anthro in the news 5/1/17

Tehran. Credit: Wikipedia

U.S. strategic interests

The Tehran Times published a piece by William O. Beeman, professor and head of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota in which he states that the United States is mostly concerned about its “strategic interests” versus promoting human rights and democracy around the world: “The United States measures its relationships with other nations solely in terms of American strategic interests. The United States makes a show of talking about human rights and democracy, but these concerns never really govern American policy…” In terms of Turkey and the recent referendum that gave more power to president Erdogan: “Turkey is a member of NATO and that is the principal tie between the U.S. and Turkey. If Turkey fulfills its NATO responsibilities, including opposition to Russia and support of the campaign against ISIS/ISIL/IS/DAESH, that is what will govern the relations with the United States.”

free speech in Berkeley

Credit: Google Images Commons

The New York Times published a letter to the editor by Robert Launay, professor of anthropology at Northwestern University in Chicago. He writes:  “Free speech is meant to prevent censorship, to allow people to express any ideas in public, however unpopular or unsettling. It does not imply that these ideas must be expressed anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. The New York Times, for example, is under no obligation to publish an outrageous and offensive letter in the name of ‘free speech.’ Ann Coulter has had ample opportunity to express her opinions in public. It would be perverse to portray her as a victim of censorship simply because she cannot express her ideas on the Berkeley campus.”

NAGPRA 26 years on

The Huffington Post published an article by Chip Colwell, senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science about the status of NAGPRA: “Twenty-six years after NAGPRA was born, the law is proving to be necessary but imperfect. There is still much work to be done. Congress must first take concrete actions to fund compliance, amend NAGPRA (by, for example, clarifying that the law applies to ancient skeletons like Kennewick Man), and pass new legislation to extend protections beyond the U.S. (such the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act). And, just as importantly, museum curators must not only better follow the letter of the law, but embrace NAGPRA’s spirit as a means to redress the long, tangled history of turning Native Americans into objects of scientific curiosity.”

toxic leaders

An article in Education Week discussed so-called toxic leaders, those who have disregard for their subordinates and a general negative impact on organizational climate. The article mentions David Matsuda, chief cultural office with Cultural Advisor Services in San Francisco, who investigated toxic leadership in the U.S. Army. His study was inspired by the high suicide rate among soldiers and was intended to discover the attributes of soldiers who took their own lives. But he decided to include the study of their leaders.  The findings were revealing, as noted in an article in Forbes: “The standard investigation of a suicide in the Army is to ask what was wrong with the individual soldier, such as a history of mental illness or a marital breakup. Matsuda decided to take a ‘different angle’ and discovered that soldiers who took their own lives usually did have personal problems, but they also had leaders who were pushing them over the edge by making their lives a living hell.”

culture through the lens

The Mount Desert Islander (Bar Harbor, Maine) reported on an upcoming film festival at the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine, which features the work of visual anthropologist Ilisa Barbash and others. Barbash presents her work exploring race, relationships between vulnerability and violence, nature and culture, and more during two days of film screenings and presentations May 14 and 15. The documentary film, Sweetgrass, Barbash’s unsentimental elegy to the American West, will be screened   May 14.  A second documentary, In and Out of Africa, which focuses on African culture and art, will play on May 15. Barbash will lead a question-and-answer session after each film. ON May 15, Barbash will present a talk entitled “Exposing Latent Images: Daguerreotypes in the Museum and Beyond,” which delves into the most important and controversial objects in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.  Barbash is curator of visual anthropology at the Peabody, where for 13 years, she has made films and written about and curated photographic and other exhibitions.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a yoga instructor.  Jennifer Kimak is a Vinyasa yoga instructor at Three Birds Studio in Florham, New Jersey as well as an instructor with Yoga for Autism in Madison, New Jersey.  She has a B.S. in biological anthropology from James Madison University in Virginia.

…become a singer, songwriter, and social activist. Lila Downs Downs, a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and a devoted social activist, was born in Oaxaca. She grew up in Mexico, Minnesota and Southern California, and her colorful stage attire salutes the indigenous Indian tribes of Mexico. Her debut album, Ofrenda, combined traditional Oaxacan and Mexican favorites with songs Downs wrote in three languages: Spanish, Mixtec, and Zapotec. Downs has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in classical voice and cultural anthropology.

update on China’s Terracotta Warriors

BBC News posted a short video about research on the Terracotta Warriors which has been led since 1980 by Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist at Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum. Her team was the first to discover that each warrior was originally painted in bright colours.

update on the Teotihuacán project 

The Guardian published an article describing ongoing archaeological research under the Great Pyramid: “At the beginning of this investigation we thought the tunnel was a metaphoric representation of the underworld, the place of creation and transmission of power, and that we would find a tomb of Teotihuacán’s leaders in this very scared place,” said lead archaeologist Sergio Gómez.  “It would have been a transcendent discovery which would help us understand Teotihuacán’s power structure and system of government, but we have almost finished the excavation – and there is no tomb.”  Among the most significant artefacts are four almost perfectly preserved greenstone statutes – three women and one man – found near the entrances of the chambers.  “My hypothesis is that these sculptures represent the founders of Teotihuacán, those who had the power to decide the ideal place to establish a new city. They were standing because they were alive at the time,” said Gomez. The three female statues could mean women played a fundamental role in the power structure in the early phases of Teotihuacán, he postulates.

rethinking New World humans

Several media including The Guardian and The New York Times, reported on controversial findings that, if true, push back the arrival time of humans in North America significantly from the commonly accepted date of around 15,000 years ago. The research, published in Nature, is based on an analysis of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego which are dated at over 100,000 years ago and which appear to have been broken open intentionally with stone tools.  The New York Times quoted Thomas A. Deméré, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum and a co-author of the study: “It poses all sorts of questions…Who were these people? What species were they?”  It also quotes a critical view: “I was astonished, not because it is so good but because it is so bad,” said Donald K. Grayson, a professor of archaeology at the University of Washington, who faulted the new study for failing to rule out more mundane explanations for markings on the bones. On the positive side are comments, in The Guardian, from Richard Fullagar, a stone tools expert on the team from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales: “What is truly remarkable about this site is that you can identify particular hammers that were smacked on particular anvils.”  The debate will ensue and inspire ongoing research that may be able to support these findings. From The Guardian: “This is a really extraordinary claim. There are questions about everything,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “Let’s imagine it happened. We have humans in America 130,000 years ago. What happened to them? They disappeared? When humans arrived in Australia, they were immediately very successful because they had no competitors. In the Americas, there is a huge range of environments where humans could be very successful. But to this date we have nothing in America until modern humans arrive.”

what happened to them?

The Philly Voice (Philadelphia) carried an article about ongoing archaeological research by the California University of Pennsylvania’s anthropology faculty and students to learn about what happened to the Monongahela Indians of southwestern Pennsylvania. It quotes John Nass, director of the program: “We have no idea what happens to them…They basically vacate this part of the state, but we don’t know where they relocate to.” Cassandra Kuba, biological anthropologist with the program, is studying the people’s health and diet.  Along with their undergraduate archeology students, they are hoping to retrieve the lost history of the Monongahela people, who occupied parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland from about 1050 B.C.E. into the 1630s when the white colonialists arrived.

the future of humanity

The Laramie Boomerang (Wyoming) spoke with University of Wyoming archaeologist Robert Kelly about this new book and what he thinks about the future. As an anthropologist whose research focuses on hunter-gatherers, he spends his research time digging for clues about humanity’s past. But in looking back, he said, he has learned a way of seeing that gives clues about humanity’s future. In his book, The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us About Our Future, Kelly argues that we are headed for a post-war, post-capitalist, global society. Furthermore, this large-scale shift in the way people relate to each other is already underway. “We can’t maintain the status quo, and we can’t go backwards,” he said.

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