Anthro in the news 09/03/12

Retributional hair cutting and Amish trials in Ohio

The New Zealand Herald, along with several other mainstream media, covered the ongoing trial involving a breakaway Amish group accused of settling a score by carrying out hair-cutting attacks against members of their faith moved into the hills of eastern Ohio two decades ago after a dispute over religious differences. It quoted David McConnell, an anthropology professor at Wooster College who noted that a dozen Amish groups live in Ohio’s Holmes County which is , home to one of America’s largest Amish settlements.

Is corporate social responsibility an oxymoron in China?

Andrew Hao, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California- Berkeley, published an essay in The Huffington Post highlighting negative social and environmental impacts of industrialization and economic growth in China. He argues that these matters are increasingly represented as ethical failures specific to China’s position in a global moral economy.

First Nation’s protests in northern Canada

According to an article in the Montreal Gazette, chiefs in three impoverished Atikamekw communities gave the Quebec provincial government an ultimatum to resolve a 33-year-old land dispute or face blockades on logging roads across the Haute Mauricie region. Negotiations have stalled, and the deadline has expired. Grand chiefs in the Aboriginal towns want a bigger stake in the management of natural resources on their reserves as well as a “James Bay Cree” style agreement with the provincial government. Marie-Pierre Bousquet, a Université de Montréal anthropology professor is quoted as saying, “There’s really no excuse for the deafening silence our politicians have shown this issue. It would seem the Atikamekw in particular are truly an invisible people.” The Atikamekw villages lie in the heart of Quebec’s massive Boreal Forest, where the faltering logging industry is the only major employer. It is estimated that the unemployment rate among the northern communities is as high as 50 per cent. Despite all three mainstream political parties planning major mining and natural resource exploitation projects in northern Quebec, none have made consulting with Aboriginal leaders a priority.

The messiness of art, life, and ethnographic documentary

The New York Times carried an article about a class that the filmmaker and anthropologist Lucien Castaing-Taylor teaches at Harvard, focusing on a rhetorical question that sums up his view of nonfiction film: “If life is messy and unpredictable, and documentary is a reflection of life, should it not be digressive and open-ended too?” Straddling academia and the art house, Mr. Castaing-Taylor and his associates and students at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard have been responsible for some of the most daring and significant documentaries of recent years, works that challenge the conventions of both ethnographic film and documentary.

From fact to fiction in forensic anthropology

CTV news, Canada, carried an article about Kathy Reich’s latest (15th) novel, Bones Are Forever, featuring another baffling case for her fictional heroine, Temperance Brennan. Since her first novel, Déjà Dead, was published in 1997, American author Kathy Reichs has topped The New York Times bestsellers list 13 times. “Keeping things fresh is a challenge in my books,” Reichs said in an interview on CTV’s Canada AM Monday morning. Other challenges include as transforming actual forensics into novel format and addressing sensitive issues such as infanticide.

A new birth theory

Research by Holly Dunsworth, an anthropology professor at the University of Rhode Island,  shows that the length of human pregnancy is limited primarily by a mother’s metabolism, not the size of the birth canal as previously argued. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,challenges the long-held notion of an evolutionary trade-off between childbirth and a pelvis adapted for walking upright. “All these fascinating phenomena in human evolution — bipedalism, difficult childbirth, wide female hips, big brains, relatively helpless babies — have traditionally been tied together with the obstetric dilemma,” said Dunsworth.  “It’s been taught in anthropology courses for decades, but when I looked for hard evidence that it’s actually true, I struck out.” Dunsworth conferred with anthropologists Peter Ellison of Harvard University and Herman Pontzer of Hunter College in New York, two experts in human physiology and energetics. Building on Ellison’s prior work on human pregnancy and childbirth, the researchers developed a new hypothesis for the timing of human birth called the  EGG (energetics, gestation, and growth).

Stop ruining our ruins

Mexicans are taught to revere their pre-Columbian roots. So some archaeologists are outraged by what they view as the government’s failure to safeguard the nation’s Mayan palaces and Aztec pyramids.  Recent decision by the government to erect a glass and steel facade on a portion of the historic Fort of Guadalupe in Puebla in time for the Sept. 15 Mexican independence celebrations was the last straw. The archaeologists have occupied Mexico’s prestigious National Museum of Anthropology, and they are tweeting about “aggressions against patrimony” and using Facebook to protest practices that are ruining the ruins. “Our national monuments are being violated,” said Felipe Echenique, head of the union that represents the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the government agency charged with protecting historic sites. “Public archaeological sites are deteriorating. We are resisting this destruction…We do have a political aim…We want enforcement of the federal laws that protect patrimony.”

Archaeo dog

Picture: Darren England Source: The Courier-Mail.
Dog expert Gary Jackson with Migaloo who he has trained to work on Aboriginal sacred sites as an archeology dog

The Courier Mail (Australia) profiles Migaloo,  a Black labrador that can sniff out a 600-year-old human skeleton buried almost 2m underground. She is believed to be the world’s first trained archeology dog. She will work on surveys of Aboriginal sacred sites across Australia. Other dogs are now likely to be similarly trained to work on excavations at ancient sites in Egypt, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Brisbane dog expert Gary Jackson trained the clever canine using 250-year-old skeletal remains from an Aboriginal burial site, on loan from the South Australian Museum. “She’s got an amazing nose, with a strong drive…It has taken us more than six months of training, field trials and a final search test..But the dog is hitting bone fragment with 100 per cent certainty every time.’

Very old jaguar statue in Mexico

Mexican archaeologists discovered a nearly 2,000-year-old sculpture of a jaguar in the Izapa archaeological zone, the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH), according to  Emiliano Gallaga,  the director of the INAH Center in the southern state of Chiapas. Izapa, which is located about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the border with Guatemala, was an important civic religious center built some 2,500 years ago by a pre-Mayan culture. Gallaga said that the piece adds to the sculptural heritage of Izapa and reiterates the importance of the jaguar in the ritual thinking of Mesoamerican cultures.

World’s oldest boat remains found in Korea

The Korea Times reported on the discovery of an 8,000-year-old wooden boat, believed to be the oldest of its kind ever discovered in the world, in Uljin, 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The remains of the fishing boat and a wooden oar, believed to be from the early Neolithic era, were unexpectedly found by researchers. According to Kim Ku-geun, director of the Samhan Institute of Cultural Properties, “the boat fragment and the oar were at first taken from the site of discovery as an entire lump of earth since both were badly corroded and their shapes were hard to recognize.”

Critical thinking, human evolution, and Paul Ryan

Agustín Fuentes, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, published an article in The Huffington Post, arguing for the need for more critical thinking in how people understand human evolution. He leads off with the following point: “Recently, the nominee for vice president on the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan, talking about human rights, stated, “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government.” Thinking as an anthropologist, one would be forced to ask Ryan, “What do you mean by ‘nature,’ and whose God are you talking about?” Rather than assuming that there is one way to be human, one set of human behaviors that lie in our genes or our culture, and one way to experience the spiritual and transcendental, anthropologists know that there are many ways to be and become human.” Fuentes recently published a book called,  Race, Monogamy and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths About Human Nature.

Australopithecines visit Virginia

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Commonwealth University’s anthropology program is sponsoring an exhibit featuring two fossilized Australopithecines:  “Australopithecine!” showcases nearly 2-million-year-old specimens of the controversial Australopithecus sediba, a primate with an estimated brain capacity that is a third of that found in anatomically modern humans.” The fossils are on loan from the embassy of South Africa, the country in which they were discovered in 2008.

Read my little finger

The entrance to the cave in southern Siberia where the Denisovan fossils were found. (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/Science)

Several mainstream media sources carried articles about the successful use an advanced DNA sequencing technique to map the genome from the finger bone of a young Denisovan girl, found in a cave in southern Siberia. Svante Pääbo of the  Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led the international research team whose findings appear in the journal Science. The research indicates that the Denisovans diverged from the line to modern humans between 170,000-700,000 years ago. This work provides the most detailed picture yet of the human that lived alongside Neanderthals and contributed to the genetic heritage of people living in Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea and possibly Australian Aborigines.



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