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  • June 6, 2011
  • 11:08 AM
  • 1,330 views

Foreign Ideas & Moral Indigestion

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Imagine you are dining at a friend’s home. Your host is excited because she has prepared a special dish for you. When dinner is finally served, you are surprised to see a whole egg on your plate and when you open the egg, you are even more surprised to see this:
That’s balut, a dish of [...]... Read more »

Ritter, Ryan, & Preston, Jesse Lee. (2011) Gross gods and icky atheism: Disgust responses to rejected religious beliefs. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. info:/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.05.006

  • June 6, 2011
  • 06:00 AM
  • 2,573 views

Trench Fever and Plague in 14th Century France

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

The Marseille plague group has been suggesting for some time now that human lice could be a major vector of medieval plague. To test their hypothesis the group devised a multiplex PCR screening method to rapidly screen many aDNA samples for seven pathogens that could cause medieval epidemics, including relapsing fever and trench fever transmitted by human lice. ... Read more »

  • June 6, 2011
  • 03:56 AM
  • 2,030 views

Save the Planet by… Becoming a Vegan! Do I really have to?

by Stuart Farrimond in Dr Stu's Science Blog

Veganism – it’s just something for middle-class ‘hippies’ right? Vegans are those tree-hugging, hemp-wearing festival-goers who say ‘man’ far too much. Well perhaps it’s time for a rethink on that stereotype. At least if you care about environment, that is. If you had thought you could do your bit to fight global warming by getting … Continue reading »... Read more »

Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Marti. (2006) Diet, Energy and Global Warming. Earth Interactions, 10(9), 1-17. DOI: 10.1175/EI167.1  

Fengxia Dong . (2007) Changing Diets in China's Cities: Empirical Fact or Urban Legend?. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. info:/

  • June 4, 2011
  • 04:26 PM
  • 2,157 views

Decoding Frazer’s “Golden Bough”

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Few books in the history of anthropology are better known (but never read) than James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. First published in 1890 (2 volumes), Frazer published a second edition in 1900 (3 volumes), and a rolling third edition between 1911 and 1915 which ballooned to 12 volumes.
Though [...]... Read more »

Ackerman, Robert. (1975) Frazer on Myth and Ritual. Journal of the History of Ideas, 36(1), 115-134. DOI: 10.2307/2709014  

  • June 3, 2011
  • 04:01 AM
  • 1,206 views

Political Suicide

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

When is killing yourself not suicide?In the British Journal of Psychiatry, two psychiatrists and an anthropologist discuss recent cases of self-immolation as a form of political protest in the Arab world:Since ancient times there has been a difference between suicide (an act of self-destruction) and self-immolation which, although self- destructive, has a sacrificial connotation. Self-immolation is associated with terrible physical pain (burning alive) and with the idea of courage... It is, however, a new phenomenon in Arab Muslim societies.The self-immolation of the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, expresses both the extreme hurt associated with the harassment and humiliation that was inflicted on him after his wares had been confiscated, and the fact that there were no other ways to be heard in a country where he knew no kind of political system other than dictatorship...His gesture is now being replicated, mostly by other young men in Arab countries.These events ....raise important issues for psychiatrists and mental health professionals. First, these events highlight the social, political and cultural dimensions of suicide as a powerful collective idiom of distress. In the Tunisian case there is a shift from an individual sinful suicide to a sacrifice which evokes martyrdom. Fire symbolises purification...Second, in spite of the fact that the idiom of distress put forward by these Arab youth is radically different from the usual profile of youth suicide in Western countries, these events may also be an invitation to rethink the collective dimensions of youth suicide as a protest against society. Without minimising the role of psychopathology and interpersonal factors, it may be time to revisit the collective meaning associated by youth with the decision to exit a world in which they may feel they do not always have a voice.There's certainly a perception that some suicide is "political", and quite different from similar actions done for "personal" reasons. The same goes for breaking the law: we make a distinction between "common criminals", who do it for their own sake, and people who do so for an ideal.But I wonder whether this political/personal distinction is so clear-cut, psychologically speaking. Even "political" suicide has a personal component: in most cases, millions of people are in the same political situation, but only a few people burn themselves. Politics alone doesn't explain any individual case.Conversely the idea that "personal" suicide is simply a symptom of an individual's mental illness is likewise inadaquate - most people with mental illness, even very severe cases, do not do it. We have to look into the social sphere as well.Emile Durkheim drew a distinction between "egoistic" suicide, related to an individual's "prolonged sense of not belonging, of not being integrated in a community" and "anomic" suicide, caused by upheavals in society leading to "an individual's moral confusion and lack of social direction". But aren't those different ways of looking at the same thing?Cheikh IB, Rousseau C, & Mekki-Berrada A (2011). Suicide as protest against social suffering in the Arab world. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 198, 494-5 PMID: 21628715... Read more »

Cheikh IB, Rousseau C, & Mekki-Berrada A. (2011) Suicide as protest against social suffering in the Arab world. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 494-5. PMID: 21628715  

  • June 2, 2011
  • 02:37 PM
  • 1,743 views

Lost in (Western) Translation

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

There is a sense in which we are all cultural narcissists. By this, I mean that because all of us are acculturated at a particular time and in a particular place, we have a strong tendency to view other times and places through our own cultural lens. These lenses are prismatic and what we see [...]... Read more »

  • June 2, 2011
  • 07:44 AM
  • 1,790 views

Language revitalization and liberation

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

I’ve recently come across the story of Chibana Shoichi, who burnt the Japanese flag in 1987 to commemorate the Okinawan victims of WWII Japanese militarism. The story is intriguing not because of the flag-burning incident but because Shoichi also keeps … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • June 1, 2011
  • 01:40 PM
  • 1,601 views

The Arabian Middle Paleolithic and the southern route of human dispersal

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

In a comment on my last post, Maju who's a regular commenter on this blog, pointed out that recent finds in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf suggest that modern humans might have been present in the Middle East by the time Shanidar 3 was killed. Some of the specific evidence in support of this that has come out in the past year include that presented by Armitage et al. (2011) and Rose (... Read more »

Petraglia, Michael D., & Alsharekh, Abdullah. (2003) The Middle Palaeolithic of Arabia: Implications for modern human origins, behaviour and dispersals . Antiquity, 77(298), 671-684. info:/

  • May 31, 2011
  • 04:53 PM
  • 1,668 views

Bioarchaeology of Roman Seafood Consumption

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

How much seafood did the Romans eat, and how does imported seafood affect our understanding of their origins?... Read more »

C. Beltrame, D. Gaddi, & S. Parizzi. (2011) A presumed hydraulic apparatus for the transport of live fish, found on the Roman wreck at Grado, Italy. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. info:/10.1111/j.1095-9270.2011.00317.x

  • May 31, 2011
  • 04:14 PM
  • 1,159 views

Vaccines Cause Autism, Until You Look At The Data

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a much-discussed new paper, vaccines may cause autism after all: A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population.The author is Gayle DeLong, who "teaches international finance at Baruch College, City University of New York", according to her profile as a board member of anti-vaccine group SafeMinds. She correlated rates of coverage of the government recommended full set of vaccines in the 51 US states including Washington D.C., with registered rates of autism in those states six years later.Uh-oh - there was a correlation between vaccination in two year kids, and the rate of autism in the state six years later, when those kids were eight. As the abstract says:The higher the proportion of children receiving recommended vaccinations, the higher was the prevalence of AUT... The results suggest that although mercury has been removed from many vaccines, other culprits may link vaccines to autism. Further study into the relationship between vaccines and autism is warranted.Sounds rather scary. Until you look at the data, helpfully provided in the paper. First up, here's the scatterplot of all of the vaccination rates and all of the autism-six-years-later rates:There's more than 51 data points as you can see: there's actually 355 because each state had seven different datapoints (1995 vaccines vs 2001 autism though to 2001 vs 2007). This scatterplot shows no correlation. You can tell just from looking at it, but the correlation coefficient confirms this, as it's a tiny r 0.012 (from a possible range of 0 to 1).To be fair, that's a very noisy measure, because each state has unique characteristics, so the effect of vaccines will be diluted. However, it's still a useful sanity check, and shows that there can't be a major effect, otherwise it would be too big to get diluted.To get around this I next looked at the change in the rates of vaccination from one year to the next, and correlated that with the corresponding change in future rates of autism, within each state. A "change" of 1 means no change, 0.5 means it halved and 2 means it doubled, etc.Zilch. Correlation coeffiencent r is 0.034.Maybe the changes year-to-year were too small? So I checked the changes between the last year, and the first year.This made the changes bigger, because more tends to change over six years than in just one. And, to be fair, this does produces a slightly stronger vaccine-autism effect... but it's still tiny. The correlation coefficient here, r, is 0.18 which means that vaccination changes accounts for 3% of the variability in autism changes (r^2 = 0.034.) The p value is 0.20, statistically insignificant.My conclusion is that this dataset shows no evidence of any association. The author nonetheless found one. How? By doing some statistical wizardry.The statistical model used took into consideration the unique characteristics of each state. For example, each state had a unique mixture of pollution, which may have affected the prevalence of autism, yet such an effect was not included in this study. A fixed-effects, within-group panel regression (Hall and Cummins 2005) controlled for these unique yet undefined characteristics by deriving a different starting point (intercept) for each state.The 51 different intercepts - one for each state - reflected the base level of autism or speech disorders occurring in that state that were not explained by the other independent variables (vaccination rates, income, or ethnicity). The model then produced a single relationship between the independent variables and the prevalence of autism or speech disorders.OK, that's all very fancy, but when the raw data shows zilch and you can only find a signal by "controlling for" stuff, alarm bells start ringing. Given sufficient statistical analysis you can make any data say anything you want.If the author had given details of the methods, and explained why she chose to control for the variables she did, and not others, that might be different. But she didn't. Nor did she justify only looking at the effects six years later, when five or seven or ten would be just as sensible... and so on.(Note: whenever I've said "autism", that's my shorthand for autism + SLI, which is what the paper looked at; autism alone data are not presented. Note also that by "vaccination %" I mean "% who got the full vaccine schedule"; the other kids may have got vaccines, just not all of them.)Delong G (2011). A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part A, 74 (14), 903-16 PMID: 21623535... Read more »

  • May 31, 2011
  • 12:25 PM
  • 2,453 views

Ghostbusting with Gozer

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

According to the Ghostbusters Wiki, Gozer the Gozerian (known also as Gozer the Destructor, Volguus Zildrohar, and Lord of the Sebouillia) is an ancient entity who “was originally worshiped as a god by the Hittites, Mesopotamians, and the Sumerians around 6000 BC.” When not visiting retribution on New York in the form of the Stay [...]... Read more »

  • May 31, 2011
  • 11:53 AM
  • 1,457 views

Stressed Lemurs and Grass-Eating Humans

by Laelaps in Laelaps

In his 1960 presidential address to the South African Archaeological Society, the anthropologist Louis Leakey cast the fossil humans that had been found in that country as little more than a collection of evolutionary dead-ends. Leakey didn’t put it quite like that – that would have been rude – but he did utilize the platform [...]... 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  

Leakey, L. (1961) Africa's Contribution to the Evolution of Man. The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 16(61), 3. DOI: 10.2307/3887411  

  • May 30, 2011
  • 06:53 PM
  • 1,663 views

Who really killed Shanidar 3?

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

Fun with footnotes, today at AVRPI!! You'll remember that a couple of summers ago, a study by Churchill et al. (2009) tried to argue that the cut marks on a rib from the Shanidar 3 Neanderthal were the result of a wound inflicted by a modern human on that poor sap. Naturally, the science press had a field day with this, although several commentators argued that the evidence presented by Churchill... Read more »

Churchill, S., Franciscus, R., McKean-Peraza, H., Daniel, J., & Warren, B. (2009) Shanidar 3 Neandertal rib puncture wound and paleolithic weaponry. Journal of Human Evolution, 57(2), 163-178. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.05.010  

Trinkaus, E., & Buzhilova, A. (2010) The death and burial of sunghir 1. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. DOI: 10.1002/oa.1227  

  • May 30, 2011
  • 02:32 AM
  • 1,362 views

Shamanic Initiations: A hidden Theme within the Fairy Tale of Hansel and Gretel

by Franco Bejarano in CulturePotion

While the fairy tale of "Hansel and Gretel" is often regarded as a coming of age story, the tale actually depicts another kind of rite of passage, that of shamanic initiations. The article is a comparative study with the narrative of initiation rituals around the world, along with other figures of folklore.
To say that by defeating the witch, one becomes a witch would be a paradox, especially in the genre of fairy tales that often demonizes witches, however, given the ambiguity attributed to folk tales, and their controversial pagan origins often suppressed by the Abrahamic religions, it is no surprise such elements are present. ... Read more »

Joan Halifax. (1990) The shaman's initiation. ReVision, 13(2), 53. info:/9607292149

  • May 29, 2011
  • 10:53 PM
  • 1,034 views

Health effects from chemical exposures – not just a modern phenomenon

by Ashartus in exposure/effect

When we think about exposures to chemicals causing adverse effects on human health, there is a tendency to view this as a product of modern industrial societies. To some extent this is true – there are certainly potentially hazardous chemicals we are exposed to as a result of our lifestyles, such as volatile chemicals in [...]... Read more »

  • May 29, 2011
  • 06:04 AM
  • 1,177 views

Do Antidepressants Work? The Internet Says...

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

..."yes and no". A while back I blogged about some researchers who analysed internet discussions of antidepressants to work out what users thought about them. Now a new paper's just come out, doing much the same thing but focussed on a single comment thread: Miracle Drug, Poison, or Placebo.Back in 2008, MSNBC ran this article, prompted by the recent publication of the famous Kirsch paper. The article itself was short but the ensuing discussion in the comments rapidly grew to epic proportions. By the end of it there were a total of 1,629 posts by a total of over 1,200 people.In the new paper, author Michael Montagne presents an analysis of the thread. He read through all of the postings and focussed on the ones written by people who had personally taken antidepressants. After excluding obvious spammers and other undesirables (see the picture...), there were still 960 antidepressant users who wrote 1,231 posts.He first looked to see how many people thought antidepressants were "miracle drugs, poisons, or placebos", which was the title of the original article. However, only a handful of people used those terms in their comments. Almost everyone agreed that antidepressants were not just placebos.Users employed a range of metaphors to describe the experience. 45 people described them as "livesaving" and 8 said they were a "Godsend". But 21 accused them of turning them into "a zombie".Down at the bottom of the list were some more unique phrases that only one person used such as "Unleashes a 100 blind monkeys in your brain with instructions to rewire", "Uberpositive girl" and "Robot-zombie wrapped in 4 inches of insulation". That last one could be quite a good horror movie actually.While there were a small number of absolutely negative comments like "evil" and "Devil's drug", the most consistent theme in the metaphors was that of emotional numbing, with the idea that these drugs remove the symptoms by removing the ability to feel (see e.g. "zombie", "robot", "disconnected", "in a bubble", "band aid".) which seems rather ambivalent. However, only about 10% of the users used any metaphors at all, so take that with a pinch of salt.Even more salt is required for this graph I made from the table showing the number of positive, negative and mixed judgements on each antidepressant. I've not shown the data from drugs like tricyclics where there were less than 20 total responses. It's interesting, though, that people tended to be more positive about specific drugs than they were when talking about "antidepressants" in general.There were various other themes in the comments including an ongoing debate between people who said that depressed people ought to seek help from God (who tended to be non-users) vs those who disagreed (who tended to be users). Overall it's an interesting read, but I think it's one of those papers that's more interesting than it really deserves to be. At the end of the day, it's one comment thread on one article on one site.Montagne M (2011). Miracle drug, poison, or placebo: patients' experiences with antidepressant medications as described in postings on an online message board. Substance use & misuse, 46 (7), 922-30 PMID: 21599508... Read more »

  • May 28, 2011
  • 03:18 PM
  • 1,515 views

Religious Evolution: Sami Sticks & Phoenician Stones

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

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 »

Bellah, R. (1964) Religious Evolution. American Sociological Review, 29(3), 358. DOI: 10.2307/2091480  

Stockton, Eugene D. (1974) Phoenician Cult Stones. Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology, 1-27. info:/

  • May 27, 2011
  • 05:14 PM
  • 1,407 views

Non-Chacoan Kivas at Chaco

by teofilo in Gambler's House

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 »

  • May 27, 2011
  • 02:14 PM
  • 1,181 views

Culinary trends in an extinct hominid

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

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 »

  • May 26, 2011
  • 09:02 PM
  • 888 views

What Makes a “Kiva” “Chacoan”?

by teofilo in Gambler's House

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 »

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