anthro in the news 7/9/18

Relatives of the soccer team members and the coach pray at a shrine for their rescue. Credit: Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

a goddess is watching over them

As reported in The New York Times, people are praying to the goddess Jao Mae Nang Non at a shrine near the cave in northern Thailand where 12 soccer players and their coach have been trapped. Her legend is similar to dozens of other tales across a country whose belief system and folklore are heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu, and local traditions. It also speaks to the spiritual significance that caves hold in region. According to Alan Johnson, assistant professor of  anthropology at Princeton University, caves throughout Thailand have shrines, many of them Buddhist, and they connect to stories about the Buddha’s travels in the region and how he pacified fearsome giants or spirits.

intersectional look at Brazilian soccer stars

Brazil’s team at FIFA 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An article in The Guardian described the backgrounds of many of the Brazilian soccer players, addressing intersectional issues such as race and class and, prominently, the absence of fathers in the lives of several players. According to government figures, women are the household head in 40% of Brazilian families, even when they have a conjugal partner, up from 23% two decades earlier. The article quotes Debora Diniz, professor of anthropology at the University of Brasília who notes that many of Brazil’s great players come from backgrounds of crushing poverty. “[The mothers] are much more universally Brazilian women,” she said. “There is a racial contrast that is very important. There is a class contrast that is very important.” That contrasts with the upscale lifestyle enjoyed by of players’ wives and girlfriends who in many cases are lighter-skinned, unlike the team which is a typically Brazilian racial mix.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a photographer, chocolate maker, and tour organizer. Enna Grazier is the founder of Enna Chocolate, located in Epping, New Hampshire. In addition to her photographic work and producing chocolate, she organized a tour for Anthony Bourdain for his Parts Unknown series and will be offering a tour exploring the origins of cacao in Belize in spring 2019.  She says that studying anthropology in college is one of the reasons she became interested in cacao and chocolate. Grazier has a certificate in photography from Rockport College and a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Oregon.

chocolate money?

Newsweek published a piece spotlighting the research of cultural anthropologist and historian Joanne Baron of the Bard Early College Network in New Jersey. She argues, in a study published in the journal Economic Anthropology, that Maya people in the Classic period (250-900 C.E.) used cacao beans, the principal ingredient in chocolate, as a currency in exchange for goods and services such as tobacco, maize and clothing.  She is quoted as saying: “I argue that these products, originally valued for their use in status display, took on monetary functions within a context of expanding marketplaces among rival Maya kingdoms.” However, David Friedel, an anthropologist and Maya expert at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the research, suggests that the rise in depictions of cacao may not necessarily indicate that it became increasingly important as a currency. “Is it actually getting more important or are we just learning more about it?”

lost dogs of the Americas

A Rez dog. Credit: Nathan Satran.

For thousands of years, dogs lived alongside early Americans. The earliest dog remains found in North America were buried nearly 10,000 years ago in what is now Illinois. By 7,000 years ago, other bones show that “we have lots of dogs all over the place,” said Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at Durham University. But after the 15th century, these dogs disappeared. European colonists, and the canines they brought with them, nearly wiped out the early dogs’ genetic signature, according to the largest-ever study of ancient and modern dog DNA in North America and Siberia. “This paper makes really clear that the ancient American dog appears to have almost entirely vanished, though nobody seems to have any good explanations for why,” said Elinor Karlsson, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies dog genetics and was not involved in the research…“It’s almost like a huge chunk of history that’s been kind of lost.” [Blogger’s note: Ruth Hopkins, Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer Tweeted a question: “Did they include Rez dogs in their study? We have lines of dogs that have been with us since precolonial times. I posit that 2,500 is too small a sample size to be certain.”

paleo baby steps

NBC News and other media reported on the discovery that the foot bones of a toddler who died three million years ago in Ethiopia reveal that baby pre-humans could both walk upright like modern humans and climb trees like apes. The thumb-sized fossils come from a skeleton discovered in Dikika in 2002. “To have a fossil this complete, and to have the fossil of a child, gives us a brand-new window into…what it was like 3 million years ago,” said Jeremy DeSilva, a paleontologist at Dartmouth University whose team examined the tiny foot bones. “Skeletons are rare and skeletons of kids are even rarer.”

extinct species of gibbon discovered

The New York Times reported that British researchers have identified a gibbon found in an ancient Chinese tomb as a now-extinct genus and species. Samuel Turvey, a conservationist and gibbon expert, was touring a Chinese museum in 2009 when a partial skull caught his eye. It had been found buried, along with several other animals in the tomb of Lady Xia, a grandmother of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang, in what is now Shaanxi. The tomb is estimated to be 2,200 to 2,300 years old. Turvey was struck by the shape of the head, which didn’t look like any modern animal he knew. A paper published in Science confirms that his instinct was correct. Turvey’s research team, identified the animal as a member of a new genus and species, Junzi imperialis. Gibbons were seen as a symbol of scholar-officials in ancient China, and junzi means “scholarly gentlemen.” Jo Setchell, a professor of anthropology at Durham University, who was not involved in the work, said the discovery provided new insights: “The broader message is that we might have underestimated the number of primate extinctions caused by humans in the past…Understanding past extinctions will help us to predict how vulnerable current species are, and therefore help us to protect them more effectively.”


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