Anthro in the news 12/3/12

• The poison in the palm oil
The Washington Post reported on the negative environmental effects in Borneo of the booming global demand for palm oil. Critics of the palm oil industry say that the rapid expansion of plantations into Borneo’s countryside benefits a handful of large companies. A joint study published by Stanford and Yale Universities found that land-clearing operations for plantations in Borneo emitted more than 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 alone, equal to annual emissions from about 28 million vehicles. Lisa M. Curran, project leader and professor of ecological anthropology at Stanford University is quoted as saying: “We may see tipping points in forest conversion where critical biophysical functions are disrupted, leaving the region increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires and floods.”

• Genocide trauma transmission is culturally variable
Science Daily carried an article about new findings showing that the experience of genocide as transmitted trauma is not universal. The source is ethnographic research published in the journal Current Anthropology. Carol Kidron, professor of anthropology in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Haifa, examines two case studies: Jewish-Israeli trauma descendants and Cambodian-Canadian trauma descendants. While the Jewish-Israeli subjects felt that they bore some emotional scars that were passed on by their parents, they opposed the idea that they have been afflicted by these inherited traces of the Holocaust. In fact, in the Jewish-Israeli cultural context, these markers of emotional difference may serve instead as an empowering way to carry on their parents’ memory. In contrast, Cambodian-Canadians resist the stigma of trauma and also insist that the genocide has not left them psycho-socially impaired in any way. Instead of remembering tragedy, the Cambodian-Canadian subjects appealed to karma. Kidron’s article is forthcoming in 2013: Alterity and the Particular Limits of Universalism: Comparing Jewish-Israeli Holocaust and Canadian-Cambodian Genocide Legacies,” Current Anthropology 53 (6):723-754.

• Local ecological knowledge for cultural survival
According to Kathryn Demps, sustainable villages and their livelihoods are needed to preserve ecological knowledge in upcoming generations. Demps, a visiting assistant professor in anthropology at Boise State University, studies behavioral and evolutionary ecology in small-scale societies. Her latest project looks at the Jenu Kuruba, a foraging group in South India and how their cultural knowledge is being preserved or lost. As quoted in Science Daily, she says, “What we learn from others — our culture, skills, values, beliefs and knowledge — is passed through the generations…How it is passed down can change the body of knowledge.” She further noted that in today’s race toward homogenous societies, indigenous knowledge is being lost even faster than languages.

• Dear diary: documenting climate change in Wales
Welsh farmers are being urged to hand over their daily diaries to help with a new study on global climate change. The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society is supporting the international study led by Susan Crate, associate professor of anthropology at the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University in Virginia. The study will take into account career decisions by young people not to follow their ancestral livelihoods and other changes affecting the future of rural Wales. Crate and her team will speak to farmers in Wales about their lives and experiences and examine diaries.

• Sugar, sugar

An ad for Coca Cola in New Zealand

A new study finds a higher prevalence of diabetes in countries with a high level of fructose corn syrup in their food supplies. It came under attack before it was even released. The study found that type 2 diabetes occurred 20 percent more often in countries where high-fructose corn syrup was in common use, compared with countries where it was rarely, or never, added to food. The study evaluates existing statistics on body mass index, diabetes rates and global food consumption. The correlation increased after adjustments were made for country level differences in body mass, population and gross domestic product. The study included 43 countries where the availability of high-fructose corn syrup ranged from zero kilos per capita, like in India and 13 other countries, to 24.78 kilos (54.6 pounds) per capita in the United States. The study is co-authored by Stanley J. Ulijaszek, director of the Unit of Biocultural Variation and Obesity at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Emily E. Ventura, a research associate at the Childhood Obesity Research Center at U.S.C. The article is published in the journal Global Public Health. The Corn Refiners Association, the industry group representing the companies that produce high-fructose corn syrup, has already fired off a rebuttal.

• Colonial anthropology accused
An editorial piece in The Times (U.K.) argues that the U.K. should do “nothing” in the Middle East given the general lack of knowledge of what should be done in term of which side to support in any particular place: “We are all at sea, with little idea what’s going on. So what is it about international relations that stops us behaving as we would in our own lives when confronted by a situation we could only marginally influence, didn’t understand and in which we were not obliged to get involved? At home we’re wise to stay out of such situations.” And he continues to implicate colonial anthropology as, apparently, providing bad information a half century ago: “We can’t even get tiny Rwanda right. Yesterday Britain cancelled £21 million of aid to the nation in which we had set so much store. Here, 48 years ago, is our ambassador there, John Bennett, swallowing hook, line and sinker the preposterous Belgian anthropology that did so much to condemn the region to misery: ‘I find the local Hutu (80 per cent of the people) poor, dirty, ill-clad, prone to drink, unreliable, idle and dishonest. For me the Hutu has little charm. The Tutsi, on the other hand, is graceful and dignified, and is clearly of a superior race.'” [Blogger’s note: I have no idea what Belgian anthropologist is being referred to here; but the sad truth is that some anthropological writings have often gained an undeserved policy audience].

• Sunk but not for long

The recovery of a Chinese ship that sank in the Indian Ocean near Lamu over 100 years ago will start soon. The National Museums of Kenya announced the arrival of 20 experts, including archeologists from China. The experts will first try locate the ship. Study of the wreckage will help trace the historical connection between Kenya and China.

• Gold and silver sunken treasure to go to Spain

A gold tobacco box from the 1804 shipwreck.

Tons of gold and silver from the wreck of a 19th-century warship will go on display in Spain from next year after Madrid won a five-year court battle with Odyssey, the U.S. treasure-hunting company that hauled it up. The Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes was sunk by the British navy in 1804. The trove contains hundreds of thousands of coins and artifacts including religious images and chests. In all, it may be worth 500 million U.S. dollars. Currently in Madrid, it will be taken to the Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology in the southeastern port of Cartagena to be restored and eventually exhibited.

• Findings from the bog
A bog in Northern Ireland is revealing how ancient farming ancestors were far more sophisticated than previously imagined. Archaeologists have been excavating what appears to be one of the most significant crannogs ever uncovered in Ireland. So far, they have uncovered remains of 30 houses. The lake settlement in Fermanagh appears to have been continuously occupied for more than 1,000 years, from the sixth century to the 17th century, and may have been settled earlier. Among the most striking finds are a unique wooden bowl carved with a Latin cross, the largest pottery collection ever found in a crannog in Northern Ireland, exquisite combs made from antler and bone, gaming pieces, leather shoes, bone-handled knives, and dress pins.

• Bronze age micro-brewery
An excavation on Cyprus includes a mud-plaster domed structure thought to have been used as a kiln to dry malt. Variously flavored beers would have been brewed from the substance and fermented with yeasts, which may have been produced from grapes or figs. The resulting brew may have had an alcohol content of about 5 percent. discovery of a “microbrewery” dating to the Bronze Age, about 3,500 years ago. The University of Manchester’s Lindy Crewe has been leading the excavation at the Early-Middle Bronze Age settlement of Kissonerga-Skalia since 2007. The discovery, she said, is quite significant: “Archaeologists believe beer drinking was an important part of society from the Neolithic onwards and may have even been the main reason that people began to cultivate grain in the first place. …But it’s extremely rare to find the remains of production preserved from thousands of years ago so we’re very excited.” The Huffington Post reached out to the University of Manchester, who passed along the recipe for one of the brews, which is named Kissonerga-Skalia Pale Ale: “Fair warning, it sounds a bit complicated. We suggest you have an expert on hand before you attempt making it.” Key ingredients are wild barley, wild figs, and water.

• Who made these weapons?

Bronze arrows. Source: Archaeology International

The Washington Post and other media carried an article discussing the question of the manufacture of the weapons of the 7,000 terra cotta soldiers buried with Qin Shi Huang in 210 BCE. The bronze weapons carried by the terra cotta army in the tomb complex near Xi’an in western China were the real things: tens of thousands of swords, axes, spears, lances and crossbows, all as capable of spilling blood. What has been a puzzle for scientists is how so many weapons could have been made so skillfully, so uniformly and so quickly. A new study of 40,000 bronze arrowheads suggests they were produced in self-sufficient, autonomous workshops that produced finished items rather than parts that fed into an assembly line of sorts. “Our initial assumption was that all of these items were mass-produced in large production chains, with the various parts produced in specialized units before they were assembled together. That’s how most cars are made – Fordism, or flow-line production,” said University College London archaeologist Marcos Martinon-Torres. He is lead author of the new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. “However, our data strongly suggest that production was arranged in much smaller units, several working in parallel, each of them sufficiently autonomous and versatile to produce finished items,” or what is sometimes called cellular production, lean production or Toyotism.

• Report of unicorn lair found in North Korea
North Korea reports the discovery of a unicorn lair belonging to an ancient king, according to a report from the state news agency. The unicorn lair is said to have belonged to King Tongmyong, founder of the ancient Korean kingdom Koguryo. The finding is attributed to the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences. The lair was apparently found 220 yards from a temple in the capital, Pyongyang. The report makes a more serious point about the North’s claims of dominance over the South. According to the report, “The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom. Coverage in The Examiner suggests that the story might be a spoof in retaliation for The Onion story that Kim Jong-un was the sexiest man alive, which tricked China’s Communist party newspaper, The People’s Daily.

• Who are you calling a hobbit?

Indonesia, showing Flores (yellow)

The Dominion Post of New Zealand carried an article about a public lecture about Homo floresiensis, nicknamed hobbits. Two of the principal archaeologists involved in their discovery on the island of Flores, Indonesia, were not allowed to use the word “hobbit” in the title of their presentation due to copyright issues. Professor Mike Morwood from the University of Wollongong and Thomas Sutikna of the Pusat Arkeologi Nasional in Indonesia delivered the lecture.

• Meat or veg? Raw or cooked?
The Washington Post reported on new research showing that humans are not naturally inclined to be vegetarians. Two new studies demonstrate that it would have been biologically implausible for humans to evolve such a large brain on a raw, vegan diet and that meat-eating was a crucial element of human evolution at least a million years before the dawn of humankind. One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the brain size of several primates including a focus on humans and gorillas. The authors conclude that while it is possible to survive on an exclusively raw diet today, it was likely not possible to do so during early human evolution. The second study, published in PLoS ONE, examined the remains of a prehuman toddler who died from malnutrition about 1.5 million years ago. The child was around the weaning age, so either the child’s mother’s breast milk lacked key nutrients or the child did not consume enough nutrients directly from meat or eggs. Thus meat must have been an integral element of the diet more than 1 million years ago, said the study’s lead author, Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, an archaeologist at Complutense University in Madrid.

• Kudos

The University of California Board of Regents voted to approve the appointment of cultural anthropologist/historian Nicholas Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president, as the new chancellor of UC Berkeley.

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