Anthro in the news 5/14/12

• Remembering the mother of POTUS
An op-ed in the Washington Post explores the relationship between President Barack Obama and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a cultural anthropologist. It concludes that she shaped his “essence” in many ways including multilayered, multiethnic experiences and empathy. [Blogger’s note: on Mother’s Day, one can only wish she had lived to see her son’s presidency].

• What do the evangelicals want?
Cultural anthropologist Tanya Lurhmann, professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times discussing views of evangelical Christians in the United States and how candidates in the upcoming U.S. presidential election might better communicate with them. Luhrmann is author, most recently, of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.

• Kinship studies revisited
The Irish Times carried a review of a new book by cultural anthropologist Maurice Godelier, Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in France. The review is written by Fiona Murphy, a cultural anthropologist and co-author of Integration in Ireland: The Everyday Lives of African Migrants. She says: “It is this constellation of world views and ways of being that we meet in Maurice Godelier’s powerful and often provocative new book, The Metamorphoses of Kinship. In this timely and challenging study, Godelier heralds the revival of kinship studies within the discipline of anthropology… The book argues that kinship, once the key focus of anthropology, is no longer visible on university course lists; not vanished or vanquished, he insists, however, but merely transformed.”

• Breast is best but for how long?
USA Today joined the discussion in response to a Time magazine cover photo this week of a mother nursing her 3-year-old son. Noting that breast-feeding children older than one year is rare among mothers in the United States, and mentioning some online comments calling it “perverted” and “dangerous” to nurse a 3-year-old, it then turns to discussion of cross-cultural practices. The article quotes Katherine Dettwyler, professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware: “It’s normal for our species. It’s not perverted; it’s not sex; it’s not women doing it for some perverse need. It’s normal like a nine-month pregnancy is normal.” Her research on breast-feeding around the world shows that most children are breast-fed for three to five years or longer in sharp contrast with babies in the United States.

• Forensic anthropologist meets mystery writer
The Independent carried a double interview with Sue Black, professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology at the University of Dundee, and mystery writer, Val McDermid. Black has led the way in human identification in conflict zones such as Kosovo and has appeared in the BBC2 factual series, History Cold Case. Black comments, “I don’t read crime novels – it’d be like a chef watching food programmes – so I didn’t know much about Val until I was asked to do a radio programme with her about death and dying, in the late 1990s. We were chatting away before we went on air when I made the mistake of saying, ‘If at any point in the future you need to ask me about anything, feel free.’ You make one offer and she’s in there.”

• What a dive
The New York Times Science blog covered the work of Lisa J. Lucero, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is studying ancient Maya underwater offerings in central Belize under the auspices of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, National Institute of Culture and History.

• Party time
According to an article in the The Observer (England), the prehistoric basis for rave festivals was established during the neolithic in England: “They were the stone-age equivalent of Glastonbury festival. People gathered in their hundreds to drink, eat and party every summer at revelries lasting several days and nights. Young men met women from nearby communities and married them. Herds of cattle were slaughtered to provide food.” This picture of ancient British bacchanalia has been created by researchers led by Professor Alasdair Whittle of Cardiff University and Dr. Alex Bayliss of English Heritage. They have built up a detailed chronology of the first farmers’ arrival in Britain and have shown that agriculture spread with dramatic rapidity. In its wake, profound social changes gripped the country, culminating in the construction of causewayed enclosures where chieftains or priests held revelries to help establish their power bases. As a result of their successes, Whittle and Bayliss have won a £2m grant from the European Research Council to date neolithic sites across the continent. The aim is to show the technique’s power to create precise chronologies of ancient events, as it has for stone-age Britain.

• First documented case of female trafficking?
According to a report in The Independent, a newly deciphered clay tablet lists 60 women who were probably prisoners-of-war or victims of an Assyrian forced population transfer program. Cambridge archaeologist Dr. John MacGinnis found, moreover, that 45 of the names bore no resemblance to Middle Eastern names already known to scholars. The unique nature of the tablet’s 45 mystery names is seen by scholars as evidence of a previously unknown language, perhaps that of people living in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. According to the report, “The 60 women (including the 45 with evidence of the previously unattested language) were almost certainly being deployed by the palace authorities for some economic purpose (potentially a female-associated craft activity like weaving). Indeed the text mentions that some of them were being allocated to specific local villages.”

• Evidence of prehistoric Irish tsunami
Archaeologists in the Burren in County Clare have unearthed one of the oldest records of human life ever found in Ireland and may also have found that they were wiped out by a tsunami. Radiocarbon dating of a shellfish cooking area or “midden” located on Fanore Beach have revealed it to be at least 6,000 years old – hundreds of years older than the nearby Poulnabrone dolmen. Excavation on the site has also revealed a mysterious black layer of organic material which archeologists believe may be the results of a Stone Age tsunami which bashed the West Clare coast. Field monument advisor for Co Clare Michael Lynch said: “It is possible this is the result of a major climatic event, a massive storm or possibly a tsunami, or some other major event of that sort which would have thrown up a large amount of debris all at the one time.”

• Nut cracking culture
The Huffing Post carried an article about findings that chimpanzee groups have distinct “cultural” practices related to nut-cracking. “In humans, cultural differences are an essential part of what distinguishes neighboring groups that live in very similar environments,” study researcher Lydia Luncz, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said in a statement. “For the first time, a very similar situation has been found in wild chimpanzees living in the Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, demonstrating that they share with us the ability for fine-scale cultural differentiation.”

• Kudos
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at New York University, has been appointed dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, starting in September. Suárez-Orozco was educated in public schools in Argentina and at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received an A.B. in psychology, an M.A. in anthropology and a Ph.D. in anthropology. With a body of scholarly work focusing on mass migration, globalization and education within the arenas of cultural psychology and psychological anthropology, Suárez-Orozco will draw on a global perspective to inform his leadership.

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