Anthro in the news 7/22/13

• The trail of undocumented migrants to the U.S.

“Since 2009, anthropologist Jason De León has led groups of students from across the U.S. and Canada through the Sonoran Desert to study unauthorized migration using archaeological and anthropological methods. The project has collected and cataloged more than 10,000 artifacts left along the way by those trekking the desert,” reports the Arizona Daily Star‘s Perla Trevizo. “He can usually tell how old the site is or how far the migrants walked by the objects found. For instance, black shoe polish tells him it’s an older site from a time when migrants painted their water bottles to attract less attention. Now, they buy them already black.”

Jason De León
Jason De León examines a bottle of pond water left behind by migrants after a Border Patrol apprehension. Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

De León, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, started the Undocumented Migration Project to record history and get a fuller picture of what’s happening: “Undocumented migration is a complex phenomenon…I want to provide reliable information to help the public see behind the curtain.”

Half of the research is done by walking the same trails migrants use. The other half is spent talking to border crossers staying in the migrant shelters in Nogales, Sonora, or getting ready for their journey in the town of Altar, Sonora.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine included a spread with photographs taken by De León’s colleague, Richard Barnes. De León’s research was covered recently by NPR.

• Racism and pesticides harming U.S. farmworkers

Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies/UC Press

Indian Country published a review of a new book that shows how racist discrimination against indigenous Mexican farmworkers in the United States is literally making them sick.

Medical anthropologist and UC Berkeley assistant professor of health and social behavior, Seth Holmes, has just published Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. The book chronicles Homes’ in-depth study of the lives of indigenous Triqui farmworkers who travel from Oaxaca, Mexico to the western states of the United States and back, and how these farmworkers experience unfair treatment, inadequate healthcare and horrible living conditions.

Holmes lived and worked with a group of Triqui farmworkers for over one and a half years, traveling with them during an illegal cross of the Arizona-Mexico border, then on to picking berries in Washington state, pruning vineyards in California (along with a week of homelessness living in cars), and harvesting corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, the home state of the Triquis.

Discrimination against Triqui farmworkers, Holmes said, can be seen starting with the jobs they are given on farms: “The Triquis were given the hardest jobs, picking strawberries in Washington state for instance … This work involved putting their bodies into repetitive positions, crouched and picking, under stress and all weather, seven days a week, exposed to pesticides and insects that made them get sick more often.”

• Is the Somali guurti outdated?


An article in the Somali Sun discusses the role of the Guurti in contemporary Somali politics and quotes Markus Hoehne, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, and a critic of the contemporary Guurti system: “They were peacemakers for Somaliland … Those guys put their lives on the line. They went to different conflict zones, often at great personal risk.”

Hoehne believes that in the early 1990s, the Guurti was instrumental in rebuilding the country, but says that now the role and composition of the body is outdated.

In the early 1990s, clan elders came together for a number of peace conferences, the most prominent of which was the Elders Conference at Borama in 1993. This led to the creation of the 82-member Guurti, which formalized the mediation system as a parliamentary body. In Borama, the Guurti also elected Somaliland’s president and vice president.

• Hactivists on trial

The Irish Times reported on how Anonymous continues to surprise anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, who has been studying the group. Coleman has spent time in court for the case of two Irish members of LulzSec, an offshoot of the international network of hactivists, who are charged with causing criminal damage to Fine Gael’s election website in 2011.

Coleman, a cultural anthropologist, holds the Wolfe chair in scientific and technological literacy in the department of art history and communication studies at McGill University. An expert on Anonymous, she describes the group as “a protest ensemble, and one which takes root differently in different places, not always direct action; but it’s a kind of protest network that uses different tactics for the sake of political operations.”

And: “I just do classical anthropological stuff, which is spending as much time with people who are involved in whatever it is that you’re studying,” Coleman says. “And so then I do the same with Anonymous, but they’re a bit more challenging to study. A lot more challenging to study.”

• Malaysian politics update

In a second installment in ongoing commentary on Malaysian politics, Clive Kessler writes that the Umno/BN side, despite the stupendous expense of its campaign and all its related activities, failed to present any clear argument why it deserved to be re-elected.

The first part of this commentary analyzed the paradoxical outcome of GE13, tracing how the election of a reduced Barisan Nasional (BN) presence and increased opposition numbers in Parliament has amplified, not diminished, Umno’s power, specifically its power within the nation’s government and over the formation of national policy. Kessler is emeritus professor of sociology & anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

• Rethink: “war is [not] embedded in our human nature”

Orang Asli
Orang Asli, a notably peaceful people/Wikipedia
The Economist published an excellent review, in a short space, of recent findings by social anthropologists and primatologists debunking again, and let’s hope forever, the assertion by over-influential sociobiologist Edmund Wilson that “war is embedded in our very nature.”

The article cites a paper in the latest issue of Science by Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg of Abo Akademi University, Finland.

They review data on modern foragers (aka hunter-gatherers) and find there is no basis in Wilson’s assertion and indicates that Napoleon Chagnon‘s claims for universal human violence, based on his reports about a foraging/horticultural group in Venezuela, are also not generalizable (even if accurate). A field study by primatologists David Morgan and Cricket Sanz of Washington University, St. Louis, found chimpanzees in Congo-Brazzaville to be peaceful, contradicting earlier findings from a crowded and human presence-affected site in Tanzania.

• Cocktails in the news

An article in The Gambit (New Orleans) highlights this year’s Tales of the Cocktail events series in New Orleans during July. It describes trends in cocktails and raises the question of the value of new cocktails versus traditional cocktails.

It mentions the work of University of Pennsylvania biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern who has studied prehistoric alcoholic beverages including some discovered in China dating to 7,000 B.C.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…become administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Senate has confirmed Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She holds a Bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a joint Master of Science in environmental health engineering and planning and policy from Tufts University. Her confirmation on July 18 was lauded by environmental and industry groups alike. Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), said the long-awaited confirmation would bring “greater certainty to the agency” at a “critical time.”

…become an award-winning Tribal archivist. Faith Davison, a self-described “late bloomer” was “married at 18 and had a mortgage at 19.” She raised three sons and had a resume that included landscaping, selling live bait and pumping gas. In an interview, she said: “I started taking classes at UConn and Mohegan Community College (now Three Rivers) … I was in my 30s, taking courses in anthropology and the sciences. I had all these credits, and my adviser said I could go to any college I wanted. So I applied to UConn, Wesleyan, Connecticut College.”

Davison accepted Connecticut College’s offer of a scholarship and earned her Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Spanish. Later, she obtained a master’s in library sciences from the University of Rhode Island. She retired at 2010 at the age of 73 years, after a long career as an archivist, collecting materials about the Mohegan Tribe. Her work has been honored with a Guardian of Culture and Lifeways Award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums. The award recognizes Davison’s contribution to the preservation of the Mohegans’ cultural sovereignty.

“Ms. Davison played a major role in the creation and development of the Mohegan Tribal Archives,” reads the award citation. “Using her talents for research and her knowledge of history, both Tribal and colonial, Ms. Davison was instrumental in the acquisition and repatriation of Mohegan cultural properties.”

…and become a successful artist and filmmaker. Manizhe Ali, who completed an M.A. in visual and media anthropology from the Freie Universität, Berlin in 2012, is one of six artists contributing to a new guide to the book, Right to the City: Travel Guide to Karachi, which will appear in October in Pakistan.

Unlike typical guide books which feature sections of what to eat and where to shop, this book includes the works and narratives of artists who reveal what makes Karachi a thriving yet unstable city. They take readers down popular roads, on bus rides and give a glimpse of bomb blasts. The book is the brainchild of Shahana Rajani, an M.A. candidate in the critical and curatorial studies program at the University of British Columbia.

Ali’s contribution focuses on Numaish Chowrangi, which according to Ali, encapsulates the spirit of Karachi: “In Muharram, the Shia community holds their procession at Numaish Chowrangi while the mosque on the main intersection is also always bustling with people. This was also the spot in Karachi where most of the protests against the Hazara killings were held – my pictures and writings aim to narrate the story of how this area transforms … My work is from an anthropological perspective and features more text as compared to the other artists.”

• Very old “keep out” sign

Decorative wood carving found in Maerdy is believed to be one of the oldest ever recovered in Europe as it dates back 6,270 years
Decorative wood carving found in Maerdy is believed to be one of the oldest ever recovered in Europe as it dates back 6,270 years/Wales Online

WalesOnline provides news of a discovery of a what appears to be a territorial marker that is 6,000 years old. The timber, with intricate pattern on one side and oval motif at one end, is thought to be a marker post for a tribal boundary, hunting ground or sacred site

•Lost and found: Irish village

A team of 10 archaeologists from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana have excavated part of a “lost” village on the Galway island of Inishbofin which may have been wiped out by a 19th century famine. The settlement known as Poirtins, named after a little port, is well known to islanders. However, it is new to archaeology, according to Connemara historian and archaeologist Michael Gibbons, who paid tribute to the U.S. team’s work.

Up to 100 people may have lived in the village, which comprised large, long single-storey thatched houses. Porcelain found and the structure of the buildings suggest that they were “successful residents” for the time, according to Ian Kuijt, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who led the project with his wife Meredith Chesson. The U.S. team has been conducting works on Inishbofin and Inishark since 2006 as part of a project on cultural landscapes on the Irish coast. Artifacts unearthed during their work have been exhibited in the island’s community centre. The island’s schoolchildren have participated in the dig.

• The shin bone’s connected to the…

Kabwe Zambia
Kabwe, Zambia/Wikipedia
The Canberra Times reported on a new analysis of a small bone fragment being undertaken by academics working on opposite sides of the globe. The fossil is part of a shin bone found in 1921 at the Broken Hill mine in Zambia (Note: the site is now referred to as Kabwe) and is from a member of an ancient human ancestor with uncertain dating.

The bone resides in the Natural History Museum in London, where a staff member cut a small triangular chunk out of it for analysis. Anthropologist Chris Stringer arrived in Canberra on Sunday with the bit in his carry-on luggage. He is working at the Australian National University with collaborator Rainer Grun to date the bone.

• Walk like a chimp

The Sunday Telegraph (U.K.) reported on research by two Boston University anthropologists, Jeremy DeSilva and Simone Gill. They have found that one in 13 humans, or 8 percent, has feet like those of chimpanzees with a flexible mid-foot.

In these people, the joint in the middle of the foot, between the ball and heel, which in most people is held rigidly in place by ligaments, can bend. Their findings are published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

• Kudos

Sheila Walker is chair of the International Symposium on African Music: Vector of Authenticity and Emergence Factor that is taking place during July in Brazzaville, Congo.

She is working with the organization Afrodiáspora, aided by Ivorian Adépo Yapo as first deputy chair and Cameroonian Émile Mosexly Batamack has been elected secretary general. The symposium is a forum for an exchange of opinion on “Musical expression as a support for the African authenticity.” It is convening experts from Africa, Americas and Europe. Walker, cultural anthropologist and filmmaker, is executive director of Afrodiáspora , Inc., a non-profit organization that is developing documentaries and educational materials about the global African Diaspora. She has done fieldwork, lectured, consulted, and participated in cultural events in much of Africa and the African Diaspora. Her most recent works are the documentary film, “Slave Routes: A Global Vision,” for the UNESCO Slave Route Project, and an edited book, Conocimiento desde adentro: Los afrosudamericanos hablan de sus pueblos y su historia/Afro-South Americans Speak of their People and their Histories, featuring articles by Afrodescendants from all of the Spanish-speaking countries of South America.

With her debut novel about a young girl who works hard to achieve her family’s dreams, Longmont author Jeannie Mobley achieved her dream of winning a Colorado Book Award for Katerina’s Wish. Mobley, an archaeologist who teaches anthropology at Front Range Community College Larimer Campus, loved to write in high school but was distracted by college classes and work in her adult years, leaving her hobby behind. Six years ago, she got back into the habit of writing as a creative release while working on her doctorate.

• In memoriam

Olive Lewin, anthropologist, musicologist, teacher, and author died at the age of 86 years. She is remembered for rescuing Jamaican folklore from Eurocentrism. Lewin was a Jamaican anthropologist and cultural historian who, over the last 60 years, pulled Jamaican folklore out of the shadow of Eurocentric prejudice. She fought against the manner in which “polite” Jamaican middle-class society, with its complex prejudices, denied its background, refusing to admit the existence of patois, the everyday language of most islanders.

“It was as though there had never been any African, Caribbean or even Jamaican cultural heritage or creativity,” she wrote in Rock It Come Over, her definitive study of Jamaican folk music. “It was absolutely taboo to use Jamaican vernacular. Scottish and Yorkshire speech styles in which ‘gin a body meet a body’ and ‘on Ilkla moor baht ‘at’ were permitted, but not ‘Dis long time gal me never see you, come mek me hol’ you hand’. This alone effectively separated those aspiring to ‘higher things’ or a ‘good education’ from most of Jamaica’s own music.” In 1980, Lewin was appointed head of Jamaica’s Memory Bank Project, an archive of Jamaica’s musical heritage. She also initiated Jamaica’s National Youth Orchestra. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller described her as “an invaluable cultural icon”.

Malcolm Todd, an archaeologist and internationally acknowledged expert on the history of the Romans in Britain, died at the age of 73 years. He furthered understanding of Roman settlements in Britain by leading several important excavations in the West Country and the Midlands.

He was also an authority on the marauding Germanic tribes on the borders of the empire. His career as a professor of archaeology at the University of Exeter, and later at Durham University, was an example of how a modest background need be no bar to success in academic and public life.

Born in Durham in 1939 into a mining and farming community, Todd went on to earn a diploma in classical archaeology at Brasenose College, Oxford. The author of 18 volumes and numerous articles, Todd worked on a wide variety of topics in Roman archaeology. He was perhaps best known in Britain as an authority on the Germanic tribes on the borders of the Roman Empire, on which he published three books, but his work also included studies of the walls of Rome, Roman coinage, the small towns of Roman Britain, the growth of cities in Roman Britain, the Roman tribes of the Midlands, and of southwest England in the Roman and early medieval periods.

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