Anthro in the news 11/24/14

  • Building a green wall to hold back the Sahara

The New York Times carried an article called “Senegal Helps Plant a Great Green Wall to Fend Off the Desert.” It mentions the changes in the environment from a time still remembered by elders when there were so many trees that you couldn’t see the sky to now, when the landscape is miles of reddish-brown sand dotted with occasional bushes and trees. Overgrazing and climate change are the major causes of the Sahara’s advance, said Gilles Boetsch, an anthropologist who directs a team of French scientists working with Senegalese researchers in the region. The article quotes him as saying: “The local Peul people are herders, often nomadic. But the pressure of the herds on the land has become too great…The vegetation can’t regenerate itself.”

Since 2008, however, Senegal has been fighting back against the encroaching desert. Each year it has planted some two million seedling trees along a 545-kilometer, or 340-mile, ribbon of land that is the country’s segment of a major pan-African regeneration project, the Great Green Wall.

While many countries have still to start on their sections of the barrier, Senegal has taken the lead, with the creation of a National Agency for the Great Green Wall.

  • Australian art from the Tamami desert: A book review

The Australian carried a review of a book, Remembering the Future: Warlpiri Life through the Prism of Drawing, by visual anthropologist Melinda Hinkson. The book accompanies a capsule exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It draws on Mervyn Meggitt’s mid-20th century fieldwork in the settlement of Hooker Creek in the Northern Territory’s remote Tanami Desert. He aimied to produce a detailed ethnography of the Warlpiri desert people, and he employed all the standard investigative techniques of mid-century anthropology. But he also persuaded the Warlpiri to make a set of crayon drawings for him that would show how they saw the world. These were sketches, in vivid colors: landscapes, country, totemic animals, scenes from the Hooker Creek settlement. Many are images of stark simplicity; some are naive-seeming, some are elaborately conceived and worked. They form a striking record. They caught the eye of visual anthropologist, Melinda Hinkson, who made them her special focus. She took copies out to the desert capital of the Warlpiri, Yuendumu, and began learning about their meanings and their past.

  • Women’s roles in Nepal: A book review

The Nepal Times published a review of Elizabeth Enslin’s book, While the Gods Were Sleeping. Enslin met her husband, Promod Parajuli, when they were graduate students at Stanford. After their marriage, she lived in Nepal as a daughter-in-law, learning about Nepali Brahmin culture first-hand. She interviewed women who joined the literacy classes initiated by her and her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law plays a central and inspiring role in questioning the traditional place women are supposed to keep in Nepali Brahmin society and family. The reviewer notes that “…the timeframe of the book is the 1980s-90s, and Nepal has changed dramatically since then. So, readers looking at more contemporary trends in gender relations, community activism, the role of mothers’ groups and female health volunteers in public health awareness will be disappointed.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a playwright. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is having the kind of starry moment in the American theater that most people twice his age can only dream of. The 2010 production of his provocative “Neighbors” at the Public Theater raised questions about black identity in the U.S. He followed that up with “Appropriate” a smart domestic drama, at the Signature Theater. Without writing a single black character, Jacobs-Jenkins evoked issues of racism so vividly that in The Washington Post, Peter Marks wrote: “Jacobs-Jenkins appropriates, makes his own, a story of white America, and this presages a more hopeful time when the ethnic identity of a playwright might not prompt a mention.” Last season, Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s 1859 antebellum melodrama, “The Octoroon,” was presented by the Soho Rep. With “Appropriate,” it won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play. This season, expectations are high for his two new plays: “War,” a family drama that touches on the mischlingskinder, the half-black children left behind in Germany by American soldiers after World War II, which opens at the Yale Repertory Theater on November 28, and “Gloria,” set in a magazine office, which the Vineyard Theater will present next spring. He has also been commissioned to write plays by Manhattan Theater Club and LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater. This semester he is teaching playwriting as an adjunct at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where he earned a master’s degree in performance studies in 2007, and next semester he will do the same at Princeton, from which he graduated with a major in anthropology.

…become a writer. Alaska State Writer Laureate Nora Marks Dauenhauer is an American poet and short-story writer and a scholar of the language and traditions of the Tlingit aboriginal nation in Alaska, of which she is a member. She won an American Book Award for Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 And 1804. She has a degree in anthropology.

…become an internet entrepreneur and investor. Paul Srivorakul is a serial internet entrepreneur and investor based in Thailand. He is currently the Regional CEO of aCommerce, a full service end-to-end E-commerce solutions provider in Southeast Asia. He is also the co-founder and executive chairman of Ardent Capital, an early stage internet private capital fund focused on Southeast Asia. Paul has raised over $20 million USD for his past three internet ventures and exited them at an accumulative value of over $100 million. Prior to Ardent Capital, Paul was the regional CEO and co-founder of Ensogo Group (ecommerce site acquired by LivingSocial), Admax Network (ad network acquired by Komli Media), and Newmedia (digital ad agency acquired by STW Group). Prior to his entrepreneurial efforts, Paul worked as Inside Sales at Ask Jeeves (, a search engine based in California acquired by IAC. He holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.

  • Digging for Richard III: A book review

A review in The Christian Science Monitor of Digging for Richard III: How Archaeology Found the Lost King, by Mike Pitts, praised it as “an engaging account of the sleuthing, research, and public fascination behind a very unusual excavation…The odd mix of science and sensationalism that surrounded the dig offers an interesting showcase of modern archaeological methods and popular mania for the tangible traces of history.”

  • Meet the ancestors

The Japan Times and several other media reported on a French exhibit that reveals prehistoric human faces. Former French makeup artist turned paleontology expert and sculptor, Elisabeth Daynes has painstakingly created a model of Pataud Woman. Believed to have lived around 17,000 years ago in France’s southwestern Dordogne region, her skeleton was found there in a rock shelter. The life-size model is one of two star attractions at an exhibition being held at a Bordeaux gallery entitled, “The Origins of Flesh — our ancestors as you’ve never seen them before.”

The other model has been named Chancelade Man and is also based on remains found in the region in 1888. His reconstructed face appears pensive. He has blue eyes, deeply lined skin and long, thinning gray hair. His skeleton was found beneath the floor of the same Dordogne rock shelter.

“My work is done just like a forensic investigation, from casts taken from prehistoric skulls, reconstructed exactly like police composite sketches,” she said.

  • Sprinting power is in the knees

Scientific American and several other media covered findings published November 17 in PLoS ONE by Rutgers University evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers and his colleagues. They measured the knees, ankles and feet of 73 elite Jamaican track and field athletes, including Olympic runners and one world champion. The researchers also examined the same body areas of 116 non-athlete Jamaicans of comparable age, sex and weight. The comparison revealed that the sprinters’ knees and ankles were significantly more symmetrical than those joints in the control group. Within the elite sprinter group the knees and ankles of the 100-meter sprinters were the most symmetrical of all; symmetry in the longer-distance sprinters (200, 400 and 800 meters) was less marked but still linked to the best race times. Intriguingly, the feet of the longer-distance sprinters were actually somewhat asymmetrical. Trivers speculates that making frequent left turns in the longer track runs may favor or lead to more foot asymmetry.

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