anthro in the news 2/5/18

A couscous dish. Credit: Creative Commons

the cultural politics of couscous

Quartz carried an article on the disputed history of couscous and rising interest in North Africa of gaining UNESCO recognition of it as part of the region’s intangible cultural heritage. Many believe it was first made by the Berber or Amazigh communities as early as the seventh century; they lived and moved across North Africa before Arab migration into the region. Records of couscous prepared and sold have also been found in West Africa, and it was also eaten by the Moors in Spain. Recognition from UNESCO would be “a way to strengthen the strong links between peoples [in the Maghreb], in a way that enables them to respond to the same traditions with the same culinary expressions,” said Ouiza Gallèze, a researcher with Algerian National Centre of Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology.

coffee life in Japan

An article in The National Post (Canada) that describes coffee culture in Japan includes commentary from Merry White, professor of anthropology at Boston University. She says that although Japan’s taste for coffee is more recent than Europe’s, cafés were important spaces in Japanese society well before the “Seattle-driven coffee boom.” In Japan, coffee shops have been flourishing since the late nineteenth century. Although she does not remember how the brew tasted, one of White’s earliest Tokyo café experiences during her first trip in the 1960s set the tone for her career in Japanese coffee studies: “We were asked to take off all our clothes and were painted with blue paint. And I remember thinking at the time, ‘Oh wow! This is the most avant-garde place in the world.’”

hip-hop helps asylum seekers

The South China Post reported on how an Afro-fusion group that integrates hip-hop and African drums is helping asylum seekers in Hong Kong deal with an unwelcoming situation. The article quotes Sealing Cheng, associate professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has been researching the city’s refugees and asylum seekers since 2012 and has found among this community talented artists with much creative potential: “This group provides a platform for asylum seekers and refugees to bring their creative energies together, showcase their musical talent to the Hong Kong public, and express their ideas…People in Hong Kong think refugees are here to dupe the system, to make fake claims.” Cheng blames the mainstream media for the public’s perception of asylum seekers as merely threats to Hong Kong society and not people who have much to contribute.

every culture has something to say

A podcast by Wade Davis, professor of anthropology and explorer-in-residence at the University of British Columbia was featured by CBC Canada. In the podcast, Davis addresses the challenges and pitfalls of making the world a better place. From the blurb: “In our age, many societies look like they’re hurtling towards disorder and disunity. For all of our technological sophistication, the centre isn’t holding, great civilisations seem less united than ever. Wade Davis thinks we need to pay more attention to the values, the voices, and the concerns of Indigenous peoples. We have a lot to learn by listening more carefully.”

anthropology of the basics

The Washington Post published a piece by Alma Gottlieb, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-champaign, about the age when children in different cultures learn to urinate and defecate in an appropriate way, often called “toilet training.” She writes:  “Are 2-year-olds too young to start toilet training? For many children, yes. Especially boys. At least, that’s what American pediatricians would probably say. Only about half of the children in the United States are fully toilet-trained by age 3. Chinese grandmothers would be appalled. They would probably point out that with ‘split pants,’ most kids are trained by age 2. This traditional wardrobe item features an opening along the crotch seam, allowing children to urinate and defecate freely without soiling their clothes. These garments remain the pants style of choice for toddlers living in the Chinese countryside.”

Ursula Le Guin’s thinking

Anthropology had something to do with it, according to an article in The Conversation by Philip W. Scher, professor of anthropology and folkore at the University of Oregon. He writes: “…as a cultural anthropologist, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between Le Guin and her father, anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. Kroeber’s ideas – which had a profound influence on his daughter’s writing – stemmed from an important development in the discipline of anthropology, one that viewed human culture as something that wasn’t ingrained, and had to be taught and learned. Kroeber’s mentor was a Columbia University anthropologist named Franz Boas. Kroeber was especially drawn to Boas’ newly developed notion of culture and the broader theory of ‘cultural relativism.’ Cultural relativism emerged in the late 19th century as an alternative to theories like social Darwinism that linked culture to evolution. These theories – widely accepted at the time – tended to rank human societies on an evolutionary scale. Not surprisingly, Western European civilizations were seen as the pinnacle of culture. But Boas proposed something radically different. He insisted, based on field-based research, that humans live in stunningly diverse cultural worlds shaped by language, which creates institutions, aesthetics, and ideas and notions of right and wrong.”

Indian enslavement in the U.S.

An article in The New York Times described emerging research on Indian slavery in what is now the United States Southwest. “We’re discovering things that complicate the hell out of our history, demanding that we reject the myths we’ve been taught,” said Gregorio Gonzáles, an anthropologist and descendant of enslaved Indians, who writes about the legacies of Indian enslavement. Those legacies were born of colonial conquest and forced assimilation. New Mexico, which had the largest number of sedentary Indians north of central Mexico, emerged as a main domain for slavers almost as soon as the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, according to Andrés Reséndez, a historian who details the trade in his book, The Other Slavery. Colonists initially took local Pueblo Indians as slaves, leading to an uprising in 1680 that temporarily pushed the Spanish out of New Mexico.

take that anthro degree….

….and work in a museum. Kathryn Murano Santos is senior director of collections and exhibitions at the Rochester Museum and Science Center in Rochester, New York.  “I think I’m interested in just about everywhere in the world,” Murano Santos states.  “And that’s one of the things I love about my job. Given that I have this innate curiosity, I am very lucky that my job allows me to explore that curiosity in an ongoing basis through the projects that I do.” Murano Santos has a B.A. in anthropology and religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.Phil. in anthropology from the University of Cambridge, Downing College,

early stone toolmaking in India

Finding from archaeological research at a site in southern India, is placing India in a more prominent position in human cultural evolution. As reported by National Public Radio (U.S.), scientists in India have discovered thousands of stone tools made using the Levallois technique and dating back to 385,000 years ago. The tools were found at one of India’s best known archaeological sites, Attirampakkam, which is located near the city of Chennai. “It has a very, very long history of occupation of different prehistoric cultures in this one site,” says Shanti Pappu, an archaeologist at the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Chennai and one of the lead authors of the study. The oldest artifacts from the site — big hand axes and cleavers — date back to 1.5 million years ago and are associated with the older Acheulian culture of the Early Stone Age. The authors suggest that the Levallois tools could have been made by modern humans who moved out of Africa much earlier than currently believed, and brought the technology with them, or a more ancestral hominin might have developed the technology independently in India.  “This is a marvelous discovery,” says Michael Petraglia, at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who had no role in the study. “It fills a very important gap in our knowledge of cultural history of humans in South Asia between 400,000 to 175,000 years ago.” Rick Potts, head of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, who also was not involved in the research, comments that the findings indicate that modern humans must have left Africa earlier than thought. Potts says what excites him most about the new finding is that it places India prominently on the map of human innovation and toolmaking: “It raises a question that all archaeologists should be asking right now…What else was going on in India and how prominent was it in the story of human origins?” Findings are published in the journal Nature.

extensive Maya cities in Guatemala

Visualization of separate LiDAR layers of the forest cover and of vegetation-free ground surface of the site of El Zotz. Credit: PACUNAM/Thomas Garrison/NPR

Several media reported on the discovery of evidence of extensive Maya cites in Guatemala using a laser method that works like “digital deforestation.” “This is a game changer,” says Thomas Garrison, an archaeologist at Ithaca College who is one of the leaders of the project. It changes “the base level at which we do Maya archaeology.” The data reveal that the area was three or four times more densely populated than originally thought. “I mean, we’re talking about millions of people, conservatively,” says Garrison. “Probably more than 10 million people.” The researchers fired LiDAR technology, short for “Light Detection and Ranging,” down at the dense forest from an airplane. Garrison says the area’s size is “more than double any other survey that’s been done with this technology…As it flies the laser pulses hundreds of thousands of times per second…And every time one of those lasers hits a point of resistance it stops and sends back a measurement to the plane…Some of these pulses make it all the way down to the forest floor. The data is then used to visually strip away trees and plants, ultimately mapping only the structures that have been hidden by jungle. You can think of it as digital deforestation.”

reconciliation archaeology

The Globe and Mail (Canada) carried an article about the Mohawk Institute, a historic archeological site that Paul Racher is helping excavate pro bono for the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The Mohawk Institute was an Indian residential school and cemetery for almost 150 years until it closed in 1970. Now, like many battlefields and burial grounds, it has become an archeological site. According to Racher, the dig is a “reconciliation project,” undertaken first by his own firm, Archaeological Research Associates and then by the Ontario Archaeological Society as part of the profession’s attempt, during Canada’s sesquicentennial, to bring its practices in line with the values and interests of the people whose heritage they are studying.


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