anthro in the news 10/23/17

Credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

clarifying the “Nuclear Deal”

The Huffington Post published commentary by William O. Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, clarifying the U.S. role in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), nicknamed the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” He writes: “Iran is on solid ground in claiming its right to nuclear development…Foremost, the United States government has no authority to interpret the NPT [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty], an international treaty, on its own with no input or ratification from the other nearly 200 signatories. Aside from that, however, if Washington takes the position that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium under the NPT, it is acting unilaterally and is uncoordinated with its allies and with the very organizations it cites on this policy…”

book review and author interview

book cover, from amazon

The Sunday Times (South Africa) carried a review of a new book, The Truth about Crime, by Jean Comaraff, Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard University, and John Comaroff, professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard University, along with a brief interview with the two authors. The reviewer says: “In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.”

back on the barricades

An article in the Orlando Sentinel described the protest against Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, who spoke at the University of Florida. It included a comment from Bill Marquardt, faculty at the Florida Museum of Natural History where he is curator of the South Florida Archaeology and Ethnography collection and director of the Rendell Research Center. He said he never thought he would see the day where people openly espousing white nationalist ideology gathered publicly: “I haven’t been on barricades since 1970.” Marquardt was holding a sign that read, “White guys for diversity.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a chemistry professor. Rachel Popelka-Filcoff is an associate professor of chemistry and physical science at Flinders University. Her research uses radioanalytical and spectroscopic methods in addressing cultural, environmental, and forensic questions. She conducted the first comprehensive characterization of Australian Aboriginal natural mineral pigments on cultural heritage materials, including ochre. She also analyses uranium materials by a variety of methods for international nuclear forensics projects and has worked on diverse materials for forensic and environmental projects. Popelka-Filcoff has a B.A. in archaeology and classics from Washington University St. Louis and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Missouri.

…become a musician and pilates trainer. Meg Berry is the founder of Artful Body, a wellness company, where she offers pilates training. A founder of the Pilates Historical Society, she has also  been writing songs since 1998. Berry has a B.A. in anthropology from Harvard University.

rethinking the demise of the Easter Islanders 

The Independent published an article by Catrine Jarman, a researcher in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol. Concerning the demise of the Easter Island population, she offers an alternate explanation to Jared Diamond’s ecocide theory: “The real answer is more sinister. Throughout the 19th century, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the native population. By 1877, the Rapanui numbered just 111. Introduced disease, destruction of property and enforced migration by European traders further decimated the natives and lead to increased conflict among those remaining. Perhaps this, instead, was the warfare the ethnohistorical accounts refer to and what ultimately stopped the statue carving.”

very old fossil ape teeth

Deutsche Welle (Germany) reported on the discovery by a team of German archaeologists of two 9.7-million-year-old teeth that seem to belong to a species only known to have appeared in Africa several million years later. According to an announcement by the Museum of Natural History in Mainz, the teeth do not appear to belong to any species known in Europe or Asia. They most closely resemble those belonging to the early fossil hominins, Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), both discovered in Ethiopia. But these teeth, found in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Mainz, are at least 4 million years older than the African fossils. The scientists were so puzzled they held off publishing for a year. Herbert Lutz, director of the Mainz Natural History Museum and head of the research team, said: “They are clearly ape teeth. Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim.” Although there is abundant fossil evidence that great apes roamed Europe millions of years ago, there has been no confirmed cases of hominins (ape species closely related to humans) on the continent.

disappearing shell middens of Maine

Drawing of a Florida shell midden by Jeffries Wyman, 1875. Credit: Wikimedia

An article in The New York Times described the importance of ongoing archaeological research on prehistoric shell middens in Maine given the accelerating damage to them from climate change. “We know that there are over 2,000 shell heaps on the coast of Maine,” said archaeologist Alice Kelley, associate research professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. “In virtually every case here in southern Maine, they are disappearing or they are gone.” While many of New England’s Native American artifacts have decomposed in acidic soils, those in middens are often well preserved because the calcium carbonate in the shells creates more alkaline conditions.

stone structures in the desert

The New York Times reported on the discovery by archaeologists of nearly 400 previously undocumented stone structures they call “gates” in the Arabian Desert. The structures may have been built by nomadic tribes thousands of years ago. The article quotes David Kennedy, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and author of a paper forthcoming in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy: “We tend to think of Saudi Arabia as desert, but in practice there’s a huge archaeological treasure trove out there and it needs to be identified and mapped…You can’t see them very well from the ground level, but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully. They don’t look like funerary, for disposing of dead bodies. They don’t look like structures where people lived, and they don’t look like animal traps…I don’t know what they are.”

spit analysis provides imprecise DNA information

The Inquirer (Philadelphia) quoted two anthropologists in an article about how the rising popularity of DNA tests to trace one’s ethnic ancestry is not matched by the accuracy of the results. “It’s very difficult to accurately find your ancestry under any circumstances,” said Jonathan Marks, professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “There has been genetic mixing for thousands of years. These tests are fun but rarely accurate — 10 percent Scandinavian could be no Scandinavian because the test could very easily be 10 or 15 percent off. ” Deborah Bolnick, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas commented: “The methodology they use in determining the DNA markers is solid…The challenges come with interpreting those DNA sequences to say something accurate about your ancestry.”

ancestral bones come home to Alaska

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the return of the bones of 24 ancestors to the village of Igiugig, southwest Alaska. The remains were excavated in 1931 by Aleš Hrdlička, who was then head of the anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove Hrdlička to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington, D.C., for research. Annie Wilson, an elder in the village, attended the reburial service and explained that Hrdlička’s excavation was fundamentally objectionable in Yupik culture. The bones were accompanied to Alaska by the current director of the NMNH, Kirk Johnson. He reflected on the importance of the museum’s repatriation work to tribes nationwide: “Some of their grandparents or their more recent relatives are actually in museums as collection items, which just doesn’t make much sense from a human point of view…There is something that is very unfair that was done here, and we want the tribes, groups or corporations to be able to petition to have their bodies or their funerary objects returned to them.”

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