Anthro in the news 5/13/13

• Go directly to jail: Prison sentence for Guatemalan dictator

Fundacion Myrna Mack
Official site.

Many major news media covered the sentencing of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to a landmark 80 years in prison for genocide and crime against humanity. ABC News quoted Victoria Sanford, a cultural anthropologist at Lehman College, City University of New York, who noted that genocidal massacres occurred before and after Rios Montt, “but the bulk of the killing took place under Rios Montt.”

Sanford has spent about 50 months in Guatemala and participated in excavations in at least eight massacre sites. Several of the articles quote Helen Mack, a noted human rights activist, and sister of Myrna Mack, who was murdered in Guatemala in 1990 for her work on behalf of indigenous human rights .

• What would Paul Farmer say?

To Repair the World by Paul Farmer
U. of California Press

Time magazine carried an interview with medical anthropologist, medical doctor, professor, and health activist Paul Farmer, prompted by his new book, To Repair the World, a collection of his speeches including some of his commencement speeches.

The lead question is: “Are you ever tempted to tell graduates, ‘I could have saved thousands of lives with the money you spent on your degree?'”

Paul Farmer responds: “I don’t think of it that way. I think, Here’s a chance to reach out to people who probably are unaware — as I was at their age — of their privilege and to engage them in the work.” He was also interviewed on the Diane Rehm show.

• Presidential note of gratification

Leith Mullings, president of the American Anthropological Association, published an article in The Huffington Post, expressing her appreciation of President Obama’s acknowledgment of the importance of anthropology in a recent speech:

Leith Mullings
Leith Mullings

“As an anthropologist and president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), I was especially gratified to hear President Barack Obama acknowledge the discipline of anthropology and support its scientific integrity. In a speech at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama said:

‘And it’s not just resources. I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.'”

• Jim Kim goes for big dams

The World Bank is once again pushing large-scale hydropower projects around the globe, something it pretty much abandoned a decade ago. Such big projects are argued to be crucial resolving the tension between economic development and the need to reduce carbon use.

Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam/Pedro Vásquez Colmenares

Big dam projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they are disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the World Bank president, medical doctor, and anthropologist, Jim Yong Kim, is trying to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.

“What’s the one issue that’s holding back development in the poorest countries? It’s energy. There’s just no question,” Kim said in an interview.

In response, Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, says: “It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernize whole economies.” International Rivers has organized opposition to the bank’s evolving hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

• More news on Jim Kim

The Economic Times (India) reported on World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim’s, description of the Aadhaar card as one of the best examples of integration of technology for social welfare use. Kim stated his belief that this massive effort by the Indian Government would help in achieving the World Bank’s new goal of poverty eradication by 2030.

• Sexist Thai politics

The Nation (Thailand) reported on reactions to using the term prostitute as a reference to slam Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra, which degrades women and perpetuates misogynic attitudes.

Chiang Mai University anthropologist Pinkaew Luangaramsri says she is disappointed that many feminists chose to keep quiet about the issue simply because they’re politically against Yingluck: “They don’t come out because they’ve taken a political stance. This is not healthy… They hate Yingluck, the prime minister. But coming out [to criticise Chai] doesn’t mean they have to necessarily support Yingluck. If they don’t, then who else will?” Pinkaew said regarding women as mere objects is still prevalent in Thailand and the Kingdom has yet to develop political correctness when it comes to gender issues.

• Who shares and why in Dominica?

The Independent Online described findings of three U.S. anthropologists who did fieldwork in an Afro-Caribbean village on the island of Dominica. Their main research question was: Does a person earn a better social reputation by helping the same person on a regular basis, or by assisting large numbers of different people occasionally?

Dominica Panorama
Dominica Panorama/Wikipedia

The village population of around 400 mainly earns a living from the cultivation of the Caribbean bay tree, the leaves of which are steam distilled to produce essential bay oil. The study recorded who worked in the village’s eight distilleries over a 20-month period. Bay oil distillation is extremely taxing work and impossible to perform alone. The anthropologists found that it was a tradition in the village for individuals to provide assistance to a person if they had received help with labor in the past from that individual.

“Because the village is small and the activity is highly conspicuous, people realise when they are obligated to assist,” wrote the team led by Shane J. Macfarlan from the University of Missouri in Swallow Hall. Findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

• Korean adoptee criticizes Korean adoption policy

Shannon Heit
Shannon Heit. Korea Times/photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Shannon Heit, who is studying anthropology at Hanyang University, accuses the Korean government of “selling” her and other adoptees to collect foreign currency to use for the economic development of the country. Heit works for Korea Journal, a Seoul-based English academic journal of Korean Studies, as an English copyeditor. In an interview with The Korea Times, she spoke of the country’s adoptee “exports” policy over the last few decades:

“In the ’60s and ’70s, especially, during the Park Chung-hee administration, the main goal was economic development. In the end, children who were like me were sold to other countries.” She said adoption agencies played a critical role in “exporting” Korean babies to other countries, reaping economic benefits from them.

• When God talks, many share same concerns

America for Jesus rally
Dharma Bohall, 13, extends her arms in prayer during the America for Jesus prayer rally on Sept. 28, 2012, on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)
Minnesota Public Radio carried an interview with cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann about her New York Times op-ed titled “How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect.” In the op-ed, she writes that “Believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another, news that is sometimes a surprise to both. When I arrived at one church I had come to study, I thought that I would stick out like a sore thumb. I did not. Instead, I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me.”

• What to do in Philly

An article in The Philadelphia Inquirer points to many places to go, things to see, including this note: At the Penn Museum at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 19, Stephen Phillips, an anthropologist who specializes in Egyptology, will describe how plants and flowers found in King Tut’s tomb offer hints of what killed the boy pharaoh: “We all know about the gold and the incredible treasures that were found there… But there were also juniper berries and cardamom pods. No one thinks about that when they think of King Tut.”

• Lost and found: Pictish kingdom

Archaeologists from Aberdeen University plan a major dig to uncover one of the lost Kingdoms of the ancient Picts, the tribe of legendary warriors whose empire stretched from Fife to the Moray Firth before they mysteriously vanished from history. Until recently historians had believed that Fortriu, one of the most powerful Kingdoms of the “painted people,” had been based in Perthshire. Recent research now places the Pictish stronghold much further north to the Moray Firth area.

• Lost and found: Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The location of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Garden of Babylon, has long been a mystery. Archaeologists have been unable to find its traces among Babylon’s remains. Did it ever actually exist? After many years of study of textual evidence, Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University has concluded that the garden was built at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon, in the early 7th century BCE by the Assyrians in the north of Mesopotamia (now Iraq), rather than by their enemies, the Babylonians, in the south.

[Blogger’s note: fascinating story of rebranding, and I look forward to learning about the Babylonians got their name linked to the gardens for centuries… equivalent to the Empire State Building of Philadelphia?].

• Protecting Neanderthals from slander

David Frayer, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, published an op-ed in The New York Times pointing out that Neanderthals are quite close to humans, so it’s best to avoid using the term as an insult: “Neanderthals lived much richer lives than ever presumed. They were not exactly like us, but they bred with us and their genes and behavior are part of our heritage. So, be careful when you call someone a Neanderthal. You’re speaking about part of yourself. ”

[Blogger’s note: I realize the header for this piece is a little extreme, but I invoke blogger’s rights And who knows, someday reconstituted Neanderthals may have lawyers.]

• Oldest archaeological evidence of early human ancestors

A small antelope leg bone with cut marks
A small antelope leg bone with cut marks, indicative of early human butchery practices. (Credit: Image courtesy of Baylor University/Science Daily)
A new research study sheds light on the diet and food acquisition strategies of some the earliest human ancestors in Africa.

Beginning around two million years ago, early stone tool-making humans, known as Oldowan hominins, started to exhibit a number of physiological and ecological adaptations that required greater daily energy expenditures, including an increase in brain and body size, heavier investment in their offspring and significant home-range expansion. Demonstrating how these early humans acquired the extra energy they needed to sustain these shifts has been the subject of much debate among researchers. The study, led by Joseph Ferraro, assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor University, offers insight with archaeological evidence from the two million-year-old site of Kanjera South in Kenya. The study’s findings are published in PLOS One.

Ferraro is quoted in Science Daily: “Considered in total, this study provides important early archaeological evidence for meat eating, hunting and scavenging behaviors -cornerstone adaptations that likely facilitated brain expansion in human evolution, movement of hominins out of Africa and into Eurasia, as well as important shifts in our social behavior, anatomy and physiology.” The research team has worked at the Lake Victoria site for more than a decade, recovering thousands of animal bones and rudimentary stone tools.

• In memoriam

Peter Drewett, British archaeologist, died at the age of 65 years. He was at the forefront of the development of the discipline in the last three decades of the 20th century, teaching and researching at the London Institute of Archaeology (now part of UCL) from 1973 until 2004, when he left to become the first professor of archaeology at the University of Sussex.

His love of archaeological fieldwork inspired his writing, including his book, Field Archaeology: An Introduction (1999), which has seen multiple editions. He excavated sites in the Caribbean, making a lasting contribution to the archaeology of that region, and investigated Neolithic sites on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. He was a champion of local societies and the role of the volunteer. A member of the Sussex Archaeological Society from 1973, he served as chair of its governing body in the 1980s and again in the 2000s, and later as president.

In his later years, he turned his attention to the parish of Chalvington with Ripe, in the low weald of East Sussex and contributed to a book entitled Portrait of a Parish 2012, his last published work.

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