anthro in the news 8/14/17

Closed due to heat wave. Credit: MTSOfan/Flickr

summer in the city

The Conversation published an article on heat waves, urban life, and social inequality by Merrill Singer, professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut. He reports on findings from a qualitative study and several of his students conducted in Hartford:  “…our participants often lacked clear knowledge about the nature of climate change, what drives it, how climate change differs from other forms of urban pollution or how people can prepare themselves for limiting its harmful effects. Their strongest concerns were about how oppressive summer heat waves would make their children sick and their own ability to cope with ever-higher temperatures and longer heat spells as they grew older. Some described feeling powerless given the scale of the social and climatic forces aligned against them.” [Blogger’s note: See also a book detailing social patterns of heat wave deaths in Chicago in 1995 by sociologist Eric Klinenberg].

sugar daddies as “blessers”

This hashtag has diverse meanings worldwide. In South Africa, it can convey a blesse role. Credit: The Odyssey Online/Google Images Commons.

North Carolina Public Radio carried a piece about transactional sexual relationships, called blesser/blessee relationships, in South Africa. The blesser is a man who gives money and gifts to a woman in exchange for companionship and sex. Lebohang Masango, poet, writer, and M.A. candidate in anthropology at the University of Witswatersrand, studies blesser culture. Although many see the blesser/blessee relationship as exploiting women, she finds that many young women in such relationships are educated, ambitious and see their time as being valuable: “They understand the risk of HIV, they understand the risk of multiple concurrent partnerships, but there’s this postfeminist sensibility that’s beginning to be entrenched especially among young women of the middle class where they are choosing to do this, even against all of the other stigmas that exist.”

heads up: Juche

The Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana) included commentary by Lawrence Kuzner, professor of anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, in which he offers insights into Kim Jong Un’s thinking: “Our officials need to understand that Kim Jong Un’s thought is framed by a strict state religion called Juche. North Korea’s founder and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, crafted this state religion, which includes Korean nationalism, absolute obedience to and sacrifice for a strongman ruler, worship of the Kim family and an unending black-and-white struggle against evil. My research has identified an extremely close correlation between mentions of Juche and subsequent escalations of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.”

legacy in the Virgin Islands

An article in The Virgin Island Daily News described the importance of the research of Svend Holsoe (1939-2017), emeritus associate professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware.  Holsoe photocopied and microfilmed many documents from censuses, church and health records, and sales of enslaved, ship’s manifests, telling the story of thousands of enslaved captives. He donated the documents to the St. Croix Population Databases. Holsoe worked on hundreds of family trees, and these can be found on the website VI Families,

did the earth move?

The Washington Post published a review of Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead, a book about five years of Mead’s life, from 1921-1925 when she was a young researcher. The author, Deborah Beatriz Blum, was a graduate student when she met Mead in 1972. According to the reviewer, Blum “promises a tale of sexual discovery” which is not quite fulfilled. The reader is left wondering about Mead’s thoughts about her sexual relationships: “Did the earth move? Did her affairs change her sense of her own sexuality, or of women or men? Did it inform her research in the field? We don’t know.”

study break to star in a movie

The Times of India reported that Santhy Balachandran, a D.Phil. student in anthropology at the University of Oxford, is taking time out from her dissertation research to perform in the film Tharangam, directed by Dominic Arun.

unhinged America

The Atlantic published a lengthy extract from a forthcoming book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire–A Five Hundred Year History, by Kurt Anderson, a novelist, essayist, and radio show host. Included in the piece is a paragraph about anthropology of the 1960s: “Over in anthropology, where the exotic magical beliefs of traditional cultures were a main subject, the new paradigm took over completely—don’t judge, don’t disbelieve, don’t point your professorial finger. This was understandable, given the times: colonialism ending, genocide of American Indians confessed, U.S. wars in the developing world. Who were we to roll our eyes or deny what these people believed? In the ’60s, anthropology decided that oracles, diviners, incantations, and magical objects should be not just respected, but considered equivalent to reason and science. If all understandings of reality are socially constructed, those of Kalabari tribesmen in Nigeria are no more arbitrary or faith-based than those of college professors.” [Blogger’s note: this caricature of extreme cultural relativism is worse than annoying and insulting. It dismisses the longstanding and leading role of cultural anthropologists, starting at least with
Franz Boas, in grappling with an enduring and vital question: how to live in a world with multiple and often competing systems of knowledge and values.] 

gender gap in tech: letter to the editor

The New York Times published a letter to the editor from Shari Jacobson, associate professor of anthropology at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania: “James Damore’s speculation that women may be biologically incapable of succeeding in engineering is unmoored from any neuroscientific evidence about human brains and ignorant of the copious evidence about social and cultural influences on gender.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a health sociologist and academic administrator. Laura Gitlin is the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University. Previously, she was an applied research sociologist and the Isabel Hampton Robb Distinguished Professor in the department of community public health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. She serves on the editorial board of The Gerontologist and is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, the Gerontological Society of America, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Her work has been recognized with several honors, including an M. Powell Lawton Award from the Gerontological Society of America. Gitlin has a B.A. in anthropology from Temple University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from Purdue University.

challenge in identifying remains

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on the work of a team including a forensic anthropologist and archaeologists involved in returning the remains of three Northern Arapaho boys – Little Chief, Plume, and Horse — to their family in Wyoming from a burial site in central Pennsylvania. The researchers discovered two bodies at one of the boys’ grave sites, confirming fears that the markers in the Carlisle Post Barracks cemetery might not be accurate. The boys attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Cumberland County, a boarding school for Indian children, in the late 1800s. Officials have scheduled a news conference for Monday with an archaeologist and anthropologist who examined the remains.

archaeology archive to be digitized

The voluminous collection of papers, slides, research notes, recordings, and human remains collected by the late Calvin Wells (1908-1978) is being digitized at the University of Bradford. Charlotte Roberts, professor of archaeology at the University of Durham and president of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, said the archive would be invaluable for researchers: “Calvin Wells remains one of the most prolific publishers from the UK in this field today, who studied a diversity of subject matter from artistic representations of disease in the past to mummified remains. In many instances his publications were ‘firsts’ and continue to be cited in our field today.”

early Chinese-African relations

All Africa reported on a conference in Kenya on Ancient and Contemporary Relations between China and East Africa that was jointly organized by the National Museum of Kenya, the School of Sociology and Anthropology of Sun Yat-sen University, and American University in Washington, D.C. More than 30 experts from countries including China, the U.S., and Kenya attended. The article highlights the research of archaeologist Chapurukha Kusimba of American University, who is working with a team at a site on Manda Island in Kenya. They have excavated three skeletons that are Chinese, and one may date to when Chinese navigator Zheng He travelled to East Africa in the 15th century.

archaeologists versus tourism development

The Hurriet Daily News (Turkey) carried a piece on warnings from archaeologists that development must not threaten the very sites that visitors wish to see. “If we fail to protect our cultural environment as a crown jewel, tourism products that potential investors want to sell will lose their value,” said Stathis Gotsis of the Greek Archaeologists’ Association.

prehistoric human cannibalism

The entrance to Gough’s Cave in Cheddar, England.
Credit: Philippa Crabbe/Creative Commons

The New York Times reported on findings made at a prehistoric site called Gough’s Cave, in southwestern England, where human bones that are approximately 15,000 years old bear unmistakable signs of ritualized cannibalism. Silvia Bello, of the Natural History Museum in London, and her colleagues report on what appears to be a purposeful engraving of a zigzag pattern on a human arm bone. Previously, Bello and others described what may have been drinking vessels made from skulls at the site. Together, the skull-cups and arm bone engraving, paint the richest, most unambiguous picture yet of early ritualistic cannibalism, said James Cole, an archaeology lecturer at the University of Brighton, who was not involved in the research. Pat Shipman, adjunct anthropology professor at Pennsylvania State University, also not involved in the study, comments that the findings indicate that such matters as treatment of the dead and what is deemed acceptable to eat have shifted through history:  “…there’s a lot more variability in human cultures, and cultural behavior, than we might think.” Findings are published in PLOS One

revising Neanderthal population history

The Japan Times reported on findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on comparing the genomes of four human populations: modern Eurasians, modern Africans, Neanderthals and Denisovans. In contrast to previous research suggesting that near the end of their existence only about 1,000 Neanderthals remained, the new study shows that although they existed in isolated groups across Europe, their population likely was in the tens of thousands The article quotes lead author Alan Rogers, professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Utah: “This hypothesis is against conventional wisdom, but it makes more sense than the conventional wisdom…There’s a rich Neanderthal fossil record. There are lots of Neanderthal sites…“It’s hard to imagine that there would be so many of them if there were only 1,000 individuals in the whole world.”

welcome to Alesi

CNBC and other mainstream media reported on the finding by an international team of researchers of a fossilized primate skull that may shed light on the common evolutionary heritage of apes and humans. “What the discovery of Alesi shows,” said lead author Isaiah Nengo, a professor of anthropology at De Anza College in California and Stony Brook University in New York, “is that this group was close to the origin of living apes and humans and that this origin was African.” The lemon-sized skull of an infant, nicknamed Alesi, was discovered in Kenya. It dates to the middle of the Miocene era, a little-understood time when many species of ape arose in Africa, including the common ancestors of modern apes and humans. The fossil resembles modern-day gibbons. “Gibbons are well known for their fast and acrobatic behavior in trees,” said Fred Spoor of University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology “But the inner ears of Alesi show that it would have had a much more cautious way of moving around.” Findings are published in the journal Nature.


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