anthro in the news 2/22/16


Food trends in the UK

BBC News reported on results from a long-term study of changes in food consumption in the U.K. since the 1970s: Pasta is rising, tea is down, skim milk is up. The article quotes Emma Jayne Abbots, lecturer in social and cultural anthropology and heritage at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, on milk. The decline of consumption of whole milk and the rise of skim milk suggests that public health messages had an impact on consumption. Abbots is quoted as saying: “Switching to skimmed milk was heavily promoted in the late 1990s as part of a focus on heart health and cholesterol levels…It wouldn’t have been due to cost as full fat is the same price.” [Blogger note: I await findings broken down by region, class, ethnicity, and gender].

Guns, freedom, and security on U.S. campuses

Logo of Students for Concealed Carry. Source: Wikipedia 

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, published an op-ed in the Alaska daily News, addressing a bill introduced in the Alaskan Senate that would allow concealed weapons on all University of Alaska campuses. His motive is to counter the increase in campus shootings by allowing the student body and faculty to arm themselves. Another rationale is that prohibition of guns on campus is a violation of Second Amendment rights. Boraas writes: “We have created a false mythology that the gun is the answer. In the midst of an epidemic of intolerance, we will be better off trying to understand the causes and alternatives to violence rather than perpetuating the means to enact it.”

Interview: Pakistan’s sociopolitical history

The Sunday News (Pakistan) carried an interview with cultural anthropologist Kamran Asdar Ali of the University of Texas at Austin about his research on Pakistan’s sociopolitical history.

Book review: Somali refugees in Maine

Times Higher Education published a review of cultural anthropologist Catherine Besteman’s book, Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine: “She does a deft job of unpacking Somalia’s long history of powerlessness in international affairs, from colonial battles and the slave trade to international complicity in its massive weaponisation, refugees’ flight and dependence on charitable support – and how all these have played a part in her subjects’ marginalisation in present-day middle America.”

Take that anthro degree and…

…work in services for homeless people. Tully MacKay-Tisbert works for an organization in Los Angeles that provides support to homeless and vulnerable individuals. He studied applied anthropology at the California State University, Long Beach. See his op-ed in which he writes: “Of course, I want to make a difference. That’s what drew me to the field of homeless services in the first place. But the poverty and trauma I’ve seen have convinced me that we are failing. The nonprofit industry and all our emergencies will not end homelessness. What will? Real advocacy that isn’t compromised by the funding of an industry. Advocacy that produces deep changes in how our economic system creates and responds to poverty, how we create housing, how people get the health care they need.”

…become a comedian, writer, and filmmaker. Jena Friedman has been a writer for the Late Show with David Letterman and is a former producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  She is behind the web series Ted & Gracie (parodying the New York Times wedding videos), Mothers Without Boundaries (a leftfield swipe at overbearing matriarchs), and Refugee Girls (a satirical spoof of a U.S. doll brand). She studied anthropology at the University in Chicago.

…become a professor of religious studies. Anand V. Taneja is an assistant professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University. He has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of New Delhi, an M.A. from Jamia Millia University, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. His research and teaching interests include the anthropology of religion, historical and contemporary Islam and interfaith relations in South Asia, everyday life and postcolonial urbanism, Urdu literature, and Bombay cinema. See his article exploring South Asian interreligious relations.

…become a doctor and science advocate. Lila Abassi is director of medicine for the American Council on Science and Health, an organization dedicated to “(a) promote sound science in regulation, in public policy, and in the court room; and b) assist consumers, via the media, in distinguishing real health threats from purely hypothetical ones.” She is a regular contributor to the American Council on Science and Health blog. Abassi received her medical degree from St. George’s University, did her residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She has a B.A. in anthropology from University of California, Santa Barbara.

Neanderthal sex with modern humans: It happened and earlier

The Daily Mail reported on findings by an international team of researchers which has revealed the first genetic evidence of a scenario in which early modern humans left the African continent and mixed with now-extinct members of the human family in the Near East. The finding, reported in the journal Nature, puts back the previously first-known case of a human-Neanderthal hybrid produced by the two species by 50,000 years.

Who were the Hobbits: Debates continue

BBC News provided an update on the debates about whether or not the so-called Hobbits of Indonesia should be classified as human or not. Results of a study of the skull of a specimen from the island of Flores, forthcoming in the Journal of Human Evolution suggest that there is nothing about the skull that fits with any known population of modern humans. The BBC article cites several experts with views pro and con about the humanness of the Hobbits. Perhaps the wisest comment comes from Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London who says dating studies might provide new insights, but for now we cannot definitely confirm the species status of the Hobbits.

Paleo-diet and human evolution

The Washington Post published an article on the Paleo diet and human evolution, with the prevailing view being that contemporary human diets are out of sync with contemporary human bodies that are still in the Paleo-era. The article quotes Anne C. Stone, a professor of human evolution at Arizona State University who has shown that genes related to starch digestion appear to have changed in number, apparently in response to farming: “It drives me crazy when Paleo diet people say that we’ve stopped evolving — we haven’t…Our diets have changed radically in the last 10,000 years, and, in response, we have changed, too.”

One of the promoters of the mismatch theory, bioanthropologist Melvin Konner of Emory University, responds, acknowledging that humans have evolved recently:  “There’s evidence that there’s been a lot more selection and genetic change in the last five to 10,000 years than previously thought…This is a challenge to the Paleo diet claims — including mine and Boyd Eaton’s over the years… But…I don’t think it’s much of one.” For one thing, he and Eaton say, the newly discovered genetic differences between Paleo hunter-gatherers and modern humans are not very numerous.

Happy surprise: Bronze Age wheel in England

“Mark Knight, from the Cambridge Universtiy archaeological unit: ‘A perfectly preserved wheel is the last thing I would have expected to find.’ Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA. Source: The Guardian

The Guardian and several other media outlets have reported on the discovery of an intact metal wheel in a Bronze Age site in England: “This site is one continuing surprise, but if you had asked me, a perfectly preserved wheel is the last thing I would have expected to find,” said the site director, Mark Knight, senior officer in the University of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Rapa Nui demise on Easter Island: A new look

As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, a study by Carl Lipo of California State University at Long Beach and others published in the journal Antiquity challenges the prevailing view of why the Rapa Nui civilization died out. As defined by Jared Diamond, the ecocide theory says that tribes on the tiny island were fighting over dwindling resources. In support of that explanation were arrow-shaped obsidian chunks were found scattered across the island, predating the Europeans. The new view argues that the mata’a were gardening tools, not weapons of war. Lipo says the mata’a couldn’t have been weapons of mass, lethal warfare because they wouldn’t have been very effective at killing people. If they were thinner and particularly pointy, he says, it would be a different scenario. Instead, “they’re thick, they’re randomly shaped, basically they’re sharp edges on sticks…When we start to look at where they’re found and the wear patterns we see on them, they’re best explained as agricultural implements.” Archaeologist Paul Bahn responds: “Nobody has ever claimed that all of the mata’a were weapons.”

The counter-theory of Lipo and colleagues is that the arrival of Europeans brought about the decline of the Rapa Nui.

Yaws or syphilis

An article in the Atlantic considers new evidence that contributes to the debate about whether syphilis in the New World predated Columbus. It discusses findings in a paper published online in the International Journal of Paleopathology, underlining how far scientists are from reaching a consensus on the origins of syphilis. The paper describes the case of an adult male skeleton found in a gravesite in northern Chile dating to around 210 B.C.E. The sternum and two of the vertebrae showed evidence of a thoracic aortic aneurysm, a heart condition that can be caused by late-stage syphilis. Molly Zuckerman, assistant professor of biological anthropology at Mississippi State University, comments that the connection is a tenuous one since syphilis in in the category of treponemal disease which also includes yaws, a skin infection found in tropical parts of South America, Asia, and Africa. The individual could have been suffering from yaws instead of syphilis:  “We’ve known that yaws and bejel [another treponemal disease] were all over the Americas before Columbus arrived.”

Forensic anthropology and peace of mind

The Hamilton Spectator (Canada) reported on the work of forensic anthropologist Tracy Rogers, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Mississauga, who has investigated and provided testimony about a 2013 murder case. In her court testimony, Rogers stressed her determination to give the family every tiny piece of the remains that she could:  “I thought it was important for the family’s peace of mind that they have all the remains.”

In memoriam

David Jones, retired professor of cultural anthropology of the University of Central Florida died at the age of 73 years. Jones was a professor of anthropology specializing in the cultural anthropology of Native North America and Asia, with particular interest in religion, military organization, ethnobotany, and psycho-cultural analysis. His publications include books such as Sanapia: Comanche Medicine Woman (1972), Women Warriors: A History (1997), An Instinct for Dragons (2001), Combat, Ritual and Performance: Anthropology of the Martial Arts (2002), Native North American Armor, Shields, and Fortifications (2004).

Dana Raphael, cultural anthropologist and proponent of breastfeeding and breastfeeding studies, died at the age of 90 years. A protégée of the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, Raphael was among the first scientists to challenge milk formula manufacturers, linking a proliferating dependence on formula to high infant mortality rates in low-income populations. In the 1980s, she headed the Human Lactation Center in Westport, Connecticut, which she and Mead co-founded.  She worked with formula manufacturers to educate low-income mothers about using formula only as a supplement to breast-feeding. She also campaigned to encourage breast-feeding in high-income countries and to better prepare new mothers for childbirth through educational and emotional support. Her book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding (1973), was inspired by her own experiences in not being able to breast-feed. She wrote several other books in the 1970s and 1980s.


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