Anthro in the news 09/17/12

• They say that breast is best

ABC’s Yahoo News, among other media , carried reports about cultural anthropologist Adrienne Pine, single mother and professor at American University in Washington, DC, who sparked controversy after breastfeeding her toddler in class. She says that she wasn’t trying to start a revolution, but was trying to manage an untenable situation of lecturing on the first day of class and having a feverish toddler who could not go to daycare. “It wasn’t the ideal option but the fact is there were no ideal options and it was the best of the options available to me,” Pine said.

• Hello baby, goodbye libido

Medical practitioners attending the annual meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists in Canberra learned that they should be aware of the sexual health of new parents. Sexual anthropologist Bella Ellwood-Clayton, who spoke at the conference, said it could take years for couples to resume their normal sex lives: “Rather than setting the bar for six weeks, I think it’s more likely to set at six years.”

• Moving back to the village in Spain

The current economic crisis is sending Spaniards from cities to villages where the cost of living is lower. An article in The New York Times quotes Carles Feixa, professor of social anthropology at the University of Lleida in Catalonia: ”Rurbanismo started before the crisis, once the Internet took off and made it possible to work anywhere…but what the crisis is doing is making the model more attractive.”

• Resetting dress from Manhattan to Gurgaon

The New York Times carried an article profiling a New York professional woman who returned to India and faced a challenge that her male counterparts do not: wardrobe. As an investment banker in New York City, Poornima Vardhan had all the right clothes: power suits, cocktail dresses and jeans. But no saris. In India, it’s goodby to cocktail dresses. Even in upscale, westernized Gurgaon, saris still reign. The article quotes Mukulika Banerjee, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of a book titled The Sari: ”A complete no-no in Indian modesty is to show legs…cleavage is fine but not legs.”

• Let them [not] drink big soda

Minnesota Public Radio covered the controversy about the New York Board of Health’s effort to combat obesity through a ban on sugary drinks, including soda, in sizes 16 oz. or larger, at restaurants, concession stands, and other eateries. The ban is expected to take effect in March 2013. Opponents are already considering a legal challenge to prevent the ban. Both sides have been pouring money into ad campaigns. Why such a buzz? According to Craig Hadley, professor of anthropology at Emory University and the President of the Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, “humans are unique in the meaning they attach to food.” Human identity, he said, is wrapped up in our food choices: “…we associate certain ethnic groups with certain foods, athletes with specific diets, or vegetarians with political ideologies.” Hadley thinks soda hits a nerve because it’s a choice that’s being taken away. Kathryn Oths, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama offers a different interpretation: soda is a pleasure in people’s lives, and the ban removes one of the remaining pleasures people have. Nonetheless, she predicts people will get used to the soda ban, just as they did with Bloomberg’s public smoking ban. “Initial studies have shown an association between getting soda out of schools and declining BMI in those schools, which could help make the idea more acceptable eventually.”

• Speaking truth to power in Chinese documentary film

An audience in a private art studio during the 9th Beijing Independent Film Festival in Songzhuang, an arts district in Beijing. Credit: Sean Gallagher for The International Herald Tribune

The Ninth Beijing Independent Film Festival in August was thrown into chaos after a power failure in the middle of the first screening. In China, filmmaking without approval of the ruling Communist Party is discouraged. The authorities denied any interference. Organizers said local officials had warned them not to show in public the opening film, ”Egg and Stone,” directed by Huang Ji, which is about sexual abuse in a rural family. When the power went out, officials showed up and apologized, but then did nothing, witnesses said. Whatever the truth, filmmaking free of the ruling Communist Party is discouraged. An article in The New York Times quotes Angela Zito, professor of cultural anthropology at New York University: ”There’s an important aspect of the need to speak truth to power in Chinese documentary. Zito introduced her own debut documentary, about Chinese calligraphers, at the festival. And, further: ”These young Chinese documentary filmmakers are inspiring to me personally to charge out into the world and record it. Their appearance, beginning in the early 1990s was refreshing, because they’re beholden to no one.” She said that ”an entire amateur wave” of Chinese filmmakers was ”limited” because state schools did not teach the independent thinking required to edit.

• Who lies beneath this parking lot?

Media worldwide picked up on the latest report from archaeological excavations in Leicester that have yielded skeletal remain that match the profile of Richard III. The University of Leicester, which is spearheading the search, said that its team of archaeologists had unearthed the skeleton of an adult male bearing signs of possible battle wounds and of a severe curvature of the spine that would have made one of the man’s shoulders appear much higher than the other. The remains are being examined, and the team hopes that DNA can be recovered to aid identification.

• Very old royal burial chamber in Mexico

A team from the National Anthropology and History Institute entered for the first time a 1,500-year-old funerary chamber in Palenque believed to contain the remains of one of the first rulers of this Maya city. The chamber could hold the remains of K’uk Bahlam I, who came to power in 431 C.E. and founded the dynasty to which the famed Maya ruler Pakal belonged.

• Art in the time of ice

Ceramic fragments in Croatia indicate more regular artistry in the Ice Age than previously thought. Thirty-six fragments of fired clay, excavated in the Vela Spila cave on an island off the Adriatic coast, make up the second-largest collection found so far of the earliest human experiments with ceramic art. They are 15,000 to 17,500 years old — the first European evidence of ceramic art after the ice sheets stopped spreading. Rebecca Farbstein, the University of Cambridge archaeologist who described the Croatian collection in a recent paper in the journal PLoS One, said that ceramic art was not so unusual for that period. Olga Soffer, emerita professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois who has worked on the Czech ceramics, said the find reinforces the idea that ceramic work — a major, complex technological breakthrough in human history — may have been invented for art rather than utility. ”Life was lived by more than stone spear point,” Dr. Soffer is quoted as saying, and, ”It gets us away from the Hemingway, mega-macho male stuff.”

• Prehistoric mama’s boys?

An article in USA Today reviews theories and debates in biological/evolutionary anthropology about early human ancestors’ behavior, specifically whether adult males stayed close to home and adult females migrated in.

• Welcome to a new monkey species

An anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University helped discover a new species of African monkey. Assistant professor Kate Detwiler worked on the genetic analysis team that established that the lesula monkey is distinct from the closely related owl-faced monkey.


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