Unlike living organisms, cultural formations do not “evolve.” Evolution, sensu stricto, is a biological process and not a cultural one. Despite this fact, some scholars have fruitfully deployed evolutionary ideas — as analogy and metaphor — to analyze cultural history.
In 1964 the sociologist Robert Bellah did just this in his classic paper, Religious Evolution. Taking [...]... Read more »
Bergman, I., Ostlund, L., Zackrisson, O., & Liedgren, L. (2008) Varro Muorra: The Landscape Significance of Sami Sacred Wooden Objects and Sacrificial Altars. Ethnohistory, 55(1), 1-28. DOI: 10.1215/00141801-2007-044
Stockton, Eugene D. (1974) Phoenician Cult Stones. Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology, 1-27. info:/
Implicit in my previous discussion of “Chacoan” kivas was the idea that the term “Chacoan” in this context refers to a specific architectural form defined by a collection of features, rather than to a geographic location. Thus, Chacoan kivas are common at Chaco Canyon, but they are also found at many sites outside the canyon, [...]... Read more »
A few weeks ago I discussed a recent paper that analyzed the carbon and oxygen isotope ratios from Australopithecus boisei molars (Cerling et al. 2011). The major finding here was that an enlarged sample (n=24 more) corroborated earlier isotopic (van der Merwe et al. 2008) and tooth wear evidence (Ungar et al. 2008) that A. boisei probably did not subsist on as much hard foods as previously thought. Although this strange hominid probably ate mostly grass/aquatic tubers, some researchers think it may have looked something like this:Left, A. boisei reconstructed skull, from McCollum (1999, Fig. 1). Right, artist's reconstruction of what the individual on the left may have looked like during life.But looking at the numbers I'm wondering if the carbon isotopes reveal anything more about this curious hominid. If we plot boisei's carbon 13 values against the fossils' estimated age, there's a small hint of a temporal trend, of increasing carbon 13 levels over time (more C4 plant consumption). Fitting a line to these data does indicate an increasing C4 component over time, but the slope of the line is not significantly different from zero. The early, high value could be an outlier (not eating the same stuff as his/her peers?), although the lowest carbon 13 value of all that would support this trend is also much lower than the other values; it could be a more anomalous one. So while it's tempting to hypothesize dietary change over time in A. boisei, at the moment it looks like you can't reject the hypothesis that diet is consistent throughout the Pleistocene until the A. boisei's demise.In addition, Cerling and colleagues sampled at least one of each of the cheek teeth. Because teeth form in the jaws in a sequence (not all at the exact same time), the isotopic signatures from given teeth represent the dietary intake of carbon at certain different points in an individual's childhood. In the figure below I lumped upper and lower teeth together; the un-numbered "M" indicates molars unassigned to a specific position.The first molar crown starts to form right around birth, and note here that it's carbon 13 values are slightly higher than the other molars. The premolars and second molar start to form around the same time, so it is curious that each of these teeth show distinctly different ranges of carbon 13 levels. The sole P3 is also the lowest value (eating fewer C4 plants) in the entire sample, but the P4 has less negative values (eating more C4 plants). Not sure what's going on here, but maybe later analyses of more specimens will clarify the situation. Supporting dietary stasis, Ungar and colleagues (2008) reported similar molar tooth wear in specimens from 2.27-1.4 million years ago.
Our australopithecine ancestors and cousins have proven to be a rag-tag bunch of funny bipeds, and A. boisei has proven to be one of the weirder ones, in my opinion. Of course descriptions of of Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus sediba skeletons have been recent reminders that we have lots left to learn about Pleistocene hominids. For my part, I'm interested in working out the deal with the group of "robust" Australopithecus.
ReferencesCerling, T., Mbua, E., Kirera, F., Manthi, F., Grine, F., Leakey, M., Sponheimer, M., & Uno, K. (2011). Diet of Paranthropus boisei in the early Pleistocene of East Africa Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1104627108
McCollum, M. (1999). The Robust Australopithecine Face: A Morphogenetic Perspective Science, 284 (5412), 301-305 DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5412.301
Ungar PS, Grine FE, & Teaford MF (2008). Dental microwear and diet of the Plio-Pleistocene hominin Paranthropus boisei. PloS one, 3 (4) PMID: 18446200
van der Merwe NJ, Masao FT and Bamford MK. 2008. Isotopic evidence for contrasting diets of early hominins Homo habilis and Australopithecus boisei of Tanzania. South African Journal of Science 104: 153-155... Read more »
Cerling, T., Mbua, E., Kirera, F., Manthi, F., Grine, F., Leakey, M., Sponheimer, M., & Uno, K. (2011) Diet of Paranthropus boisei in the early Pleistocene of East Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1104627108
McCollum, M. (1999) The Robust Australopithecine Face: A Morphogenetic Perspective. Science, 284(5412), 301-305. DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5412.301
Ungar PS, Grine FE, & Teaford MF. (2008) Dental microwear and diet of the Plio-Pleistocene hominin Paranthropus boisei. PloS one, 3(4). PMID: 18446200
Sticking with the topic of the small round rooms traditionally called “kivas,” which Steve Lekson would prefer to call simply “round rooms,” it’s important to note that there is a wide variety of formal types. In addition to the modern distinction between square and round kivas, which is basically geographical with square ones in the [...]... Read more »
Although the idea that the small round rooms that area so common at Chacoan sites are ceremonial “kivas” has been increasingly challenged recently, it is still widely accepted that the large, formal, round structures known as “great kivas” were in fact community-wide ceremonial or integrative facilities. Even Steve Lekson agrees, and he continues to use [...]... Read more »
Van Dyke, R. (2008) Temporal Scale and Qualitative Social Transformation at Chaco Canyon. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 18(01). DOI: 10.1017/S0959774308000073
New research by UNC Chapel Hill scientists suggests that hip bones grow with age.... Read more »
Berger AA, May R, Renner JB, Viradia N, & Dahners LE. (2011) Surprising evidence of pelvic growth (widening) after skeletal maturity. Journal of orthopaedic research : official publication of the Orthopaedic Research Society. PMID: 21608025
As I mentioned in the previous post, one of the ongoing debates in Chacoan architectural studies concerns the function of the round rooms that are very noticeable and numerous at the excavated great houses in the canyon. The standard interpretation for many years, which is still fairly common among archaeologists and nearly universal among the [...]... Read more »
Billman, B., Lambert, P., & Leonard, B. (2000) Cannibalism, Warfare, and Drought in the Mesa Verde Region during the Twelfth Century A.D. American Antiquity, 65(1), 145. DOI: 10.2307/2694812
Death is big business. This past year, Americans spent $15 billion on funeral related expenses. Americans are not outliers when it comes to death spending; funeral related expenditures around the world are estimated to be at least this much and probably more. Strangely, the ratio of death spending does not diminish in poorer countries. In [...]... Read more »
Hackett, P. (2005) Historical Mourning Practices Observed among the Cree and Ojibway Indians of the Central Subarctic. Ethnohistory, 52(3), 503-532. DOI: 10.1215/00141801-52-3-503
An accounting of the fauna of the island of Palawan (Philippines) 14,000 to 5,000 years before present.... Read more »
by Abi Millar in Elements Science
From parasite resistance to the golden ratio – Abi Millar examines the science behind what is considered ‘beautiful’.
Related posts:The Science of Beauty
Video: The law of attraction: Study finds what men want
Polygamy bad for women
... Read more »
Jokela, M. (2009) Physical attractiveness and reproductive success in humans: evidence from the late 20th century United States☆. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(5), 342-350. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.03.006
Holland, E. (2008) Marquardt’s Phi Mask: Pitfalls of Relying on Fashion Models and the Golden Ratio to Describe a Beautiful Face. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 32(2), 200-208. DOI: 10.1007/s00266-007-9080-z
Ground penetrating radar survey of part of Pompeii reveals its utility in understanding the important ancient site.... Read more »
E. Pettinelli, P.M. Barone, A. Di Matteo, E. Mattei, & S.E. Lauro. (2011) Mapping the undiscovered ruins of Pompeii (Naples, Italy) using ground penetrating radar. Archaeometry. info:/10.1111/j.1475-4754.2011.00599.x
Much of my research over the past decade has involved talking to migrants to Australia and overseas students about their experiences of language learning and settlement. In these conversations, I have often been struck by the strong sense of disappointment … Continue reading →... Read more »
Karuna Morarji. (2010) Where does the rural educated person fit? Development and social reproduction in contemporary India. Contesting Development: Critical Struggles for Social Change (ed. Philip McMichael). Routledge, 50-63. info:/
Who owns the past, and who should have a say in the disposition of Palaeoindian skeletons?... Read more »
Balter M. (2011) Archaeology. Do island sites suggest a coastal route to the Americas?. Science (New York, N.Y.), 331(6021), 1122. PMID: 21385689
A recent study examined captive orangutans' learning processes in trying new foods and whether or not neophobia persists in captive orangutans. Also includes what this exactly means.... Read more »
Gustafsson E, Krief S, & Saint Jalme M. (2011) Neophobia and Learning Mechanisms: How Captive Orangutans Discover Medicinal Plants. Folia primatologica; international journal of primatology, 82(1), 45-55. PMID: 21525772
Did our ancestors began to stand on two legs, because it gave them an advantage in beating up their rivals? Well at least this is what David Carrier tried to find out in his most recent study, as he looked at how hard people were able to punch when they stood upright and when they didn’t.First of all, how does someone come to this kind of idea? Carrier explains that an upright stance is a common behaviour seen ion other mammals when they want to threat/fight their opponents and that especially apes often display this kind of behaviour.And indeed, an upright posture is more effective when it comes to smack people in the face, but does this mean that male to male aggression has anything to do with the evolution of human bipedalism?It’s funny that my last post was about how we’re able to build up testable hypothesises in evolutionary biology and which kind of problems you face while doing so, because this study completely made some huge mistakes in this regards. First of all, the study only relies on data from present day organisms. We have little knowledge about how our earliest ancestors (or their ancestors) even looked like, which makes it even more difficult to make any serious assumptions on how they behaved. Therefore evolutionary models solely relying on behavioural evidence from extant animals are almost untestable via the fossil record. But we need to test those models with fossil evidence if we want to avoid telling “just so” stories. I have mantra that I picked up from one of my teachers: “The past is a foreign country, they did things differently there.” Surely we need observations on recent animals to build up our models, but they can never be a complete substitute of the fossil record.Papers like this make me wonder if I might get something wrong in how I approach this field. In my eyes it completely omits all standards of how to build a scientific theory in favour of making some wild assumptions on human evolution and I don’t understand how this can happen or how such stuff gets published in the first place.References:Carrier, D. (2011). The Advantage of Standing Up to Fight and the Evolution of Habitual Bipedalism in Hominins PLoS ONE, 6 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019630... Read more »
A new paper published in PLoS ONE by David Carrier tests the hypothesis that bipedalism in humans evolved because it helps them to fight better. The first fatal flaw lies in the first sentence: Many quadrupedal animals stand on their hindlimbs to fight. How then, does this explain human uniqueness? Clifford Jolly wrote in The [...]... Read more »
An analysis of Magical Clothing in folklore.... Read more »
Juliette Wood. (1992) The Fairy Bride Legend in Wales . Folklore, 103(1), 56-72. info:/
What's tall, angry, and walks on two legs? Only hominin males, apparently.... Read more »
Carrier DR. (2011) The advantage of standing up to fight and the evolution of habitual bipedalism in hominins. PloS one, 6(5). PMID: 21611167
A satyr balances a Kantharos,
signed drinking cup (kylix)
of the potter Kachrylion, 520/10 BC,
Antiquities Berlin / Altes Museum.
Marcus Cyron © 2007.
I was always a great fan of Aristophanes works. But Aristophanes should be something more than a highly appreciated ancient comedian; he is a remarkable source for the ancient Greek day-to-day life and Athenian 'communal' culture, as well as
... Read more »
An examination of a recent paper on maternal breast size after pregnancy, and the Trivers-Willard hypothesis.... Read more »
Dimitrakakis C, Jones RA, Liu A, & Bondy CA. (2004) Breast cancer incidence in postmenopausal women using testosterone in addition to usual hormone therapy. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 11(5), 531-5. PMID: 15356405
Galbarczyk A. (2011) Unexpected changes in maternal breast size during pregnancy in relation to infant sex: An evolutionary interpretation. American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council. PMID: 21544894
Helle, S. (2002) Sons Reduced Maternal Longevity in Preindustrial Humans. Science, 296(5570), 1085-1085. DOI: 10.1126/science.1070106
Hinde K. (2009) Richer milk for sons but more milk for daughters: Sex-biased investment during lactation varies with maternal life history in rhesus macaques. American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council, 21(4), 512-9. PMID: 19384860
Hrdy, S. (1990) Sex bias in nature and in history: A late 1980s reexamination of the “biological origins” argument. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 33(S11), 25-37. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1330330504
Jasienska G, Nenko I, & Jasienski M. (2006) Daughters increase longevity of fathers, but daughters and sons equally reduce longevity of mothers. American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council, 18(3), 422-5. PMID: 16634019
Poretsky L, Seto-Young D, Shrestha A, Dhillon S, Mirjany M, Liu HC, Yih MC, & Rosenwaks Z. (2001) Phosphatidyl-inositol-3 kinase-independent insulin action pathway(s) in the human ovary. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 86(7), 3115-9. PMID: 11443175
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