Anthro in the news 8/11/14

  • Ebola and bio-terrorism
Ebola victim arrives at Emory University hospital. Source:

CBS News (Atlanta) quoted biological anthropologist Peter Walsh of Cambridge University who warns that terrorists could be able to build a dirty bomb containing the Ebola virus. He says that the risk should be taken seriously of terror groups getting their hands on the Ebola virus:

“A bigger and more serious risk is that a group manages to harness the virus as a powder, then explodes it in a bomb in a highly populated area…It could cause a large number of horrific deaths…Only a handful of labs worldwide have the Ebola virus and they are extremely well protected. So the risk is that a terrorist group seeks to obtain the virus out in West Africa.”

  • Hip-hop diplomacy?

The Herald described the cultural diplomacy efforts of the U.S. State Department and nonprofit groups that send musical troupes, dance groups and teachers abroad to promote American culture and generate goodwill. The approach is part of what’s known as soft diplomacy, the use of the arts and other forms of social interaction — from agricultural programs to public construction — as an instrument of foreign policy that contrasts with the hard diplomacy of the military and the economy. Current cultural diplomacy focuses on youth and includes musical genres such as American hip-hop.

The hip-hop effort has its critics, including cultural anthropologist Robert Albro, research associate professor in American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies:

“There’s no reason we should think hip-hop is some kind of effective communicator of the U.S….It’s not terribly central if you want to change perceptions in the world.”

  • Taiwan’s indigenous cultures threatened
Indigenous dance performance in Hualien, Taiwan. Source: San Francisco Chronicle.

The Diplomat reported on the many threats that indigenous groups in Taiwan face.  According to the article:

“In some cases, the challenge has not been overly different from previous phases of “modernization,” or from that of other Aborigine communities worldwide, which are confronted with the trauma of displacement as “civilization” encroaches upon their ancestral lands. In that respect, Taiwanese themselves have been guilty of stealing from, sidelining, and treating as mere inconveniences peoples whose way of life does not dovetail with our fast-paced “modernity” (not to mention dumping nuclear waste on their land, as on Orchid Island).”

“The China factor” has compounded the problem: millions of Chinese tourists visit Taiwan annually, accelerating the pace of evictions and encroachment upon ancestral land as hotels are built to accommodate them. In other cases, Aboriginal villages are transformed into tourist attractions, often without the consent of the residents but with pressure from developers, officials, and legislators who stand to enrich themselves by catering to the Chinese.

According to Scott Simon, a specialist in the political anthropology of indigeneity and development in the Austronesian communities of Taiwan at the University of Ottawa in Canada, the specific case of Hualien, could be “a violation of Taiwan’s Basic Act on Indigenous Peoples and the spirit of indigenous inherent sovereignty. Further, under customary international law, the Aboriginal community should decide whether to allow outsiders to participate in their ceremonies.

  • Forensic anthropology of World War II

According to The Star (Canada), Canadian forensic anthropologists have contributed to the discovery of the remains of two lost soldiers from World War II.  The findings are the result of determined research by Canadian experts including two anthropologists, historians, a genealogist, an osteologist, a DNA profiler, a sculptor, and an applied analytical biochemist, among others. Thanks to their efforts, the remains of two Canadians soldiers who were lost at Avion nearly 100 years ago have been identified as belonging to Pte. Herbert Peterson of Berry Creek, Alta., and Pte. Thomas Lawless of Medicine Hat.

“It was a great satisfaction,” said Andrew Nelson, an anthropologist at the University of Western Ontario who played an important role in the case, especially at the outset. “It was a big mystery. It’s a great feeling. You can now go to the family and say, ‘This is your great-great uncle.’”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

become a master potter and teacher. Michael Sweeney has over 40 years of experience in ceramics. While attending college, he apprenticed under master potter Gurujan Singh in Laguna Beach, California and also taught ceramics at the Experimental College at the University of California at Irvine. A Spanish and cultural anthropology major, he spent 15 months in Central America, studying Maya art and culture. In 1987, Sweeney began attending ceramics classes at Northland Pioneer College in Arizona. After 11 semesters, he built a kiln and set up a studio in his home, offering informal lessons. He later returned to NPC to study under instructors Lee Sweetman and Sharon Brush and, for the past several years, he has served as a studio aide.

Low fat, low sodium crackers from Heart & Soul, Hyderabad, India.

establish a company that produces healthy snacks that fuse India-West flavors. Arjun Durr, the man behind the Heart & Soul products, says it was the desire to provide people with a healthy and tastier alternative that made him start the venture in 2012: “Having grown up on a diet of jowar, ragi, I wanted to do something where I can combine the sorghum with local spices and make a snack that was an amalgamation of Indian and Western flavours.”  As the youth of India move further away from Indian food and opt for processed foods like pizzas and burgers, he is taking on the challenge to turn them towards a healthier option: “We as consumers are naive. We get easily pulled in by the sophisticated or scientific sounding names of ingredients used in the products. It was only after I realised the reality of the ingredients being used, that I decided to do something in the snacking industry.” Durr majored in social anthropology at the University of Capetown, South Africa.

  • U.S. military veterans learn archaeology

According to an article in the Columbia County News-Times (WHERE), the Veterans Curation Program lab in Martinez, provides opportunities for U.S. military veterans to learn skills such as preserving, repacking and tagging, photographing, and cataloging historical artifacts. Military veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan gain employment and job training through the program operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The goal of the program is to rehabilitate the Corps’ archeological collections and associated records for long-term curation and future research. Through the program, veterans are also given skills for reentering the civilian workforce.

The Martinez lab, one of three in the country, employs 12 veterans of all military branches. They work as a team to open and inspect all artifacts and documentation of particular Corps investigations, much of which wasn’t originally stored for long-term preservation.

  • Found, lost, and found again

A skeleton of a man excavated from Ur in Southern Iraq in the late 1920s and taken to the Penn Museum was apparently forgotten until now. Keeper and Associate Curator of the Physical Anthropology section of the Penn Museum, Janet Monge says they have always known he was here in the museum, just not his precise location: “He was a healthy person. He probably was a very strong person in the sense that the muscles that attach to his bone really show him to be in very, very good physical shape.” Archaeologist William Hafford of the University of Pennsylvania comments: “Archeologically it is important. The period he comes from, it is a movement toward cities. We don’t understand it that well. That’s why samples from Ur are so important.”

  • What lies beneath a four-lane highway in Pennsylvania

According to an article in The Washington Post, repairing an interstate highway in the U.S. under the National Historic Preservation Act requires that archaeological investigation be part of the process. The Pennsylvania transportation department, has assembled a collection of artifacts from more than 5,000 years of history beneath Philadelphia. They are the results, so far, of a multiyear project to upgrade and repair three miles of Interstate 95. Excavations have found, as expected, remains of the Colonial era, including plates, dishes and clothing. They also found artifacts from the region’s early shipbuilding, fishing and glassware industries, along with skulls from snapping turtles used in Philadelphia’s traditional snapper soup.

But surprisingly, they also found arrowheads, tools, cooking pots and smoking pipes linked to Native Americans who lived along the Delaware River as early as 3560 BCE. Though the area has been intensely urbanized for centuries, “we found intact Native American sites,” said Douglas Mooney, senior archaeologist with the project.

  • What lies beneath Lake Huron

The Globe and Mail (Canada) reported on research from 9,000 year-old sediment under Lake Huron. Geoarchaeologist Lisa Sonnenburg and her colleagues have found evidence of human toolmakers from a layer of 9,000-year-old sediment at the bottom of Lake Huron. The group contends it is one of many signs that point to the existence of a now-submerged hunting society that is more than twice as old as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. In 2008, John O’Shea of the University of Michigan assembled a team to search the location for signs of human activity; Sonnenberg, a Canadian researcher, joined soon after.

The researchers have discovered rock structures that resemble the guides and blinds indigenous people once used in the Canadian North for directing herds of caribou so that hunters could efficiently kill a large number of animals quickly. Around these structures, and nowhere else, stone flakes are found. Radiocarbon dating of preserved wood and charcoal found nearby suggests they are the oldest hunting structures in the world. The team’s findings are presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • The Hobbit’s health in question again
Homo floresiensis was a notably small human ancestor.

Experts are still trying to explain the distinctive morphology of Homo floresiensis, or “The Hobbit”, an extinct human species found in Flores, Indonesia, that is small in body size. The New York Times reported on a new interpretation of the small size of the Flores skull which claims the individual had Down Syndrome. Researchers published two papers in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The New York Times article quotes Dean Falk, a biological anthropologist at Florida State University who specializes in brain evolution, who says she sees no signs of growth disorder.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s