anthro in the news 8/6/18 and 8/13/18

The three sisters: beans, corn, and squash. Credit:

reclaiming Native food sovereignty

The Santa Fe New Mexican carried an article about the movement to reclaim Native North American food sovereignty, highlighting a recent book, Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman, by Charlotte J. Frisbie, professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University. Taking the perspective that improving Native American diets is “a political as well as a public health measure,” she offers firsthand experiences and information collected during the decade she lived with Tall Woman, who died in 1977 at 103 years of age. Frisbie documents the gathering, growing, and preparation of traditional foods on the Navajo Nation.  Beyond the case of the Navajo, Frisbie defines food sovereignty as an international movement by indigenous peoples to “return to traditional foods produced by traditional methods…to reestablish healthy lifeways.”

Gurkhas fighting for their rights

Gurkha kukri, c. 1814. Credit: National Army Museum U.K.

The Asia Times (Hong Kong) reported on the progress of Gurkha activism in gaining equal rights, compared to British comrades, in terms of pay and pensions. For nearly two centuries Ghurka warriors fought and died for Britain on battlefields around the world. For most of that time, the Gurkhas were paid far less than their British counterparts. Their struggle for equal rights is now almost over, thanks to the Gurkha Justice Campaign, a movement launched in the early 1990s, and other Gurkha organizations such as GAESO (Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organization), the first organization to push for reform. Om Gurung, professor and head of the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology of the Tribhuvan University of Nepal, played a significant role in providing GAESO with the international platform that it needed. As a result, GAESO was able to organize national and international seminars and conferences, liaise with human rights organizations, and gain global exposure. 

If you are a woman seeking a man, move to Seattle

An article in The Washington Post described findings from a quantitative analysis of an online dating site in four U.S. cities. It shows, among things, stark gender and age differences in “desirability” and the relative abundance of single, heterosexual men in Seattle. The article quotes Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute who was not involved in the study. She commented, first, that these are not really dating apps: They’re “introducing apps.”  “The only real algorithm is your own brain. Where you meet him [or her] doesn’t matter. On a park bench, online or other places. The app can set you up with someone who might seem perfect, but traits like humor or trustworthiness are hard to measure online.”  Fisher, also the chief scientist at, offered advice for online dating based on user research by Humans are visual animals, so picture choice is important. She recommends uploading six photos. Also, perhaps the most helpful advice was, “if what you’re doing isn’t working, change your strategy.”

forensic anthropology and war remains: interview

Two military cargo planes carrying 55 aluminum coffin-shaped cases landed at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, containing the presumed remains of American service members who died in North Korea between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War. The remains were turned over to United States officials by the North Korean government, the first such handover since joint recovery efforts between the two countries came to a halt in 2005. The New York Times Magazine spoke with Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist for the D.P.A.A. (Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency) who has been identifying missing American military personnel since 2002, to understand what steps the agency takes to make an identification.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker and photographer. Karen Cantor has just released her third documentary, Return: Reclaiming Native American Foodways. The film explores Native American food sovereignty in a conversational way by focusing on six women involved in the movement. Although the foods they champion — salmon in Washington; whale in Alaska; corn, beans, and squash in New Mexico and South Dakota — are as different as the tribes and their geographical origins, their shared passion for the work they are doing ties the film together and demonstrates the national reach of the food sovereignty movement. Cantor has a B.A. in anthropology from Goucher College and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. 

Welsh burials at Stonehenge

BBC reported on archaeological findings about the identity of some cremated human remains buried at Stonehenge around 5,000 years ago.  Christophe Snoeck compared the levels of different forms, or isotopes, of the element strontium against a national database to work out where the cremated individuals spent the last years of their lives. Rick Schulting, senior author on the study, said: “These must have been important people. Being buried at Stonehenge is the ancient equivalent of being interred in Westminster Cathedral today…The evidence suggests that some of the people buried at Stonehenge must have spent much of their last 10 or so years in Wales. Although we tend to think that immigration is a new thing, these people were obviously able to travel substantial distances across difficult terrain.” Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

sexism and ageism in Anglo-Saxon prehistory

Quartz carried an article describing archaeological research indicating that young women were buried with more treasure than their older counterparts between the years 475 and 625 C.E. in England.  In a study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Christine Cave, a graduate student in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, and Marc Oxenham, professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, explain that the treatment of people in death reflects their status in life. After examining grave goods in English cemeteries across three centuries, they found that female graves tended to have high-status objects which represented beauty, such as gemstones, rings, and brooches. Male tombs were filled with tools and artifacts of martial power, like spears, axes, and goblets. But, while men tended to accumulate more items with increased age, the opposite was true of women: “older women on the whole were shown less respect in death than their male counterparts…Aging in Anglo-Saxon England was a gendered process.” [Blogger’s note: this finding about the combined effects of gender and ageism mirrors the results from the contemporary U.S. study of “desirability” in U.S. date-seeking, noted above, which revealed that the most “desirable” age for females is up to 18 years with a steady decline after that, while, for men, “desirability” increases with age].

Hobbits and human evolution in Southeast Asia

News (Australia) republished an article originally on The Conversation, written by archaeologists Michael Westaway, senior research fellow with the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University and Francis David Bulbeck, senior research associate at the Australian National University. They discuss earlier and new findings about Homo floresiensis, nicknamed Hobbits because of their short stature, and point to the species’ possible links with living people in the area. ABC (Australia) carried a piece about research arguing against any genetic continuity between Homo floresiensis and contemporary local people. Princeton University evolutionary biologist Serena Tucci and her colleagues compared DNA from 32 pygmy (short-statured) adults from the village of Rampasasa with sequences from modern humans from around the world as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans. They found Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA within the pygmy genomes — which was expected — but nothing out of the ordinary that might point to another archaic hominin, said study co-author and University of Queensland geneticist Peter Visscher: “They kind of fit in where you’d probably expect them to fit in, in terms of ancestry, when you compare that group of people to other populations in South-East Asia, Oceania and so on.” This study was published in Science.

tracking down the real Lorax

Inception of The Lorax. Credit: a,d, Yvonne A. de Jong and Thomas M. Butynski; b,c, Dr. Seuss Enterprises; e, Anup Shah, courtesy of Nature Picture Library; Nature Ecology and Evolution

An article in The Washington Post described how a chance meeting of two Dartmouth College professors at an academic dinner led to a collaboration that yielded insights into the likely inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ renowned character, the Lorax. According to Nathaniel J. Dominy, associate professor of anthropology, he and Donald Pease, an English professor, and two other scholars, “…used eigenface decomposition methods to calculate facial similarities and we generated the plot with t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE), an iterative algorithm that down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization.” Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by patas monkeys of West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s