Monday, January 28, 2013

Larry Coben on Diamond


My colleague and friend Larry Coben has a nice post over at Huffington Post books, talking about the role of authors like Jared Diamond on how anthropology and archaeology are brought out into the public by authors like Diamond, and books like The World Until Yesterday. I just had a pleasant conversation with a (non-academic) friend yesterday about Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and this conjunction reminds me that it's so important to have something for all of us to have in common in order to have an interesting conversation. Otherwise, we are just starting the same argument again and again. Plus, I didn't realize how Larry had gotten so famous that he had his own Huffington Post column, in addition to his excellent work at the Sustainable Preservation Initiative.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Davis on Diamond

Wade Davis is an anthropologist well-known for his accessible and thoughtful writing on how anthropology relates to all kinds of issues within the modern world. He is affiliated with the National Geographic Society (keeping him well supplied with breathtaking photographs), and keeps a busy schedule of public lectures across the USA and around the world. His review of Jared Diamond's new book is published in the Guardian. I haven't read Diamond's new book yet, but his work raises important questions about the relationships between geography, history and culture, that anthropologists ought to have opinions about. I think that Davis lays out some of the basics of these issues in the review, and demonstrates why many anthropologists (including myself) are uneasy with the conclusions that Diamond draws.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Moxeño Luthiers

Photo by Sanggi

I have written before about the Baroque tradition of music that was part of the Missions in the Llanos de Mojos during the time of the Jesuits. From the news today comes a nice human interest piece on two luthiers or violin makers who were born near San Ignacio de Moxos, and went on to be formally trained in Santa Cruz province. It's interesting to see how the international press covers stories about eastern Bolivia. I don't know much about the Independent European Daily Express, but maybe someone out there knows more than I do. This story makes the point to connect the missions of Mojos with the more famous Chiquitos missions of Santa Cruz, a point that is not always made.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


My colleague Glenn Davis Stone has an excellent blog called Fieldquestions, where he discusses many different issues related to agriculture, population, resources, genetic engineering, and technology, in places all around the world. The blog is a library of interesting posts, including this one from 2011 about Paul Ehrlich and the question of 10 billion people in the world. Issues about the relationship between population and resources go back to the famous work of Malthus, but also much earlier than that. It seems to me that these questions remain important today, and it's worth the effort to stay informed both on current events, and new analyses of old ideas. Stone's blog is a good place to start.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hunting Vicuñas

Bolivia Vicuna
Mike Theiss/Getty Images

Time Magazine, in their online World edition, has published an article about hunting wild vicuñas in Bolivia. Jean Friedman-Rudovsky is the author, and she tells an amazing story about how the world's most valuable natural fiber is obtained. Vicuñas, Alpacas, Guanacos and Llamas make up the South American camelids, although their classification is problematic because they can all interbreed. Alpaca fibers make soft and warm garments, and vicuña even more so. The article closes with an excellent contrast between the Bolivians who catch and shear the animals for about $7.50 per day, and the woolens that are manufactured and sold in boutiques in Europe.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Online excerpt from Mann's 1491

Atlantic Monthly, The March 2002
image from

If you are not sure about whether or not to buy a copy of 1491, the book by Charles Mann that presents a new and updated view of pre-Columbian America, why not see this excerpt at one of his webpages. I am not sure how long it will be available, because the larger doesn't seem to cover his more recent work. Mann is a gifted writer and does the important job of making archaeology more accessible to all readers. The illustration above is from the March 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, where the introduction was first published.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Native Americans and GIS
image from

Tribal GIS is a book from ESRI, the company that produces ArcGIS, a GIS software package. GIS is a way of managing spatial information, and this book contains examples of how Native Americans (in the United States and Canada) are using GIS to make decisions about their land. Although GIS can be difficult to learn, more and more information is being analyzed in this way, enabling people to see patterns in how resources and people are located. Much of the most useful information that can be analyzed in this way exists only in the memories of people who have accumulated knowledge about the places they have lived and the paths they have traveled.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Save the Field Museum

Protect Research at Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
Image from the petition at

The Field Museum in Chicago is one of the world's premiere institutions for scientific research, and is particularly important in South American archaeology. Recently, the leadership of the Field Museum announced deep cuts to their research budget. Such cuts would profoundly and permanently compromise scientific research both at the Museum, and at other institutions around the world that use the collections, and train students there. Michael Smith has an excellent post about the importance of this issue. Please see the coverage of the situation here, here and here, and sign this petition (which I did) to save the Field Museum collections and research.