Anthro in the news 12/23/13


US Department of Homeland Security, US Border Patrol.

  • US-Mexico Border Patrol agents need training in every-day police skills

USA Today reported on the increasing number of cases nationwide in which Border Patrol agents back up local police or perform other police duties, such as serving warrants or responding to domestic disputes. Sometimes incidents turn deadly. Some critics say they aren’t adequately trained for this work. A report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released in September found that many Border Patrol agents don’t understand their own policies on when to use force. The report also said trainees who leave the Border Patrol Academy “are not fully prepared for possible real-life situations they might encounter.”

The article quoted Josiah Heyman, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso, who has studied the border for 30 years, “Border Patrol agents are not adequately trained to solve problems with words,” he said. “They don’t have these every-day police skills.”

  • “Life in India humbles you”

The Hindu carried an article highlighting the work of cultural anthropologist Assa DoronThe Hindu caught Doron while he was vacationing in Kerala with his family, taking a break from his new book on garbage and waste disposal systems in India, co-authored with Robin Jeffrey. They are tracing the issue from the Mughal times, to the era when the British ruled India, to the present-day.

Boats on Ganges River in Varanasi. Maria Carmen. Flickr Commons.

Earlier, Doron co-authored Cellphone Nation, also with Jeffrey. Doron’s book, Life of the Ganga: Boatmen and The Ritual Economy, is a study of the boatmen of the Ganga and their multi-layered, multi-hued relationship with the river and the people. He is working on an anthology, a collection of works on the Ganga, including poems, essays and notes written by the likes of Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, and also translations of poems in Hindi on the river. Doron has also edited Gender and Masculinities: Histories, Texts and Practices in India and Sri Lanka. It includes chapters on the idea of masculinity, tracing it in history, literature, and development.

When asked: what has India taught him over the years, he responded, “Never take anything for granted. Life in India humbles you and fascinates you.”

  • Interview with David Kertzer
"The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim

In an interview with The Tablet, cultural anthropologist and university professor at Brown University, David Kertzer, discusses the impact the 19th century kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara had on both Italian and Jewish history.  Renewed interest in the case is prompted by the Sotheby’s sale of the recently discovered painting, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The painting, by 19th-century German-Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, depicts Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old Italian Jewish boy seized by church authorities from his family’s home in Bologna, based on a rumor that he had been baptized by the family’s illiterate gentile servant girl. If baptized, the boy would have to be considered a Catholic in the eyes of the church and would no longer be allowed to remain in the home of his Jewish family. Despite the family’s desperate pleas and protestations, Edgardo was brought to a monastery in Rome, taken in by the pope, and raised as a Catholic. When he grew up, he became a priest.

In 1997, Kertzer published a book on the Mortara case, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. A finalist for the National Book Award, it was adapted into an opera and a play. A feature film is now in the works. The interview includes questions about the painting itself, its historical context, where it should reside, and what it means today.

Kertzer has spent much of his academic career researching Catholic Church-Jewish relations, the role of religion in politics, and the formation of political identities. His 2001 book, The Popes against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Antisemitism, has been translated into nine languages. His forthcoming publication, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, the result of research conducted in the newly opened Vatican archives, will come out next month.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become and artist and art professor. Light Work has announced the exhibition “Newspaper Rock,” featuring the work of Aspen Mays. The exhibition will run Jan. 16-March 6. Mays approaches her art-making practice with some of the same methodologies she learned acquiring a degree in anthropology. All of her projects begin by tracking down information, ideas and experts in the fields of science and astronomy. She finds, collects, unearths and creates images and objects that call into question our limited ability and deep desire to understand the vastness, complexity and sublime beauty of the physical universe and our place in it. She received an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. Mays lives and works in Columbus, Ohio, where she is an assistant professor of art at Ohio State University. Her fieldwork has included a year in Santiago, Chile, at the University of Chile’s National Observatory.

  • Very old baby bottle

Discovery News reported on a finding by Italian archaeologists of an ancient terracotta pig which worked as a toy as well as a baby bottle. It was found in Manduria, Puglia in southern Italy, when construction work exposed a tomb. Known as a guttu, the vessel dates back about 2,400 years, when the “heel” of Italy was inhabited by the Messapian people, who migrated from Illyria in the western part of the Balkan peninsula around 1000 BCE. The pig-shaped guttus had terracotta rattles inside, apparently encourage the baby to sleep after the meal.

Pig-Shaped Bottle. The Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia.

The discovery was made in a rock-cut tomb containing the remains of two individuals, in line with the Messapian custom of burying family members together in the same grave. The article quotes Arcangelo Alessio of the Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia, “We found some skeletal remains piled in an angle. Other remains, related to a later burial, occupied the entire tomb.”

  • Surprise surprise: Earliest evidence for domesticated cats in China

Archaeologists have unearthed the first clear evidence of cats living among humans as semi-domesticated about 5,300 years ago in China. This research supports the long-held view that cats began their symbiotic relationship with people following the advent of agriculture, many thousands of years after dogs were domesticated by nomadic hunter-gatherers. The discovery fills in an enormous gap in experts’ understanding of cat domestication, but it has also thrown them for a curve. In some ways, an ancient Chinese village is the last place researchers expected to find such evidence. “This was a very unexpected find,” said study coauthor Fiona Marshall, a zooarchaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Today, every domestic cat in the world is descended from a single subspecies of Middle Eastern wildcat known as Felis silvestris lybica. Marshall and her colleagues note that the ancient village of Quanhucun, in central China’s Shaanxi province, is far beyond F. s. lybica’s natural range. This fact raises the question of how the cats got there. Marshall and her colleagues hope upcoming DNA analysis will clarify matters. In the meantime, experts have been left to wonder.

Findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [not open access].

  • Yes they did: Neanderthal buried their dead

Many discoveries from Europe to Israel and Iraq have suggested that Neanderthals had complex funeral practices. Yet many researchers have objected that the burials were misinterpreted and might not represent any advance in cognitive and symbolic behavior. An international team of scientists now reports that a re-examination of Neanderthal burials at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France supports the claims that the burials were intentional.

The researchers — archaeologists, geologists and paleoanthropologists — studied the skeleton from the original excavations, but found more Neanderthal remains, from two children and an adult. They also studied the bones of other animals in the cave, mainly bison and reindeer, and the geology of the burial pits. The findings, presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “buttress claims for complex symbolic behavior among Western European Neanderthals.”  The research is a collaboration between N.Y.U. and the National Center for Scientific Research in France. Much of the fieldwork involved researchers from the University of Bordeaux and Archéosphère, a private research firm in France.

Eric Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, a paleoanthropologist and expert on the Neanderthals, said in an interview that the new evidence of intentional burials was “very substantial and solid.” He said he had visited the cave last year and “gone over all the pros and cons with the team leaders.” Asked if the evidence would quiet the skeptics of Neanderthal burial practices, Trinkaus replied, “I certainly hope it does. Indeed, they buried their dead.”

  • Neanderthal “incest”

DNA sequencing results, published in the journal Nature, reveal that Neanderthals, early modern humans, and a sister group to Neanderthals, Denisovans, met and reproduced in the Late Pleistocene between 12,000 and 126,000 years ago. Professor Alan Cooper at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide says the study “completely rewrites what we know about human evolutionary history…We now have a reasonably definitive picture of the mixing and matching of [hominin] groups through time.”

First author of the paper, Kay Prufer, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany says the findings are based on DNA extracted from a toe bone found in the Siberian cave where the first Denisovan fossils were discovered in 2008.

  • Kudos

The Atlantic Magazine named Merry White’s updated cookbook, Cooking for Crowds, one of the best food books of the year. This book has been reissued after the first version published in 1974. The commentary says: “it’s not just enormously charming but useful, full of sturdy recipes that can still seem mildly exotic no matter how much we flatter ourselves at the sophistication of our palates, each of them scaled for groups of six, 12, 20, or 50. “ Forty years ago, as an anthropology graduate student, White published a book of recipes she had used as in the catering jobs she worked to put herself through school.  A publisher saw the sheaf of recipes and commissioned a young artist he knew to do black-and-white drawings in the style that would become a trademark when Ed Koren became one of The New Yorker‘s best-known contributors.  Merry White is a professor of cultural anthropology at Boston University.







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