Anthro in the news 11/19/12

Anthropologist’s dark past revealed

A 1957 photo shows Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (center) with his wife, Alicia, and Clifford Evans of the Smithsonian Institution. Credit: Augusto Oyuela-Caycedo.

The recent revelation of the secret Nazi past of Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, one of Colombia’s best-known anthropologists  and a visiting professor at UCLA in the 1970s, has shaken academic circles. According to an article in The LA Times, the native Austrian immigrated to Colombia in 1939 and was famed for his influential studies of indigenous communities and for his books on the unusual stone statues of Colombia’s most important archaeological zone, San Agustin. Reichel-Dolmatoff, who died in 1994, was apparently a member of the Austrian Nazi party and, according to a diary fragment that has been identified as Reichel-Dolmatoff’s, he was also stationed at the Dachau concentration camp. “What this whole affair has shown us is that there were many things in his life we thought we knew but which now are not so clear,” said Carlos Uribe, head of the anthropology department at Bogota’s University of the Andes, a department that Reichel-Dolmatoff and his anthropologist wife, Alicia, founded in 1964. “He was an expert at covering his steps, a chameleon,” Uribe said, adding that Reichel-Dolmatoff, as an academic, was a champion of cultural diversity and indigenous philosophies.”

Entrapment of labor migrants in Hong Kong

Bloomberg Business Week news carried an article about immigrant labor in Hong Kong as “indentured servitude” that is abetted by loan firms. The article quotes  cultural anthropologist Paul O’Connor, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of Islam in Hong Kong: Muslims and Everyday Life in China’s World City. He said the Indonesians he studied considered their first months or year in Hong Kong to be like a “prison sentence” that they have to get through in order to get a greater payoff.

Migrants to Hong Kong face languistic barriers

According to an article in The Straits Times of Singapore, ethnic minorities have been part of Hong Kong’s tapestry since its days as a British colony. But 15 years after the city was handed back to China, minorities face issues previously held in abeyance. In the second of a two-part series, The Straits Times examines their biggest hurdle – learning Cantonese. HK minorities do not get enough help with Cantonese in school. Being able to speak the dialect – Hong Kong’s lingua franca – and to read and write Chinese is essential if they intend to further their studies, or find a job in Hong Kong. Cultural anthropologist Paul O’Connor, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says schools are under no statutory obligation to reveal their admission criteria and so are “discreetly able to practise discrimination.” Meanwhile, so-called “designated schools” came about to take in this group of non-Chinese students. Many of these schools were not doing well and accepted ethnic minority students to avoid being shut down. They receive an annual HK$600,000 (S$94,700) government grant, but not any are just not equipped to help the young people. Source: The Straits Times (Singapore), November 13, 2012.

Misunderstanding cultural anthropology and civil service in Nepal

Shyam Prasad Adhikari, senior development anthropologist, Nepal, published an article in The Telegraph (Nepal) about the history of introduction of study of anthropology and sociology in Nepal’s universities and educational institutions and its connections to employment within  the civil services.  He comments that “…the precise nature of a qualification is not understood…The often heard rumor about a person being given a job dealing with culture because he had Master Degree in agriculture, depict succinctly the extent of misunderstanding about new qualifications in a traditional bureaucracy.”

Latest from London:  Gangnam style

Aw‘s Sean Carey published an article about pop sensation Psy’s Gangnam Style. Carey says, “I first became aware of it when I saw the Seoul rapper introduce Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres to the dance moves on The Ellen Show a couple of months back. Britney did okay, Ellen did better. The lesson? It’s probably better to wear flats rather than very high heels while performing dance moves which mimic a horse.”

Things always go better with Coke?

More from Sean Carey on the big choice in London between Coca Cola and Pepsi. He writes, for The Guardian, “Coca-Cola offers an important lesson for east London’s economic dream, but councils should act now. Why do consumers choose Coke, even though taste tests suggest people prefer Pepsi? The ‘first-mover’ advantage is an important lesson for London’s Tech City.”

Forensic  anthropology aided by isotope analysis

The New York Times carried an article about how isotope analysis is helping with a cold case going back to forty-one years ago when a young woman’s badly decomposed body was found floating under a highway overpass at the southern end of Lake Panasoffkee, in central Florida. Detectives spent thousands of hours in a futile effort to determine who she was and who might have killed her. What the detectives had to go on, based on forensic science at the time, was frustratingly sketchy: She was 17 to 24 years old, might have had children, and seemed to be white or Native American. It wasn’t enough, and was only partly correct. Early this year, the skeleton was brought to Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist who directs the Tampa Bay Cold Case Project at the University of South Florida.  She and George Kamenov, a geochemist at the University of Florida, she analyzed chemical traces and have found that the young woman probably grew up in Greece and came to the United States less than a year before she was killed.

Bio anthropologist comments on love and cheating

An article in The Globe and Mail picks up on the Petraeus affair and draws on commentary from biological anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University:  “We’re talking about the most powerful brain systems that humanity has ever evolved,” says Fisher,  who studies human love. In her brain-scan research, she found that romantic love sparked activity in the part of the brain linked to addiction. “When you are romantically in love with someone you crave them, you are highly motivated to win them, you obsessively think about them – the same traits of an addiction. People distort reality and they are willing to do dangerous things.”

The face of Richard III

Scientists will try to reconstruct the face of King Richard III after a skeleton thought to belong to the Plantagenet king was found beneath a car park in Leicester. Remains of a man with a curved spine and what appeared to be battle injuries were excavated after archaeologists identified the historic site of a medieval chapel where King Richard was buried after his defeat in the Battle of Bosworth. Although the identity of the body is still being verified by DNA testing, the remains have already been given a CT (computed tomography) scan as the first step towards constructing a lifelike digital image of his body. Richard Buckley, co-director of the archaeology service at the University of Leicester said: “We are looking at many different lines of inquiry, the evidence from which all add up to give us more assurance about the identity of the individual…As well as the DNA testing, we have to take in all of the other pieces of evidence which tell us about the person’s lifestyle – including his health and where he grew up.”

Upgrade in rock art expertise needed

In an article in The Australian, archaeologist and rock art specialist Peter Veth says that the work of some consultants assessing Aboriginal heritage sites in Western Australia is poor and demands better training and professionalism. Veth argues that better standards are urgently needed as Western Australia’s resources boom led to pressing deadlines for heritage assessment in mining regions: “I’d like that put on the record: we’ve had hundreds of consultants on the ground and they’ve varied from being pretty competent through to not very good at all… More training is needed, and it should have been done 20 years ago.” Veth was recently  appointed Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art at the University of Western Australia. He  said archeologists and anthropologists had accreditation and required standards, “but the volume of work and compliance, the speed at which regional agreements and valuations have to be made, has resulted in the landscape being awash with people”. Further, the new Kimberley Foundation position, part of UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, would focus on upgrading professional skills, “rather than churning out another thesis.’

Very old fish trap

Archaeologists uncover the fish trap. Picture taken by David Guilfoyle

Archaeologists in Australia have found an ancient fish trap near Esperance, the first to be recorded in the area, which is believed to have been used up to 1000 years ago. The trap is made up of a series of rocks placed across a tidal creek east of the south coast town and would have been supported by wooden stakes and covered in netting to catch passing fish. Archaeologist David Guilfoyle said the rock structure harnessed the natural tidal cycles of the estuary by trapping fish as they moved in and out with the tides.

It is difficult to determine how long these traps have been used, but we guess at least over the last 500 to 1000 years, he said. Similar rock structures have recently been found elsewhere in the South West.

It’s about the pigs

The genetic code of pigs has been revealed, and this breakthrough could provide new insights into their domestication and the movements of early humans. Analysis showed that of all mammals whose genetic make-up has been decoded, pigs have the most genes linked to smell. The study, published in the journal Nature, was led by scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wageningen University and the University of Illinois. Durham University was involved in the interpretation of the genomic analyses with respect to domestic pigs. Dr Greger Larson, of the department of archaeology at Durham University, said that this research will “…give us greater insight into the movements of early humans, showing where they came from and where they settled throughout history.”

Ancient Maya, climate change, and war

The ancient Maya civilization may have risen and then fallen in response to climate change, scientists report after creating precise climate records going back 2,000 years. Douglas Kennett, an archaeologist at Penn State University is a lead author of an article in the journal Science. He and colleagues reconstructed rainfall patterns using cross-sections of stalagmites from a cave near the ancient city of Uxbenka, in what is now southern Belize. The early classic Maya period, from about CE 450 to 660, ‘was remarkably wet and saw a proliferation of population, an increase in agriculture and a rise in divine kings that became prominent leaders. Then things dried up. The researchers compared the climate record with an existing ”war index,” a log of hostile events based on how often certain keywords occurred in Maya inscriptions on stone monuments. They found a strong correlation between drought and warfare between cities.

Our grass-eating ancestors

New findings shed light on dietary changes that could have allowed our early ancestors to leave the African rainforests and move into the open savannah. The new study says that early human ancestors in central Africa 3.5 million years ago ate a diet of mostly tropical grasses and sedges. The study focused on Australopithecus bahrelghazali, which had quite a set of teeth. You can see a reconstruction of this human relative here. “We found evidence suggesting that early hominins, in central Africa at least, ate a diet mainly comprised of tropical grasses and sedges,” co-author Julia Lee-Thorp, a University of Oxford archaeologist, said in a press release. She continued, “No African great apes, including chimpanzees, eat this type of food despite the fact it grows in abundance in tropical and subtropical regions. The only notable exception is the savannah baboon which still forages for these types of plants today. We were surprised to discover that early hominins appear to have consumed more than even the baboons.”

Not-so-smart: Homo couch potatoensis?

Several media picked up on new findings that may indicates that modern society is making people less intelligent The ease of modern life for many people around the world is making us more stupid, according to a scientific theory which claims humanity may have reached its intellectual and emotional peak as early as 4,000 BCE. Gerald Crabtree, a developmental biologist at Stanford University, writing in the Trends in Genetics journal, said that a mutation in any one of 2,000 to 5,000 particular genes could lower our intellectual and emotional ability. Our development of intelligence genes “probably occurred in a world where every individual was exposed to nature’s raw selective mechanisms on a daily basis,” he said, but those pressures do not apply today. Robin Dunbar, a biological anthropologist at Oxford University, took issue with the theory’s definition of intellect. He said: “[Prof Crabtree] takes the line that our intelligence is designed to allow us to build houses and throw spears straighter at pigs in the bush, but that is not the real driver of brain size…In reality what has driven human and primate brain evolution is the complexity of our social world [and] that complex world is not going to go away. Doing things like deciding who to have as a mate or how best to rear your children will be with us forever.”


The American Anthropological Association has named as its new executive director Edward B. Liebow, a cultural anthropologist who works on health and social-science issues for the nonprofit research company Battelle in Seattle. He will take office on January 28. Liebow, who has worked at Battelle since 1986 and manages a staff of 70 and an annual budget of around $10-million, has been active in the association for many years. He is currently treasurer and a member of the executive board. “I am thrilled,” Liebow said in an interview on Friday. “At this stage of my career, this is a dream come true for me to project the public face of anthropology.”

Phillips Stevens Jr., an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Buffalo, has will be named Chief Erewumi of Esie Kingdom, a title that includes the name local residents gave him in the mid-1960s, during his first stay in Nigeria. Stevens has devoted his career to  documenting, preserving and protecting soapstone carvings near a village in western Nigeria. He will return to the village at the end of November for a ceremony in which he will be named an honorary chief of the kingdom. “After I had been there many months and made strong friendships,” says Stevens, he was dubbed “Erewumi,” which roughly translates as “he gets along with the images.” Stevens will receive the honor on the final day of a three-day celebration marking the silver jubilee of the king of Esie.

The Wake Forest University Museum of Anthropology received the inaugural Award for Collection Preservation Excellence from the North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC) during the NCPC’s annual conference.

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