anthro in the news 1/18/16


Source: Google Images/Creative Commons

Autism that can kill

Kim Shively, professor of cultural anthropology at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, published an article in the Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) about how autism can be fatal to children. Her article notes a recent death by drowning of a five-year old autistic boy in Allentown. She focuses on the variety of autism that involves a tendency to wander away from home, arguing that it is the most dangerous, especially for non-verbal children. She notes that “public safety and health service providers in our area…have poor understanding of what autism is or how it is manifested.” She offers three recommendations.


Sons of a paramount chief, seated, with an African slave, 1904. The Guardian/Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies, Tehran, Iran

African slavery in Iran

Anthropologist Pedram Khosronejad is Farzaneh Family Scholar and Associate Director for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies at the School of International Studies of Oklahoma State University. He has embarked on a new and controversial topic in Iranian studies, developing a narrative on African slavery in Persia through archival photography, interviews, and texts. The African slave trade in the Persian Gulf began well before the Islamic period. Mediaeval accounts refer to slaves working as household servants, bodyguards, militiamen and sailors in the Persian Gulf including what is today southern Iran. In Iran’s modern history, Africans were integral to elite households.

The economic future of Mauritius

Sean Carey, sociocultural anthropologist at the University of Roehampton, published an article in African Arguments about how the current prime minister may be able to lead Mauritius beyond a year of scandals into a brighter 2016: “While Mauritius’ scandals may have grabbed the headlines, 2015 was also a year of quieter economic expectations as the population waited to see what the new administration had up its sleeve…in his election campaign, Jugnauth had promised to inaugurate a ‘second economic miracle’ if elected.” Looking ahead, Mauritius plans to develop the “blue economy” (its harbor, shipping, fishing, and oil and mineral reserves under water) and tourism which is the main source of foreign exchange for Mauritius’s $11.25 billion economy.


Tobacco bill in Indonesia protects industry

Tobacco leaves sorting in Java. Source:Wikimedia/Creative Commons


Two Ph.D. students in the Department of Anthropology at Australian National University, Omar Pidani and Fitrilailah Mokui, published an op-ed in the Jakarta Post about a bill being proposed in Indonesia: “The argument that this bill aims to protect the wellbeing of tobacco farmers is far from reality. In fact, it could sustain poverty and limit the potential of future generations as a result of smoking…” The authors discuss the history and culture of tobacco in Indonesia, noting that it was known as a pharmacological agent as early as 5,000 B.C.E. “The industry knows that smoking is still deeply ingrained in local cultures. Cigarettes often possess symbolic value and meaning often inseparable from traditions and rituals that bond people together through moral reciprocation. Our year-long ethnography revealed that in Bombana in Southeast Sulawesi… people bestowed special value and meaning to cigarettes termed pokompolulu (pathway opening).” They also critique the bill’s mention of kretek, saying that kretek is “…as an item of social and cultural heritage, but it [it’s mention in the bill] is really an effort to safeguard the interests of the tobacco industry in exploiting Indonesia’s large number of smokers.”


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a curator. Samantha George is curator of the Parkwood Estate in Oshwawa, Ontario, Canada, once the home of auto baron Samuel McLaughlin and his family. Her work involves researching questions visitors ask tour guides, educating guides, working with volunteers, researching the family, the estate and the time period, writing grant applications, and overseeing the many TV, movie and commercial film crews that shoot at the national historic site. She also organizes a wide range of social programs, from a culinary club to dining etiquette programs to basement tours. George studied history and anthropology at York University and then museum studies at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Before finishing college, she had an internship at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.

…become a veterinary worker, writer, and painter. Hudson Valley, New York, artist Bradley McBride graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. degree in anthropology. He also works part-time at a veterinary clinic, spending his free time writing and painting. His paintings have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and elsewhere.

…become a personal trainer and columnist. Kelsey Tyler lives in Teton Valley, Idaho, described by Wikipedia as a rural, agriculture and ranching based economy with a shifting emphasis towards recreational tourism. She works as a personal trainer and also writes for the Teton Valley News. She has a B.S. in anthropology and geography from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

…become a star squash player. Amanda Sobhy is the first American-born player to reach the final of a World Series-level tournament on the Professional Squash Association Tour. Sobhy is in her first full season as a professional after graduating from Harvard University with a B.A. in social anthropology and global health.

…become a musician and store owner. Linda Dami, who has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California at San Diego, co-owns Donut Panic, a vegan donut store and musical performance venue in San Diego.


Date pushback: Humans in the Arctic earlier than thought

A mummified mammoth found in the Siberian Arctic appears to indicate that it was hunted by humans, 10,000 years before humans were thought to have reached the Arctic. This finding, published in Science, pushes human occupation of the Arctic back to at least 45,000 years ago. For early humans in the Arctic, mammoths would have been a major food source:  “Indeed, these animals provide an endless source of different goods: food with meat, fat and marrow; fuel with dung, fat and bones; and raw material with long bones and ivory,” lead author Vladimir Pitulko of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Reuters. “They certainly would use them as food, especially certain parts like tongue or liver as a delicacy, but hunting for the ivory was more important.”

“One can almost see the blow-by-blow battle between people and mammoth fought on those frozen plains,” Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine. “The impact wounds on the bones with embedded stone fragments is conclusive evidence that people slayed this mammoth.” [Blogger’s note: other coverage suggests that some archaeologists are more cautious about the death-by-hunting claim].


Concern in Florida about “citizen archaeologists”

Forbes magazine published an article by regular contributor, Kristina Kilgrove, a bioarchaeoligst at the University of West Florida, describing the controversy about a proposed new bill in Florida that would allow “citizen archaeologists” access to public lands for digging:

“A recently proposed bill in Florida is making news this week for the outcry it has generated among archaeologists. House Bill 803 has been put forth to change the cultural resource laws in the state. For the cost of a $100 permit, anyone would be able to dig by hand or use a trowel to excavate an artifact, take it home to display it, or sell it to the highest bidder, as long as they report the location where they found it. While the state legislature feels “citizen archaeology” is a valid concern, professional archaeologists tasked with protecting the state’s past are furious.”

This post was co-written with Sarah Miller of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  Full disclosure: FPAN is a program of the University of West Florida, where I teach in the Department of Anthropology.”


Welcome to the neighborhood: The “Hobbits” were not alone

The Christian Science Monitor and several other media reported on findings on the island of Sulawesi of stone tools that date to at least 118,000 years ago, at the same time of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia. Sulawesi, like Flores, was host to a long-established population of archaic hominins, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature. The humans living on these Indonesian islands “might have been much more common than we have realized so far,” study lead author Gerrit van den Bergh told The Christian Science Monitor.


Query about finding that older fathers have less “attractive” children

A journalist writing in Florida Today takes on the reported findings of Martin Fielder, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Vienna, about this statement: “We found a significant negative effect between paternal age and people’s facial attractiveness.” In other words, older fathers have less attractive children. An article in the Telegraph (U.K.) described Fielder’s findings and his evidence base: he asked volunteers to rate the attractiveness of more than 8,000 men and women. Analysis revealed that people with older fathers were rated less attractive than those with younger fathers. The study did not look at the age of mothers.



Wade Davis, professor of anthropology and BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia, has been named a member of the Order of Canada. An ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University




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