anthro in the news 4/30/18

Shinonome-riken Canal Court housing, Tokyo. Source: Pinterest

what lurks behind the door

Oxy (California) reported on the role of beliefs about the dead in affecting rent prices in Japan. It is much cheaper to rent a place where the previous occupant died of unnatural causes like suicide or murder. In Japan such properties are known as jiko bukken, and the law actually recognizes them. Any property in which an occupant has died of unnatural causes means it has a defect that must be explained to the consumer. Stigmatizing property associated with a death is not, however, unique to Japan. Phillips Stevens Jr., associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, says there are a couple of reasons why people generally shy away from such places. There’s the ghost factor. “In some cultures the mood of the ghost might depend on the way he died…A murdered person might be angry, wanting revenge; a suicide might be profoundly depressed and be dangerous for that reason.”

anthropology, the Nazis, and eugenics: book review

The Independent (Ireland) carried a review of a book about a 1930s Harvard-led research effort to determine a racial profile for the Celts by archaeologist Mairéad Carew: “In 1932, a group of scientists from the Ivy League college came to Ireland to investigate who the Celts were, where they had originated from and who were their descendants among modern Irish people…The overall manager of the Harvard mission was Earnest A Hooton, one of the leading physical anthropologists in America at the time. He was in charge of the bone laboratory at the Peabody Museum at Harvard which contained human skulls from all over the world. Hooton was a member of the American Eugenics Society, considered to be the key propaganda wing of the eugenics movement in America. Eugenics, the science of better breeding for human beings, was a variant of scientific racism. The American Eugenics Society supported Germany’s eugenic programme. However, Hooton claimed to be against Nazism but he still wanted to set up an American national breeding bureau in America. He was eventually disciplined by Harvard for his ‘inhuman’ teachings. The Harvard mission was part of a wider American eugenic project with investigators in Belgium, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. Potential immigrants to the United States were ‘eugenically inspected.’ Harsh new immigration laws had been enacted in the 1920s, after vigorous lobbying by eugenicists, in an effort to keep ‘defectives’ out. Hooton believed the Irish to be a pure race and a major source of American racial inheritance. Ireland was also chosen because of the Irish language as Celtic was believed to be an ancient Aryan language once spoken all over Europe.”

careers of the future: anthropology among top ten skills 

An article in Axios described findings from a study undertaken at the University of Oxford in collaboration with Pearson to consider what projected careers will require once people start living and working for over 100 years. In researching the future of work, the asked this question: if a child were starting school today, what skills would he or she ideally learn in order to be ready for a possibly century-long career. According to the findings, the top 10 skills a child born today should learn in a normal basic education are: learning strategies, psychology, instructing, social perceptiveness, sociology and anthropology, education and training, coordination, originality, fluency of ideas, and active learning. [Blogger’s note: while I am delighted to see anthropology on the list, it seems a bit odd that three social science disciplines – psychology, sociology, and anthropology – are listed as “skills” like “coordination”(?) while the skill “social perception” seems to be part of them. But I haven’t seen the full study and so am just reacting to the list provided on Axios].

take that anthro degree and…

….become a heritage culture practitioner and activist. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a Hawaiian hula and cultural practitioner, is executive director of the nonprofit organization Lalakea Foundation and project director of Ka ʻAha Hula ʻO Halauaola 2018. Wong-Wilson has a B.A. in anthropology specializing in Hawaiian cultural anthropology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, an M.A. in Pacific Islands studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a Ph.D. in Maori and indigenous studies from the University of Waikato.

…become a professional photographer. Alyse Tomlinson is a photographer who combines commissioned work for editorial, design and advertising clients with personal work, which she publishes and exhibits. Tomlinson became fascinated with the concept of pilgrimage after seeing a documentary on Lourdes, which she first visited on a package tour for pilgrims. She was named Sony/WPO Photographer of the Year 2018 for Ex Voto, a deeply personal series of black and white photographs taken at pilgrimage sites including Lourdes in France, Ballyvourney in Ireland, and Grabarka in Poland. Tomlinson has a B.A in English literature and communications from the University of Leeds, studied photography at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and has an M.A. in the anthropology of travel, tourism and pilgrimage from SOAS, University of London.

protecting underwater cultural heritage

CTV News (Canada) reported on UNESCO efforts to protect a sunken ship found off the coast of Colombia three years ago. The 300-year-old wreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose is believed to contain a cargo worth billions of dollars. A UNESCO experts’ body protecting underwater cultural heritage sent a letter to Colombian Culture Minister Mariana Garces Cordoba expressing concern that recovering the treasure for sale rather than for its historical value “would cause the irretrievable loss of significant heritage.”

sloth-hunters’ footprints in the sand

The Washington Post reported on research and preservation challenges related to human footprints left at the site of White Sands in Utah, where humans hunted giant sloths. “Thousands and thousands of trackways” crisscross the area, said Vincent Santucci, a senior paleontologist with the National Park Service and an author of the new report. The official term for such concentrated pathways is a megatrack. The megatrack in White Sands “is the largest one that we know of in North America.” The tracks at the White Sands flats are remote, and, bordered by the military testing range to the north, mostly protected from human disturbance. The ancient walkers made prints in deposits of lake sediment, which were covered over time by a half-inch layer of sand. The tracks, if exposed to moisture, will crumble shortly after excavation. “The preservation of the footprints is not the best,” said Andrew R.C. Milner, a paleontologist at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site museum in Utah. Milner was not a part of this research team but had observed some of the animal tracks at White Sands. “We can definitely see large animals,” he said. Study author Matthew Bennett, a paleontologist at Bournemouth University in Britain, said that the bipedal prints were unmistakably human. Findings are reported in the journal Science Advances.

child sacrifice in Peru

Several media including The Guardian reported that archaeologists have discovered the remains of more than 140 children in Peru, children who they believe were sacrificed because of heavy rains and flooding. The burial site, known as Las Llamas, contains the skeletons of 140 children who were aged between five and 14 when they were ritually sacrificed during a ceremony about 550 years ago. The site, located near the city of Trujillo, also contained the remains of 200 young llamas apparently sacrificed on the same day. The burial site was apparently built by the Chimú empire. “They were possibly offering the gods the most important thing they had as a society, and the most important thing is children because they represent the future,” said Gabriel Prieto, an archaeology professor at Peru’s National University of Trujillo, who has led the excavation along with John Verano, professor of anthropology at Tulane University. Jeffrey Quilter, the director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, described it as a “remarkable discovery.” Quilter said the site provides “concrete evidence” that large-scale sacrifices of children occurred in ancient Peru: “Reports of very large sacrifices are known from other parts of the world, but it is difficult to know if the numbers are exaggerated or not.” Quilter is heading a team of scientists who will analyze DNA samples from the children’s remains to see if they were related and figure out which areas of the Chimú empire the sacrificed youth came from. Findings are published by National Geographic which helped finance the investigation.

massacre in 5th century Sweden

An article in The Guardian described findings from excavations of a mid-5th century site, Sandby Borg, in Sweden. Once a prosperous village built within the walls of a ring fort, it was the subject of a brutal attach after which no one returned to bury the dead, loot possessions or take livestock. Ludwig Papmehl-Dufay, an archaeologist from the team at the local museum, which began excavations after warnings that the site was being targeted by treasure hunters, said that while no written or oral history of the massacre survived, there were persistent stories that it was regarded locally as a dangerous place. “I do find it most likely that the event was remembered and that it triggered strong taboos connected to the site, possibly brought on through oral history for centuries.”  Findings are published in the journal Antiquity.

brains size: bigger not always better

An article in TRT World (Istanbul) described findings of an interdisciplinary team including experts in physical anthropology, mechanical engineering, and neuroscience, that while Neanderthals had larger brains than their early Homo sapiens cousins, their brains had a smaller cerebellum, the lower part near the spine that controls balance and movement. It is also involved in speech and learning. The distinction may have caused social and cognitive differences between the near relatives, and may explain why one went extinct while the other thrived, said Naomichi Ogihara of the Keio University in Japan, who co-authored a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports. “Although the difference could be subtle, such a subtle difference may become significant in terms of natural selection.”

heat and early human evolution

Chimpanzees of Senegal. Credit: Jill Pruetz

The New York Times reported on research among chimpanzees in Senegal, led by Jill Pruetz, professor of anthropology at Texas State University, involving comparisons of chimpanzee behavior in forest and savanna environments. Forests are cooler than the savanna, and in forests, chimpanzees thrive on a diet of moisture-laden fruit which is rare on the savanna.  Peter Wheeler, of Liverpool John Moores University, has suggested that an upright posture would have helped hominins stay cool in a hot, arid environment. Pruetz suspects Wheeler may be right, and she hopes to study the Fongoli chimpanzees more to test his idea. The chimpanzees may shift their posture — as far as they can with an ape anatomy — in order to cope with the high temperatures. It is now possible to get close enough to measure the heat flowing from the chimpanzees with a thermal imaging camera. The research was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.


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