Anthro in the news 12/17/2012

• How about a cup of coffee, God?

In an op-ed in The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann discusses beliefs and practices of some U.S. evangelical groups who both take the Bible literally and creatively reinterpret its messages in order to build a strong personal link to God. She writes:  “I am no theologian and I do not think that social science can weigh in on the question of who God is or whether God is real. But I think that anthropology offers some insight into why imaginatively enriching a text taken as literally true helps some Christians to hang on to God when they are surrounded by a secular world.”  Some evangelicals she has interviewed consult God on what clothes to wear and imagine that they are having a cup of coffee with God as part of their day. Luhrman is professor in the department of anthropology at Stanford University. Her latest book, When God Talks Back, was selected  by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012.

• Mining versus cultural heritage in Afghanistan

The Toronto Star reported on the race to save archaeological artifacts at the 5,000 year-old  Buddhist site of Mes Aynak, in southeastern Afghanistan. It is the likely victim of extractive mining development. The site sits atop a rich copper deposit, worth up to $100 billion. The remains of the once-thriving Silk Road town will be razed to make way for an open-pit mine run by a Chinese-owned mining consortium. Brent Huffman, a documentary filmmaker and journalism professor at Northwestern University, has spent a year recording the grim countdown to its demise in his film The Buddhas of Mes Aynak.

• Mining versus cultural heritage in the Amazon

The New York Times reported on expansion in the Amazon by Vale, a giant Brazilian mining company, and what its plans mean for the destruction of many prehistoric cave sites. Vale proposes one of the world’s largest iron-ore mining complexes, a project that will destroy dozens of the caves. Scholars say that the caves of Carajás, which archaeologists began exploring in the 1980s, offer coveted insight into what may be the earliest known stages of human settlement in the world’s largest tropical rain forest, helping to piece together the puzzle of how the Americas came to be inhabited. The Amazon is a hotbed of archaeological investigation, as researchers find evidence that far more people might have lived in the region than once considered possible. While the Amazon was once thought incapable of supporting large, sophisticated societies, researchers now contend that the region might have been home to thriving urban centeres before the arrival of Columbus. Before the cities, many people lived in the Amazon’s caves. At Pedra Pintada, a cave that, like those in Carajás, is also in Pará, Anna Roosevelt, an American archaeologist and professor, has shown that hunter-gatherers moved to the region 10,900 to 11,200 years ago, far earlier than once thought, about the same time people in North America were hunting mammoths. “This is a crucial moment to learn about the human history of the Amazon, and by extension the peopling of the Americas,” said Genival Crescêncio, a caver and historian in Pará State, which includes Carajás. “We should be preserving this unique place for science, but we are destroying it so the Chinese can open a few more car factories.”

• Film about Indonesia’s dark past

The Christian Science Monitor carried an article about the screening of a new documentary, Act of Killing, about the slaughter in Indonesia of up to 2 million people following an attempted coup in 1965. Filmmakers are showing it in small venues to dodge potential censorship in Indonesia. Some analysts and academics think the film would be rejected, an indication that the country is still unwilling to address an authoritarian and violent era that is unknown to a large proportion of the population, especially youth. The article quotes Iwan Pirous, a professor of anthropology at the University of Indonesia: “My fear is that there are too many people in power who were involved in these events. Although we insist on universal human rights, Indonesia still does not want to deal with these issues.”

• Take that anthro degree….

and become an award winning sweet shop owner in England. Lucy Scott Paul, who runs Bah Humbugs in Masham, scooped the award at the recent Yorkshire and Humber’s Women in Business Awards. She has run her traditional sweet shop in the Dales market town for the past eight years after studying for a degree in sociology and anthropology and then working as an events manager. The shop has become well-known for its eye catching window displays, including mosaics of Marilyn Monroe, members of the Royal Family and cartoon ogre Shrek, created entirely from jelly beans. This summer, Scott Paul launched her own retro sweet hampers online. The hampers were the result of eight years of research to find suppliers of dozens of childhood favorites such as sherbert fountains, refreshers, and flying saucers. The shop owner won the businesswoman in retail category and was also shortlisted in the recent Flavours of Herriot food awards.

• Found: Piltdown Man’s true origins

Several media sources reported on new findings about one of the most famous scientific hoaxes. Scientists believe they know who was responsible for creating the fake remains of a human ancestor that became known as Piltdown Man. The bones, discovered in a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex in 1912 alongside animal fossils and stone tools, were celebrated as a missing evolutionary link between apes and humans that lived around 500,000 years ago. It was nearly 50 years before the discovery was exposed as a hoax, while the perpetrators, and their motives, have remained unknown since. Evidence points to Charles Dawson, the amateur archaeologist and solicitor who first found the bones. Miles Russell, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University who has published a book called The Piltdown Man Hoax: Case Closed, will present evidence that Dawson had created as many as 38 fakes through his career as an amateur scientist. Russell is quoted as saying: “It is quite clear that over his lifetime he fabricated 38 separate dubious finds all of which seem to have been intended to impress museum curators to get into different scientific societies.”

• Excavating with volunteers in Maryland

According to an article in The Washington Post, a team of archaeologists and volunteers are making discoveries about the past of Maryland’s Montgomery County. The class, called 12,000 Years of Montgomery County’s Past, is offered in the fall and spring semesters through Montgomery Community College’s Lifelong Learning Institute. For the first class session, participants learn archaeology basics. In the remaining four sessions, in the field, students learn how archaeologists determine the age of a site and verify their finds. The Institute also offers summer workshops for children and adults and partner with other archaeology groups in the area. This month, volunteers sorted and recorded finds from the Josiah Henson site in North Bethesda. Henson was a slave in Montgomery County before escaping to freedom in Canada. His autobiography inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

• Still waiting on Richard III identification

Several media carried an update on the identification of human remains found buried under a car park in Leicester, England, and suspected to be those of King Richard III. Experts at the University of Leicester have been analyzing the bones since they were discovered in September. They still await DNA test results before announcing their conclusions. Archaeologists say circumstantial evidence pointed to the skeleton being that of the English king, who died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. DNA from the remains is being analyzed and compared to that of Michael Ibsen, a descendant of the king’s sister Anne.

• Crowe fighting for Gladiator’s tomb

According to The Guardian, the discovery of the luxurious tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus in 2008 was hailed as one of the most significant Roman finds in decades. Archeologists found the remains of a 45 foot high structure fronted by four columns, the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, the Roman general who helped inspire Russell Crowe‘s film Gladiator. But now budget cuts mean the tomb may be reburied. Rome’s state superintendent for archaeology, Mariarosaria Barbera, is quoted as saying:  “I fear we are going to take into serious consideration the idea of protecting these sensational finds by re-covering the entire site with earth.” Russell Crowe has joined the campaign to save the tomb of the Roman general after learning that the site was at risk of being reburied. The authorities have so far spent almost (EURO)700,000 (£570,000) on the excavation but do not have the (EURO) 3 million required to preserve the tomb and its surrounding area. Barbera comments, “I’m left with the feeling that the fate of Macrinus’s mausoleum would have been different if it had been found on the outskirts of Berlin, Paris or Washington,” she said.

• Walking the Nazca line

Nazca lines have long perplexed archaeologists, with some claiming they were intended as a message to the gods and others believing they were the work of aliens. A British research team claims that the Nazca lines, drawn in a Peruvian desert more than 1,500 years ago, were a labyrinth intended to be walked as part of a spiritual journey. Professor Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History and Dr. Nicholas Saunders of the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology have walked 1,500 km of desert in southern Peru, tracing the lines and geometric figures created by the Nazca people between 100 BCE and CE 700. The research was reported in the December 10, 2012, issue of the journal Antiquity. Hundreds of patterns were drawn across 50 miles of plateau in the Nazca desert between 100 BCE and 700 CE by scraping away red dust and rock to reveal white ground beneath, clearly resemble geometric shapes or animals including monkeys, humans, birds and fish. Scientists claim that a “labyrinth” of geometric shapes and lines was not created to be seen at all, and was instead a walking path which played a role in ancient rituals.

• Roma origins in northern India confirmed

According to coverage in The New York Times, a genomic study confirms the origins of Europe’s Roma in northern India. Previous evidence mainly relied on similarities between Roma and North Indian languages. The genomic study indicates that the Roma came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago. Co-authors of the study are David Comas, an evolutionary biologist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They and other colleagues report their findings in a recent issue of Current Biology. At about 11 million, the Roma are Europe’s largest minority, and are frequently the subject of political dispute in the European Union.

• Facing homo floresiensis

The Huffington Post and other media described the results of a facial reconstruction of the tiny “hobbit” species known officially as Homo floresiensis that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until about 17,000 years ago. Facial anthropologist Susan Hayes, a research fellow at the University of Wollongong, worked on a reconstruction for eight months using high-resolution 3D imaging and CT scan data obtained from a female hobbit skull that dates back about 17,000 years. “As a Homo floresiensis she is closer to us than to a chimpanzee, which is our closest relative,” Hayes said. “She is certainly more us than them.” The remains of Homo floresiensis were unearthed by Professor Mike Morwood and the Liang Bua archaeological team in Flores in 2003. Nicknamed hobbits because of their small size, less than a meter tall, remains of at least 13 members of the species were unearthed between 2001 and 2004.

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