Anthro in the news 08/13/12

• It’s religion, stupid

What we don’t understand about religion just might kill us says cultural anthropologist Scott Atran in an article in Foreign Policy:   “In an age where religious and sacred causes areresurgent, there is urgent need for scientific effort to understand them. Now that humankind has acquired through science the power to destroy itself with nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to let science ignore religion and the sacred, or let scientists simply try to reason them away. Policymakers should leverage scientific understanding of what makes religion so potent a force for both cooperation and conflict, to help increase the one and lessen the other.” Atran holds appointments at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Michigan, John Jay College, and ARTIS Research. He is author of two books, Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust.

• Listen to the farmers

In an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor,  Daniel Bornstein, a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in anthropology and environmental studies, argues for investments in traditional food crops so that farmers in sub-Saharan Africa will benefit from advances in agricultural productivity. He says that so-called orphan crops  – sweet potato, cassava, and millet – will be crucial for strengthening the poorest farmers’  livelihoods and improving nutrition.  Bornstein has visited smallholder farmers in Kenya and learned from them that, decades ago their families grew a diverse array of crops valuable for local nutrition.  Now they focus on maize production because of its promising market opportunities.  They now see the problems from neglecting traditional crops. Bornstein, and others support giving farmers a voice in conveying their traditional knowledge though, for example,  the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and a recent citizens “jury” in Mail convened by the International Institute for Environment and Development.  Bornstein has been in Kenya researching farming  as an intern with the World Agroforestry Center, which is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

• To praise or not to praise

Cultural anthropologist Elisa Sobo published an article in The Huffington Post that is based on her ongoing research of Waldorf education in the United States, specifically pre-K through grade 3. She discusses the nuances and implications of a practice of not specifically praising children’s accomplishments in the Waldorf system. Sobo is a professor of anthropology at San Diego State University and author of the forthcoming book, Dynamics of Human Biocultural Diversity: A Unified Approach and two earlier books.

• India’s coastal fishing in danger

The livelihood of India’s traditional coastal fishermen is endangered, said Dr. P. Vijay Prakash, former head of the Department of Anthropology at Andhra University. At a seminar in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, he argued that the fishing community is being encroached upon by government-initiated projects under the public-private partnership such as Pharma city, by the sea itself which is creeping into their settlements, and by the dramatic recent reduction in fish species due to industrial pollution. Prakash and his team have carried out field  research in 190 villages on behalf of National Maritime Foundation-Visakhapatnam Regional Chapter and sponsored by the Visakhapatnam Port Trust.

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
Thomas Blom Hansen

• The cultural life of India’s cities

In a lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Thomas Blom Hansen provided insights about Indian cities and their “charisma” and power structures. Hansen is a professor in anthropology at Stanford University and the director of its Center for South Asia. He is the author of  Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay and The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India.

• Teaching activist anthropology

The San Francisco Bay Guardian interviewed cultural anthropologist Andrej Grubacic, the new head of the anthropology department at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Grubacic discusses the new Anthropology and Social Change program and other topics, including the state of the occupy movement.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…become a professional basketball player and then a healthcare management professional.  Koko Archibong has an impressive resumé: a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, and he is nearing completion of a master’s in healthcare management from the University of Liverpool. He has also had a long and successful professional basketball career in Germany.

…go into political branding and advertising.  Justin McCarthy, Irish born and raised in Africa,  studied anthropology and English at Witswatersrand University. He has toured the world and owned and operated two restaurants before committing to work in advertising. He is now the Managing Director of TBWA Hunt Lascaris in Durban, South Africa.

• What lurks beneath the campus

The College of William and Mary in Virginia has long claimed fame as the “Alma Mater of a Nation,” pre-dating the American Revolution. Archaeologists say they have uncovered the remnants of earthworks, apparently dug by occupying Union troops, providing new evidence that the colonial-era school had a major role in the Civil War. Joe Jones, director of the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research, said finding evidence of the fortifications and so many well-preserved artifacts in such a small space on the campus is unusual: “From 1862 to 1865 this was one of the front lines of the Civil War.”

• Rebranding Viking invaders as regular guys

The perception of Scandinavian warriors as marauders, suddenly arriving in their long ships and raping and pillaging their way through remote villages, is being questioned. Recent discoveries at an archaeological dig on Orkney suggest a more peaceful process. Martin Carruthers, lecturer in archaeology at Orkney College, who is leading the excavations at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay, claims the findings could suggest a “more prolonged” and “peaceful” period of settlement than previously thought. He asks, “Was it a violent, bloody, near genocidal wipe out of Pictish society, or may it have been a longer and a more peaceful interaction between one another?”

• Pre-Columbian preservation in Mexico

According to a Latino Fox News article, experts have made significant strides in preserving Mexico’s pre-Columbian pictorial heritage, carrying out restoration projects at 44 archaeological sites over the past two years. The National Pre-Columbian Mural Conservation Program, launched in 2010, has analyzed and carried out restoration work at 101 sites. The program’s goal is to preserve pictorial manifestations considered of priority importance given their significance to pre-Columbian civilizations as a means of communication and for artistic purposes.

pottery cups

• Very old morning buzz

Residues on pottery cups indicate that residents of the pre-Columbian site of Cahokia, near what is now St. Louis, Missouri, brewed a strong tea from the leaves and branches of holly. The discovery represents the oldest use of the so-called Black Drink in North America and suggests established trade routes. A team led by anthropologist Patricia L. Crown of the University of New Mexico studied eight beakers from ritual sites in and around Cahokia, dating from CE 1050 to CE 1250. Findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

• Very old domesticated turkeys

A new University of Florida study shows that the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated earlier than previously believed. Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Maya archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of early domestication of turkeys in the Maya world. The study appears online in PLoS ONE. Science Daily quotes lead author Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre: “We might have gotten the timing of the introduction of this species to the ancient Maya wrong by a significant chunk of time.” [Blogger’s note: In other words, the new study provides a more accurate time].

• Aztec woman buried with hundreds of bones

Mexican archaeologists report an unprecedented human burial in which the skeleton of a young woman is surrounded by piles of 1,789 human bones in Mexico City’s Templo Mayor. The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was the first of its kind, noting the Aztecs were not known to use mass sacrifice or the reburial of bones as the customary ways to accompany the interment of a member of the ruling class. University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, called the find “unprecedented for the Aztec culture.”

• Human ancestors:  from missing link to many missing links

Several mainstream media sources picked up on research that was published in the journal Nature revealing a new  species of early human which now joins at least two other distinct human species co-existing in Africa two million years ago. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that runs counter to an earlier model of a single ancestral line leading from early primate ancestors to modern humans. While various media covered different aspects of the finding,  paleoanthropologist Maeve Leakey was the star as discoverer of the fossil material in Kenya.

• In memoriam

Betty Meggers, an archaeologist who contributed seminal work to the challenging field of Amazonian archaeology, died at the age of 90 years. In her 70-year career, Meggers advanced the  study of Amazonian archaeology, added to awareness of the beauty of Marajoara ceramics, revolutionized thinking about the carrying capacity of tropical rainforests, surmised about pre-Columbian links between Japan and South America, and directed the Smithsonian Institution’s South American Archaeology Program for many decades
James Mellaart, an archaeologist who discovered Çatalhöyük in Turkey, one of the world’s oldest urban centers, died at the age of 86 years. His discovery of richly furnished buildings with reliefs, bull-horn installations, and elaborate narrative wall paintings shocked the archaeological world because such impressive art had not been found previously in the Near East. He went on to be a lecturer in Anatolian archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. His book Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia was an important achievement, and his account of the stratigraphy and organization of the settlement have largely been corroborated by ongoing excavations. Unesco recently recognized Çatalhöyük as a World Heritage site.

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