Anthro in the news 11/25/13

Paul Farmer, Bill Clinton
Paul Farmer, Michele Montas, and former President Bill Clinton. Flickr/UN Photo

• Paul Farmer lauds Bill Clinton

Medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer has credentials that require their own paragraph. He is Kolokotrones University professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School; chief of the Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and co-founder of Partners In Health.

Farmer published an article in The Huffington Post celebrating President Bill Clinton who, nearly 13 years after leaving office, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Farmer writes, “While his accomplishments as the 42nd President of the United States were extraordinary, the work he’s done since then as a private citizen has had as profound an impact on millions more around the world.”

[Blogger’s note: this may be a first – when an anthropologist gets to pat a former president on the back?]

• Japan on the verge

A review in The Japan Times of Anne Allison’s new book, Precarious Japan, praised it as “a forward-thinking commentary on the current state of Japan, detailing a progressive history from the economic collapse in 1991 to how the country functions today in a modern, post-earthquake society.”

Precarious Japan
Book cover

Allison, Robert O. Keohane professor of cultural anthropology and women’s studies at Duke University, explores how Japanese society is on the cusp of a new transition. Prior to the country’s economic decline, gender and societal roles were firmly secured in Japan: Men were full-time workers, typically loyal to a single company for most of their lives; woman were housewives, dedicating their lives to the caretaking of their households and families.

Allison explores how this paradigm is rapidly shifting — despite the lag in society’s perceptions of gender roles. The review also comments that “Allison gives an eye-opening view into the darker aspects of modern Japanese society, and how such instability is effecting both individuals and the country at large … Despite being an academic book, readers in Japan will likely feel connected to the events and conditions that Allison describes … For those wondering just how precarious Japan’s future really is, this book is a good place to start.”

A review of Allison’s book in The Atlantic focused on her description of Japan’s highly competitive school system and its cautionary implications for the U.S. For more insights about the book and Anne Allison’s perspectives, NPR provides a wide-ranging audio interview with the author.

• Changing coffee culture in the U.S.

The Boulder Weekly carried an article focused on the closing of one of its long-time Bohemian coffee shops, Espresso Roma, noting that Roma’s closing might be part of a larger trend in coffee consumption in the U.S.

Merry White, a food anthropology professor at Boston University and the author of Coffee Life In Japan, says that coffee shops in the U.S. have greatly changed since the ’50s and ’60s, and beat coffee shops across the country are losing popularity to artisan coffee shops and caffeine-fueled work spots.

In a video called “The History of Coffee Culture in America,” produced by Boston University, White talks about the three waves of coffee culture in America, the first being instant coffee, the second being the rise of coffee shop chains like Starbucks and the third being the rise of independent coffee shops that feature craft coffee.

“There’s this new wave of coffee shops where it’s really about the coffee, to the extent that you might have to wait 20 minutes for your cup to be hand-poured,” White tells Boulder Weekly. “Those coffee shops may or may not care if you hang out all day. … Although the beat coffee shops like the ones in the ’50s and ’60s are really about the conversation, and also about being identified by the type of person that goes to those sort of places.”

• Forensic anthropology brings comfort to relatives

NPR interviewed Lori Baker, forensic anthropologist and associate professor at Baylor University. Baker is also director of the Reuniting Families project, which attempts to identify the remains and match them with family members back home. Last year, U.S. border officials recorded 463 migrant deaths, the second-highest number in 15 years. Half of them were in Texas. Most of them are unidentified, but Baker is trying to change that and thereby provide some closure and comfort to the victims’ relatives. More information about Baker’s work and her undergraduate student research team is available on YouTube.

• Khipus in the news

The New York Times highlighted an upcoming talk and an exhibit on khipu. Gary Urton, the chairman of Harvard’s anthropology department, will describe his latest khipu discoveries in a Dec. 5 lecture at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.

Urton has researched knots, cord thicknesses and dyes that varied in different regions and eras, and Spanish conquerors’ writings about khipus based on Incas’ explanations of the codes. Interest in khipus among collectors has produced a surge in fakes. Sabine Hyland, an anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has been analyzing khipus produced after the Spanish conquest and sometimes damaged by bat urine. She has tracked down scattered translations of knot patterns and 19th-century archaeologists’ field notes, and she has also learned to avoid fakes which can be found for sale in Cuzco.

• Take that anthro degree and…

… be a member of an award-winning non-profit musical group. The Figureheads work with youth from pre-kindergarten through high school, using positive hip-hop music for collaboration and the development of literacy. Since 2005, the Milwaukee-based group has performed across the U.S. at more than 300 venues representing more than 100,000 people. The group includes three members — Jeremy Bryan, with a bachelor’s degree in English; Greg Marshall, with a degree in English and linguistics; and Dave Olson, with a degree in psychology and anthropology. They have been commissioned to write music for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, among other organizations.

• Very old and special wine

NBC News and many other media covered the discovery, announced on Friday, of a 3,700-year-old palatial cellar packed with jars once filled with a wine-like brew at an archaeological site in northern Israel. The cellar is perhaps the oldest of its type ever discovered and the wine was of a quality likely reserved for royal banquets, according to Assaf Yasur-Landau, chair of the maritime relations department at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Eric H. Cline / George Washington University
3,700-year-old jars discovered in an ancient palatial wine cellar. Eric Cline/GW

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Baltimore. According to Yasur-Landau, the discovery marks “the first time that such wine is found in quantity in a palatial storeroom.”

Neither the newly discovered wine nor the wine cellar are the oldest known, however, according to Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia and an renowned expert on the ancient history of alcoholic beverages. Other archaeologists who were mentioned in the coverage are Eric Cline, project co-director and professor at the George Washington University, and Andrew Koh of Brandeis University.

[Blogger’s note: the debate seems to concern not that this finding is of the oldest wine, since it is not, but that it might be the oldest “special”/”palatial” wine].

• Very old human DNA

Reuters and many other media reported on recent findings from DNA analysis of a boy’s 24,000 year-old remains found in the Lake Baikal region in Siberia. Genome sequencing done on the arm bone of a 3-year-old Siberian boy known as the Mal’ta Boy, the world’s oldest known human genome, shows that Native Americans share up to one-third of their DNA with people from those regions, said Kelly Graf, a research assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University and a member of the international research team. The team is led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The findings revise earlier beliefs that Native Americans were mostly descended from East Asians who crossed the land bridge from Siberia to North America some 14,000 years ago, Graf said on Thursday. Native Americans still have genetic connections to East Asians, Graf said, but the new sequencing shows that a “significant part” of their genome, as much as 35 percent, is linked to the Middle East, Eurasia and Europe. The study was published in the journal Nature this week.

• Not always so nice

The New York Times published a commentary on recent studies of female competitiveness and aggression published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Sarah Hrdy, emeritus professor of biological anthropology at the University of California at Davis, wrote the Preface. In it, she remarks on the “stunning” amount of new evidence on the subject compared to the situation thirty years ago when she reviewed the research literature available at the time. She attributes the change to improved research techniques and to rise of women in scientific fields once dominated by men.

Hrdy writes: “Since Darwin’s day, and even since my own introduction to evolutionary theory, the Western world has witnessed a sea change in attitudes about gender roles. In combination with a more diverse community of researchers undertaking long-term studies using sophisticated methodologies, researchers were prompted or ‘pre-adapted’ to ask new questions andthe answers are now beginning to emerge.”

[Blogger’s note: in other words, it’s not that girls and women are becoming more aggressive; rather, their behavior is being studied more.]

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