anthro in the news 11/2/2015

Arizona desert. source: Creative Commons

The killing field of Arizona

Pacifica Public Radio [U.S.] aired a piece on the implications of the election of Republican Paul Ryan to speaker of the House of Representatives for U.S. immigration policy. It included commentary by Jason de León, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological study of clandestine border crossings between Mexico and the United States. León is author of The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. He uses a combination of ethnography, archaeology, linguistics, and forensic science to critique “Prevention through Deterrence,” describing the U.S. border enforcement policy as one that steers migrants to cross in extremely harsh environmental conditions with a high risk of death.  According to de Léon, this policy has failed to deter border crossers for two decades while turning the rugged terrain of southern Arizona into a killing field.


Do you believe in magic? Surveys not the right tool to find out

Christian cemetery. source: Creative Commons
An article in the Irish Times about “spooky” phenomena and supernatural beliefs in general quoted Lawrence Taylor, a professor of anthropology at Maynooth University and the author of Occasions of Faith: An Anthropology of Irish Catholics. He comments that while findings from surveys on supernatural belief are regularly reported, they have little scientific value. The article also mentions the work of archaeologists R. C. Turner and R. G. Scaife who note in the preface to their edited book, Bog Bodies: New Discoveries and New Perspectives, that the discovery of human remains in bogs and marshes has long formed a part of oral history throughout Europe.




Higher education for refugees is a smart thing

The Age [Australia] published an op-ed on the importance of providing funding for higher education for refugees. Sandy Gifford, one of the authors, is a professor of anthropology and refugee studies at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research of the Swinburne University of Technology. The article points out that, for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia on temporary visas, their education stops at the end of high school when their visa expires. These youths “can only dream of further study after they complete high school.” The authors advocate for ways to help these youth go on for a higher degree, noting that: “We are heartened that our own university, Swinburne, is doing its best to offer scholarships to individual asylum seekers and refugees when particular cases are brought to its attention, but a reliance on individual lobbying efforts risks being highly selective. Those without a champion will miss out, so we need a fairer, more systematic approach.”


Take a curated walk through Nepal’s patis

The Kathmandu Times published an interview with Christiane Brosius of the University of Heidelberg about her research in Nepal.  Brosius is professor of visual and media anthropology at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies and a co-founder of SAI Help Nepal at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg. One of the photographers participating in the photography festival Photo Kathmandu, she is doing research on the Nepali art scene, with a focus on migration, urbanization, and post-earthquake notions of heritage and locality by art collectives and institutions. Her exhibit offers a “curated walk” that takes the visitor through alleys of Patan, connecting four patis (public squares) and their communities. In between the four main patis, visitors will discover eight more patis that relate personal experiences of local people to the site and offer glimpses of the diversity of urban life past and present.


Money is debt

A dollar bill is a debt note. source: Creative Commons

The Guardian published a taped lecture by David Graeber, cultural anthropologist in the anthropology department of the London School of Economics. He talks about how government debt is downshifted to the non-rich, the Peter Paul Principle, and how money is power for some and debt for most.





Ovarian cancer in the U.S.: Focus on Oregon

The Register Guard (Oregon) published an op-ed by Sandra Morgen, a medical and feminist anthropologist at the University of Oregon. She comments on a new report on variation in the U.S. across states in improving treatment for and outcomes from ovarian cancer. Although Oregon is doing better than many states, she argues that it “can and must do better.” The report, 50 States of Teal, issued by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, shows that despite comparing favorably with more than half the other states on seven of 10 measures, Oregonians with ovarian cancer die sooner than their counterparts in 28 other states. She writes: “For those of us living with the disease, this means the state and our health care providers need to do more to ensure access to the highest quality of care and to innovative treatments that will allow more of us to live longer, healthier and more productive lives.”


Their voices live on

Ishi, the last Yahi Indian. source: wikipedia


KQED News (California) reported on a research project at the University of California at Berkeley that was launched this month. The three-year project will restore and translate thousands of century-old audio recordings of Native California Indians. The collection was created by cultural anthropologists in the first half of the 20th century and is now considered the largest audio repository of California Indian culture in the world. Nearly a third of the 2,713 recordings were made by Ishi, the last member of the Yahi tribe who lived much of his adult life inside the University of California’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.






Cemeteries are not lucky places

The Oregonian carried an article describing the dilemma posed by the proposed placement of a new school near an existing, old cemetery in the town of North Bethany. Local planners did not see a problem, but concerns arose at a public meeting. The school will serve a growing population of people from India, China, and other Asian countries, many of whom see cemeteries as sacred or forbidding places that are best avoided. One person at the public meeting asked if the cemetery could be screened from the children’s view. The article includes insights from Sharon Carstens, professor of anthropology at Portland State University. She notes that, in China, people visit the graves of their ancestors once a year. They clean off the graves and bring offerings to honor their ancestors: “They don’t go to cemeteries other than that…Those who have died unfortunate deaths or who don’t have ancestors to take care of them in the other world can become troublesome ghosts or can create illnesses and problems for people…It’s just not a lucky place.”


Lecture series to address “science denial” in America

The Dallas News reported on a lecture series at Southern Methodist University highlighting the need to promote science in the U.S., especially in relation to partisan politics. The five-part public lecture series tackles the troubling spread of science denial in America. The article quotes Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and the Ruth Collins Altshuler Director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute:  “The level of scientific literacy is declining…It’s ‘I feel’ or ‘I believe,’ but that’s not scientific practice. That’s not how it works.” We are all obligated, according to Brettell, to understand the lengthy and rigorous process through which scientific consensus is achieved.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a journalist. Anjali Shastry covers D.C. Capitol Hill politics for the Washington Times. She has previously written for the American Journalism Review, Voice of America, and the University of Maryland’s Capital New Service wire. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a double bachelor’s degree in English and anthropology. She has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.

…work in heritage education. Megg Heath was the Chief Heritage Education Project Manager at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Dolores, Colorado, field office and is retiring after 23 years of service. She connected teachers with curriculum focused on the science and cultural resources of public lands, organized workshops, and developed programs to engage youth in cultural heritage. She said: “A seminal moment for heritage education was the Save the Past for the Future conference in Taos in 1989…Archaeologist Jim Judge wrote it up, and after that all federal agencies were required to have education programs.” Heath is especially proud of administering programs like History Mysteries, the Junior Explorers, Watchable Wildlife, and more recently the BLM’s artist in residence program, which began in 2012: “We have 11 artist in residence programs in 13 states, including in Alaska and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument…They are real community builders…” Heath has a master’s degree in education administration and a degree in anthropology.

…work for an investment bank. Morgen Alden works for a boutique investment bank following her first job with a law firm as a paralegal. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. and M.A. in medical anthropology.

…become a school teacher and aspiring local political leader. Riccardo D. Dursi Jr. teaches American history in Rome, New York, and hopes to take his knowledge from the classroom to the city’s Common Council chambers. A political newcomer, he is running as a Republican candidate. He attended Mohawk Valley Community College for two years then earned B.A. degrees in anthropology and history at SUNY Potsdam. He earned a master’s degree in K-12 literacy from SUNY Cortland.


The Manhattan of the Neolithic

The Jordan Times carried an article about archaeological research at Ain Ghazal, Jordan. In a lecture at the American Centre of Oriental Research in Amman, Gary O. Rollefson, professor of anthropology at Whitman College, described the life of hunting and herding communities during the Late Neolithic period. He referred to Ain Ghazal as “the Manhattan of the Neolithic period.” At its height in 7,000 BCE, it was inhabited by around 3,000 people, making it one of the biggest Neolithic sites in the Near East.


From Wyoming to Mongolia

The Laramie Boomerang (Wyoming) reported on research by archaeologist Todd Surovell of the department of anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He has worked at early human sites across Wyoming and Colorado, with his latest dig examining a Columbian Mammoth killed by some of the first people in Wyoming about 13,000 years ago.  His U.S. based research posed questions for him that he thought he could best answer by studying living nomadic people. So he developed a fieldwork project with living nomadic people in Mongolia starting in 2012. He said:  “I work with Dukha, who are reindeer herders — they domesticated reindeer.” Surovell collects spatial data, such as when and where people stand or sit during the day, inside their homes and outside, and what they are doing.


Hobby Lobby antiquities purchase in question

Fox News reported on concerns about a recent purchase by Hobby Lobby CEO Steven Green, the world’s foremost private collector of biblical artifacts. Green may bought black market items plundered by the Islamic State. The tablets, which The Daily Beast reported are thousands of years old and inscribed with text used in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, were seized by Customs agents in Memphis, Tennessee in 2011 while on their way into Green’s collection. Little is known publicly about the case, and U.S. Customs did not comment on’s inquiry. One U.S. archaeologist, who asked to remain unidentified, who has worked with the Greens said the family is very meticulous and ethical about acquisitions: “In my opinion the Greens would not have knowingly purchased antiquities from an unknown or suspected source…However, the authorities are extremely sensitive about any antiquities coming into the market at this time and are critical of almost any trade or sale between the Middle East and other countries, especially with regard to well-funded private collectors such as the Greens. Therefore, they would be a prime target of investigation.” The tablets could be worth anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 each, according to Amr Al-Azm, an associate professor Middle East History and Anthropology in the Department of Social Sciences at Shawnee State University.


From the DNA of babes: Coming to America

The Washington Post reported on new genetic information from two infants buried 11,500 years ago in what is now Alaska. Each reveals mothers with very different genomes. Findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Analysis of their mitochondrial DNA (which is inherited from mothers) shows that while the infants were from distinct genetic groups, their DNA was still distinctly Native American, indicating that their mothers had been separate from Asian groups for quite some time. The article quotes University of Utah anthropology professor Dennis O’Rourke, senior author of the article, who said in a statement. “We believe that was in Beringia. We see diversity that is not present in modern Native American populations of the north, and we see it at a fairly early date. This is evidence there was substantial genetic variation in the Beringian population before any of them moved south…You don’t see any of these lineages that are distinctly Native American in Asia, even Siberia, so there had to be a period of isolation for thes


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