anthro in the news 4/4/16

Take that trash and…

Liberty Landfill. Source: Ian Burt, Flickr

The Atlantic interviewed cultural anthropologist Joshua Reno, assistant professor at Binghamton University about his research on landfills and social aspects of waste disposal in the U.S. and Canada. He worked in a landfill for nine months and learned about the intricate process of managing waste. He suggests that the effectiveness of landfills allows people to forget about the waste they produce.  Reno is the author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill which seeks to reconnect people with their waste.

Loving learning but hating college

1Inside Higher Education carried an interview with Susan Blum, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, about her book on U.S. college culture entitled I Love Learning;  I Hate School: An Anthropology of College. The book takes an anthropological look at education in general and higher education in particular and provides insights into the many challenges in teaching and learning. Blum comments:  “Some of my inquiry was fueled by experience and some by academic inquiry…I came to see that all my assumptions about the naturalness and benefits of conventional schooling were mistaken. Most people don’t learn as well in school as they do outside school. People like me, who love school, are the exceptions.”

Social bonds fuel terrorism, not religious dogmatism

Harvey Whitehouse, chair of social anthropology at the University of Oxford, published an article in The Pacific Standard in which he describes ongoing research at Oxford on the motivations for violent extremism including suicide terrorism: “I lead an international network of researchers dedicated to understanding what makes bonds so strong that people will fight and die for the group when it is threatened. Our research suggests that one of the most powerful causes of extreme pro-group action is the sharing of self-defining experiences. If so, this has profound implications for the way we should approach conflict resolution and counter-terrorism.”

Take that anthro degree and…

become a police officer. Honora Sullivan Chin is a police officer in Northampton, Massachusetts. She was previously an executive assistant for the Smith College School of Social Work and the program assistant for the LGBT Resource Center at Syracuse University. She has a B.A. in anthropology from Syracuse University and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

…work in global health and development. Leni Silverstein is senior technical writer at Rutgers University’s School of Management & Labor Relations, Education & Employment Research Center. She is Founder and CEO of Strategies for Development located in New York City. Silverstein has more than 20 years of experience as a public health practitioner, researcher, and teacher, working on international development with a focus on health, human rights, reproductive rights, and gender advocacy. She started the first women’s health and reproductive rights service organization in Brazil, and has worked to advance healthcare around the world. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology and South East Asia Studies from the University of Chicago, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from New School University.

Found: Second Viking settlement in the New World

Prow of a viking ship. Source: Wikipedia

The Daily Telegraph and The Huffington Post and other media reported on the discovery of the second Viking site in North America, located on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, 400 miles southwest of a settlement discovered in the 1960s. The Vikings’ claim to be the first Europeans to reach North America is therefore strengthened. The site has been dated to between 800 CE and 1300 CE.  A 90-minute BBC documentary will show how Sarah Parcak, a “space archaeologist” at the University of Alabama, used high-resolution imagery from satellites to locate the site.


Etruscan stele is tantalizing but so far silent

The Christian Science Monitor and other media reported on the discovery of a 2,500 year old stele in an Etruscan temple in Tuscany, Italy. The 500-pound stele measures four feet tall by two feet wide and is marked by roughly 70 letters and punctuation marks. Researchers believe it may be a religious text but so far, no one can decipher it because so little is known about the Etruscan language.  “We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language,” archaeologist Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and professor at Franklin University Switzerland, said. “Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before…”

Evidence of earliest “warfare:” A tale of two sites

The Washington Post carried an article about findings from Nataruk, Kenya, the site of the earliest known evidence of inter-group conflict, which so far stands out as unique for its time period.  Findings  were published earlier this year in the journal Nature: remains of 27 men, women and children are the first and only evidence of violent conflict in a foraging society. Lead author of the study, Marta Mirazon Lahr, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge, told the Smithsonian, “What we see at the prehistoric site of Nataruk is no different from the fights, wars and conquests that shaped so much of our history, and indeed sadly continue to shape our lives…The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war.” In spite of the antiquity of violent conflict, much evidence suggests it is not inevitable nor was it likely widespread among prehistoric foragers.

In a study published in the journal Biology Letters, researchers say they found little evidence of violent conflict on the ancient skeletons of the Jomon people, early foragers living in Japan. [Blogger’s note: We must always be wary of media headlines that may distort findings such as those from Nataruk. The violent conflict evident at Nataruk appears to be highly atypical – so far, unique — for its time. Furthermore, findings from it do not accord with anthropological studies of relatively undisturbed foragers of the 20th century where serious inter-group violent conflict is not reported, to my knowledge. Such conflict emerged with settled, or quasi-settled, horticultural groups and was exacerbated or perhaps even caused by contact/intrusion from outsiders such as European colonialists].

Expansive vs. closed posture and dating

Beyonce in performance. You wouldn’t see this open stance if she were seated. Source: Generation Bass, Creative Commons

The Atlantic, along with several other media, discussed findings from a social psychology study looking at the relationship of “expansive postures”—widespread limbs and a stretched-out torso—and success in U.S. speed-dating.  Findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (not open access), are based on watching videos of 144 speed-dates and correlating them with the participants’ ratings of each other. People who sat in expansive postures were deemed more attractive. For both men and women, postural expansiveness nearly doubled their chances of getting a “yes” response to a second date. The Atlantic article includes brief commentary from Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who said the findings might be a sign of general social preference for openness, but not necessarily that open-looking poses are sexier.



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