Aboriginal affairs & pre-human morphing: quick links

G Downey as Homo heidelbergensis

I’m getting absolutely flogged at work, driven like a borrowed mule (as my country neighbours will say), so I haven’t had a chance to write much the past week. A couple of noteworthy things have come across my desk though that I wanted to link to, so, in the spirit of Daniel’s Wednesday Round-Up, here’s a couple of things that might be of interest to Neuroanthropology readers.

The serious stuff is at the top, the science journalism in the middle and the fun stuff at the bottom.

Anthropology, Australian Aboriginal peoples and the Northern Territory Intervention

Last year I organized the Australian Anthropological Society’s annual national meeting (more on that in coming weeks — there’s podcasts! — but click here for more on this year’s meeting hosted by Deakin University).

One of the most intense debates of the conference was a running series of papers on the Northern Territory Intervention, the Howard Government’s response to a scandalous report on the situation of Aboriginal communities in Australia’s Northern Territory. Several articles, some of them directly arising out of presentations at our conference, are now available.

Anthropologists Barry Morris and Andrew Lattas have published ‘a further development of our Foucauldian position on the NT Intervention’ in Arena Magazine: “Embedded Anthropology and the Intervention: Cultural determinism and neo-liberal forms of racial governance.”

The session also led to the recently launched book: Culture Crisis: Anthropology and Politics in Aboriginal Australia, edited by Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson (UNSW Press, 2010). (ordering details and book description here).

Finally, if you really want to get into it, the recordings of the session are available as podcasts through my Podomatic account. I haven’t yet had time to put up the program and the pages with all the descriptions of the talks (I’m going to do that over at Culture Matters), but you can get an early look if you’re willing to poke around. Look especially for sessions A7, A8, and A9, ‘Crisis of Culture: Anthropology and the Politics of Engagement in Aboriginal Australia’, which was organized by Jonn Altman and Melinda Hinkson of Australian National University.

Loose ends:

Peter Forbes has a review of The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution by Timothy Taylor. The punchline is that Taylor follows Richard Wrangham’s argument that cooking is a crucial transformation in human evolution, allowing our ancestors to process food outside the body so that we could feed our energy-starved brains with our pathetically underdeveloped jaws, but adds:

Taylor endorses Wrangham’s hypothesis but believes it is not enough. Not only is our brain very large, it is proportionately enormous at birth, creating problems at delivery for narrow-hipped, upright-standing women and even more during the first few years, when babies are extremely vulnerable. Factor in the African savannah 2m years ago, teeming with enormous predators, and you wonder how we are still here. For Taylor, the crucial innovation was the baby sling, which enabled proto-human mothers to carry their vulnerable babies (infant apes, of course, cling to their hairy mothers’ backs).

Forbes suggests that Taylor’s book loses its tight focus toward the end, especially in some Roland Barthes-esque discussion of the role of material culture in human development, but it sounds like a good read. If only the rest of anthropology was as good at writing popular science versions of what we do as he human evolution folks are!

Science News has a story on ‘educational’ DVDs: ‘DVDs don’t turn toddlers into vocabulary Einsteins’, by Bruce Bower. The article is based on a forthcoming piece by Judy DeLoache and colleagues of the University of Virginia in Psychological Science, but I haven’t gotten the pre-publication article, so I can’t say too much more.

Fun stuff: MEanderthal: There’s an app for that?!

The Smithsonian Institution has an amazing human evolution website, which most of our readers will have come across. Without SI, my lecture slides on human evolution would be immeasurably impoverished. But my TA and PhD student, Paul Mason (sometime Neuroanthropology writer) pointed out to me that there’s an iPhone application, MEanderthal that will morph your photo into a ‘hobbit,’ Neanderthal or H. heidelbergensis – I’m sure that I’m the last to know about it….

Do you look like your relatives? Your prehistoric relatives? Try morphing yourself backward in time with MEanderthal. You might be surprised when you see your face transformed into the face of an early human with the Smithsonian Institution’s first-ever mobile app. If you have a barcode scanner app, just scan the barcode for your mobile device, otherwise click on the App store icon or the Android icon to go to download the Meanderthal App.

The application, MEantheral, can be found at the iTunes Store for free download.

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