Anthro in the news 3/11/13

• On gender equality in Cuba

A report on the status of women in Cuba, “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” credits the leaders of the revolution with mandating and enforcing rules and laws guaranteeing gender equality and women’s rights, which have made Cuba among the highest-ranking nations in the advancement of women.

Women's Work
Report cover

An article in The New York Times discussing the report quotes María Ileana Faguaga Iglesias, a Cuban cultural anthropologist and historian who argues that the story of Cuba’s progress toward gender equality is overstated. She expressed the frustration of highly educated women: ”We have to distinguish that access to university studies does not necessarily give us power … What’s more, to be in positions that are supposedly positions of power does not necessarily permit the exercise of power.”

Still, Cuba ranks high in international surveys on women. The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Cuba 19th among 135 countries, up one notch from 2011, one of only two Latin American nations in the top 20 (Nicaragua ranked ninth). By comparison, the United States fell to 22 from 17 in the survey, which measured the health, literacy, economic status and political participation of women.

• Women on Wall Street

In an interview on the Bill Moyers report, cultural anthropologist Melissa Fisher comments that women could not have entered the U.S. professional workforce in significant numbers without the liberal feminist movement’s insistence on the opening up of formerly male bastions, such as finance. In her book Wall Street Women, Fisher charts the evolution of the first generation of career women on Wall Street. She is a cultural anthropologist and visiting scholar in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

• Taxing the poor in the U.S.

Writing in The New York Times, Katherine Newman describes findings from her new book, co-authored with Rourke L. O’Brien, called Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged.

Taxing the Poor
Book cover

Newman is professor of sociology and the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland [blogger’s note: her Ph.D. is in anthropology].

She and O’Brien analyzed the burden of sales tax, state and local income taxes on poor households in 49 states from 1982 to 2008. They found that the more the poor are taxed, the worse off they are, whether they are working or not:

“It turns out that after factoring out all other explanations — like racial composition, poverty rates, the amount spent on education or health care, the size of the state’s economy, existing inequality levels, and differences in the cost of living — the relationship between taxing the poor and negative outcomes like premature death persisted. For every $100 increase on taxes at the poverty line, we saw an additional 7 deaths and 78 property crimes per 100,000 people, and a quarter of a percentage point decrease in high school completion.”

• Jim Kim headed to India

According to an article in India’s The Hindu, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is visiting India from March 11-13 to see the development challenges it faces and to consider opportunities to achieve faster economic growth and a quicker reduction in poverty.

Kim will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society to discuss India’s major initiatives aimed at fostering equitable growth. [Blogger’s note: I hope they come up with some good ideas about “equitable growth” in India including attention to class/gender/ethnicity — that will be groundbreaking news].

• Take that anthro degree and…

Gina McCarthy
Gina McCarthy/Wikipedia

…become U.S. EPA nominee. President Obama has nominated Gina McCarthy to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy majored in social anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She also got a joint master’s degree from Tufts University in environmental health engineering and planning and policy. Those who know her say her pragmatism makes her well-suited to lead the EPA.

• Walls crumbling down

Climate change (as in warming) is not a good match for built cultural heritage. The Telegraph reports, from Shropshire, England: Residents living near one section of a medieval structure were advised to leave their homes temporarily after engineers found that it was unsafe. Parts of the structure date back to 1233, when Ludlow, now better known for its listed buildings and Michelin-starred restaurants, was a fortified border town.

Colin Richards, of the University of Manchester and head of conservation and archaeology for Shropshire, said: “It’s amazing that they have stood for 800 years and the climate change that has affected them over the last couple of years has wreaked so much damage.”

• Very old English homes found in quarry

A settlement of four houses whose construction has been dated back 6,000 years has been discovered in a Berkshire quarry, putting them among the oldest houses in England. Only outlines of walls and post holes have survived in the sandy soil at the Kingsmead quarry, near Windsor, but the size of the foundations suggests that substantial structures, probably with loft spaces for storing grain and food, once stood there. Radiocarbon results for one of the houses produced a date of about 3,800 B.C.E. to 3,640 B.C.E., and the scientists, from Wessex Archaeology, hope to get dates for the others from organic finds, including charred remains of cooked food and hazelnut shells. [Blogger’s note: never underestimate the importance of hazelnuts].

• To eat or not to eat (horses)

The Times (London) carried an article [which doesn’t appear to be online] about the British aversion to eating horseflesh. It cites the work of archaeologist Kristopher Poole who says that the demise of hippophagy in the 8th century seems to be the result of a Papal prohibition. Writing in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, Poole argues that the central role of horses in early Anglo-Saxon life led to a perception that the animal was connected with pagan beliefs and thus that consumption of horseflesh was un-Christian.

• Here lie chiefs


Several media sources carried articles about how Stonehenge was likely a burial site for “chiefs” at the time.

The new interpretation is put forward by professor Mike Parker Pearson, lecturer at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, on the basis of his analysis of cremated human remains from one of the Aubrey holes, a ring of pits from the earliest phase of Stonehenge. Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, blogger and editor of the British Archaeology journal, who has excavated some of the cremated human remains from Stonehenge, agrees with Parker Pearson:

“I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge, and that some predate the earliest phase of the monument … The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial…”

• Very old domesticated dog

Location of the Altai dog specimen
Location of the Altai dog specimen/PLOS ONE

Analysis of DNA extracted from a fossil tooth recovered in southern Siberia confirms that the tooth belonged to one of the oldest known ancestors of the modern dog. Findings are described in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Anna Druzhkova, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Russian Federation, and colleagues from other institutions. The results suggest a more ancient history of the domesticated dog outside the Middle East or East Asia.

• Forensic anthropology for solving cold cases

The Newstar of Monroe, Louisiana, report on a lecture by professor Mary Manhein about how her work in forensic anthropology brings closure to many families.

Manhein spoke at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in celebration of Women’s History Month. As the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services laboratory director, Manhein is responsible for a database of both missing and unidentified persons in Louisiana — the most comprehensive state database of its kind in the United States, allowing for a significant margin of success in the solving of cold cases.

“We impact society by helping families to go on with their lives when we find their loved ones and send them home,” Manhein said. “We can do nothing to ease their pain, but we can afford some relief for them in helping to find their missing loved ones.” Manheim is athor of The Bone Lady, Trail of Bones, and Floating Souls: The Canal Murders. Manhein said her success in the FACES lab was significant for women in forensic anthropology.

• Nat Geo honors International Women’s Day

National Geographic celebrated International Women’s Day by highlighting favorite quotations from women explorers: “Whether they are educating young girls in Africa, or searching for fossils in Madagascar with their two young children, we are proud to support their work.” One of the women explorers is primatologist Jane Goodall. She founded the Goodall Institute and strives to improve global understanding and treatment of great apes through research, public education, and advocacy.

• More on Chagnon’s memoir

Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Elizabeth Povinelli/Columbia U.
The New York Times book review section published two letters to the editor about Elizabeth Povinelli’s review of Napoleon Chagnon’s memoir, Noble Savages. One letter is from the popular author and B.A. in anthropology, Sebastian Junger who chides Povinelli on not citing directly from Chagnon’s book and for not acknowledging that Chagnon may have a reputable database to support his argument about more male fierceness = more male reproductive success (as in more children).

The second letter is from another Chagnon defender who challenges Povinelli to provide better data that show a picture of Yanomamö men different from what Chagnon describes. Povinelli responds with several suggested readings. The New Zealand Herald carried an article about the controversy over Chagnon’s research, bringing in voices of the Yanomamö themselves.

It reports that the human rights organization Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of indigenous peoples, has is critical of Chagnon’s writings. The group published a statement from Davi Kopenawa, spokesman for a Yanomamö group in Brazil, that contested Chagnon’s core conclusions: “For us, we Yanomam who live in the forest, the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon is not our friend. He does not say good things, he doesn’t transmit good words. He talks about the Yanomam but his words are only hostile.”

[Blogger’s note: last week’s anthropology in the news mentioned a letter from Chagnon to The New York Times stating that that preferred English spelling for the group is Yanomamö; now we have a statement from a member of the group who uses the term Yanomam. Which one would you choose?]

• Why aren’t humans more like bonobos?

An article in National Geographic looks at bonobos and the differences between them and chimpanzees. Citing the path breaking fieldwork of Japanese primatologist Takayoshi Kano, the article then turns to Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist and a professor in the human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, for discussion of why bonobos differ from chimpanzees.

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