Anthro in the news 07/16/12

• Democracy in a new light
Rick Salutin, Toronto-based writer, is writing about democracy in a two-part essay called democracy disconnect. In part 1, he travels to talk with democracy protestors in Greece, then moves on to visit cultural anthropologist Sir Jack Goody, of Cambridge University, to ask him about the concept of democracy. True to his anthropologically informed, expansive thinking, Goody stretches out the term and notes that “our” [Western] conception of it has been “very narrow.” The article includes several paragraphs of Goody’s commentary.

• Digital dividing London
Sean Carey, aw’s regular contributor, published an article in The Guardian discussing East London as the new economic center of gravity in the U.K.’s capital and showing how the poor are losing out in the process. In the Shoreditch area, which borders the City of London, a cluster of small digital firms has grown over the last decade. Why have they come to this part of the city? Carey offers insights and explores the implications of this move-in of largely white, professional firms into a previously more ethnically diverse area. Carey also manages to weave anthropologist Ernest Gellner into the report.

• Anthro major may be reinstated
According to an article in The Gainesville Sun, Florida State University trustees are expected to reinstate the school’s anthropology program and major. The university stopped offering the major following state funding cuts in 2009. Florida governor Rick Scott brought anthropology into the national spotlight in 2011 when he said that Florida didn’t need any more anthropology majors.

• Forensic anthropologist aids sexual abuse conviction
In Edinburgh, a High Court judge branded Alexander Mortimer, a former nursery worker, a danger to children and made an order preventing him from ever working with youngsters again. He was caught after intelligence led police to raid his home and seize computer and phone equipment. They found 17,967 photos and 582 video clips, some of which had been made by Mortimer, showing him abusing two young boys. Mortimer suffers from eczema and a slight deformity of one finger. Forensic anthropologist Professor Susan Black compared photos of Mortimer s hands with images from his computer and found similarities.

• Destructive collections
An article in The New York Times on antiquities collections, the elusiveness of provenance, and the challenge of long-term preservation of sites and objects, quotes Ricardo Elia, archaeology professor at Boston University, as saying:  “…artifact collecting destroys far more than it saves.”

• British Archaeology Awards
According to BBC News Cambridgeshire, a project exploring the prehistoric Fenland took the top prize in this year’s British Archaeological Awards. Discoveries at the Must Farm Excavation, made by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, include nine Bronze Age log canoes dating to the first millennium B.C.E. The Thames Discovery Programme won the Best Community Archaeology prize for “communicating an understanding and informed enjoyment of the historic Thames, the longest open-air archaeological site in London, to the widest possible audience” and for training more than 300 volunteers in archaeological techniques.

• Dignity vs. disgrace at Stonehenge
The Guardian and other U.K. media carried articles about the current plan to protect and improve the heavily visited site of Stonehenge. English Heritage has raised £27 million to build a new visitor center and car park out of sight of the monument, close a main road and landscape the area to restore Stonehenge’s “natural dignity.” Access and amenities at Britain’s best known prehistoric monument were first described as a “national disgrace” nearly 20 years ago, but successive proposals to improve them failed for lack of funding. In the new plan, motorists will arrive at the new visitor center a mile and a half away. The new center has been designed to blend into the landscape of Salisbury Plain. The stretch of road which runs beside the monument will be closed and grassed over, reconnecting the stone circle with the large open fields around it. Other improvements are planned. The Guardian quotes English Heritage archaeologist David Batchelor: “What we can be sure of is this place had some special significance to the people who built Stonehenge, otherwise why go to all the effort of bringing the stones here.” The blue stones of the inner circles came from 150 miles away in Wales while giant sarsen stones each weighing around 25 ton came from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away.

• Very old stone tools in Angola
French archaeologist Manuel Guitierrez urged Angolan entities to elevate Dungo Archaeological Station to the category of cultural heritage. According to Gutierrez, Dungo Archaelogical Station has a concentration of the oldest stone tools of Africa, over two million years old, making them older than tools found in Olduvai, Kenya, and Melka Kouture, Ethiopia, which are dated at 1.7 million years. Moreover, whale bones are found near the stone tools at Dungo, indicating that early human ancestors used the mammals for food, a unique finding.

• Genetic evidence for North America settlement
The New York Times reported on new genetic research indicating that North and South America were originally populated by three waves of migrants from Siberia rather than just a single migration. A research team has studied the whole genomes of Native Americans in South America and Canada. This line of evidence supports some prevailing theories about the New World settlement and contradicts others. The research was published in the journal Nature.

• Stone and bones tell of very old settlement in Oregon
Researchers analyzing stone spearheads and human DNA found in caves in Oregon, claim to have firm evidence that these are the oldest directly dated remains of people in North America. They also show that at least two cultures with distinct technologies shared the continent more than 13,000 years ago. The occupants of Paisley Caves, left narrow-stemmed spear points, around 13,000 years old, making them contemporaneous with or older than a different style of spearhead associated with the Clovis people. The researchers, led by professor Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon’s anthropology department, reported in the journal Science: “These two distinct technologies were parallel developments…The colonization of the Americas involved multiple technologically divergent, and possibly genetically divergent, founding groups.”

• Before Darwin
Hugh Raffles, cultural anthropology professor at the New School, wrote a book review for the New York Times of Rebecca Stott’s Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution. Raffles calls the book an “absorbing account” of the contributions of Darwin’s many intellectual predecessors.

• New human ancestor fossil found
Scientists from the Wits Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg announced the discovery of significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor. The skeleton is believed to be the remains of Karabo, the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, first discovered at the Malapa Site 2009. Lee Berger, reader in paleoanthropology and the public understanding of science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution, made the announcement at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum on July 13.

• First animal domestication in southern Africa
Two sheep/goat molars from around 2,300 years ago that were discovered during an archaeological dig in the Erongo Mountains are described in PLoS ONE. Dr Eugene Marais of the National Museum of Namibia is quoted in The Namibian: “This discovery will force archeologists to go back to the drawing board regarding the domestication timeline, as well as potential movement patterns, for early herders in the region. New theories will have to be thought up to fit the new time. These teeth have changed the whole story.” The researchers, led by David Pleurdeau of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Dr Marais, investigated the remains which were found with hundreds of other artifacts including stone and bone tools, beads, and some potsherds. Marais said it is difficult to determine whether the teeth came from a sheep or goat, but there is “no doubt” that the teeth came from domesticated animals. The teeth are on loan to Paris and are scheduled to return to Namibia in September.

• In memoriam
Etienne Rynne, MRIA, FSA, and emeritus professor of archaeology at NUI Galway, died at the age of 79 years. Rynne was a renowned scholar of early Irish art and active proponent of archaeological preservation. His obituary in The Irish Times notes: “Ever forthright, during the Wood Quay controversy in the 1970s he argued that provision should be made for archaeologists to excavate sites prior to building. He claimed that such provision was being put at risk by lay pretenders telling experienced and fully trained archaeologists how to do their job. This was akin to quacks taking over medicine…In 1985 he went to Armagh as part of a protest to prevent a quarry works encroaching upon the historic Navan Fort. We have heard a lot about saving this monument for the people of Ulster today, he told a crowd of 250 archaeologists and antiquaries. But I say to hell with Ulster, to hell with Munster and to hell with Connacht! Let s save this monument for the Irish people.” Rynne published several books and scholarly articles, and he was editor of the North Munster Antiquarian Journal for more than 30 years. The driving force behind the establishment of Galway City Museum, he was also a former president of the Cambrian Archaeological Society.

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