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  • February 12, 2011
  • 12:14 PM
  • 1,141 views

Soul Beliefs, Grave Goods & Foxes

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

In many books and articles addressing the origins of “religious” behavior, one will find the assertion that deliberate burials are indicative of soul beliefs and that because people began burying the dead approximately 100,000 years ago, this marks the beginning of what we today call religion. As I noted in this post, there are several [...]... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 03:00 PM
  • 1,743 views

Nothing to plunder – the evolution of Somalia’s pirate nation

by Southern Fried Scientist in Southern Fried Science

The droughts that shook the west African nations in the mid-1970′s and again in the 1980′s decimated the traditional nomadic clans of Somalia, leaving them without live stock to feed their families. Tens of thousands of the dispossessed, primarily of the Hawiye clan, were relocated to coastal areas. Fishing communities took root and began [...]... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 11:11 AM
  • 1,012 views

The Arched Metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis

by Kambiz Kamrani in Anthropology.net

Carol Ward1, William Kimbel, and Donald Johanson have published a paper in Science on the arch seen in a newly discovered fourth metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis (AL 333-160). A lot of the popular press are publishing misleading headlines that this … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 01:37 AM
  • 802 views

Why Lucy, what sweet kicks you had

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

For decades people have debated whether Australopithecus afarensis was an obligate biped like us, or whether our ancestor was a little less lithe in life on land. They asked, sort of, "Would Lucy have rocked some sweet Air Jordans, or would she have put some flat-foot orthotics in her new kicks?"
Carol Ward and colleagues report on a new fourth metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis from Hadar in Ethiopia, over 3.2 million years old. The foot bone shows that A. afarensis had the two foot arches that we humans enjoy today.
Metatarsals are the longbones comprising much of the foot right before your silly-looking toes. One exceptional thing about our metatarsals compared to our ape cousins is that they contribute to two arches, one running front-to-back and another side-to-side. The arches provide critical support to our foot for bipedal stance, and a little Fred-Astaire-springiness as our foot hits the ground and then lifts off again when walking and running and sashaying.
The new A. afarensis metatarsal (AL 333-160, right) shows that by 3.2 million years ago, our ancestors had these arches, too. The twisting and angulation of the shaft relative to the base show these arches are similar to humans and our later fossil ancestors, whereas apes' MT4s tend to be less twisted and angled. Such morphology was hinted at by the famous Laetoli footprints from Tanzania, around 3.7 million years ago, also attributed to A. afarensis. Other evidence from the skeleton suggested Lucy was a biped and nothing else, and so this new find from Hadar further solidifies the idea that some of our skeletal adaptations to bipedalism are ancient indeed. AL 333-160 image: Carol Ward and Kimberly Congdon (http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/02/lucy-had-a-spring-in-her-step.html?ref=hp)The PaperWard, C., Kimbel, W., & Johanson, D. (2011). Complete Fourth Metatarsal and Arches in the Foot of Australopithecus afarensis Science, 331 (6018), 750-753 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201463... Read more »

  • February 10, 2011
  • 04:37 PM
  • 1,275 views

Swedes not so homogeneous?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression


Credit: David Shankbone
The more and more I see fine-scale genomic analyses of population structure across the world the more and more I believe that the “stylized” models which were in vogue in the early 2000s which explained how the world was re-populated after the last Ice Age (and before) were wrong in deep ways. I’m talking about the grand narratives outlined in works such as Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve, the subtitle of which was “The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry.” If I had less faith in science to always ultimately right its course I’d probably become a post-modernist type who asserts that all these stories are fictions. Sykes’ model in particular seems to be very likely incorrect because of the utilization of ancient DNA to elucidate population movements past in Europe. From what we can gather it looks like coarse attempts to infer past distributions from current distributions (of specific lineages and their diversity) resulted in a great deal of false clarity. We’re not talking differences on the margins, but fundamental confusions. For example, Basques were always assumed to be a viable ...... Read more »

Salmela E, Lappalainen T, Liu J, Sistonen P, & Andersen PM. (2011) Swedish Population Substructure Revealed by Genome-Wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Data. PLoS ONE . info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0016747

  • February 9, 2011
  • 10:21 AM
  • 1,584 views

Ezekiel's Merkabah | Knowing, Part 3

by Michael Lombardi in a New Life in the Sea

For this last installment of our review of the film 'Knowing', we will discuss the reference to Ezekiel's Chariot, and the prophecy that it conveys.
Some background - Ezekial is the author and central protagonist of the Book of Ezekial in the Hebrew Bible which goes on to discuss his prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. In 592 BCE, Ezekiel describes an encounter where is is visited by God appearing in "the likeness of man" who is riding a Chariot (or Merkabah in Hebrew) accompanied by cherubs. This vision is the cornerstone of the 'Chariots of the Gods' theory proposed by Erich von Daniken where this and many other encounters with God or 'the gods' are proposed as encounters with extraterrestrials in our ancient past.
This famous depiction, engraved by Matthäus Merian is a hugely controversial among Biblical scholars and extraterrestrial investigators, as there are broad implications in Ezekial's prophecy for both interpretations regarding the end of days.
In 'Knowing', an adult Lucinda Embry is possessed by the messages she had received as a child. In her secluded and abandoned adult home, the image of Ezekial's chariot encounter is discovered, fitting into the lineage of deterministic fate that has been progressively decoded throughout the film from Lucinda's childhood codex.
If we take a literal and futurist interpretation of the Ezekial Prophecy, we must also look at the Book of Revelations, as it pertains to THE END. In Revelations 21:1 (to be discussed here in depth later), St. John the Divine writes, "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea." In the film, the world is discovered to come to an end by solar flares - excessive heat. This would not only vaporize life as we know it, but would dry up our oceans as well - just as described on this verse from Revelations.

In the movie, a boy and girl (both 'chosen' by the extraterrestrials) are taken by aliens appearing "in the likeness of man" on their ship (Chariot) and put on a new planet to start this whole mess over again - my suspicions are with the intent to get it right this time around in the eyes of our God or 'gods' and to preserve their own future sustainability.
Now back to today in the real world - these elements of our history such as Ezekial's Merkabah, Biblical prophecy from Revelations and elsewhere need to be taken so very seriously. The efforts taken thousands of years ago to write, document, and preserve knowledge were incredible feats as compared to today, where we only click 'save' and it's there forever. I know that I don't like to waste time, and I'd suspect that folks back then didn't either. Why go through such great lengths to preserve useless knowledge or information? They wouldn't have. Period.
The question is how to interpret this information, and in doing so, understand whether we are guiding humanity through its deterministic fate (read Knowing Part 1), unveiling a codex of our destiny (read Knowing Part 2), or coming to terms with a prophecy that underlines our fate here on Planet Earth.
So, for all of you 2012 fanatics out there - if it is the inevitable, then so be it. But, we should be careful what we wish for as we might very well be carving our own path to the end. Hopefully Nicholas Cage is working on this as we speak!
 References
Stone, E. (2008). Chariots of the Gods in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia ( c. 2000–1600 BC) Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 3 (01) DOI: 10.1017/S0959774300000731

Kelly, B. (2008). D... Read more »

  • February 9, 2011
  • 10:20 AM
  • 984 views

Smoke screen: new study sheds light on will power, anti-smoking ads and quitting cigarettes.

by richardfmasters in Elements Science

Are you giving up the fags? Richard Masters looks at why brain scans can show how likely you are to quit, whether you realise it or not.



Related posts:Smoking can be good for you
Research round up
Preventing lung cancer: a potential risk itself
... Read more »

Soon, C., Brass, M., Heinze, H., & Haynes, J. (2008) Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(5), 543-545. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2112  

  • February 8, 2011
  • 05:00 PM
  • 850 views

The Social Network and Anorexia

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Could social networks be more important than the media in the spread of eating disorders?There's a story about eating disorders roughly like this: eating disorders (ED) are about wanting to be thin. The idea that thinness is desireable is something that's spread by Western media, especially visual media i.e. TV and magazines. Therefore, Western media exposure causes eating disorders.It's a nice simple theory. And it seems to fit with the fact that eating disorders, hitherto very rare, start to appear in a certain country in conjunction with the spread of Westernized media. A number of studies have shown this. However, a new paper suggests that there may be rather more to it: Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji.Fiji is a former British colony, a tropical island nation of less than a million. Just over half the population are ethnic native Fijian people. Until recently, these Fijians were relatively untouched by Western culture, but this is starting to change.The authors of this study surveyed 523 Fijian high school girls. Interviews took place in 2007. They asked them various questions relating to, one the one hand, eating disorder symptoms, and on the other hand, their exposure to various forms of media.They looked at both individual exposure - hours of TV watched, electronic entertainment in the home - and "indirect" or "social network" exposure, such as TV watched by the parents, and the amount of electronic entertainment their friends owned. On top of this they measured Westernization/"globalization", such as the amount of overseas travel by the girls or their parents.So what happened? Basically, social network media exposure, urbanization, and Westernization correlated with ED symptoms, but when you controlled for those variables, personal media exposure didn't correlate. Here's the data; the column I've highlighted is the data where each variable is controlled for the others. The correlations are pretty small (0 is none, 1.0 would be perfect) but significant.They conclude that:Although consistent with the prevailing sociocultural model for the relation between media exposure and disordered eating... our finding, that indirect exposure to media content may be even more influential than direct exposure in this particular social context, is novel.The idea that eating disorders are simply a product of a culture which values thinness as attractive has always seemed a bit shaky to me because people with anorexia frequently starve themselves far past the point of being attractive even by the unrealistic standards of magazines and movies.In fact, if eating disorders were just an attempt to "look good", they wouldn't be nearly so dangerous as they are, because no matter how thin-obsessed our culture may be, no-one thinks this is attractive, or normal, or sane. But this, or worse, is what a lot of anorexics end up as.On the other hand, eating disorders are associated with modern Western culture. There must be a link, but maybe it's more complicated than just "thin = good" causes anorexia. What if you also need the idea of "eating disorders"?This was the argument put forward by Ethan Watters in Crazy Like Us (my review)... in his account of the rise of anorexia in Hong Kong. Essentially, he said, anorexia was vanishingly rare in Hong Kong until after the much-publicized death of a 14 year old girl, Charlene Chi-Ying, in the street. As he put it:In trying to explain what happened to Charlene, local reporters often simply copied out of American diagnostic manuals. The mental-health experts quoted in the Hong Kong papers and magazines confidently reported that anorexia in Hong Kong was the same disorder that appeared in the United States and Europe...As the general public and the region's mental-health professionals came to understand the American diagnosis of anorexia, the presentation of the illness in [Hong Kong psychiatrist] Lee's patient population appeared to transform into the more virulent American standard. Lee once saw two or three anorexic patients a year; by the end of the 1990s he was seeing that many new cases each month.Now it's important not to see this as trivializing the condition or as a way of blaming the victim; "they're just following a trend!". You only have to look at someone with anorexia to see that there is nothing trivial about it. However, that doesn't mean it's not a social phenomenon.It's a long way from the data in this study to Watters' conclusions, but maybe not an impossible leap. Part of Westernization, after all, is exposure to Western ideas about what is healthy eating and what's an eating disorder...Becker, A., Fay, K., Agnew-Blais, J., Khan, A., Striegel-Moore, R., & Gilman, S. (2011). Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji The British Journal of Psychiatry, 198 (1), 43-50 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.078675... Read more »

Becker, A., Fay, K., Agnew-Blais, J., Khan, A., Striegel-Moore, R., & Gilman, S. (2011) Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 198(1), 43-50. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.078675  

  • February 8, 2011
  • 03:21 PM
  • 1,921 views

If You Can't Say Something Nice ...

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice


Fuhgettaboutit!
Who you tawkin' to?
Yuh caen't pahk yuh cah heah.
Who drank da last o'da cawfee?
Whatsa matta wid you?
Ah, the sounds of New York City! I can identify a New Yorker in conversation in a heartbeat. And it's likely that the rest of the country can as well. Residents of New York City and western Long Island (or Lung Guylan as I am apt to pronounce it—a good friend of mine from the Midwest once told me that I was the only person she knew who could produce such a hard /g/ in front of an /i/) speak a distinct dialect. The elements of the dialect contained within these statements are fairly recognizable thanks to the likes of Robert De Niro and Bugs Bunny. It is often parodied and often in the vein of the extremes apparent in the examples above, even though relatively few New Yorkers have such a hard stereotypical accent. It is also interpreted as aggressive and confrontational. Still, whether these elements are subtle and make appearances in moments of passionate debate or inebriation, or so pronounced as to make the speaker almost unintelligible, the New York dialect is a readily identifiable marker.
New Yorkers are not alone in possessing a specific dialect. New Englanders also have a recognizable way of speaking, as do Southerners and people from the Midwest. Language and identity have a complicated relationship. There is a lot of information that can be passed on linguistically beyond etymology. Language can reflect our social and natural environments and thus reveal a great deal about our daily lives. Linguistic anthropologists are right to view languages as rich cultural resources—and this is one of the reasons the Endangered Language Alliance has been working to collect and preserve the many "dying" languages spoken by immigrants throughout New York City.

However, languages do not constitute the whole of an identity. Languages change as we do; they are far from closed systems. In instances of colonialism and conquest, the language of the majority often absorbs any surrounding dialects or systems. There are hints of this process in the number system found on the Peruvian Magdalena document: The number system was of an unknown language but contained elements of nearby majority languages, suggesting serious contact. These traces of foreign influence tell us that the process of absorption does not occur overnight. During the periods of transition, there is a fair amount of identity negotiation that occurs among native speakers. 
New Yorkers aren't forced to speak the way they do. But what if they were? What if New Yorkers had to drop their /r/s so that others could recognize them? How would their relationship to language change? 
Shaylih Muehlmann (2008) investigated the threads of identity negotiation during language absorption among the Cucapa of El Mayor in northern Mexico. The Cucapa practiced a semi-nomadic subsistence pattern that followed the Colorado River's flood levels until the early 20th-century (1). They fished, hunted rabbits and deer, and grew corn, beans, and pumpkins. However government restrictions on these activities—particularly fishing—limited opportunities for traditional subsistence activities, and pushed the Cucapa into alternative economic systems. Instead of fishing and hunting, they went to work in factories and in construction, and pursued other similar sorts of work. And in the process, they learned to hide traces of their "Indianness" to avoid discrimination, which meant suppressing, and ultimately forgetting, the Cucapa language (2).
However, this forgetting became problematic when the government determined that language was a primary means of establishing Cucapa identity for state benefits:Whereas not speaking Spanish may have impeded their legal negotiations in the past, the Cucapa are now finding that a a lack of fluency in their indigenous language and traditions is increasingly delegitimizing their current legal claims. In battles for fishing rights and access to work programs and in appeals for general access to resources and support from the government, the Cucapa's claims are continually undermined on the basis of their purported lack of authenticity (3).Not surprisingly, they are viewed as incompetent in their own language, which was discouraged during assimilation. Yet, Meuhlmann reports that the Cucapa deploy their indigenous language in ways that simultaneously challenge this assessment and demonstrate that language is a superficial identity marker.

How do they do this? Simple: they employ curses, or groserias.
When the Cucapa meet a soldier or other outsider who demands that they prove their claim to indigenous identity, the Cucapa respond by swearing. Since outsiders do not speak Cucapa and cannot translate the words, the swearwords function as both a marker of Cucapa identity and a means of subversion. A Cucapa woman explained this tactic to Meuhlmann:Sometimes you go out in the sierra or in the desert and the soldiers are there and they won't let you pass. They stop you, pointing their guns at you and on your own land and they ask you your business. At times like this the chamacos (kids) simply say "Soy Indio" in Spanish and then in Cucapa they say "go screw yourself!" to which the soldiers say "oh," "pasale" (go ahead) (4).Swearwords have been consciously chosen for this performance of Cucapa identity:
When obscenity features in displays of anger, as insults, or in playful vulgarity among youth in El Mayor it is always expressed in Spanish, which is indeed the “native” language of the majority of residents in El Mayor. For the youth, the use of Cucapa swearwords is less about engaging in the sociality of the obscene than about negotiating claims to indigeneity.The Cucapa use the expectation that as indigenous people they must be able to speak a native language. It doesn't matter what is said—they could be naming colors—as long as it sounds like Cucapa, it's acceptable to the audience that just want to hear something that they believe is Cucapa. Although that's not entirely true: The Cucapa could be saying the names of colors, but by choosing swearwords the Cucapa are actually establishing the ignorance of the soldiers, officials, and any other demanding audience, and questioning their ability to authenticate identity (5). So the choice of swearwords as opposed to colors carries with it a significant meaning

Swearwords also allow Cucapa to establish boundaries of solidarity. Cursing is not the norm in speech, so a willingness to know and use these words identifies one as sympathetic to the contradictions embedded in claiming an indigenous identity. To know these words and understand the ways they are deployed means belonging to a covert group. Meuhlmann describes having to recite a number of Cucapa swearwords in order to prove that she could be trusted. Her language performance was neither a validation of identity but an expression of solidarity and a reminder that she is an outsider. The latter stems from her actual experience using the words, which generated a sense of discomfort and embarrassment as she fumbled through the recitation.

One interesting point to note that the elements of the Cucapa language that are being preserved through use are swearwords, so that in about twenty years when the last of the fluent Cucapa speakers have died, all that will remain to be transmitted to subsequent generations will be swearwords (6). The story that language can tell us is important, but we also need to consider how our categorization of languages generate meanings removed from the speakers:
The use of Cucapa swearwords also indicates how academic and state appeals arguing for the recovery of cultural wealth may sound to indigenous people. These appeals argue that cultures are important to "save," not just for the good of a specific community but also for the benefit of national patrimonies and, indeed, for all of humanity. From this perspective, it does not matter if saving the Cucapa language, for example, is a priority or even an interest in El Mayor, because it is in the interest of humanity, more generally. Neither is it relevant that people n... Read more »

  • February 6, 2011
  • 04:32 PM
  • 1,097 views

Droughts and the decline and rise of urban civilizations

by Michael Smith in Wide Urban World

Paleoclimatic data from a new tree-ring sequence in central Mexico have implications for the fall and rise of cities and urban societies before the Spanish conquest.... Read more »

Stahle, David W., José Villanueva-Díaz, Dorian J. Burnette, Julián Cerano Paredes, Richard Heim, Jr., Falko K. Fye, Rodolfo A. Soto, Matthew D. Therrell, Malcolm K. Cleaveland, and D. K. Stahle. (2011) Major Mesoamerican Droughts of the Past Millennium. Geophysical Research Letters. info:/

  • February 4, 2011
  • 04:03 PM
  • 873 views

Touching Death

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Prancing Papio:There is something intensely animal about our relationship with the dead. As an atheist I don’t feel particular reverence or awe at the site of a cadaver. It mostly just creeps me out. But even religious believers, those who should be comfortable with the idea that a dead body retains no trace of the person they once knew, also seem to have trouble letting go of what St. Paul called “confidence in the flesh.” In funerary observances around the world cadavers are regularly touched, kissed, washed, anointed with oils, bedaubed with ceremonial makeup, carted to sacred ground, entombed with their clothes or belongings, and generally treated in death as if their body were going on a different journey than miasmic decay.However, as is often the case where human universals are concerned, looking to similar behaviors in other animals can be especially instructive. For example, a study that has just been released in the American Journal of Primatology has captured the most complete process to date of what could only be described as mourning behavior in nonhuman primates. Katherine Cronin and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, Gonzaga University, and the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia have documented a case where a chimpanzee mother faced what for most of us would be an unthinkable horror: the death of her child. Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011). Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927... Read more »

Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011) Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant. American Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927  

  • February 4, 2011
  • 04:03 PM
  • 890 views

Touching Death

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Prancing Papio:There is something intensely animal about our relationship with the dead. As an atheist I don’t feel particular reverence or awe at the site of a cadaver. It mostly just creeps me out. But even religious believers, those who should be comfortable with the idea that a dead body retains no trace of the person they once knew, also seem to have trouble letting go of what St. Paul called “confidence in the flesh.” In funerary observances around the world cadavers are regularly touched, kissed, washed, anointed with oils, bedaubed with ceremonial makeup, carted to sacred ground, entombed with their clothes or belongings, and generally treated in death as if their body were going on a different journey than miasmic decay.However, as is often the case where human universals are concerned, looking to similar behaviors in other animals can be especially instructive. For example, a study that has just been released in the American Journal of Primatology has captured the most complete process to date of what could only be described as mourning behavior in nonhuman primates. Katherine Cronin and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, Gonzaga University, and the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia have documented a case where a chimpanzee mother faced what for most of us would be an unthinkable horror: the death of her child. Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011). Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927... Read more »

Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011) Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant. American Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927  

  • February 4, 2011
  • 01:24 PM
  • 1,458 views

Early Complex Societies & Early Organized Religions

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Historians have long known that the shelf life of complex societies throughout human history has been rather limited. Archaeologists are aware of this also. But how to explain it?
In a recent (open access) paper, “Cycling in the Complexity of Early Societies,” Sergey Gavrilets and colleagues mathematically modeled early complex societies using a number of variables [...]... Read more »

Gavrilets, Sergey, Anderson, David G., & Turchin, Peter. (2010) Cycling in the Complexity of Early Societies. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, 1(1), 59-80. info:/http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5536t55r

  • February 4, 2011
  • 12:16 PM
  • 992 views

Tricks of the trade: chimpanzees and their tools

by Djuke Veldhuis in Elements Science

Deep in the African rainforest researchers continue to find a wide array of tool use in wild chimpanzee populations. Djuke Veldhuis examines what is happening in the emerging field of primate archaeology.



Related posts:Science spreads through African lands
... Read more »

  • February 4, 2011
  • 09:04 AM
  • 1,431 views

Adaptationism in the Human Penis

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

As Scicurious’ mom points out, penises are funny lookin’. As long as humans have been humans, men and women have looked down and thought, “now what could be the possible reason for that?” The question no doubt vexed our early ancestors so much that they simply had to evolve larger brains to think about it [...]... Read more »

Bowman EA. (2010) An explanation for the shape of the human penis. Archives of sexual behavior, 39(2), 216. PMID: 19851854  

BIRKHEAD, T., & HUNTER, F. (1990) Mechanisms of sperm competition. Trends in Ecology , 5(2), 48-52. DOI: 10.1016/0169-5347(90)90047-H  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 05:42 AM
  • 1,420 views

Human (amphibious model): living in and on the water

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

At the beginning of the film clip, Bajau fisherman Sulbin sits on the side of a boat on the coast of Borneo, gulping air, handling his speargun.  And then, he drops into the water.  The footage suddenly changes and becomes arresting: silent, dreamy, slow, and so blue.  Sulbin strokes deliberately and descends until he strides along the bottom of the ocean, holding his breath, and hunts for fish through handmade goggles.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spears a fish and heads for the surface.  The narrator tells us that Sulbin could stay down twice as long and dive deeper if necessary.  Most viewers, unfamiliar with free diving, exceptional if they can hold their breath longer than thirty seconds, are quite likely to be shaking their heads by the end of the clip, wondering at the ability of the human body to adapt to life in water.  Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch.

I stumbled across the video clip in part because of my academic interest in free diving. Earlier this month, I was supposed to attend a free diving workshop in New Zealand with one of the sport’s world record holder, Will Trubridge (or see the story on the Times Online).  The workshop fell through at almost the same time I was diagnosed with multiple hernias, so my first free diving experience likely wouldn’t have worked out – I’m still hoping to do it as part of my ethnographic research on extraordinary human performance in the near future.
But the clip of Sulbin on the BBC series, Human Planet episode, Oceans, has inspired me to write a little bit about Homo aquaticus (kidding), adaptation, culture, and what this sort of remarkable human adaptation might imply for the idea of ‘human nature.’
Sulbin’s ability is remarkable, but like so many exceptional human skills, it relies not on innate difference from other individuals, but on the steady cultivation of peculiar changes in the body and in how it is experienced.  What I hope to suggest is that amphibious humans point to the most basic fact of human nature: that we seem particularly adept at finding ways to adapt ourselves – biologically, psychologically, behaviourally, technologically – to a host of niches that then rebound back upon us and shape how we develop.  We are a peculiar self-made species.

This piece is probably best seen as one in a series I’ve been crafting on how human adaptation to situations that we place ourselves in map out the envelope of our bodies’ malleability.  Human skills and adaptation show us how our brains and nervous systems can be trained to do amazing things.  Frequent readers will know that I think much of the discussion of ‘human nature,’ carried out by — to put it nicely — exceptionally sedentary theorists, severely underestimates what our bodies are capable of doing.
Too often, in discussions of human adaptation, we allow a flabby distinction between three basic types of adaptation: genetic, phenotypic (or physiological), and cultural (or technology).  What I’ve been playing with, and will return to at the end of this piece, is the inseparability of these, especially the last two: physiology and culture.  The Bajau fisherman Sulbin shows us how biology and culture are inseparable because what he does ends up shaping his body, but only because he grew up around people who knew how to manage becoming human in this distinctive amphibious way and because his adaptations play upon how his nervous system works, including some intriguing quirks.
If you’re mad keen to learn more about human adaptation and my ongoing obsession, you might check out samples of my work on human quadrupedalism (part two), barefoot running, barefoot climbing, and even overhand throwing (the piece is specifically on ‘throwing like a girl’).  I’ll be posting more in the months to come, so if you’re interested in what the human body can be made to do, pay us a return visit periodically.
‘Sea gypsies’ in Southeast Asia
Sulbin is a member of a number of groups who live wholly or partially as oceanic nomads or sea foragers in South-East Asia.  As the BBC website explains:
Few peoples have a deeper connection with the sea than the Bajau Laut of South-East Asia. Sometimes known as “sea gypsies”, they live in house boats or stilt houses built on top of coral reefs and when they do spend the occasional night on solid ground they often report feeling ‘landsick’.
Malaysia’s best Bajau free-divers can dive to depths of over 20 metres and stay there for several minutes on a single breath as they go in search of fish. And as if that weren’t enough, studies on some “sea gypsy” children from Thailand and Burma show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
The Bajau Laut’s livelihood is traditionally totally dependent on the resources of the sea so spear-fishing is vitally important to them, but different cultures have very different ways of catching fish.  (BBC website).
I won’t go into the ethnographic material on the Bajau and other groups called ‘sea gypsies’ (such as the Moken, who live along the coasts of Thailand, Burma and increasingly into Malaysia).  If you’re interested, I’ve placed some links to more material on the Moken and other groups at the end of this article.  Some of the groups experienced a recent spike in interest when they apparently avoided serious casualties in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 because they ‘saw signs in the waves’ of the trouble to come.
This post is really about adapting to diving, and that happens a lot more broadly than just in ‘sea gypsy’ populations.  Although SCUBA and other techniques are replacing breath-hold diving, traditional divers cultivated incredible abilities in the production of sponges in Greece, and pearls in places like Polynesia and the Persian Gulf.  The practice is still widespread among recreational divers, competitive divers, and even in some industries, such as among seafood harvesters in Japan and Korea, where an estimated 20,000 professional divers still worked with minimal equipment as late as the 1990s (see Park et al. 1990, cited in Ferretti 2001).
Learning to ‘hold’ your breath
Freediving: Ewens Ponds
Human ‘adaptation’ to water is both conscious and unconscious, as so many things about human behaviour.  Even the most basic adaptive reflexes have to be shaped and elaborated, although they can often be learned in implicit, indirect ways or found in basic form very early.  For example, one of the most reliable reactions to a startling new sensation is to gasp, a potentially deadly maladaptive approach to dealing with being dunked in the water.  Fortunately, when water hits the pharynx or larynx, glottal spasms clamp the throat shut with a glottal spasm in part of what is referred to as the ‘diving reflex’.
If we’re going to enjoy the whole underwater swimming experience, however, we’ve got to be taught to stop the airway voluntarily and close the glottis muscularly, or to exhale. It’s more pleasant than just plunging into the water and trusting that the ‘diving reflex’ will save you from winding up with a couple of lungs full of the stuff by triggering a glottal spasm.  In other words, the reflex has to be cultivated into a skill.
The online web resource eHow suggests, in How to Teach a Baby to Hold Breath Underwater, that you first condition an infant by essentially an associative learning process where dipping a washcloth in water is followed shortly by dripping water over his or her face.  The writer advocates following this up at a pool with a learned association between ‘1… 2… 3…’ and subsequently being splashed in the face, later substituted by short immersion.  The diving reflex can cue the early learning, but the goal is to build a more robust v... Read more »

Bavis, R., Powell, F., Bradford, A., Hsia, C., Peltonen, J., Soliz, J., Zeis, B., Fergusson, E., Fu, Z., Gassmann, M.... (2007) Respiratory plasticity in response to changes in oxygen supply and demand. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(4), 532-551. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icm070  

Ferretti, G. (2001) Extreme human breath-hold diving. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(4), 254-271. DOI: 10.1007/s004210000377  

Ferretti G, & Costa M. (2003) Diversity in and adaptation to breath-hold diving in humans. Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular , 136(1), 205-13. PMID: 14527641  

Gislén A, Dacke M, Kröger RH, Abrahamsson M, Nilsson DE, & Warrant EJ. (2003) Superior underwater vision in a human population of sea gypsies. Current biology : CB, 13(10), 833-6. PMID: 12747831  

Gislén A, Warrant EJ, Dacke M, & Kröger RH. (2006) Visual training improves underwater vision in children. Vision research, 46(20), 3443-50. PMID: 16806388  

Parkes, M. (2005) Breath-holding and its breakpoint. Experimental Physiology, 91(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2005.031625  

Schagatay E, van Kampen M, Emanuelsson S, & Holm B. (2000) Effects of physical and apnea training on apneic time and the diving response in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 82(3), 161-9. PMID: 10929209  

SCHOLANDER PF, HAMMEL HT, LEMESSURIER H, HEMMINGSEN E, & GAREY W. (1962) Circulatory adjustment in pearl divers. Journal of applied physiology, 184-90. PMID: 13909130  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 05:42 AM
  • 1,069 views

Human (amphibious model): living in and on the water

by Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology PLoS

At the beginning of the film clip, Bajau fisherman Sulbin sits on the side of a boat on the coast of Borneo, gulping air, handling his speargun.  And then, he drops into the water.  The footage suddenly changes and becomes arresting: silent, dreamy, slow, and so blue.  Sulbin strokes deliberately and descends until he strides along the bottom of the ocean, holding his breath, and hunts for fish through handmade goggles.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spears a fish and heads for the surface.  The narrator tells us that Sulbin could stay down twice as long and dive deeper if necessary.  Most viewers, unfamiliar with free diving, exceptional if they can hold their breath longer than thirty seconds, are quite likely to be shaking their heads by the end of the clip, wondering at the ability of the human body to adapt to life in water.  Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch.

I stumbled across the video clip in part because of my academic interest in free diving. Earlier this month, I was supposed to attend a free diving workshop in New Zealand with one of the sport’s world record holder, Will Trubridge (or see the story on the Times Online).  The workshop fell through at almost the same time I was diagnosed with multiple hernias, so my first free diving experience likely wouldn’t have worked out – I’m still hoping to do it as part of my ethnographic research on extraordinary human performance in the near future.
But the clip of Sulbin on the BBC series, Human Planet episode, Oceans, has inspired me to write a little bit about Homo aquaticus (kidding), adaptation, culture, and what this sort of remarkable human adaptation might imply for the idea of ‘human nature.’
Sulbin’s ability is remarkable, but like so many exceptional human skills, it relies not on innate difference from other individuals, but on the steady cultivation of peculiar changes in the body and in how it is experienced.  What I hope to suggest is that amphibious humans point to the most basic fact of human nature: that we seem particularly adept at finding ways to adapt ourselves – biologically, psychologically, behaviourally, technologically – to a host of niches that then rebound back upon us and shape how we develop.  We are a peculiar self-made species.

This piece is probably best seen as one in a series I’ve been crafting on how human adaptation to situations that we place ourselves in map out the envelope of our bodies’ malleability.  Human skills and adaptation show us how our brains and nervous systems can be trained to do amazing things.  Frequent readers will know that I think much of the discussion of ‘human nature,’ carried out by — to put it nicely — exceptionally sedentary theorists, severely underestimates what our bodies are capable of doing.
Too often, in discussions of human adaptation, we allow a flabby distinction between three basic types of adaptation: genetic, phenotypic (or physiological), and cultural (or technology).  What I’ve been playing with, and will return to at the end of this piece, is the inseparability of these, especially the last two: physiology and culture.  The Bajau fisherman Sulbin shows us how biology and culture are inseparable because what he does ends up shaping his body, but only because he grew up around people who knew how to manage becoming human in this distinctive amphibious way and because his adaptations play upon how his nervous system works, including some intriguing quirks.
If you’re mad keen to learn more about human adaptation and my ongoing obsession, you might check out samples of my work on human quadrupedalism (part two), barefoot running, barefoot climbing, and even overhand throwing (the piece is specifically on ‘throwing like a girl’).  I’ll be posting more in the months to come, so if you’re interested in what the human body can be made to do, pay us a return visit periodically.
‘Sea gypsies’ in Southeast Asia
Sulbin is a member of a number of groups who live wholly or partially as oceanic nomads or sea foragers in South-East Asia.  As the BBC website explains:
Few peoples have a deeper connection with the sea than the Bajau Laut of South-East Asia. Sometimes known as “sea gypsies”, they live in house boats or stilt houses built on top of coral reefs and when they do spend the occasional night on solid ground they often report feeling ‘landsick’.
Malaysia’s best Bajau free-divers can dive to depths of over 20 metres and stay there for several minutes on a single breath as they go in search of fish. And as if that weren’t enough, studies on some “sea gypsy” children from Thailand and Burma show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
The Bajau Laut’s livelihood is traditionally totally dependent on the resources of the sea so spear-fishing is vitally important to them, but different cultures have very different ways of catching fish.  (BBC website).
I won’t go into the ethnographic material on the Bajau and other groups called ‘sea gypsies’ (such as the Moken, who live along the coasts of Thailand, Burma and increasingly into Malaysia).  If you’re interested, I’ve placed some links to more material on the Moken and other groups at the end of this article.  Some of the groups experienced a recent spike in interest when they apparently avoided serious casualties in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 because they ‘saw signs in the waves’ of the trouble to come.
This post is really about adapting to diving, and that happens a lot more broadly than just in ‘sea gypsy’ populations.  Although SCUBA and other techniques are replacing breath-hold diving, traditional divers cultivated incredible abilities in the production of sponges in Greece, and pearls in places like Polynesia and the Persian Gulf.  The practice is still widespread among recreational divers, competitive divers, and even in some industries, such as among seafood harvesters in Japan and Korea, where an estimated 20,000 professional divers still worked with minimal equipment as late as the 1990s (see Park et al. 1990, cited in Ferretti 2001).
Learning to ‘hold’ your breath
Freediving: Ewens Ponds
Human ‘adaptation’ to water is both conscious and unconscious, as so many things about human behaviour.  Even the most basic adaptive reflexes have to be shaped and elaborated, although they can often be learned in implicit, indirect ways or found in basic form very early.  For example, one of the most reliable reactions to a startling new sensation is to gasp, a potentially deadly maladaptive approach to dealing with being dunked in the water.  Fortunately, when water hits the pharynx or larynx, glottal spasms clamp the throat shut with a glottal spasm in part of what is referred to as the ‘diving reflex’.
If we’re going to enjoy the whole underwater swimming experience, however, we’ve got to be taught to stop the airway voluntarily and close the glottis muscularly, or to exhale. It’s more pleasant than just plunging into the water and trusting that the ‘diving reflex’ will save you from winding up with a couple of lungs full of the stuff by triggering a glottal spasm.  In other words, the reflex has to be cultivated into a skill.
The online web resource eHow suggests, in How to Teach a Baby to Hold Breath Underwater, that you first condition an infant by essentially an associative learning process where dipping a washcloth in water is followed shortly by dripping water over his or her face.  The writer advocates following this up at a pool with a learned association between ‘1… 2… 3…’ and subsequently being splashed in the face, later substituted by short immersion.  The diving reflex can cue the early learning, but the goal is to build a more robust v... Read more »

Bavis, R., Powell, F., Bradford, A., Hsia, C., Peltonen, J., Soliz, J., Zeis, B., Fergusson, E., Fu, Z., Gassmann, M.... (2007) Respiratory plasticity in response to changes in oxygen supply and demand. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(4), 532-551. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icm070  

Ferretti, G. (2001) Extreme human breath-hold diving. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(4), 254-271. DOI: 10.1007/s004210000377  

Ferretti G, & Costa M. (2003) Diversity in and adaptation to breath-hold diving in humans. Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular , 136(1), 205-13. PMID: 14527641  

Gislén A, Dacke M, Kröger RH, Abrahamsson M, Nilsson DE, & Warrant EJ. (2003) Superior underwater vision in a human population of sea gypsies. Current biology : CB, 13(10), 833-6. PMID: 12747831  

Gislén A, Warrant EJ, Dacke M, & Kröger RH. (2006) Visual training improves underwater vision in children. Vision research, 46(20), 3443-50. PMID: 16806388  

Parkes, M. (2005) Breath-holding and its breakpoint. Experimental Physiology, 91(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2005.031625  

Schagatay E, van Kampen M, Emanuelsson S, & Holm B. (2000) Effects of physical and apnea training on apneic time and the diving response in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 82(3), 161-9. PMID: 10929209  

SCHOLANDER PF, HAMMEL HT, LEMESSURIER H, HEMMINGSEN E, & GAREY W. (1962) Circulatory adjustment in pearl divers. Journal of applied physiology, 184-90. PMID: 13909130  

  • February 3, 2011
  • 01:59 AM
  • 2,027 views

The Social Functions of Blushing

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice



It's happened to all of us. The poorly timed remark, tripping over an uneven sidewalk, a torn seam or an open button or zipper, or even the dreaded toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe—embarrassment can strike at any time.

It's easy to feel as though embarrassing things happen only to you. (We tend to over-emphasize embarrassing events, but I'll let it slide if you want to pretend that you're socially savvy.) In fact, earlier this week, I came close to falling flat on my back twice—in boots that were snow and slush appropriate no less—thanks to the slippery conditions that seem to have settled in the northeast. On my way into the office, I lost my footing on a slight downhill slope and felt my feet start to slide. Before I could catch myself, someone grabbed my arm and righted me. When I stepped out for lunch, I nearly fell again: I walked right over a large patch of ice and felt my feet start to slide out from under me. Once more, a quick thinking stranger with awesome reflexes appeared at my side to keep me from connecting with the sidewalk.

Though I thanked my saviors profusely, I could feel my face flush with that telltale sign of embarrassment: the blush. I was really glad that these folks were kind enough to act. But I was also embarrassed. I've been walking for almost three decades—you'd think I would have gotten the hang of bipedalism by now. But feeling embarrassed is fine. Why do others need to know that I'm embarrassed? Why does embarrassment produce visible signals? Do they serve a purpose?

On a list of things to be embarrassed about, I'm sure that my lack of coordination ranks fairly low. Yet, the things that cause embarrassment are highly personal. And a lot of what embarrasses us depends on the responses of others. What does it mean to be embarrassed? It's an emotion involving feelings of guilt and shame, and possibly modesty. It also is marked by some pretty clear signs, one of which is blushing. We'll work with the following definition:
Embarrassment is the acute state of awkward and flustered abashment and chagrin that follows events that produce a threat of unwanted evaluations from real or imagined audiences (1).So you may think those dance moves you've been practicing in front of the mirror are going to make you the hottest thing on the dance floor. And they very well may. But if you're the center of attention because everyone is pointing and laughing or mimicking, then what you're faced with is embarrassment. If the floor doesn't open and swallow you—as it very rarely does when you need it to—you'll likely find that you're blushing, possibly furiously if you're sensitive enough and/or fair skinned.

Blushing intrigued our good friend Darwin, so much so that it got an entire chapter in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). It is "the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions," he wrote (2). Darwin documented examples to show that blushing affects a range of ages and races, both the sexes, and individuals with disabilities and varying faculties, leading him to conclude that:
The facts now given are sufficient to show that blushing, whether or not there is any change of colour, is common to most, probably all, of the races of man (3).Of course, he also drew conclusions that were rather interesting: For example, he proposes that when English women blush, the farthest the color extends is the top of the chest (4). He makes this claim despite noting that there are exceptional cases to suggest that blushing responses may vary between individuals. But he also hits upon the connection between blushing and social awareness, noting that a sense of guilt or a feeling of having breached social etiquette can prompt one to blush. He frames these arguments within a fixation on appearance, stating:
Men and women, and especially the young, have always valued, in a high degree their personal appearance; and have likewise regarded the appearance of others. The face has been the chief object of attention, though, when man aboriginally went naked, the whole surface of his body would have been attended to. Our self-attention is excited almost exclusively by the opinion of others, for no person living in absolute solitude would care about his appearance. Every one feels blame more acutely than praise. Now, whenever we know, or suppose, that others are depreciating our personal appearance, our attention is strongly drawn towards ourselves, more especially to our faces (5).Still, Darwin finds little adaptive purpose for blushing. He does suggest that it is inherited, in that we all have the ability to blush, but maintains that it is a habit, in that it is the result of a consciousness that we learn—after all, babies do not blush.

But blushing may serve a regulatory role. It's possible that blushing helps smooth out incidents that could spark potential social conflicts. It appears to be our signal that we know we've committed some transgression. Embarrassment does follow from the fear that we are being judged—that our identities are compromised. Darwin was right that we care about how others perceive us. It doesn't matter whether we have a relationship with members of the witnessing public or not, embarrassment springs from the belief that others are aware of a shortcoming. Blushing may help mitigate what are believed to be examples of social ineptness. Researchers have suggested that individuals who display visible signs of embarrassment are more likely to be treated kindly by witnesses, who are more likely offer words of support and sympathy in these cases than when individuals don't demonstrate remorse (6).

Embarrassment is a difficult experience:
It is uncomfortable and upsetting. Blushing may cause an individual to feel warmer than normal, and the sense of self is challenged—your identity is challenged. Some individuals may also experience extreme blushing conditions, accompanied by tingling and burning sensations in the face, ears, and neck (7).
It is punishable—adolescents tend to tease others who demonstrate signs that they are embarrassed.
Embarrassed individuals often believe the transgression is worse than it is, leading to subsequent feelings of anxiety, and possibly social avoidance.
Embarrassing events can suggest to the witnessing public that the individual doesn't fit with with the social order. The responses to embarrassment, which include a number of recognized behaviors in addition to blushing, are meant to shift the individual away from this moment of marginalization (even if it is self-imposed). The responses tell both the individual and the witness that a mistake has occurred and allows both parties to take steps to repair the relationship. Blushing is set apart from other conciliatory actions, such as gaze aversion, self-touching or grooming, and downward head movements, because it is largely involuntary, and thus viewed as a trustworthy signal of a person's emotional state (8, 9).

In fact, blushing may have worked so well as a conciliatory signal that it may be deployed in other social interactions. To avoid embarrassment, for example, an individual may deploy gaze aversion and other such actions, which may lead to blushing, before an embarrassing event actually occurs. So in an instance of social awkwardness, displaying signs of embarrassment may prompt conciliatory actions on part of... Read more »

Keltner, D., & Anderson, C. (2000) Saving Face for Darwin: The Functions and Uses of Embarrassment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 187-192. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00091  

Miller, Rowland S. (2001) On the Primacy of Embarrassment in Social Life. Psychological Inquiry, 12(1), 30-33. info:/

NICOLAOU, M., PAES, T., & WAKELIN, S. (2006) Blushing: an embarrassing condition, but treatable. The Lancet, 367(9519), 1297-1299. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68554-1  

  • February 2, 2011
  • 02:08 AM
  • 833 views

Divergence and gene flow – what is a paleogenetic model

by Jörg Friedrich in Reading Nature

With the technical advances in gene sequencing, the possibilities of their use are growing rapidly. Totally new scientific disciplines evolve – eg the paleogenetics. Gene sequences are produced from bones thousands of years old, and these are compared with each … Continue reading →... Read more »

Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PL.... (2010) Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 468(7327), 1053-60. PMID: 21179161  

  • February 1, 2011
  • 04:00 AM
  • 989 views

How to navigate a Viking longboat with a king, some bees and a DC-8

by Alun in AlunSalt

Jo Marchant has reported on a new paper, On the trail of Vikings with polarized skylight: experimental study of the atmospheric optical prerequisites allowing polarimetric navigation by Viking seafarers, for Nature news. She also adds more on her own blog including the link to the paper that you can access for free. The research is [...]... Read more »

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