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Archive for the ‘Anthropology’ Category

Levi-StraussClaude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called ‘primitive man’ and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 100. . . .

“A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was an avatar of ‘structuralism,’ a school of thought in which universal ‘structures’ were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology. . . .

“A descendant of a distinguished French-Jewish artistic family, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was a quintessential French intellectual, as comfortable in the public sphere as in the academy. He taught at universities in Paris, New York and São Paulo and also worked for the United Nations and the French government.

“His legacy is imposing. ‘Mythologiques,’ his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. The volumes — ‘The Raw and the Cooked,’ ‘From Honey to Ashes,’ ‘The Origin of Table Manners’ and ‘The Naked Man,’ published from 1964 to 1971 — challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.” (more @ NY Times)

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The presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also increase their intelligence – so say Gregory Cochran (bottom), a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending (top), authors of the recently published, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of ‘The Bell Curve’ were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

“But Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)

“Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

“Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.” (more @ LA Times)

RelatedAre Jews Smarter?

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“A newly reconstructed deformed fossil skull suggests our human ancestors probably cared for deformed offspring for years.

“The skull indicates that the child who lived about 530,000 years ago would have been severely handicapped — and yet survived at least five years and possibly several years longer. That suggests the parents or community provided the child with care, despite his or her obvious deformities.” (more @ Wired)

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I’ll not be posting to the NSRG this weekend when I’ll be visiting Washington, D.C. in order to view, in advance of my May trip to Naples, the exhibition, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples,” at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition, which includes recent discoveries on view in the United States for the first time, as well as finds from excavations dating to the mid-18th century, closes this Sunday. 

The New York Times review of the exhibition can be found here.

A slideshow, “The Treasures of Pompeii,” can be found here.

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vampire“Matteo Borrini, an anthropologist from the University of Florence, said the discovery [of a woman’s skull with its mouth agape and a large slab of rock forced into its mouth] on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon supported the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death.

“‘This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire,’ Mr Borrini said. ‘This helps … authenticate how the myth of vampires was born.’

“The skeleton was unearthed in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576 – in which the artist Titian died – on Lazzaretto Nuovo, which lies around 2 miles northeast of Venice and was used as a sanatorium for plague sufferers.

“The succession of plagues which ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700 fostered the belief in vampires, mainly because the decomposition of corpses was not well understood, Mr Borrini said.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

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