Anthro in the news 2/17/14

• Lessons learned about AIDs?

The Washington Post published an op-ed by medical anthropologist, health advocate, doctor, and professor at Harvard University, Paul Farmer.

Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer/Wikipedia

He asks whether, a decade after the global AIDS response began in earnest, the lessons learned will be sustained over time and used to fight other diseases. He notes the similarities between the prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infections today and AIDs in the 1990s.

Hepatitis C inflicts 170 million people worldwide, is the leading indication for liver transplant in the United States, and a common cause of liver failure around the world. For some, however, Hepatitis C is about to become curable thanks to the knowledge doctors and researchers gained fighting AIDs.

• Source your chocolate

Cultural anthropologist Mark Schuller, anthropology professor at Northern Illinois University, writes in The Huffington Post about where chocolate comes and options for the future. He highlights a documentary film, “Nothing Like Chocolate,” by sociologist Kum-Kum Bhavnani of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Noting that over 40 percent of the world’s chocolate comes from Côte d’Ivoire, the film documents the violence behind its harvest, including civil war and child labor. It reveals the growing consolidation of the chocolate industry by transnational agribusiness corporations like Nestle and Hershey’s who continue to buy up small producers.

On a more positive note, the film highlights an alternative to this process in the Grenada Chocolate Company: “Within 5 years, the co-operative was producing 9 to 10 tons of local organic chocolate. Nothing Like Chocolate looks at this revolutionary experiment, focusing on how solar power, appropriate technology and activism merge to create a business whose values are fairness, community, sustainability and high quality.”

Chinatown Manhattan
Chinatown Manhattan/Wikipedia
• Chinatowns around the world: declining or adapting?

BBC News reported on the changing character of Chinatowns, especially through gentrification.

The article quotes cultural anthropologist Ken Guest, a professor of cultural anthropology at Baruch College, on New York City’s Chinatown:

“It’s remained a very dynamic immigrant centre for 100 years because it’s retained its ability to be an immigrant gateway — a place where new immigrants come in and are able to find housing and job networks.”

• Kenya: Teaching “mother tongues”, or not

According to an article on, the ministry of education in Kenya is asserting the status of “mother tongues.” This move has attracted support and dissent in equal measure. To the detractors, it will heighten negative ethnicity and may even be harmful to the quality of education.

Senator Martha Wangari objects strongly, seeing the mother tongue as an irrelevant factor in the emerging society: “It will disturb the homogeneous setting we are now in where we already have many Wangaris and Achiengs who do not speak their mother tongues.”

But such views have no substance according to Magoiga Seba, an anthropologist and a longtime advocate for promotion of mother tongues.

• Cultural anthropology shifting tech mindsets

driverless car
Toyota Prius modified to operate as a Google driverless car/Wikipedia

Two key cultural anthropology strengths — being grounded and being nuanced — inform the research of Genevieve Bell, Intel’s resident “tech intellectual,” according to an article that appeared in both The New York Times and The Times of India

“[Bell] runs a skunk works of some 100 social scientists and designers who travel the globe, observing how people use technology in their homes and in public. The team’s findings help inform the company’s product development process and are also often shared with the laptop makers, automakers and other companies that embed Intel processors in their goods.”

Bell and Alexandra Zafiroglu, a fellow Intel anthropologist, traveled around the world, examining, logging, and photographing the contents of people’s cars. They asked drivers about how they used every object in their cars.  Bell says: “What became clear was…how much technology people bring to cars, how much they were ignoring the technology that was built in and how much that technology was failing them.”

This grounded, nuanced view of driver behavior served as a reality check for Intel and its clients. In the fall, Intel announced a collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover to develop, among other things, better ways for consumers to sync their personal devices with their cars. Intel has a similar effort with Toyota to develop user-interaction systems involving voice, gesture and touch.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…work as Assistant Director of a Head Start Center and run for Town Council. Jake Bruton worked as a mechanic before deciding to return to school to pursue a degree in psychology and anthropology. He now works at the Head Start Center in Albuquerque, an early education program for kids from 5 weeks to 5 years old. As a 20-year resident of Tijeras, New Mexico, he is running for Town Council this March. Good luck, Jake!

Tyler Hutcherson and Stephen Villela
Tyler Hutcherson, Stephen Villela/Bandera Bulletin

…make a documentary film on post-genocide Rwanda. Tyler Hutcherson says, “When they’d mess up my order at Starbucks, I used to get pissed off. Then I met a woman in Rwanda who lives next door to the man who killed her family, burned down their house, killed their cattle and made it almost impossible to survive…they’re now helping each other to live. That says something we don’t understand in other cultures.” So is the essence of a story being told by filmmakers Tyler Hutcherson and Stephen Villela of San Antonio, Texas.

Project Forgiveness is still in production; the pair are now finishing the translation and editing work of the Rwanda leg of their project, with upcoming visits to Bosnia and Guatemala, all sites of atrocities enacted by human begins against other human beings. The film started as a photo project when Hutcherson first visited Rwanda as a study abroad student and anthropology major at the University of Missouri. “It blew my mind that two people who had experienced such violence and horror at each others’ hands are now typical neighbors,” Hutcherson said. “I wanted to do a photo project to document that, those stories.”

The documentary film has an aggressive completion goal of September 16, 2014. You can follow at Donations are “always very much appreciated” and make possible the sharing of this message of forgiveness with the world.

• What’s love all about anyway?

An article in Quartz mentions a class the author took with biological anthropologist, Melvin Konner, and professor at Emory University:

“The most memorable lecture of my college career was the one in which biological anthropologist Melvin Konner asked a room full of impressionable undergraduates what the purpose of love could be. Theatrically, he let a few of us answer. Then he dropped the hammer.” Konner asked: “What if the purpose of love isn’t getting people into relationships, but out of them?”

• Very old dog burial

Archaeologists announced the discovery of “an exceptional” old burial site in Mexico City containing the remains of 12 dogs.

INAH, Meliton Tapia/Associated Press
Canine skeletons unearthed by investigators in Mexico City. INAH, Meliton Tapia/Associated Press, via WaPo

Dogs had a major religious and symbolic significance to the Aztec peoples of central Mexico.

Previously, the remains of dogs have been found accompanying human remains or as part of offerings, experts with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said, but this is the first time a group of dogs has been found buried together at one site.

“This is definitely a special finding because of the number of dogs and because we have found no connection to a building or with the deceased,” said archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez.

The dogs were buried at around the same time in a small pit between 1350 a 1520 B.C.E., during the height of the Aztec empire. Michael E. Smith, an anthropology professor at Arizona State University who was not involved in the project, is quoted as saying, “This is not the first time a burial of a dog has been found, but it is the first find where many dogs were carefully buried together, in a setting that is like a cemetery.”

• Very old toothache

The Scotsman reported on findings from a Bronze Age grave uncovered in the Scottish Highlands that contain the remains of a woman in her forties who was suffering from toothache before she died 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists from Glasgow-based Guard Archaeology were called in when a cist, a stone burial chest, was inadvertently disturbed by construction workers. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick analyzed the bones.

• Ancient American genome links to Asia

BBC news carried an article reporting on genetic research that indicates Americans Indians are descended from ancestors from Asia.

As reported in the journal Nature, scientists sequenced the genome of a one-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana about 12,500 years ago.

According to the findings, the boy was a member of the Clovis people, a widespread Ice Age culture in North America. The boy’s remains, found at the Anzick Site in Montana in 1968, were associated with distinctive Clovis stone tools. It is the only known skeleton directly linked to artifacts from this culture.

The research underscores the ethical minefield of studying ancient Native American remains and rekindles memories of a legal conflict over a different human skeleton in the 1990s. To attempt to avoid a similar controversy, Eske Willerslev, a palaeobiologist at the University of Copenhagen who led the latest study, involved members of American Indian communities.

He visited Montana’s Indian reservations last year, talking to community members to explain his work, and seeking their support. “I didn’t want a situation where the first time they heard about this study was when it’s published.”  Another article in Nature reports on the ethical aspects of this research.

• Finding lost genomes: new book coming soon

Svante Pääbo. Photo by: Frank Vinken.

The Guardian detailed the work of geneticist Svante Pääbo and his many contributions to understanding human evolution and prehistory through the analysis of ancient DNA. It goes so far as to say that Pääbo has turned paleontology on its head. Pablo is the Director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Among his achievements, he sequenced an entire Neanderthal genome, revealing a link between these extinct people and many modern humans. He also uncovered the existence of a previously unknown human species, called the Denisovans, from DNA extracted from a finger bone found in a cave in Siberia. Pääbo recounts his work in Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, to be published by Basic Books later this month.

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