Anthro in the news 7/8/13

• What’s going on in Haiti?

Mark Schuller, assistant professor of anthropology and NGO development leadership at Northern Illinois University, contributed an article in The Haitian Times in response to the question: What’s going on in Haiti? How is the progress, after three and a half years and billions of dollars?

Haiti Marriott
One thing going on in Haiti: rendering of Port-Au-Prince Marriott, scheduled to open in 2014/NY Times

After a recent trip there, he comments that it’s particularly difficult to respond: “…when you get off the plane, there are signs of progress. The airport has been renovated. The roads around Port-au-Prince are being repaired. For those in bright t-shirts on their way to the provinces, travel times have been considerably reduced. Stopping en route in a guarded, air conditioned restaurant or supermarket offers the appearance of relative affluence with customers stopping to inspect shelves full of packaged imported food. If one has the funds, a private vehicle and the inclination to go to a night club or restaurant in the affluent Pétion-ville, the trip home is safer…”

Schuller considers the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who as a popular musical performer was known as “Sweet Micky,” and says that “…as head of state, he is performing progress (as noted anthropologist and artist Gina Athena Ulysse puts it)”..and: “The performance appears to be working..” given positive reviews from development agencies, NGOS, foreign governments, and some members of Haiti’s poor majority who have gotten jobs.

• Life after civil war and genocide

The Daily Mail (UK) and many media reported on recent findings about genocide among the Ixil Maya of Guatemala that have been largely ignored by authorities for centuries.

An unidentified Ixil Mayan
An unidentified Ixil Mayan in a mass grave. Photo/AP, Daily Mail

The Ixil came under the spotlight after a Guatemalan court found former dictator Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide on May 10 for the scorched-earth policies used against them during his rule in the 1980s. The conviction was annulled 10 days later following a trial that did nothing to change their lives of the Ixil people.

Byron Garcia, a social anthropologist who has worked in the area for a decade and who now lives in the Guatemalan capital, said Ixil Maya live in the same poverty as always: “People have been relegated to less productive places, places where you can’t grow food, to the mountains made of stone…The young people who can, sow plots of land. And when they can’t, they migrate.”

And, further, he said that victims feel a need to tell their stories, to be heard, to be indemnified, to find the bodies of their loved ones and be able to bury them. [Blogger’s note: the Daily Mail article includes some amazing photographs].

• Combating the stigma of autism among Korean Americans

Unstrange Minds Remapping the World of Autism
Unstrange Minds

The New York Times quoted Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of cultural anthropology at George Washington University, in an article about how an advocacy group in Flushing, N.Y., is working with Korean American parents to understand autism and not conceal it in a child.

Grinker’s 2011 research in a South Korean city found high rates of autism there and has inspired attention to autism among Korean Americans:

“More so than other populations, Korean-Americans really measure their own self-worth, and the worth of the family, in terms of what the child is able to achieve and what the child means to the family … If I have a child with autism, there is no effect on our house value, on the ability to make friends and on an ability to get promoted at work … A lot of Korean families fear that.”

Grinker is author of Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism which is about life with his autistic daughter, Isabel, now 21 years old.

• Creating Kryptonian

Christine Schreyer Kryptonian
Christine Schreyer developed Kryptonian symbols for Man of Steel/Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Sun carried an article about the role of linguistic anthropologist Christine Schreyer of the University of British Columbia at Okanagan, and a specialist in created languages, in creating Kryptonian for the new Superman movie, Man of Steel.

Much of Schreyer’s work as a linguistic anthropologist centers on revitalizing indigenous languages, not making them up. But for the last few years, she has taken on a side job creating fictional languages for blockbuster movies. In a YouTube video, Schreyer explains how she invented Kryptonian.

• DNA links past to the living and supports land rights claims

Several Canadian media, including the Vancouver Sun, reported on DNA findings that link a woman in British Columbia to an ancestor from 5,500 years ago. The finding has implications for land claims. The study was led by a team of U.S. and Canadian anthropologists and is published in PLOS ONE.

The living descendant is Tsimshian from the Metlakatla First Nation, close to both of the prehistoric burials along B.C.’s North Coast near the city of Prince Rupert. The Vancouver Sun quotes First Nations archaeologist Barbara Petzelt: “Having a DNA link showing direct maternal ancestry dating back at least 5,000 years is huge as far as helping the Metlakatla prove that this territory was theirs over the millennia.”

Petzelt, a co-author of the study, has also served as the chief liaison between scientists — including one of Canada’s top physical anthropologists, Jerome Cybulski of the Canadian Museum of Civilization — and the Metlakatla community.

The article also quotes study co-leader Ripan Malhi, an anthropologist and professor of genomic biology at the University of Illinois: “This is the beginning of the golden era for ancient DNA research because we can do so much now that we couldn’t do a few years ago because of advances in sequencing technologies.”

• University collection robbed

Artifacts stolen from Miami U.
Artifacts stolen from Miami University (items in red and green not stolen)/Cincinnati Enquirer

Someone broke into a Miami University classroom and stole almost two-dozen ancient artifacts. The items had a total maximum value of about $10,000.

But Miami University anthropology professor Jeb Card said the value is more than monetary given the importance of students being able to learn from the actual artifacts.

• Digging is learning

YNN News of central New York State carried an article about undergraduate and graduate students in archaeology learning about the native and historic occupation of the Schoharie Valley at the Pethick site.

The article quotes Christina Rieth, state archeologist, and Sean Rafferty, associate professor of anthropology at SUNY Albany.

Rafferty says, “We teach archeology at the classroom setting at any large university but it’s the field discipline and to really understand what archeology is, you have to go out and do it.” Kelly Fischer, anthropology student, also comments on the value of her firsthand learning.

• Indiana’s Indian roots

The Republic magazine described new archaeological findings from Mounds State Park in Indiana, the state name meaning “Land of the Indians.” Among the first inhabitants of Indiana were the Adena, a hunting and gathering people who lived in east-central Indiana beginning around 1000 BC. They left behind earthen monuments — deep ditches surrounded by embankments — that give clues to a complex society that understood astronomical events and seasonal calendars and based religious celebrations around them. [Blogger’s note: the article is available only by subscription to The Republic].

• Lost and found: head of a Roman deity found in dump

BBC, among other media, reported on the discovery of an 1,800 year-old carved stone head, possibly of a Roman god, in an ancient rubbish dump. The discovery was made by an archaeology student at Binchester Roman Fort in County Durham, near Hadrian’s Wall, as the team dug through an old bath house.

The BBC report includes an audio interview with David Petts, lecturer in Durham University’s archaeology department, who has been leading the dig at the Binchester Roman Fort. According to Petts, “There are a whole group of gods which we know were only worshipped on and around Hadrian’s Wall – so it could be our little god was one of those.” [Blogger’s note: if you enjoy offbeat headlines, then here is one for you, related to this piece: “Anthropology Student Found God.”]

• It goes a long way back: flowers and death

Raqefet Cave
Raqefet Cave/Wikipedia

Many media sources including The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the findings of archaeologist Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa that humans have been decorating graves with flowers for almost 14,000 years.

The first evidence of floral tributes has been dug up in Israel where sage, mint and other plants were used in ceremonial burials.

The discovery was unearthed at the bottom of graves at a prehistoric burial spot known as Raqefet Cave in Haifa, a port city of Israel.

Nadel and his team used radiocarbon dating on the lining of tombs containing 29 skeletons, with four containing plant impressions identified as the stems of sage, mint and figwort.

• In memoriam

Jackie Scott, a Scottish archaeologist died at the age of 35 years after suffering a suspected allergic reaction to peanuts while helping to supervise.

Jackie Scott
Jackie Scott/Bamburgh Research Project's Blog

Scott was working as assistant supervisor on the Bradford Kaims project near Bamburgh in Northumberland when he collapsed at the excavation campsite. Inverness-born Mr Scott worked as a security guard at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) but had been part of the dig team at the preserved ancient wetland site every summer since 2010 and was appointed assistant supervisor last year.

Scott graduated from Aberdeen University with a BSc in archaeology last year.

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