anthro in the news 7/2/18

A collective wedding party organized by Al Afaf, a charitable organization. Credit: Al Afaf/The Jordan Times

marriage crisis in Jordan

The Jordan Times reported on the several challenges facing men and women who want to marry in Jordan and quoted Geoffrey Hughes from the Anthropology Department, London School of Economics:  “I would assume most people who have talked to a young Jordanian man [or even his father, mother, or sister] will have heard a version of this problem: at the very least, a Jordanian man who wants to marry needs money for a flat, a bridewealth [mahr] payment and a wedding…This is all mutually reinforcing: the more people invest in marriage, the more problematic it is if the values of the families and the bride and the groom don’t match…So the difficulty of getting married becomes magnified with time in both its economic and social dimensions.” As his research continued, Hughes learned about an organization called Jama’iyyat Al Afaf Al khayriyya or the Chastity Society. It addresses some of the socioeconomic problems underlying the  marriage crisis through interest-free loans to people hoping to marry, training sessions, publishing research on Jordan’s marriage crisis, and hosting annual mass weddings where about 50 to 80 people get married at once.

church ethnography

KUOW radio (Seattle) aired a piece about a Christian minister’s rise and fall in Seattle and how a sociocultural anthropologist studied it. At the Mars Hill Church, a charismatic minister preached in a daring, new way, seeking to make his ministry “culturally relevant” and bringing a hipster attitude to conservative theology. His methods drew growing numbers of people to the church which expanded to fifteen facilities in five states. Accusations arose, however, from within the church about the minister’s misogyny, plagiarism, emotional manipulation, and abuse of authority. In 2014 he was forced to resign and the church collapsed. Throughout this process, Jessica Johnson, lecturer in anthropology and gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, was doing participant observation in the church. The result is her book, “Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire.”

from pith helmets to the private sector

South Carolina Public Radio covered a course called Careers in Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles, designed and taught by Heather Loyd, business anthropologist and lecturer. Loyd received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from UCLA in 2011 and then joined Kansas State University as assistant professor. Since 2016, she has been working as a business anthropologist, helping companies improve their understanding of consumers. Her course at UCLA brought in guest speakers to discuss their work in the private sector, all pointing to the growing awareness in the private sector of what sociocultural anthropologists do and how they can contribute to business success. Liz Briody was one of the first anthropologists hired by General Motors in the 1980s. At that time, her role was misunderstood: “’Oh you do work for companies and you’re an anthropologist?…Do you wear a white pith helmet and dig up on old bones?'” She actually studied the effect of workers from different countries on company culture at one of GM’s plants and now runs a corporate consulting firm called Cultural Keys. “More and more people are becoming aware of what anthropologists do,” Briody said. “Culture is a much more commonly understood term than it ever was before.” Another guest speaker, Rebekah Park, is a manager at ReD Associates, a consulting firm that does social science research for companies like Lego Group, Samsung Electronics, Adidas, and brands like Absolut. “All of my data, and everything that I think is important in the world comes from observations and everyday people,” Park told the class. Consultant in human relations, Katy Jones noted that people with anthropology degrees are crucial for companies like Facebook and Starbucks and their initiatives to address race and gender bias in the workplace: “Being able to track the progress of that initiative is where those anthropologists with that kind of training can really be a big help.”

book review

The Chicago Tribune published a review of Bullshit Jobs: “Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world? When YouGov asked this question of working adults in Great Britain, 37 percent of respondents said no. Intrigued by these findings, David Graeber, an American-born anthropologist at the London School of Economics went searching for insights, ultimately resulting in his book, “Bull—- Jobs: A Theory”… As an anthropologist, Graeber is less concerned with validating that statistic and more interested in exploring why so many people believe this about their own jobs. In doing so, he helps the reader better understand not just the nature of one’s own job, but jobs in general. A “bull—- job” isn’t a bad job, per se. It isn’t necessarily a low-paying or low-status job. In simplest terms, it’s a pointless job. The easiest way to identify such a job is to imagine the consequences of the job going undone. Graeber identifies five different categories of bull—- jobs: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers and taskmaster.”

more rethinking of Neanderthals

The Conversation (U.S.) published commentary by Annemieke Milks, Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at University College London. She spotlights research indicating that Neanderthals used “thrown” spears for hunting: “Now new research, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, shows that Neanderthals did indeed use spears to hunt animals. The paper describes a collection of 120,000-year-old deer bones from the Neanderthal site of Neumark-Nord in Germany – two of which have perforations that clearly show impacts from a spear. These unusual artefacts prove that the earliest spears were effective hunting weapons. In a paper accompanying the new study, I discuss what the findings mean for our knowledge of the lives of the Neanderthals…The new study provides important evidence, however it is still unclear whether the early spears were used for thrusting, hand throwing or both. Thrown spears provide greater safety to the user in comparison with contact spears, but require a sophisticated understanding of how to design flight weapons. Thrown weapons, particularly at longer distances, make it possible to hunt a greater variety of species in a larger number of environments. This is because it makes hunters less dependent on environments which have distinct natural features for trapping or ambushing animals from closer distances. The findings at the Neumark-Nord site show that Neanderthals were capable of hunting in densely forested landscapes, which would involve cooperation of a group of hunters.”

Neolithic site in Suffolk, England

Tanged arrow head discovered at the site. Credit: Scottish Power/The Guardian

The Guardian reported on the discovery of a Neolithic site in Suffolk, southern England, in the process of construction for a windfarm. The site is one of abundant springs. “You can’t stop the water,” archaeologist Vinny Monahan said. “We came upon evidence of various attempts to drain the field, but it bubbles up wherever you dig.” Prehistorians and ancient timber experts visited the site, and their opinion and the dating evidence indicate that this is a major site of which not a trace remained in the historical record despite evidence of Roman, Saxon, and medieval occupation. Kate Batt of the Suffolk County Council archaeological service said the artefacts and major timbers have been removed for further study, and it is hoped that part of the trackway will eventually be displayed in a local museum.

lost standing stones may be found

The Telegraph reported that archaeologists in England have begun searching for prehistoric standing stones which disappeared more than 35 years ago from Isley Marsh in Devon. The row of stones vanished under a deep layer of silt after water currents at the Taw estuary changed when Yelland Power station shut down in the 1980s. Bill Horner, Devon County archaeologist, commented: “Archaeological and scientific techniques have advanced considerably and we hope that the application of modern geophysical survey will reveal the known stone row and perhaps previously unknown stones beneath the silts…It will allow us to say more about the environment in which the stone row was constructed. Was it completely high and dry? Was it in farmland or woodland, or was it already saltmarsh, as at the famous Sea Henge in Norfolk? Rows certainly seem to have a ceremonial purpose as they are often found associated with burial mounds or cairns and with other stone rows and standing stones. They may have astrological links, but as there is no consistent alignment for stone rows it is hard to tell. The Yelland row does seem to be roughly east-west, so in this case there may very well be a link with the rising and, or setting sun at a particular time of year, if it was not surrounded by trees, blocking the view, so it may have been built in connection with celebrations or rites to mark the communal or farming calendar.”

excavation in Mexico City

According to an article in The Mexico News Daily, excavations in a southern area of Mexico City promise to shed light on historic times as well as the pre-Hispanic period. “Until now, we have detected four stages of settlement; four historical periods linked to the start of the 20th century…, Mexico’s independence and the pre-Hispanic period,” said Antonio Balcorta Yépez, an INAH archaeologist working on the project. Of the 26 graves found, 11 are in the form of a truncated cone, while the archaeologists have also found vestiges of walls from pre-Hispanic structures. The archaeologists have also made discoveries from more recent times including remnants of ammunition used in the Mexican revolution and parts of adobe bricks and other building materials that formed part of a house that stood on the site at the end of the 19th century.

excavation in Edinburgh

The Scotsman reported on how a construction project in Old Town Edinburgh is bringing aspects of the city’s medieval history to light. Excavation is under way at the Cowgate’s India Buildings in the heart of the Old Town, the site of the forthcoming Virgin Hotel. “It’s about putting the meat on the bones of history,” said city council archaeologist John Lawson. “This excavation has the potential to be one of the most significant carried out in recent years within Edinburgh’s Old Town, particularly as it’s hoped it will reveal evidence of its origins in the 10th to 12th centuries. “Preliminary work on site has already produced significant evidence of 17th to 19th century buildings fronting onto the Cowgate and the lives of their inhabitants, including pottery imported from England and the Low Countries. I’m looking forward to finding out what else is waiting to be discovered under the site.”

student archaeology project at Clemson University

Fort Hill, home of John C. Calhoun. Credit: blahedo/Wikipedia

The Greenville News (South Carolina) reported on a summer archaeology class at Clemson University led by David Markus. The students are excavating aspects of the university’s past which is closely tied to politician John C Calhoun, a staunch supporter of slavery. The article notes: “It’s a past that, for too long, has been left untouched, glossed over, even sanitized.”


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