anthro in the news 12/4/17

Goldfish Glitter Goldfish Glitter

goodbye to glitter 

CNN and several media covered a proposed ban on glitter in the U.K. Most glitters are microplastics, known as hazardous to marine life when ingested. Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist and senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand, has been quoted as saying that “all glitter should be banned.” Farrelly’s research includes the political ecologies of plastic production, consumption, and disposal.

fraught presidential election

Map of Honduras. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Los Angeles Times reported on the presidential election in Honduras and included a comment from Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, about how elections in Honduras are frequently fraught with problems. In the past, election officials have declared winners well before all of the votes have been counted, instead predicting who will win based on early returns.

France to return artefacts to Africa

The Art Newspaper reported that France’s president Macron has pledged to return many artefacts to Africa now housed in French museums. In a speech he gave on November 28 at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, he said: “I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France…African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou.” In the next five years, Macron wants the conditions to be met for the “temporary or permanent” restitution of African heritage to Africa. The article quotes Nicholas Thomas, director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, England, who says that this is a move in the right direction: “President Macron’s commitment to prioritise the issue will be welcomed by many museum curators…”

U.S. Diversity Visa program under attack

The Hill published commentary co-authored by Charles Piot, professor of African & African American studies and cultural anthropology at Duke University: “…ending the visa lottery program would do nothing to make Americans safer, and it could damage America’s standing in the world. That’s because the visa lottery is a unique part of our immigration system that strengthens U.S. ties to the rest of the world. We are scholars who have spent years studying the visa lottery, uncovering its history, and speaking to lottery entrants in West Africa and beyond, as well as those who have won the lottery and settled in the United States.” Piot’s most recent book, which is forthcoming, is on the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery.

anthropology in troubled times

The Huffington Post published commentary by Paul Stoller, professor of anthropology at West Chester University. He writes:  “The contemporary climate for democracy, for science, and for the tolerance for religious and social difference is grim. And yet if we keep conveying our important anthropological messages about the texture of social life, our insights can gradually help to restore a measure of social decency in our public discourse and provoke the attitudinal change that will safeguard our future. In troubled times, doing anthropology matters.” Stoller offers four suggestions to anthropologists for moving forward on a better path. 

no talking bossy in Mexico City

BBC carried an article about the prevalence of polite and indirect speech in Mexico City. It quoted Patricia Gallardo Arias, anthropology professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who suggests that the reason for this pattern lies in colonialism: “Indirect communication styles have to do with a lack of confidence…In the case of Mexico, it could be related to the conquest and the political climate.” [Blogger’s note: Many examples exist of indirect and polite speech as the norm in languages that are indigenous, pre-colonized speech patterns].

early Neolithic Britain

The Conversation published a piece by Jim Leary, Director of the Archaeology Field School at the University of Reading. He reports that remains at the site of Cat’s Brain, located halfway between Stonehenge and Avebury, are not of barrows but instead of a large timbered hall: “[It] was surprisingly large, measuring almost 20 metres long and ten metres wide at the front. It was built using posts and beamslots, and some of these timbers were colossal with deep cut foundation trenches, so that it’s general appearance is of a robust building with space for considerable numbers of people…Timber halls such as these are an aspect of the earliest stages of the Neolithic period in Britain, and there seems little doubt that they were created by early pioneer Neolithic people. Frequently, they appear to have lasted only two or three generations before being deliberately destroyed or abandoned. These houses need not be dwellings, however, and given their size could have acted as large communal gathering places.”

as the seas rise

An article in The Guardian described findings from a quantitative study that examined the impact of changing climate on nine states of the east coast of the U.S. using large data samples and broad geographic and temporal scales. Results indicate that even a modest increase in sea level will imperil much of the cultural heritage of the region by the end of the century, including submerging the White House. “There are going to be a lot of cultural sites lost and the record of humanity’s history will be put at risk,” said David Anderson, a University of Tennessee anthropologist who led the research. “Some sites will be destroyed, some buried in marshes. We may be able to relocate some. In some places it will be devastating. We need to properly understand the magnitude of this.” Florida, which has a southern portion particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, has the most sites in danger from a 1 meter rise of the oceans, followed by Louisiana and Virginia.

cultural heritage project

Regular contributor to National Public Radio (U.S.), Barbara J. King, professor emerita at the College of William and Mary, wrote a piece about the Archaeological Nature Trail, a permanent exhibit that connects Tahitians on the island of Mo’orea in Polynesia with their prehistoric past. The project was directed and curated by archaeologist Jennifer Kahn, associate professor at the College of William and Mary, who often consults with the descendant community on Mo’orea. She says: “I just wanted to show daily life…People grew taro, primarily, and also breadfruit, bananas, coconuts, and sugar cane.” In school, Polynesian students are more likely to learn about the Treaty of Versailles than about their own island’s history.

strong-armed women of prehistory

The Washington Post and several other media reported on findings from a study, published in Science Advances, which paired the scans of prehistoric Central European female bones from 5,500 years ago with those of modern humans. Until the medieval period, women were performing manual labor that produced thick arm bones, and, in contrast with those of modern skeletons, prehistoric leg and arm bones were thicker. Human bones began to shrink after the shift to agriculture. Thus far, research linking past behavior to bones has focused on male limbs. Alison Macintosh, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge, is quoted as saying: “There has been little work done yet, and what does exist has focused on men largely because the relationship between behavior and bone is a bit less complex in men than in women.” Women’s bones work double duty; they not only need to be strong, she pointed out, but the bones also store minerals that are used during pregnancy and lactation.


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