ship believed to be the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. Spain recovered the nearly 600,000 coins, mostly silver but a few made of gold, after they were flown to Madrid from the United States. Spain’s education, culture and sports minister, Jose Ignacio Wert, told a packed news conference the final US court ruling stated that “the legacy of the Mercedes belongs to Spain.” Wert said Spain will now set about classifying and restoring the 594,000 coins and other artifacts involved before it figures out how to display them for the public. At the time of their discovery, the coins were estimated to be worth as much as $500 million to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck haul in history. The Mercedes had more than 200 people aboard when it exploded and sank in 1804 in a naval battle with the British.

• Archaeology of the depression in Oz
Items once thrown out as rubbish by a dairy farming family in Wellington’s Houghton Valley are proving a treasure trove. Hundreds of items, from glass bottles to what appeared to be a Morse code machine were found during the weekend at Restieaux dairy farm where amateur archaeologists gathered for an event titled Dig Central. Led by local archaeologist Mary O’Keeffe, they tapped into an old water tank that was used by the family for generations as a private tip. They found hundreds of bottles indicating that the residents drank a lot of beer and used a lot of tomato sauce. Although no items of great value had been found, the dig gives a fascinating glimpse into the Restieaux family’s life by showing the ebb and flow of their wealth. The South Coast valley was once graced with a waterfall, glow worms, and a creek with eels and freshwater trout. The Wellington council turned the valley into a landfill in 1949, burying it all.

• Archaeology reaps the joy of giving
The Times (London) reports that Oxford University has received one of the biggest donations in its history, and some of it will support archaeology students: “It’s not often that a rock star and a music impresario share a stage with two lords, the head of Oxford University and a Romanian aristocrat turned interior designer.” The £26 million gift came from the widow of Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records and the man who shaped the careers of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. The money will provide a five-storey Georgian house, a full-time scholar-in-residence, and full scholarships for 15 graduates a year, which will rise to 35, endowed in perpetuity, in subjects ranging from history and archaeology to music and literature.

• Boycott palm oil to save orangutans
The Baltic News Service carried an article about Biruté Galdikas, anthropologist and primatologist of Lithuanian origin, who says that Lithuanians and residents of other countries could contribute to rescuing orangutans by boycotting products that contain palm oil. In her words, obtaining the cheap substance requires mass cutting of forests in Indonesia, the residential areas of orangutans: “He or she could contribute by stopping the use of palm oil. Palm oil is an ingredient in a number of products. I think that the majority of Lithuanians do not know anything about it. In a hotel here in Vilnius, the first thing I see upon my arrival is that the soap I want to wash my hands with contains palm oil,” Galdikas told BNS. “People should personally boycott palm oil and support the initiative of marking products that contain palm oil,” she said, adding she would want volunteers from Lithuania come to Indonesia. Galdikas, a primatologist and expert in environmental studies and ethology, has written extensively about orangutans and has supported orangutan conservation for decades. She was born in Visbaden, Germany, in a Lithuanian family in 1946.

• In memoriam
Anna Lou Dehavenon, an urban anthropologist and expert on poverty and homeless women in the U.S. died at the age 85 years on Long Island. Dehavenon was documenting the lives of women living in a Bronx homeless shelter in the 1980s when she had an epiphany. She had just determined that the median age of women at the shelter was 26, and that the median number of children of the women was 2, when she suddenly remembered the day her own life was turned upside down — when she, too, was 26 and the mother of two, widowed by the death of her husband in a plane crash. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, becoming a respected authority on poverty, hunger and homelessness in New York City. Dehavenon’s influence came from the strength of the statistics and empirical observations she collected as an urban anthropologist doing studies for private social welfare groups. Her reports were read by government agencies, judicial officials and the news media, and her research influenced a 1979 landmark ruling that affirmed a right to shelter in New York City. She was an advocate as well as a researcher. Starting in 1978, she produced annual studies on hunger for the East Harlem Interfaith Welfare Committee, an alliance of religious, voluntary organizations she helped form. Using social science research techniques, she found that more Harlem residents went hungry each year, some of them relying on what they could steal, others sifting through garbage to feed their families.

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