Anthro in the news 4/15/13

Bringing up babies

Slate carried an article about parenting around the world with a focus on the work of Sara Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Connecticut, who has spent decades compiling and analyzing parents’ views about parenting around the world:  “To read her work and the work of her colleague and husband, Charles Super, is to be disabused of a lot of certainties about child rearing…It’s not a shock that child care varies across cultures, of course. But it is still hard to comprehend just how many ways there are of looking at a baby. I have been reading various ethnographic work on child rearing for years now, and yet, when I talked to Harkness last week, I started by asking her what child-rearing practices vary most among cultures. This is a worthless question. All child-rearing practices vary hugely among cultures.”

Declining women divers of South Korea

The Korea Times, in its April 11 edition, published an article called “Daughters of the Sea,” describing the decline in the population of women free-divers of Jeju Island, South Korea [blogger’s note: with apologies, I cannot find a public link to the article, so, without apologies, I will quote from it at length here].

“The bold, female divers of Jeju known as ‘haenyeo‘ have long impressed the world by harvesting from the ocean with the simplest of tools. Their unique ways have become symbols of empowerment and community. As the aging divers approach their twilight years, society grapples with the potential collapse of their tradition…This wind is not good, says Kim In-sook, peering out of a seaside shelter as she untangles a traditional fishing basket. As the waters are choppy, she may not able to use her equipment this day, despite the early morning sun. Squatting, Kim assesses the weather, hoping to fill her basket with abalone, conch, octopus and sea urchin as she has since childhood, diving alongside other women from her village. ‘Let’s wait and see,’ Kim tells other divers as they file into the small space. They are among some 3,500 remaining ‘haenyeo,’ or women divers in Jeju, who free-dive without breathing equipment. At 66, Kim is a senior diver in this village on the island’s northeast coast. As murky as the water might be, so too is the future for the aging haenyeo. Their lifestyle, passed mother-to-daughter for generations, is endangered due to rapidly-dwindling numbers.Once looked down on as common laborers, society now reveres them as symbols of feminine strength. But their dwindling number poses questions about preserving their traditions; and what losing them would mean to Korean society. ‘We are the last generation,’ says Kim, heading outside…”

A women of Jeju Island (Source: Mikkipedia.)

The article goes on to describe the declining numbers of haenyeo which, in the mid 1960s, was around 23,000, more than 20 percent of the island’s women. Now most of the divers are over 50 years old. “Like most, Sohn Hwa-seon, 59, became part of the tradition due to poverty.’ I begged my mother to let me go to school. But every day I was told to learn how to dive. It was about survival,’ she said.” Economic development of the island, including tourism and expansions of the education system, opened greater opportunities for girls. The article quotes Cho Hae-joang, a cultural anthropology professor at Yonsei University: “‘Haenyeo’s economic power and psychological independence” have always been well known to Koreans living in a male-centered agrarian tradition…”The image has been popular and has worked well for arousing a feminist spirit.” “People used to look down on us. Now we are seen as excellent,” said Kim, the diver, giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Exploring non-mainstream spirituality

The New Haven Register reported on the research of cultural anthropologist Joseph Manzella on people who leave mainstream religions but maintain a sense of spirituality. His research has involved him in hugging, visiting a spiritual tree village in the Italian Alps, meeting with eco-evangelists in North Carolina, and chanting with Taize monks in France. His questions are: What is it they’re seeking? What are they looking for? He is writing a book about the modern search for higher meaning.

U.S. study of sexual harassment in bioanthropology fieldwork

According to coverage in The Chronicle of Higher Education, graduate students and junior scholars conducting anthropological fieldwork at remote sites are vulnerable to abuse from their supervisors. Early results from the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) in Knoxville, Tennessee. The study involves an online survey of fieldwork experiences launched in February, polling male and female colleagues via e-mail, Facebook, and blogs. Fifty-nine percent of the 124 respondents, so far, said they had been victims of harassment in the field. Nineteen percent said they had been assaulted. Kathryn Clancy, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is lead author of the study. She also describes the findings in a blog post for Scientific American. Clancy conducted the study with three bioanthropology collaborators: Katie Hinde (Harvard University), Robin Nelson (University of California, Riverside), and Julienne Rutherford (University of Illinois, Chicago).

Take that anthro degree…

…and become a journalist. Sarah Kendzior earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. She is now a columnist for Al Jazeera English, a public speaker, a researcher and a consultant. You can find her online at and follow her on Twitter @sarahkendzior.

Ötzi needed dental care

Ötzi-Quinson (Source: Wikicommons.)

The remains of a 5,000 year-old mummy found in the Alps, nicknamed Ötzi, or the Iceman, indicate many things about his life and death — his last meal, how he died, what he was wearing, and the fact that he had several tattoos. According to a recent study by researchers from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, he also had many cavities, a broken tooth, and a bad case of gum disease.

Australopithecus sediba: one of us?

Science Daily and The Columbus Dispatch covered the publication of several articles in the journal Science on a recently discovered human ancestor  species called Australopithecus sediba. A dental study of fossilized remains found in South Africa in 2008 provides new support that this species is one of the closest relatives to early humans. Both sources quote Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg, co-author of the study and professor of anthropology at The Ohio State University: “Our study provides further evidence that sediba is indeed a very close relative of early humans, but we can’t definitively determine its position relative to africanus.”  The Columbus Dispatch also quotes C. Owen Lovejoy, a Kent State University anthropologist about the  objections from anthropologists who argue that A. sediba is not the evolutionary link to humans: “I would say there is unusually exceptional skepticism as to whether they are direct relations to human.”

Chimps’ botanical knowledge

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have investigated chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, use in order to find fruit in the rain forest. Findings indicate that chimpanzees know that trees of certain species produce fruit simultaneously and use this botanical knowledge during their daily search for fruit. “Our results provide new insights into the variety of food-finding strategies employed by our close relatives, the chimpanzees, and may well elucidate the evolutionary origins of categorization abilities and abstract thinking in humans,” says Christophe Boesch, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s Department of Primatology.


Among the 2013 Guggenheim Fellows are four cultural anthropologists:

Philippe Bourgois, Richard Perry University Professor of Anthropology and of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania: Ethnography of a drug-sales block in the U.S. inner city.

Catherine Lutz, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Brown University: Emerging popular histories of the post-9/11 wars.

Patricia McAnany, Kenan Eminent Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Heritage without irony: transcultural dialogue at a busy intersection.

Robert Weller, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Boston University: Religious pluralism in China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s