Anthro in the news 5/20/13

• Too soon to celebrate in Guatemala

Victoria Sanford, professor of cultural anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that it is too soon to declare victory in Guatemala given the evidence that the current president, the former military commander Otto Pérez Molina, may have been involved in the same mass killings for which General Ríos Montt has now been convicted.

Otto Perez Molina
Otto Pérez Molina. Flickr/World Economic Forum

Nonetheless, she states that the conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity is of monumental significance:


“It was the first time in history that a former head of state was indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide. It offers hopes to those similarly seeking justice in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.”

• Culture and technology

CBS published a video interview with Intel’s cultural anthropologist, Genevieve Bell. Bell discusses the role of cultural anthropology in understanding people’s needs and preferences related to technology, people’s time patterns, social relationships, and more.

• World Bank to focus on delivery

The Washington Post carried an article describing the influence of Sir Michael Barber‘s philosophy of public management on Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank (as well as medical doctor, medical anthropologist, and former university president). Apparently Kim keeps a copy of Barber’s book, Deliverology 101, close at hand, calls him for advice, and has asked Barber to meet with senior World Bank staff. 

• Contested pilgrimage in Islam

The Northern Echo (Ireland) noted that Madawi al-Rasheed, professor of anthropology of religion at King’s College London, presented a public lecture titled “Islamic Journeys: Contested Pilgrimage in Contemporary Islam” at Durham University as part of a series on Calendars and Festivals: Identity, Culture and Experience.

• Take that anthropology degree and…

House of Mandela
House of Mandela. Source:

…become a wine company owner and have to deal with branding issues because you are Nelson Mandela’s daughter. The New York Times carried an article on the legacy of Nelson Mandela and rights to use the Mandela name.


One of his daughters, Makaziwe Mandela, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology, runs a wine company with her daughter, Tukwini, called House of Mandela. According to the article, “She said many people made money off her father’s name and image, so why should the Mandelas be prohibited from using their name? I don’t hear anybody criticizing the Rothschilds for using their name.”

• Lost: Maya temple razed for road fill

Many international and local media covered the destruction of Noh Mul, a 2,300 year-old Maya temple in Belize, in order to provide fill for a new road. Work on the Noh Mul temple site has stopped, but the director of Belize’s Institute of Archeology said that 80 percent of the building was destroyed and nothing on the site is salvageable:

“The only thing left now is to watch the last bit of it crumble with the coming of the rainy season or to go in there and try to salvage the parts that remain that are scattered all over the site,” said archaeologist Dr. Jaime Awe. Dr John Morris of the Belizean Institute of Archaeology told The Independent: “It is incredible that someone would have the gall to destroy this building. There is no way they would not know that these are Maya mounds.”

• Lost and found: Ciudad Blanca

An interdisciplinary group of scientists from archaeology, anthropology, and geology have used new technology to discover a “lost world” in the Honduran interior.

Findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference. The team photographed the ground using new technology known as airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR). They found what appears to be a network of plazas and pyramids, hidden for hundreds of years.

The project’s lead archaeologists, Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz of Colorado State University, say the hidden city was probably home to a sophisticated Mesoamerican society, with paved streets, parks, pyramids and an advanced irrigation system.

The discovery of the ruins, which could date back to as early as 500 C.E., suggests the region’s pre-Hispanic civilization was significantly more developed than was previously thought.

• First New Zealanders

According to a report in The Marlborough Express (New Zealand), analysis of the remains of the first New Zealanders found buried on Wairau Bar, in Marlborough, shows there were three distinct groups of people buried there.

Rebecca Kinaston
Rebecca Kinaston/University of Otago

A University of Otago-led team of scientists learned about the diet, lifestyles and movements of the first New Zealanders by analyzing radioactive isotopes from their bones and teeth. Their findings were published in the international journal Plos One. The research suggests that one group of people was likely to be the first group of people to colonize Wairau Bar, possibly from Polynesia, about 700 years ago.


Dr. Rebecca Kinaston, a postdoctoral researcher and biological anthropologist at Otago, conducted the isotope analyses on the bone collagen and teeth. She said it suggested that members of this first group shared similar diets and childhood origins, while people in groups 2 and 3 displayed highly variable diets and spent their childhood in geologically different areas to those in group 1:

“Interestingly, group 1 individuals showed a dietary trend similar to that identified in prehistoric individuals from a site in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, with both sets of people sharing a low diversity in protein sources.” In contrast, dietary patterns in groups 2 and 3 were found to be in line with individuals who spent most of their lives eating from a wide range of protein sources, such as would be available through New Zealand’s then bountiful seal, moa and other bird populations.

• Neanderthal art pushes classification boundaries

El Castillo cave
Spots and stencils in El Castillo cave, Spain — one at least 40,800 years old — might be the handiwork of Neanderthals/Pedro Saura

An article in Nature magazine highlighted the question of whether the earliest known cave paintings indicate that Neanderthals were the mental equals of modern humans.


João Zilhão is the leading advocate for Neanderthals, “relentlessly pressing the case that these ice-age Europeans were our cognitive equals.”

Zilhão, an archaeologist at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies at the University of Barcelona in Spain, believes that other signs of sophisticated Neanderthal culture have already proved his point.

• Very old human ear bones

According to Fox News, a Binghamton University anthropologist is leading a study that has found the oldest human ancestor ear bones. The international team includes researchers from the U.S., Italy and Spain. The 2-million-year-old ear bones are from two species of early human ancestors in South Africa. The bones show a mix of ape and human like features.

Professor Rolf Quam says the human-like configuration implies that our hearing evolved very early: “Our hypothesis is that these changes in the ear bones might be something that occurs as early as bipedalism. It might be another hallmark of humanity in the skeleton.” The next step in the study will be reconstructing the hearing in these early human ancestors. It will be the first time an aspect of sensory perception is reconstructed from fossils of our ancestors. A video is included.

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