Anthro in the news 12/24/2012

• Hopes dashed for Chagossians

Aw’s Sean Carey published two articles in The Independent about the recent consideration of the Chagossians‘ claim for a right to return to their homeland.

Chagos. Source:
In his first piece, he reviews the marathon battle that began in 1998 in the British courts, led by electrician Olivier Bancoult, the newly appointed leader of the Chagos Refugees Group. Although all of the judges in the lower courts unanimously found in favor, in 2008 the Law Lords decided against the Chagosssians’ right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority. The islanders are supported by the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, novelist Philippa Gregory and conservationist Ben Fogle.

In his second article, Carey reports on the decision: “Yesterday, there was huge disappointment amongst Chagossian communities in Port Louis, Mahe, Crawley, Manchester, Geneva and Montréal. A seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided by majority that the case regarding the right of return of the exiled islanders was inadmissible. Geographically and legally, it has been a long journey with many twists and turns for the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers. The decision by the Strasbourg court means that they continue to be barred from returning to their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago, after their forced removal by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973, so that the US could acquire Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, for its strategically important military base.” After eight years, a decision of inadmissable.

• Declining monkhood in Thailand

In Thailand, Buddhist temples grow lonely in villages as consumer culture rises and there is a shortage of monks. According to an article in The New York Times, monks in northern Thailand no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early morning walk through the community to collect food. The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to the distracted iPhone generation. Although it is still relatively rare for temples to close down, many districts are so short on monks that abbots here in northern Thailand recruit across the border from impoverished Myanmar, where monasteries are overflowing with novices.

”Consumerism is now the Thai religion,” said Phra Paisan Visalo, one of the country’s most respected monks. He continues, ”In the past people went to temple on every holy day,” Mr. Paisan said. ”Now they go to shopping malls.” William Klausner, a law and anthropology professor who spent a year living in a village in northeastern Thailand in the 1950s, describes the declining influence of Buddhist monks as a ”dramatic transformation.” Monks once played a crucial role in the community where he lived, helping settle disputes between neighbors and counseling troubled children, he wrote in his book, Thai Culture in Transition. Klausner says that today most villages in northern Thailand ”have only two or three full-time monks in residence, and they are elderly and often sick.”

• Generational food gap in the U.S.

An essay in The New York Times food section looks into the increasing generational food gap in the U.S.

Pigeon a la... Flickr/Ville Oksanen
The author starts with the example of her family and holiday get-togethers: “As the holidays approached, my husband, having endured these fights for three years, encouraged me to use my reporting skills to investigate whether meals bring out the same generational and geographic rifts in other families. Can food, so often portrayed this time of year as the glue that binds a family together, also be the wedge that drives us apart?”

She draws on commentary from William J. Doherty, a social science professor at the University of Minnesota who writes about family rituals: ”Food is physical, psychological and emotional… There’s almost nothing like it as both a connector and a divider.” He said that tensions aired around the table are ”a microcosm of family life and social relations” that often lead to broader, more healthy debates. Other insights come from cultural anthropologist Heather Paxson of the Massachusetts of Technology: “Food is a symptom and a symbol of change and how people grow apart…People want their kids to do better, but there’s also the fear that they’ll be left behind or judged as lacking in some way.”

• Anthropologists accused of denying reality when it’s “bad”

In a recent talk, Jared Diamond told the story of a colleague, one “who enjoys encountering little-modified people,” and who ventured into the remotest jungle of New Guinea to study a group of Stone Age hunter-gatherers only recently contacted by outsiders. To his disappointment, the researcher found the band members relocated in an Indonesian farming village, wearing T-shirts. “Why did you move from your wonderful jungle with such beauty and all those birds?” he asked. Their answer: “Rice to eat, and no more mosquitoes.”

This anecdote sits at the heart of Diamond’s latest book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Diamond argues that what “we” have lost is as significant as anything that non-state societies (what Diamond calls “traditional societies”) stand to gain from moving into modernity. In an article in The Globe and Mail, Diamond comments on lessons from non-state societies about child care and diet as well as disposal of the dead. He points out, however, that many non-state peoples had higher rates of warfare than in state societies: “But lots of anthropologists want to deny that, because they love their traditional people and they don’t want to see them accused of doing things that we consider bad… Denial of reality is still vigorous in anthropology.”

• Anthropology indicted in Australia’s traumatic legacy

Taboo A new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia that features historical material as well as recent artworks exploring issues of race, ethnicity, politics, and religion. The exhibit includes no labels next to the artworks because, according to artist Brook Andrew, he did not want the exhibition to look ”museum-like. I just wanted people to experience it.” Audiences are warned that several exhibits, especially in the black-walled Vitrine, show upsetting scenes including mass war graves, Aboriginal men in chains, and a Papuan woman suckling puppies. Andrew describes these images as the ”traumatic legacy of the colonial gaze, anthropology, genocide, science experiments, extreme political and religious views and conflicts.”

• Take that anthropology degree…

… and become a trail-blazing actress. Kerry Washington, who is starring in Django Unchained, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from George Washington University with a multidisciplinary major that included cultural anthropology.

• Oldest bra rises again

Anthro in the news noted this discovery last August. Nonetheless, new coverage in The Atlantic is worth a mention if only to remind us that sometimes old news becomes new news. The Atlantic article describes the finding of the world’s oldest known bra in Austria. Beatrix Nutz of the University of Innsbruck dated the bra to between C.E. 1390 and 1485.

• More gold unearthed in Staffordshire

Archaeologists have made another major find of Anglo-Saxon gold in the same location of the original Staffordshire Hoard discovered three years ago. The latest find was made when a was ploughed. The collection, unearthed last month and only just revealed to the public, includes a possible helmet cheek piece, a cross-shaped mount and an eagle-shaped mount. The new finds cannot yet be counted as part of the famous Staffordshire Hoard until the new year when South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh is due to make a ruling and decide if they should also be declared as treasure. A team from Archaeology Warwickshire working for Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage made the discovery.

• Oldest timber construction in Saxony

A research team led by Willy Tegel and Dietrich Hakelberg from the Institute for Forest Growth of the University of Freiburg has dated four water wells built by the first Central European agricultural civilization using tree ring dating. The wells were excavated at settlements in the Greater Leipzig region and are the oldest known timber constructions in the world. They were built by the Linear Pottery culture, which existed from roughly 5600 to 4900 B.C.E. The team’s findings are published in the online journal, PLoS ONE.

• Cone head skulls found in Mexico

Credit: Cristina García/INAH. Source: MSNBC
Many media sources carried reports about the discovery by archaeologists in Mexico of “alien”-looking human skulls in a cemetery in the northwest state of Sonora.

Some of the skulls showed “deformities,” said Cristina Garcia Moreno, who worked on the excavation project with researchers from Arizona State University. The bones are about 1,000 years old, dating from 945 C.E. to 1308 C.E. Moreno is quoted as saying that of the 25 skulls, “13 of them have deformed heads…We don’t know why this population specifically deformed their heads…in some parts of Mexico, people deformed their heads because they wanted to distinguish important people or they wanted to distinguish people from one group from another.” She added that skulls like this had never before been found in Sonora.

• Care in the Neolithic

Excavations at a site called Man Bac in northern Vietnam show that at least some Neolithic people cared for disabled group members. According to an article in The Australian, the remains of the young man, known as Burial 9, suggest he died paralyzed from the waist down with a congenital disease known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. He had little, if any, use of his arms and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean, yet he lived with this condition, with help, for about 10 years.

Marc Oxenham and Lorna Tilley, of the Australian National University, who first excavated the remains five years ago, have concluded that people must have cared for him. Oxenham, a senior lecturer in archeology and bioanthropology, and Tilley first described the extent of Burial 9’s disability in a paper in Anthropological Science in 2009. Earlier this year, Tilley proposed what she called a bioarcheology of care which is at odds with perceptions of Neolithic behavior. She said the likelihood that Burial 9 was cared for despite his extreme disability indicated tolerance and co-operation in his culture.

• In memoriam

Margaret (Peggy) Drower, MBE, FSA, died in November at the age of 100 years. An archaeologist, her inspirational teaching was based on wide-ranging scholarship and her first-hand acquaintance with the Near East. She was the last student of the Egyptologist and archaeologist, Sir Flinders Petrie. A diplomat’s wife, she became fluent in Arabic and traveled with her close friend Freya Stark. She was awarded one of the first Egyptology degrees awarded by University College London. After her retirement as Reader in Ancient History at UCL, Peggy was made a Fellow of UCL and later Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology.

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