anthro in the news 6/27/16

Heed this: Political break-ups in comparative perspective

Source: Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

Wired carried an article about the Brexit vote, drawing on research by Peter Turchin, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Connecticut, and his colleagues there.  He is quoted as saying: “I think of the European Union as an empire…[It] is unusual because it was constructed without conquest, but in terms of functionality it is not unlike other historical examples.” Comparative research indicates that, in a successful civilization, the ruling class cooperates among itself to create functional rules. It also cooperates with the general population to make sure those rules keep everybody reasonably happy, employed, and safe. In turn, the general population cooperates by not revolting. “One of the signs you see in civilizations going the wrong direction is where the elites make policy choices that bring about increasing inequality.”

Brexit fears

The Independent published an op-ed, written in advance of the Brexit vote, by social anthropologist Michal Garapich, research fellow at the University of Roehampton and author of London’s Polish Borders. He expresses his fear of Brexit from the perspective of being a Polish immigrant to the U.K.: “…I feel increasingly uneasy about the turn of British politics and public discourse. I suddenly realize that, in fact, around half of Brits do not want me or my family around.”

Local knowledge works

Reuters reported on a study of a 700-year-old practice known as “African dark earths.” The longstanding practice of adding kitchen waste and charcoal to tropical soil turns it into fertile, black soil which traps carbon and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “Mimicking this ancient method has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of people living in some of the most poverty and hunger stricken regions in Africa,” said James Fairhead, professor of anthropology at the University of Sussex. The research was conducted by anthropologists and soil scientists who lived with nearly 200 communities in Liberia and Ghana. Fairhead is quoted as saying that “Relations of power in West Africa had been hiding the skills and wisdom of local farmers…Scientists need to pay more attention and respect to existing practices, especially if these practices can boost food production and sequester carbon.”

Love that keeps on loving

The Bay Area Citizen (Houston) carried an article about Ramadan in the Houston region. It quoted Maria Curtis, associate professor of anthropology and cross-cultural studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, who conducts research among Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Houston. Noting how they have inspired her, she comments: “They were showing me a side of humanity that I had not seen before…What struck me is that in spite everything they had gone through there seemed to be a kind of thickness of love, and an unbreakable bond…contrary to my experience to these desperate images I see in the media, and those images are real and true and we should see them and be aware of people’s misery and suffering…on the other side there is a warm side we don’t often see…it’s a sort of love that just keeps on loving against any and all odds.”

Sports and identity of the non-identified

An article in Al Jazeera about CONIFA, the World Cup of Confederation of Independent Football Associations, quotes Niko Besnier, professor of social anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and co-author of the forthcoming book The Anthropology of Sports: “In the FIFA world of high-level sports, people are bought and sold and they end up representing places that they only vaguely know…Usually contracted for one or two years, they have little motivation to become anchored in the local communities even if their fans see them as representatives of their particular locations.” For CONIFA teams, football is more than a game. It is a way of asserting identity.

University-community partnership honored

According to a story in the Las Cruzes Sun News, New Mexico State University (NSMU) has received national recognition, again, for its institutional commitment to community engagement. The university is one of five schools designated as exemplary awardees by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities for the 2016 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award. The award, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery and engagement missions to promote community involvement. Earlier this year, NMSU’s Lois Stanford, associate professor of anthropology, was the recipient of NSMU’s first Community Engagement Faculty Award for her work with La Semilla Food Center, a non-profit organization founded by her former students. NSMU chose her to represent the university for the Magrath Community Engagement Award. Over six years, La Semilla has taught hundreds of elementary and middle school students how to grow and cook fresh food. It works with youth and families to create community gardens, construct greenhouses, and launch educational projects and community food assessments in the El Paso del Norte region.

Linking theory with practice through clinical service

The Arizona Daily Sun reported on an initiative at Northern Arizona University led by medical anthropology professor Lisa Hardy, which places her students in the one free clinic in Flagstaff to provide them with firsthand experiences and to serve the community. She is quoted as saying:  “I think one of the most important things that can happen in education is for students to understand the link between theory and how people put it into practice… “The students talked in class about behavior, social justice, inequality and policy…“This [is] an opportunity to experience and be exposed to what professionals do in the field.”

Anthropologist advocates for community facing displacement

The Daily Record (Ellensberg, Washington) reported on the ongoing attempts of residents of a mobile home community to stop the sale of their location for development. Mark Auslander, associate professor of anthropology at Central Washington University, is advocating on behalf of the residents. His career has taken him to Zambia during the apartheid period and to Georgia in the U.S. where he worked in low-income African American neighborhoods. Now, he regularly attends government meetings and helps with community organizational efforts. Auslander said he believes the purchase of the mobile home site shouldn’t stand and that “Everybody has a conscience that can be activated.”

Take that anthro degree and…

…become a museum curator. Diane Turner is curator of Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection which includes a rare books, journals, manuscripts, newspapers, pamphlets, slave narratives, photographs, posters, and sheet music. It is particularly strong in first editions, as well as its holdings in African, African-American, and African-Caribbean publications dating back to the 16th century. Turner holds three degrees from Temple University: a double B.A. in anthropology and art, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history. She comments that her undergraduate coursework “…helped me learn about the contributions that people of African descent had made not just to American society, but also to the world at-large…It gave me a sense of pride and a love for my people.” During her doctoral studies, she worked at the Blockson Collection: “I was able to interact and work on numerous projects with him [Blockson]. Dr. Blockson noticed that I had a passion for African-American culture and history. Since then, he has been one of my mentors.” After Blockson retired as curator of the collection in 2006, Turner succeeded him.

…become a social activist. Urmila Chanam, from Manipur in northeastern India, has been recently recognized for her work on menstrual hygiene through the Voices of Our Future Award by World Pulse. Social Pulse is a social networking platform that connects women from 190 countries with a vision to amplify women’s voices to speed up change and improve the lives of millions around the world. Chanam was one of three who received the award. She has an M.A. in anthropology and has also done a course in digital skills as well as journalism. Writing has always been her first love and she has also been a contributor to various newspapers in Manipur. She chose to focus on raising awareness and resources for Breaking the Silence, a campaign that has won her previous awards including the UNFPA National Laadli Award in 2015 for the Best Social Media Campaign in India.

…become a travel planner. Rebecca Keightley is a travel consultant with Travel Incorporated in Fargo, North Dakota. She has a B.A. in anthropology from North Dakota State and a degree as airline/travel specialist from the International Air Academy. She has several years of travel planning experience and expertise with many types of travel including scuba diving, hunting and fishing, and adventure travel.

Prehistoric Siberian-Alaskan metal trade

Indiana Public Media reported on research by H. Kory Cooper, a Purdue University archaeologist and associate professor of anthropology and metallurgy, which provides the first evidence of prehistoric metal trade between Asia and North America. Cooper discovered that two objects found in northern Alaska were made from a Eurasian mix of copper, tin, and lead. The artifacts, a buckle and a small bead, are made of bronze which is an alloy, meaning that researchers can learn the metal’s age and place of origin by examining how it is mixed. Cooper dates the artifacts at 1,000 years old, placing Siberian-Alaska trade at least to that time.

Oldest known curry

Aubergines were a key ingredient in porto-curry. Source: Creative Commons
Aubergines were a key ingredient in porto-curry. Source: Creative Commons

BBC News covered the findings of archaeologists Arunima Kashyap and Steven Webber of Washington State University. Starch analysis provides insights into the world’s first-known or “oldest” proto-curry which was composed of aubergine (eggplant), ginger, turmeric, and salt. They used 50 sources including pots, stone tools, and the dental enamel of humans and domesticated cows which were fed leftovers. The research site is Farmana Khas, located in northwest India.

Date push-back for the first domesticated rice

The Times of India reported on archaeological research in China that pushes back the date of the oldest domesticated rice to 9,000 years ago. A team of archaeologists from the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada and the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China are conducting the research.  Gary Crawford, an anthropological archaeologist who is part of the team,  is quoted as saying: “Today, rice is one of most important grains in the world’s economy, yet at one time, it was a wild plant…how did people bring rice into their world? This gives us another clue about how humans became farmers.”  Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in the lower Yangtze valley. About 30 per cent of the rice plant material showed signs of being purposely cultivated to produce plants that were durable and suitable for human consumption.

Mammoth meat for dinner

According to a report from BBC News, Mexican experts are completing work on unearthing fossilized bones of a mammoth found near Mexico City during a public works project. The bones are about 14,000 years old and were scattered, suggesting the mammoth had been cut up by humans for meat and pelt. Other remains have been found in the area which had been a shallow lake where mammoths got stuck. Luis Cordoba, an archaeologist with the National Institute of Anthropology and History said that the remains of more than 50 mammoths have been discovered in the area.

Not just us: Grief among nonhuman primates

BBC reported on one of the best documented examples of nonhuman primate mourning, captured on film and two recent scholarly publications on the topic. Bin Yang of the Shaanxi Academy of Sciences in Xi’an, China, has been following a community of over 130 wild golden snub-nosed monkeys for over a decade. They live in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, central China. Yang and primatologist James Anderson at Kyoto University in Japan collaborated on the two publications: in Current Biology and the journal Primates.

Patrick Tkaczynski, a biological anthropologist at the University of Roehampton in the U.K., has witnessed macaque deaths and studied group reactions. He says it is not surprising that the macaques respond as they do: “Barbary macaques have a reputation for being ‘hippies’ compared to a lot of other macaque species, and are known to form long-term social bonds.” Biological anthropologist Barbara King of the College of William & Mary in Virginia has studied animal grief extensively. She says both of the new reports offer compelling evidence of grief. She comments: “My definition requires that we know there’s been a change in the survivor’s behaviour after some friend, companion or relative dies,” says King. “I’m looking for evidence of emotional distress, change in behavioural patterns that last for a while, some evidence of response from an animal that has a particularly strong relationship with the dead. All that is there.” The chimpanzee case and the two monkey cases all show the same basic pattern, she says: “You see an animal taking a responsibility for gate-keeping the body, some type of unusual emotional response by the animal closest to the dead ones, and a sustained response that goes beyond the first five minutes or hour.”


Please note this correction of anthropology in the news, April 27, 2015.  The piece, “On being black in Japan,” should read as follows:

John Russell, a cultural anthropology professor at Gifu University in Japan, published an opinion piece in The Japan Times on the history of blackface performances and other forms of racial caricature in Japan. He points to the need for nuanced, transnational conversations about racism and racial mimicry that reject “historical Alzheimer’s” through which racially insensitive transgressions are forgotten, misremembered, and inevitably repeated.

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