anthro in the news 5/14/18

Flood damage along the Choluteca River caused by Hurricane Mitch. Credit: NOAA/Flickr.

immigration policy in the U.S.

The New York Daily News carried an article about the Trump administration’s decision to end protections for 57,000 Honduran immigrants in the U.S. who fled from the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, caused over 11,000 deaths  in Central America with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras. Immigrant advocates contend that revoking the status will simply drive people underground who have been establishing roots in the United States for years, including having American-born children. The article quotes Miranda Hallett, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Dayton: “Generally speaking, people make decisions about migration based on human needs and social connections over legal statutes.” 

book review: Barracoon

TIME published a review of a long-awaited book written by anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston early in her career. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is about a man who was the last survivor of the last-known ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to America: “In 1927, a man in Alabama…received a visitor. A young anthropologist, working on her first big assignment, wanted to hear what he remembered of freedom, of bondage and of what came before. The aspiring scholar’s name was Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston returned several times, aiming to write a book about the man called Kossola…but never found an interested publisher. Even as she became an esteemed writer, his story stuck with her. His yearning for home, undimmed by time, was wedged in her mind. Now, about 90 years later, the book she had wanted, a nonfiction account of her interaction with a man who lived a vanishing history, has finally been released…

big money

The Daily Mail (U.K.) reported on a form of traditional money on the Pacific island of Yap where giant limestone discs, some as heavy as a car, were used to carry out transactions across the island for centuries. The article quotes Scott Fitzpatrick, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon: “It’s not really clear when it happened, but oral traditions talk about a famous navigator who voyaged to Palau and found limestone there…The navigator told his men to carve it in the shape of a fish. Then he looked up at the full moon and the stone reminded him of the bright shiny color of the moon. So he ordered his men to carve the stone into a shape of a disc and perforated it so they could carry it with a timber through the middle. The oral traditions behind each piece were extremely important in estimate to its value. At one point in time, each stone money had its own pedigree.”

pre-Clovis site in Texas

An article in the American-Statesman (Austin, Texas) described how an important pre-Clovis archaeological site is being protected through a private donation from research archaeologist Michael Collins of Texas State University. Collins inherited oil and gas holdings from his father, an executive of Humble Oil and Refining Co., a predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. “They pay me a comfortable living so I can afford to feed my archaeological habit,” he said. Collins purchased the site and then donated it to an archaeology conservation organization. Tom Dillehay, Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Religion, and Culture at Vanderbilt University, noted that few academics have such wherewithal and fewer still would spend it this way: “Most people would take the money and run off, go casino hopping, live in the Caribbean…This is a man who is modest and honest. I’ve seen Mike get up to speak in professional meetings in overalls and a straw hat.” David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory at Southern Methodist University, said Collins’ financial support of the Gault site is “astonishing and admirable, both. It’s an extraordinary site and Mike’s an extraordinary individual for what he has done on behalf of that site and on behalf of archaeology.” Michael Waters, Center for the Study of the First Americans Endowed Chair at Texas A&M University and anthropology professor, said artifacts unearthed at the Gault site provide evidence that people were in North America by 15,500 years ago. He said it is “terrific” of Collins to preserve the Gault site “for future generations of archaeologists to study.”

primate conservation in Africa

USA Today carried an article about the results of a decade-long study on primate conservation in Africa showing that populations of gorillas and chimpanzees are still endangered. Comments from the researchers address what to do about the major problems of illegal hunting, disease, and habitat loss. Study co-author Hjalmar Kühl of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said “protecting our gorillas and chimpanzees will require a major increase in political will at all levels — national, regional and global.” Another study co-author Liz Williamson of the University of Stirling said that “a combination of responsible industrial practices, conservation policies, and a network of well-managed parks and corridors would provide wildlife managers with a winning formula for conserving great apes in Central Africa. Our study has revealed that it is not too late to secure a future for gorillas and chimpanzees.”

clues to human language evolution from chimpanzee communication

Jane Goodall communicating with a chimpanzee. Credit:

The Conversation published commentary by Michael Wilson, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. He writes: “When Jane Goodall gives public talks, she often begins by giving a pant-hoot: a loud call that begins with an introduction, followed by a build-up, a climax and a let-down. Pant-hoots are loud and enable chimpanzees to communicate over long distances through the forest. Previous studies have found differences in the pant-hoots calls from different regions…Chimpanzees communicate effectively with their various sounds, but in ways quite similar to those of other nonhuman primates. This suggests that our common ancestor with chimpanzees also had a fairly typical repertoire of vocal communication for a nonhuman primate. The really big changes in human language – such as a lifelong ability to learn to make entirely new sounds and a rich symbolic meaning of such sounds – likely evolved later, for reasons that we still don’t understand.”


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