Anthro in the news 2/24/14

• Bolivia under water

As described by an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Bolivia is suffering from weeks of heavy rains that have caused rivers to swell, homes to flood, and crops to rot.

Bolivia map
Bolivia map/

More than 58,000 families have been affected in the past month, and 56 people are reported dead, but limited reporting from isolated communities could mean that these numbers are significantly higher.

The article quotes Matthew Schwartz, a doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, who works with the Tsimane, an indigenous group:

“As dire as the situation is for campesino and Tsimane communities close to San Borja, it’s really bleak for the further-out communities.”

Members of the University of New Mexico’s research team are currently at work in flood-affected areas, helping to deliver supplies and provide other support.

• Youthful trend in illegal U.S. border crossing

The Los Angeles Times reported on a rising trend of lone teenagers and even children crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. While the overall number of undocumented immigrants has slowed compared to five years ago, a new surge of immigration includes children and teenagers traveling through the rugged area into south Texas.

Up to 120 unaccompanied youths are arriving each day, a number that has tripled over the last five years. The young immigrants tell harrowing stories of being abused before and during their journeys, according to Susan Terrio, cultural anthropology professor at Georgetown University who interviewed 40 youths:

“They witnessed or survived robberies and fell victim to brutal attacks and sexual assaults. They outran or hid from federal police and border patrol agents. They struggled with hunger, illness, and exposure to the elements and saw fellow migrants lose limbs or die while jumping on or off cargo trains.”

• A smarter way to catch salmon

Boxes of salmon Petersburg, Alaska
Boxes of salmon in Petersburg, Alaska c. 1915/Wikipedia

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, published an article in Anchorage Daily News describing an experimental way of capturing migrating salmon. Boraas notes that: “fish traps are a dirty word in Alaska,” but goes on to say that the idea of a modified “mini-trap” is worth considering:

“If the state were smart, we would pour significant research dollars into [the] idea of a mini-trap with selective harvest capability for setnetting. If it works, and it’s the best idea yet, the setnetters will get their reds and the sport fishers and Kenaitze subsistence harvesters will get their kings. The federal government will have to deal with factory trawlers and anthropogenic climate change. No one will live happily ever after, but we may live compatibly ever after and have contributed to the survival of wild king salmon.”

• Kenya welcomes back vigango carvings from Denver

According to CBS Denver, villagers in Kenya are certain their bad luck is changing now that several vigango, are being returned to their villages from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Vigango (the singular form is kigango) are grave markers and memorial statues that also protect a village. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, is quoted as saying: “The good news is that they believe when they erect these an ancestor who has passed on comes to inhabit the actual structure itself.”

After being shipped to Kenya, the statues will be stored at the National Museums of Kenya, which has agreed to facilitate the statues’ return to their source communities. “It is the Museum’s hope that their return will bring healing to the families and communities that have suffered from their absence,” said Stephen Nash, chair of the anthropology department at the museum.

• Remembering a mentor’s thoughts about the U.S.

Laura Nader, cultural anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote an article for The Huffington Post in which she recalls a 1949 publication of her mentor at Harvard University, Clyde Kluckhohn.

Mirror for Man

His prize winning book, A Mirror for Man, includes a chapter entitled, “An Anthropologist Looks at the United States.” Nader comments:

“Recently, I reread his chapter on the United States and was impressed by his gentle assessment of what makes our country run, or not. His tone was perceptive, his comments poignant. Much of what he said then bears contemplation in these days of the Great Recession and American Empire, if only as a way to assess where we have been and where we are going — there are virtues to looking in the mirror once in a while.”

• Monument women: Protecting artifacts in Afghanistan

The Washington Post carried an article about preserving cultural heritage during conflict, focusing on the work of U.S. archaeologist Laura Tedesco in protecting cultural sites and heritage in Afghanistan.

Tedesco is a cultural heritage program manager, an archeologist tasked with identifying ancient Afghan sites in need of restoration. The U.S. State Department employs archaeologists to restore and preserve sites, and the Department of Defense employ archeologists to teach soldiers how to avoid destroying them. Cultural heritage became a priority for the U.S. military after the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon was damaged by a Marine base built on the sensitive site in 2003.

The article quotes Laurie Rush, an archeologist working for the Army. She began developing training programs for soldiers at Fort Drum, N.Y., in 2006:

“After Babylon, we realized we could do a better job of supporting personnel by offering more information about the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia…We want to make sure deploying personnel are as knowledgeable as possible, and that their radar will go off if they see something.”

Anthropologyworks reported on the destruction in Babylon in 2009.

A Buddhist temple at Sarnath.
A Buddhist temple at Sarnath/Wikipedia

• How old are you really, Sarnath?

According to an article in The Times of India, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has launched a hunt for past of Sarnath, a site in northern India where Buddha delivered his first sermon.

According to ASI officials, the known history of Sarnath dates back to the 3rd Century BCE to the 12th Century CE.

“The project aims at scientific dating of the place through various techniques like relative dating,” said Ajay Srivastava, deputy superintending archaeologist of Archaeological Museum.

• Ancient Britons loved dairy products

The South Wales Guardian reported on a study showing that, around 6,000 years ago, Britons replaced hunting and fishing with dairy farming, giving up a diet of fish and wild meat to rely more on milk and milk products.

Lucy Cramp, a lecturer in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol, was lead author of the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (open access).

She is quoted as saying: “The absence of lipid residues of marine foods in hundreds of cooking pots is really significant … It certainly stacks up with the skeletal isotope evidence to provide a clear picture that seafood was of little importance in the diets of the Neolithic farmers of the region. Amazingly, it was another 4,000 years before sea food remains appeared in pots again, during the Iron Age, and it was only with the arrival of the Vikings that fish became a significant part of our diet.”

• My son, the orangutan

The Mail Online wrote about a new documentary on the life the orangutan, Chantek, the only orangutan that has ever learned to communicate with humans using sign language.

Chantek Foundation
Source: Chantek Foundation

By the time he was five years old, he could use tools, play jokes, hold a conversation, and invent his own words.

Three decades later, Chantek, who describes himself as half-orangutan and half-human, lives in a zoo where he cannot enjoy his favorite activities and foods.

Nor can he continue his language studies with Lyn Miles, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who raised him.

The documentary, titled, The Ape Who Went to College, tells Chantek’s story from 1978 when Miles was hired by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to conduct a unique experiment in which she would adopt a baby orangutan who had been rejected by his mother and raise him like a human child. The point was to see if an ape could learn human behavior. Since he’s been living in the zoo with other orangutans, Chantek has forgotten many sign words. But he still remembers to tell Miles “I love you” when she visits him.

• Preserving lemurs

Eureka Live Science reported on the work of primatologist Ian Colquhoun, professor at Western Ontario University, in promoting lemur preservation. Lemurs, the most endangered mammal group on earth, are native only to Madagascar.

Colquhoun has teamed with 18 lemur conservationists and researchers, many of whom are from Madagascar, to devise an action plan to save Madagascar’s 101 lemur species. The action plan contains strategies for 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation and aims to help raise funds for individual projects. Vital steps outlined by the collaborators include effective management of Madagascar’s protected areas, the creation of more reserves directly managed by local communities, and a long-term research presence in critical lemur sites.

With many of the top primatologists in the world, he co-authored a Policy Forum commentary entitled, “Averting Lemur Extinctions amid Madagascar’s Political Crisis” published in the journal Science (not open access).

• In memoriam

According to The College Voice, John W. Burton, professor of anthropology at Connecticut College, died at the age of 61 years.

His specializations included ethnicity and social change, the interface of tradition and modernity in African social experience, Nilotic-speaking peoples of eastern Africa, the history of anthropological thought, and the work of Sir E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Burton taught courses on social and cultural anthropology, ethnology of Sub-Saharan Africa, anthropology of sex and gender, and the relationship between natural languages and symbolic classifications.

His books include: A Nilotic World: The Atout Speaking Peoples of the Southern Sudan, God’s Ants: A Study of Atout Religion, An Introduction to Evans-Pritchard, and Culture and the Human Body: An Anthropological Perspective. Burton also published over 50 articles and numerous book reviews in professional journals including the Journal of Asian and African Studies of which he was co-editor. He was the recipient of multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation.

According to an article in The GuardianAlison Jolly, primatologist and conservationist famous for her work on the lemurs of Madagascar, died at the age of 77 years.

Alison Jolly
Dr. Alison Jolly © Cyril Rouso, of Michigan - Dearborn

Jolly’s field research on lemurs shaped scholarly perspectives on the evolution of social behavior.  She was among the first to argue that primate conservation must recognize the needs of local people. She wrote several books for both popular and scientific audiences including: Lemur Behavior: A Madagascar Field Study and Lucy’s Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution.

Her non technical works include: Madagascar: A World out of Time and Lords & Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings With Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar. She also wrote numerous articles for scientific journals and popular magazine.

In addition, she was the author of two series of children’s books: The Ako Books and The Fiddle Stories. She was president of the International Primatological Society from 1992 until 1996 and received its lifetime achievement award in 2010. She was awarded a knighthood by the National Order of Madagascar in 1998 and the Osman Hill memorial medal by the Primate Society of Great Britain in 2006. In 2006, a new species of mouse lemur, Microcebus jollyae, was named in her honor, and a parcel of restored mining forest in Madagascar was named after her in January 2014. At the time of her death Jolly was visiting scientist at the University of Sussex.

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