Anthro in the news 5/27/13

A monument to those who have died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border./© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

• Heavy toll at the border

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in southern Arizona holds the largest collection of missing-person reports for immigrants who have disappeared while crossing the United States-Mexico border. Many hundreds of remains await identification. An article in The New York Times quotes Bruce Anderson, the chief forensic anthropologist at the medical examiner’s office and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona: “Less people are coming across…but a greater fraction of them are dying.” There were 463 deaths in the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30 — the equivalent of about five migrants dying every four days, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group. As security at the border has tightened, migrants are pushed to seek more remote and dangerous routes.

Conservation vs. people in Chagos

Chagos Islands

Sean Carey provided an update on the situation in the Chagos Islands in an article in The Independent (UK). He notes the pleasure of marine biologists and conservationists working in Chagos who take pleasure in the absence of any people living there. Meanwhile exiled Chagossians are still fighting for the right to return.

Take that anthro degree and…

….become the Director of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the first East African to direct a UN body. Mukhisa Kituyi will take on the UNCTAD leadership role this September. He is a graduate of political science and international relations from Makerere University in Kampala and also holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology.

study the fashion industry at the new Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. A few months ago, Zuzanna Ciszewska was working at a public relations agency in Warsaw. The 24-year-old with a master’s degree in anthropology and a lifelong passion for fashion saw an ad in British Vogue. Now she is one of the first 45 students at enrolled in a 10-week course meant to introduce them to topics like the fashion calendar, the history of fashion, important designers, fashion journalism, retail, business, marketing and public relations.

X marks the spot

Ian McIntosh/The Independent

According to an article in The Independent, five copper coins and a seventy year-old map marked with an X may rewrite Australia’s history. Ian McIntosh, an Australian scientist and professor of anthropology at Indiana University, is planning an expedition in July to revisit the spot where five 1000-year-old coins were found in the Northern Territory in 1944. The coins may mean seafarers from distant countries landed in Australia much earlier than is believed.

The long-told story that Australia was “discovered” by British sea captain James Cook in 1770 has been discredited for some time. Most observers now agree that the first foreigners to arrive were the Dutch in 1606, or the Portuguese nearly a century before that. But coins believed to have been produced between 900 C.E. and 1300 C.E.. in what is now Tanzania suggest that Australia was included along a broad trading route active centuries before known outside contact with the continent.

In a telephone interview with The Herald Times, McIntosh said that he has watched his profile morph to worldwide renown as the man who may rewrite Australian history: “It’s astonishing…Let’s see: the BBC, Radio Holland, South Africa, Ireland, Pakistan — and those are just the interviews I’ve done today.” The media explosion comes from a somewhat belated response in Australia to an expedition McIntosh will lead this summer.

Lost and found: Thousands of cave paintings in Mexico

Cave painting in Mexico./INAH

Many mainstream media, including BBC News, reported on the discovery of nearly 5,000 cave paintings at 11 different sites in Mexico that were likely created by early foraging peoples. The red, white, black and yellow images discovered near Burgos in eastern central Mexico depict humans engaged in hunting, fishing and gathering, and animals such as deer, lizards and centipedes. The paintings are as yet undated but archaeologists said they hope to take samples of the pigments to determine their approximate age.”The discovery is important because we have documented the presence of pre-Hispanic groups in Burgos, where before it was said there was nothing,” said Gustavo Ramirez from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology (INAH).

The message in a tooth

According to coverage in The New York Times and several other sources, analysis of barium levels in the fossilized molar of a Neanderthal child shows that he/she was breast-fed exclusively for the first seven months, followed by seven months of mother’s milk supplemented by other food and then abrupt cessation of breast-feeding at 1.2 years of age. Findings are reported in the journal Nature. Tanya Smith, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard and an author of the report, said in an e-mail to The New York Times that the team hoped “to examine additional fossils to determine at what age Neanderthals naturally weaned their infants.” In the report, the researchers conceded that the abrupt, possibly early weaning could not be readily explained. Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and noted authority on Neanderthals, said the onset of weaning in the test appeared to be too early. He cautioned, “My impression is the physiology and chemistry of nursing is vastly more complicated, and the concentrations of barium are too low that it’s hard to get reliable data.” Smith says: “We are excited about this technique as we feel that it will allow us to look directly at weaning, an important aspect of life history, in expanded samples of Neanderthals and fossil Homo sapiens.” [Blogger’s note: readers should be wary of many media reports that leap from this study of an analytical method’s value –based on study of a single tooth – to headlines about breastfeeding “history” or “breastfeeding habits” among Neanderthals. A single tooth can reveal neither a “history” nor “habits”].

Climate change and human evolution

Science Daily noted a study showing that rapid climate change during the Middle Stone Age, between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age, sparked surges in cultural innovation in early modern human populations. The research, published in Nature Communications, was conducted by a team of scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, the Natural History Museum in London, and the University of Barcelona. Anthropology professor Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum, and one of the co-authors of the report, is quoted as saying: “The correspondence between climatic ameliorations and cultural innovations supports the view that population growth fuelled cultural changes, through increased human interactions.”

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