anthro in the news 6/13/16

Anthropologist jailed in Iran without charge

Hoodfar speaking at George Washington University in 2015. Source: Barbara Miller/GW
Hoodfar speaking at George Washington University in 2015. Source: Barbara Miller/GW

The National (Abu Dhabi) reported that sociocultural anthropologist Homa Hoodfar, professor emeritus at Concordia University, has been jailed in Iran while there doing research and visiting family. No charges have been made against her, and she is not allowed legal counsel. CBC (Canada) carried an article on Canada-Iran relations which included Hoodfar’s imprisonment as an issue of Canadian national concern. [Blogger’s note: a petition in support of her release will soon be circulated publicly; please stay tuned].

Living in hope: Taiwan’s indigenous people

University students who belong to indigenous tribes prepare for a ceremony to affirm their ethnic identity. Source: Anthony Kuhn/NPR
University students who belong to indigenous tribes prepare for a ceremony to affirm their ethnic identity. Source: Anthony Kuhn/NPR

According to coverage by National Public Radio (U.S.), the recent election in Taiwan of a new president, Tsai Ing-wenin, has raised indigenous people’s hopes of improved rights, given her promise to make amends for mistreatment by previous governments. The article quotes anthropology professor Wang Mei-hsia, who explains that before the Chinese Nationalist Party settled on Taiwan when the Communist Party took over mainland China in 1949, the island had been a Japanese colony for half a century. The Japanese were the first to take aborigines’ ancestral lands. The Taiwanese state has owned the lands ever since.

AAA rejects Israeli boycott

As reported by Inside Higher Education, members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voted to reject a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.  A total of 2,423 AAA members voted to oppose the boycott measure, while 2,384 supported it. About 51 percent of AAA’s 9,359 voting-eligible members participated in the boycott vote, which took place online from April 15 through May 31. Nonetheless, the AAA plans to take a series of actions in response to member concerns about Israeli government policies and their impact on Palestinian rights. Alisse Waterston, AAA’s president and an anthropology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said these actions align with the mission and values of the association as well as the findings and principles outlined in a report from a task force the AAA commissioned on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is quoted as saying: “The consensus within the AAA remains and that is that there are serious human rights problems that exist in Israel/Palestine as a result of Israeli state policy, practices and the occupation and that AAA must take a course of action.”

A group of anthropologists who oppose the boycott, Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine (ADIP), issued a statement expressing “delight and relief” at the vote results. “One of the successes of BDS not only in the AAA but also elsewhere was creating an impression that you either support boycotting academic institutions in Israel or you’re a fascist, or you’re a supporter of the occupation,” said Dan Rabinowitz, a member of ADIP’s steering committee and a professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

Another view says that: “The incredibly narrow margin — 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent — is a statistical dead heat,” according to Lisa Rofel, an organizer of the boycott resolution and an anthropology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz: “It is an indication of how successful anthropologists in support of the boycott have been in our efforts. I take this incredibly narrow margin as a virtual tie vote. We have come such a long way in a very short amount of time. We have opened a space for discussion of Palestinian rights that did not exist before. This virtual tie means we should continue our efforts.”

Book review: On a bohemian colony in California

On a lighter note, Malibu Surfside News carried a review of a book by visual anthropologist Jay Ruby, called The Property: Malibu’s Other Colony. Ruby lived at the site from 1963-1964, before the artists’ colony was initiated. He has spent years researching and chronicling the history of the property from an ethnographic perspective. His new book takes up where his previous book, Coffee House Positano: A Bohemian Oasis in Malibu 1957-1962, left off. It includes archival photos and “…offers an in depth examination of the people who made the colony their home and their lives and creative aspirations and accomplishments.” Ruby says in the introduction, “To my knowledge, there has never been a community quite like this before or after.”

Take that anthro degree and…

…become a filmmaker and researcher.  Emily Cohen Ibañez is producer/director with Reversa Films and assistant director of the Science and Justice Research Center at the University of California Santa Cruz. Cohen Ibañez directed the film Iraq Veterans against the War Perform Operation First Casualty (2007) and Santa Cruz Prepares for Y2K (1999), short films that reached popular audiences. Her film Bodies at War/MINA (2015) premiered at El Festival de Cine de Bogota where the film was nominated for a UNICEF award. She recently received a Wenner-Gren Fejos Fellowship for Ethnographic Film to complete her second feature-length documentary Virtual War: Memories of Abu-Ghraib. She is completing revisions for her first book Bodies at War: An Ethnography which is under review. It examines what it means to rehabilitate after landmine injury in Colombia. Her postdoctoral research Military Utopias of Mind and Machine examined the rise of military utopic visions of mind that involve the creation of virtual worlds and hyper real simulations in U.S. military psychiatry for the cultivation of “psychological resilience.” Her research and filmmaking have been supported by the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, American Council for Learned Societies, NYU Torch Prize, and Fulbright Colombia. She has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. in anthropology from New York University where she also earned a certificate in Culture and Media.

…become a professor of international development studies. Christopher Laporena is an assistant professor in the department of international development studies at the University of San Francisco. His scholarly interests include indigenous and black struggles for autonomy in Central America, ethicality and subject formation, race, diaspora, and critical development studies. In addition to his academic work, he has collaborated on several studies with OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña) and CCARC (Caribbean and Central America Research Council) in support of Garifuna territorial rights in Honduras. He was the César Chávez Fellow at Dartmouth College before assuming his position at the University of San Francisco. He has received support for his research from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation. His current book project is titled, A Fragmented Paradise: Race, Territory and Black Autonomy on Honduras’s Emerald Coast. Loperena has a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Texas.

…become a university athletics director. Alanna Shanahan is director of athletics and recreation at Johns Hopkins University. Previously, Shanahan was deputy director of athletics and senior woman’s administrator at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a B.A in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

…become a journalistic photographer. Stephen Katz has been a staff photographer for The Virginian-Pilot since 2004. Before that he worked at various newspapers in Northern Virginia and New England as staff photographer and photo editor. He has earned numerous national and international awards including the Newspaper Photographer of the Year award in 2008 by Pictures of the Year International. He has shot photos throughout the U.S. and abroad including in two war zones. Katz has a B.A. degree in anthropology from Dickinson College and an M.A. in journalism from Temple University. He has also been a social worker and public relations specialist, and he works with nonprofits and community outreach projects.

What lurks beneath in Cambodia

Scene at an unexcavated city in Cambodia. Source: Terence Carter/The Guardian
Scene at an unexcavated city in Cambodia. Source: Terence Carter/The Guardian

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities near the temple city of Angkor Wat. Laser scanning technology has revealed several cities between 900 and 1,400 years old covered by tropical forest. The findings are the result of the most extensive airborne study ever undertaken by an archaeological project. Archaeologist Damian Evans, of the University of Sydney’s center in Cambodia, was a co-leader of the research. According to Michael Coe, emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University and one of the world’s pre-eminent archaeologists, specializing in Angkor and the Khmer civilization: “I think that these airborne laser discoveries mark the greatest advance in the past 50 or even 100 years of our knowledge of Angkorian civilization.”

Early dog-eating in China

The South China Post reported on research documenting that the artisans who created the Terracotta Army in Xian, China, ate dog meat, thus establishing this dietary practice as longstanding.  Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology made the discovery by examining the bones found in the tombs of workers and craftsmen near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Analysis of carbon nitrogen isotopes in the workers’ remains reveal that their diet was based on domestic animal proteins with dogs as predominant followed by pigs and sheep. The research is led by Ma Ying of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Rare petroglyphs in Michigan

The Detroit Free Press reported on research and preservation efforts at a site in Michigan with petroglyphs which has been studied since the 1970s. Archaeologist Stacy Tchorzynski, who works with the state Historic Preservation Office and the Michigan Historical Center, is quoted as saying: “It’s one of the most unique places in the entire region…There are moral, cultural and spiritual and environmental lessons embedded in these carvings.” It’s likely that the petroglyphs, known as ezhibiigaadek asin or “written in stone,” were carved 600 to 1,000 years ago, according to William Johnson, curator for cultural research management at the Ziibiwing Center, a museum and learning facility operated by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

Hobbit ancestors

BBC and other media reported the discovery of evidence in Flores, Indonesia, of the 700,000-year-old ancestor of the tiny primitive human known as “the Hobbit.” The remains are of at least one adult and two children, who are all just as small as their descendents. A paper in the journal Nature details the findings. According to Yousuke Kaifu, of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, the discovery of the tiny 700,000 year old hobbit ancestor suggests that erectus might have shrunk within the space of just 300,000 years, which is a remarkably short period in evolutionary terms. Gert van den Bergh, of the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Archaeological Science, who led the research, said the team was surprised at the small size of the adult jawbone: “We were expecting to find something larger than what we found, something closer to the size of the original founder population, Homo erectus, but it turns out that they were as small if not smaller than Homo floresiensis…The rapid evolution seems quite fast but we have no examples of human or primates (shrinking) on other islands to compare it to.”  Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London believes that the evidence for the rapid shrinking theory is circumstantial: “We do not know how large the tool-makers at one million years actually were, since we do not have their fossils yet; and, secondly, we cannot be sure that the evidence at one million years actually represents the first arrival of humans on Flores.”

Lactose tolerance or not: Genes and culture

SBS (Australia) provided commentary by Greg Downey, professor of anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney about lactose intolerance. He is quoted as saying: “The fact that some people are able to have lactose in their diet past the age of five is a fluke…It’s an evolutionary fluke that’s arisen because of human technology and culture.” Downey believes that between 65 and 75 per cent of all contemporary people, post-adolescents, across the globe are lactose intolerant and cannot drink milk without feeling bloated, gassy, getting diarrhea, or vomiting. He notes the strong correlation between people who have the gene and those who hail from dairy farming ancestors: “We evolved a capacity to drink milk because we changed our environment and put dairy in it…However…the decreasing prevalence of drinking milk makes it hard to determine who is lactose tolerant and who is not.”

Feminism and human evolution: A rethink

Milwaukee Public Radio talked with Caroline VanSickle, a biological anthropologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison in feminist biology. She is rethinking the intersection between feminism and biological anthropology. Her work will be the focus of the next Science On Tap lecture series at the Milwaukee Public Museum. VanSickle’s work challenges assumptions about how science works. Many stories about human evolution make it seem like gender roles today, such as the male’s prowess in athletics or women being more emotional, are natural and solidified in history. She says: “The long history of gender norms that often get talked about aren’t actually supported by the fossil evidence I look at on a daily basis.”


Sue Black, professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology at the University of Dundee, been honored by the Queen of England and is now a dame. Black helped secure convictions in several high-profile criminal cases, including one of Britain’s worst pedophiles Richard Huckle, who was given 23 life sentences earlier this week for abusing up to 200 children. She also helped to convict Scotland’s largest pedophile ring in 2009. She was previously awarded an OBE for her work in exhuming mass graves in Kosovo.

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