Anthro in the news 1/7/13

• On gang rape in the U.S.

Peggy R. Sanday, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, published an article on CNN about gang rape in the U.S. with reference to the gang rape in  Steubenville, Ohio, in August 2012. Some young men continue to believe that when a girl gets drunk, staging a sexual spectacle for their mates is part of a night’s fun. They don’t think of it as rape. Some of their buddies, however, disagree. In their transition to manhood, they are able to name rape when they see it. This split opinion is illustrated in the video posted a few days ago by Anonymous showing a young man — presumably an eyewitness — egged on by others, telling his version of what happened. The video footage is disturbing, to say the least. Sanday is the author of the book Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus and A Woman Scorned: Acquaintance Rape on Trial. This important book documents how privileged, but perhaps nonetheless insecure, young men forge bonds with each other through gang rape and abuse of “outsider” women at a fraternity house in a major U.S. university.

• On gang rape in India

Two cultural anthropologists published a “letter to the editor” of the New York Times concerning the December gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi,  in response to an op-ed by Sonia Faleiro called “The Unspeakable Truth about Rape in India.” Carol Delaney, professor emerita of Stanford University, commented, “Finally, women are speaking out. The highly publicized violent acts of rape against two young Indian women in the last two weeks have drawn the sympathy and attention of the world. That the police suggested marriage to one of the rapists as the solution rather than prison for the perpetrators is simply outrageous. Lawrence Rosen of Princeton University said, “Sonia Faleiro’s courageous statement about violence to Indian women…, like the actions of those who have taken to the streets, is indeed heartening. But are we missing the larger protest against corruption, a police force that is tone-deaf to popular needs and an elitist government that ignores many of its less fortunate citizens? All of these were also true in the period before the Arab Spring. If so, the consequences of the present demonstrations may — and perhaps should — go far beyond the requisite justice for rape victims.”

• Indigenous knowledge and biodiversity protection

The Jakarta Post carried an article arguing for the importance of indigenous knowledge about the environment and anthropological studies documenting the relationship between indigenous peoples’ survival and biodiversity: “Anthropological studies indicate that hot spots of high biodiversity are associated with regions where traditional societies are frequently found. In this circumstance, indigenous groups offer alternative knowledge and perspectives based on their own locally developed practices of resource use (Berkes et al, 2000)…studies show that indigenous knowledge of ecological zones, natural resources, agriculture, aquaculture, forest and game management, to be far more sophisticated than previously assumed. Furthermore, this knowledge offers new models for development that are both “ecologically and socially sound” (Posey 1985:139-140).

• “Universal” personality traits in question

Long-term anthropological research among the Tsimane people of the Bolivian Amazon indicates that five personality traits psychologists say are universal across cultures are not characteristic among the Tsimane (pronounced see-may-nay). Researchers who spent two years studying over 1,000 members of the Tsimane culture found that they did not exhibit the five dimensions of personality — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism — also known as the “Big Five.” The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers discovered evidence of a Tsimane “Big Two:” socially beneficial behavior, also known as prosociality, and industriousness. The study’s leader author is evolutionary anthropologist of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Michael Gurven.

• Cultural anthropology  “most downtrodden” of the social sciences

An article in the Harvard Business Review starts with the statement that, “By almost any market test, economics is the premier social science,” as noted by Stanford University economist Edward Lazear a decade ago: “The field attracts the most students, enjoys the attention of policy-makers and journalists, and gains notice, both positive and negative, from other scientists.”  Lazear went on to describe how economists have been using economic tools to study crime, the family, accounting, corporate management, and other topics in what is called “economic imperialism.” The article goes on to say, however, that economists met with “a dent in credibility” with the recent financial crisis, suggesting a need for radical rethinking of macro-economics. At the same time, “Even anthropology, that most downtrodden of the social sciences, has been encroaching on economists’ turf. When a top executive at the world’s largest asset manager (Peter Fisher of BlackRock) lists Debt: The First 5,000 Years by anthropologist (and Occupy Wall Streeter) David Graeber as one of his top reads of 2012, you know something’s going on. What’s going on is probably not the incipient overthrow of economics.” [Blogger’s two notes: (1) empires do not last forever, and one of their failings is over-reach and (2) anthropologists have been studying “economic” topics since the beginning of the discipline].

• A child is born

An article in the Long Island Business News mentioned the author’s reading, during his college years, of the work of cultural anthropologist, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who wrote that “the love for a child is a learned behavior, at least in countries like Brazil where most children living in shantytowns die before the age of 5 due to malnourishment. Parents there don’t even give their child a name until it proves it can live past 5.” The author goes on to say that the birth of his son was not something that could put love on hold.

• Filming Django Unchained

According to an article in the LA Times, Kerry Washington says scenes for Django Unchained shot at a Louisiana plantation with slave-era history left her concerned about her sanity. She is quoted as saying: “We’ve had a tradition of romanticizing slavery in film, and I thought this was a phenomenal opportunity to go into a creative exploration of this violent, awful, evil, sinful time period with a director who is not intimidated by violence and gore and exploring the evil side of the human spirit.” She sought to bring authenticity to her performance in several ways. The actor playing her overseer used a fake whip, but Washington insisted the lashings really hit her back. And to dramatize her punishment inside an underground, coffin-size metal container, she and Tarantino agreed she would spend time barely clothed in the “hot box” before the filming began so the feeling of confinement would be as realistic as possible. [Blogger’s note: aitn includes this piece because Kerry Washington received a multidisciplinary B.A. that included cultural anthropology].

• End of a feud

Region of Hatfield-McCoy feud

According to CBS News, artifacts pinpoint the site of a Hatfield-McCoy battle in eastern Kentucky on New Year’s Day that marked a turning point in America’s most famous feud. The homestead was set ablaze and two McCoys were gunned down. Hatfield family members and supporters were soon thrown in jail. Excavators found bullets believed to have been fired by the McCoys in self-defense, along with fragments of windows and ceramics from the family’s cabin. An archaeological team led by Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, confirmed the location of the McCoy cabin. The discoveries come amid a surge of interest in the feud that spanned much of the latter half of the 19th century. The fighting had claimed at least a dozen lives by 1888 and catapulted both families into the American vernacular, becoming shorthand to describe bitter rivalries. The New Year’s attack was one of the bloodiest episodes in the feud.

• Hopi artifacts returned

USA Today carried an article about the return “…on an unknown date at an unidentified location” of a collection of artifacts to anonymous members of the Hopi Tribe. The transacation appears to be clouded in non-disclosures. Officials at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which some of the bones and artifacts returned to the Hopis, declined to discuss the matter. The article quoted Kelley Hays-Gilpin, anthropology curator, as saying that the repatriation involved only a fraction of the museum’s collection.

• BBC documentary about Elaine Morgan

According to Wales Online, Elaine Morgan is to feature in a BBC documentary series to be broadcast this spring. The Western Mail columnist and author of several books on evolutionary anthropology will appear in one episode of a series called Great Welsh Writers. She is best known for her books including The Descent Of Woman and The Aquatic Ape. A spokesman for the BBC said: “The documentary will showcase Elaine’s life and will visit the people and places that have shaped and influenced her through her extraordinary career.”

• Famous Greek shipwreck reconsidered

USA Today reported on new findings about Greece’s famed Antikythera island shipwreck. At a recent meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution  reported on the first survey of since 1976 and noted that the ship was more than 160 feet long, twice as long as previously thought.  According to marine archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of Greece’s Ephorate (Department) of Underwater Antiquities, the new survey shows that the ship likely sank unexpectedly when a storm blew it against an underwater cliff.

Rich data on burials and human sacrifice

Computers provide researchers new insights, as shown by analysis of just one mass grave discovered near Dickson Mounds Museum in Illinois. Assistant Curator of Anthropology Alan Harn was called to a grave near Cahokia where 52 or 53 young females were sacrificed. According to Harn, what seems cruel – even to Spanish conquistadors – was just part of life on the Cahokia Mississippi frontier: “They were probably volunteers, and happy to go along for the prestige,” he says. Harn is excited about the new computerized abilities to process information on the graves and notes that, age 72 years, he is at the most point of his career: “Nobody has the kind of information we have…We have such incredible information. And we have so much of it.”

• It’s the climb

Science Daily reported on research showing that contemporary humans, in several groups, are adept tree climbers. Nathaniel Dominy and several colleagues carried out fieldwork and learned that modern humans who are adapted to terrestrial bipedalism can also be effective tree climbers. Findings are published in the PNAS. The studies in Uganda compared Twa hunter-gatherers to their agriculturalist neighbors, the Bakiga. In the Philippines, the researchers studied Agta hunter-gatherers and Manobo agriculturalists. Both the Twa and the Agta habitually climb trees in pursuit of honey. They climb in a fashion that has been described as “walking” up small-diameter trees. The climbers apply the soles of their feet directly to the trunk and “walk” upward, with their arms and legs advancing alternately. Among the climbers, Dominy and his team documented extreme dorsiflexion — bending the foot upward toward the shin to an extraordinary degree — beyond the range of  “industrialized” humans.

• Run, eat,  think…mate

It’s New Year’s and time to make resolutions. The media, from Sacramento to Sydney, picked up on the seasonal interest among many Westerners, at least, in exercising more. The message from biological anthropologists is that exercise, particularly jogging, is not only good for the body. It’s good for the brain…and more! The two articles mentioned work of anthropologists Daniel E. Lieberman, David Raichlen of the University of Arizona, and John D. Polk. Raichlen and Polk are co-authors of a new article in Proceedings of the Royal Society about the evolution of human brains and how physical activity may have helped to make the early humans smarter. [Blogger’s note: you can figure out bio evo link between running, eating, thinking…and mating…and then see if it works for you…if it doesn’t: go for a run!] .

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