Anthro in the news 07/02/12

• Poverty and black market in organs
The New York Times reported on the rise in human organ trafficking in eastern Europe as being related to economic stress in the region. It mentioned the work of Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, and founder of Organ Watch.

• U.S. middle class stuff
The New York Times carried an article about the U.S. middle class and possessions. It draws on a study conducted from 2001 to 2005 of 32 middle-class families in Los Angeles, led by the U.C.L.A. Center on the Everyday Lives of Families. The article includes an interview with Anthony Graesch, assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College, who was a graduate student when the study was conducted. The households in the study are all dual-earner households in a range of ethnic groups, neighborhoods, incomes and occupations, with at least two children. Findings are presented in a book coming out this week, called Life at Home in the 21st Century, by Graesch and co-authors Jeanne Arnold, Enzo Ragazzini, and Elinor Ochs. One finding is that women’s stress-hormone levels spiked when confronted with family clutter more than men’s. And another: there is a direct relationship between the number of magnets on the refrigerator and the amount of stuff in a household. [Blogger’s note: my house is overloaded with stuff including books, wall art, pottery, and countless odds and ends collected/accumulated over decades; however, not a single fridge magnet…my lovely stainless-steel looking fridge does not allow magnets to adhere!].

• Visual anthropologist at work
The Jakarta Post provides an interview of Yogyakarta-based anthropologist Muhammad Zamzam Fauzani. For him, movies are an effective tool to promote positive social change. Zamzam attended Gadjah Mada University, then received a Ford Foundation scholarship for a Master’s degree at the University of Manchester. Zamzam said he chose Manchester because he regarded the city as the starting point for social revolution in the world. Zamzam returned to Yogyakarta to put the theories he learned at university into practice. Together with his longtime anthropologist friend, Dian Herdiany, he founded Kampung Halaman, Indonesia’s Youth Community Media in 2006. The organization aims to empower the younger generation in the use of media. Now a doctoral candidate in a Dutch university, he hopes to continuously ignite positive change in society as an anthropologist and researcher who works with visual media. So far, he has won many awards, including the prestigious U.S. National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, which was handed to him directly by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in 2011. In 2012, he won the Young Researcher Award from the Indonesian Academy of Sciences.

• Landmark lecture in Lagos
Sandra Barnes,  Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered a public lecture in Lagos, organized by the Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy in collaboration with the Lagos State University. The lecture was on Mushin in Lagos: The Past and the Present. Serving and former governors, traditional rulers, local government officials, academics, students and Lagosians were expected to attend the lecture. Professor Barnes has deep and extensive Nigerian experience, beginning with her prize-winning 1986 book, Patrons and Power: Creating a Political Community in Metropolitan Lagos.

• Take that anthro degree and…
become a latent fingerprint analyst. Lauren Zephro, who just earned a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz, has worked as the latent fingerprint examiner for the Sheriff’s Office of San Jose, California, since 2008. Her dissertation, “Determining the Timing and Mechanism of Bone Fracture,” tackled some forensic techniques that she felt could be improved. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

• Very old pots
It has long seemed like a tidy story about human ingenuity: After people started farming about 10,000 years ago and were faced with the challenge of cooking plants and grains, pottery was invented. But that explanation has been fraying for years, and now an international team that includes a Harvard University anthropologist and Boston University scientists has pushed back the timeline even further, with evidence of pot shards from a cave in eastern China that date to 10 millennia before agriculture began.

“If you don’t dig, you don’t find,” said Ofer Bar-Yosef, a 75-year-old professor of anthropology at Harvard who led the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science. “We always think hunters and gatherers go with bows and arrows and hunt animals, collect food. They also make some pottery.”

The team of scientists revisited Xianrendong Cave, a prehistoric site about 60 miles south of the Yangtze River that over the decades had yielded an array of artifacts, including tools made of stone, bone, and shells; animal bones; and fragments of pottery. The scientists reopened the trench, excavated blocks of sediment, and analyzed bone fragments and layers of sediment to get the precise age of layers where pot shards had been discovered earlier.

• Yet another diet plan
But perhaps don’t try this at home. Analysis of the diet of early human ancestors of almost two million years ago indicates that hominins lived almost exclusively on a diet of leaves, fruits, wood and bark. These findings related to the recently discovered species, Australopithecus sediba, found northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. Their diet contrasts sharply with that of other hominins in Africa who mainly consumed grasses and sedges from the savanna. The Au. sediba diet appears to be a matter of choice, given the presence at the time of vast grasslands in the area. An international team of scientists led by biological anthropologist Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reported on the research that supported their findings, which will be published in the journal Nature. According to Henry, “If these individuals are representative of the species…Au. sediba had a diet that was different from those of most early African hominins studied so far.”

• In memoriam
Roy Burman, anthropologist and social scientist known for his research about an behalf of India’s tribal groups, died at age 90 years. A former visiting Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Professor of Visva-Bharati University, and ex-officio Director of the Council of Social Development, Burman also served as a visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Considered an authority on India’s northeast region, he strongly opposed the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur and Operation Green Hunt. He worked tirelessly to promote the welfare of India’s indigenous and marginalized groups. For example, he served as chairman of several international, national and state-level committees; he was the founder-president of the Network of Practising Anthropologists; he served as Deputy Registrar-General of the Census and Officer on Special Duty heading the Social Studies Division of the Registrar- General of India; he chaired the Union Planning Commission’s Study Group on Land Holding Systems of Tribals and the Union Home Ministry’s Committee on Forest and Tribals Backward Classes Unit.

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