anthro in the news 8/18/15

  • “Blood coming out of her wherever”

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about cross-cultural attitudes toward menstruation, noting that while negative attitudes about menstruating women are widespread, they are by no means universal. The article was prompted by Donald Trump’s remark during a recent debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” NPR quotes Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos: “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal.” Yet the exceptions, societies that treat menstruating women with respect, are important. Alma Gottlieb, professor of cultural anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, is co-editor with Thomas Buckley of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, which includes positive examples.

  • So true: Graeberian bullshit jobs

According to an article in the Independent (U.K.), a study has found that more than a third of British workers believe their jobs are meaningless. In 2013, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, argued in his article, On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, that increasing numbers of jobs are not socially useful and exist only for their own sake.

  • Caucasus ritual: You cannot be sober

The Independent (U.K.) carried an article about an annual summer ritual in a region in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia. The event includes horse racing, animal sacrifice, dancing, and beer drinking. The article focuses on the ritual leaders, or khevisberi, and provides commentary about them from Kevin Tuite, professor of anthropology at Montreal University: “Boxing with God,” as he calls it, is the defining experience in becoming a khevisberi. You are haunted by dreams and hallucinations, the deity visits calamities on you and your family, and finally you submit. [Blogger’s note: while a khevisberi is not easily recruited, it seems likely that they would not consider their work as a khevisberi to be meaningless in the Graeberian sense].

  • Hot dogs crossing the border
A Sonoran hot dog. Credit: NBC News.

NBC News reported on the popularity in Arizona of the Sonoran hot dog, a dish inspired by Mexico and now firmly entrenched as a new food citizen in the U.S. The article quotes cultural anthropologist Maribel Alvarez of the University of Arizona who is also a food activist and founder of Sabores Sin Fronteras (Foodways Alliance for the Borderlands):  “It’s not just your ordinary hot dog with a little bit of ketchup and mustard. This is a whole new experience…With the first bite you take, you know you’re biting into something pretty unique and incredibly tasty.” The Sonoran hot dog is wrapped in bacon, grilled until crispy, then stuffed into a split-top roll called a bolillo (pronouced boh-lee-yoh) and topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard, and jalapeño salsa. A roasted chile güero (a pale pepper) is served on the side.

  • Black American musical styles in Thailand

An article in the Bangkok Post describes the uneasy relationship in Thailand between the popularity of black American music, including R&B/soul, funk, jazz, ska and reggae, and longstanding skin-color racism in Thailand. “It’s no secret that blacks are not particularly welcome in Thailand. Atlanta’s Black Star newspaper named Thailand one of eight worst countries for black people to visit. When and if they do come here.”  The article mentions commentary by anthropology professor Yukti Mukdawijitra of Thammasat University who explained in a New Yorker article that the notion that dark skin is bad is “embedded in Thai culture.”

The article ends with some hope: “On the bright side, however, Thai musicians’ interest in black styles could be a bellwether of change, a first step toward real racial progress. Appreciation for another people’s language or music.”

  • Fire it up: A Japanese style kiln in England
Anagama in Oxfordshire. Credit: BBC News.

A Japanese potters’ kiln built to look like a fire-breathing dragon has been fired up in Oxfordshire. The 11m-long (36ft) anagama wood-fired kiln has been built with the help of experts from Japan. It is part of social anthropology research project led by the University of Oxford and carried out in Wytham Woods, Oxford’s woodland environmental research area. Project leader Robin Wilson said the kilns produced pots with “great variation in colour and texture.” Anagama kilns were first used in Korea in the 6th century and later adopted by the Japanese. They largely disappeared in the 17th century, apart from in the province of Bizen. Experts from Bizen travelled to the U.K. to help build the Oxfordshire kiln. A second one is due to be fired up in the autumn.

  • Interview with Niobe Thompson

The South China Morning Post carried an interview with Niobe Thompson, anthropologist and documentary filmmaker. Thompson discussed his new television series, The Great Human Odyssey and how he went into filmmaking: “I’ve been making films since 2007, when I left my job teaching anthropology [at the University of Alberta…I’ve always been fascinated with aspects of the human journey…I’ve made films about the earliest peopling of the Americas; about the role of endurance running in human evolution; on the Inuit in the Arctic.” He believes mankind’s ability to adapt provides hope for the future.

  • Too much information and yet not enough

Iceland’s detailed demographic database, on its entire population, offers rich possibilities for cancer and other medical research, but it also raises ethical questions about personal privacy versus research for medical advancement.  Newsweek reported on the rich national database from which researchers can draw insights, noting that such information can only get you so far: you also have to understand how a disease expresses itself in a population, so need to know about the people: “Knowing the genealogical links and distance between any two people is obviously crucial for much genetic work,” says Gísli Pálsson, professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland.

  • Take that anthro degree and….

…become a food activist and writer. Claudia Urdanivia oversees a community garden program in northern New Jersey and writes for Food Tank. She received an M. A. degree in anthropology from Hunter College, CUNY. Her research interests include urban agriculture, environmental anthropology, Andean studies, biodiversity, and Andean crops.

…work for the U.S. federal government. Robert Tate earned B.A. degrees in anthropology and in ancient history and classics from Ohio State University and an M.A. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from the University of Chicago.

  • Very old human meat-eaters

According to an article in Forbes, researchers working in the Dikika region of Ethiopia have found fossilized skeletal remains of ancient hominins and animal bones with marks on them suggesting butchery as early as 3.4 million years ago. Writing in the Journal of Human Evolution, lead author Jessica Thompson of Emory University and colleagues report on the findings.

  • Lost and perhaps found: Queen Nefertiti

As reported in the Washington Post, research led by archaeologist Nicholas Reeves of the University of Arizona indicates that the remains of Queen Nefertiti may lie in the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

  • Viking era site in Iceland

According to an article in Forbes, archaeologists have recovered over one hundred Viking Age skeletons on a farm in northern Iceland. A large celebration hall unlike any seen before on the island and an octagonal cemetery boundary provide clues into both Viking and early Icelandic families. The writer was in Reykjavik on vacation and met with bioarchaeologist Hildur Gestsdóttir, of the Iceland Institute of Archaeology, who has been excavating at Hofstaðir over the past fifteen years.

  • Sharing grief across species

Barbara J. King, Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, published a piece for NPR on how pets can help humans deal with grief. After the death of her mother, King adopted a cat who had also experienced loss.

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