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  • July 15, 2010
  • 04:34 PM

Why No Wheels?

by teofilo in Gambler's House

I’m back at Chaco and giving tours again, so I’m once again being exposed to visitors’ common questions and preconceptions in a way I haven’t been in a long time.  One thing that seems to surprise a lot of visitors is the fact that the Chacoans apparently had no knowledge of the wheel, or if [...]... Read more »

Ekholm, G. (1946) Wheeled Toys in Mexico. American Antiquity, 11(4), 222. DOI: 10.2307/275722  

  • July 15, 2010
  • 03:10 PM

Fossil primate Saadanius provides context for the ancient ape/Old World monkey split

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Imagine that there was no primate fossil record. No hominins, no Proconsul, Dryopithecus, no Eosimias, no Darwinius -- nothing. Now, given this dearth of fossil material, you could be excused for systematically organizing primates according to the stark divisions apparent between living species. Our species, while clearly a primate, would seem to stand by itself, [...]... Read more »

Zalmout, I., Sanders, W., MacLatchy, L., Gunnell, G., Al-Mufarreh, Y., Ali, M., Nasser, A., Al-Masari, A., Al-Sobhi, S., Nadhra, A.... (2010) New Oligocene primate from Saudi Arabia and the divergence of apes and Old World monkeys. Nature, 466(7304), 360-364. DOI: 10.1038/nature09094  

  • July 15, 2010
  • 06:08 AM

Detoxifying cassava

by Jeremy in Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

Strategies that minimize one risk…may augment another risk… Peasant farmers are perfectly conversant with such linkages. The neglect of peasant agriculture by both donors and governments is among the deeper causes of current crises, along with the increasing inequality that deprives them of secure tenure to land and other resources, reducing benefits they can expect [...]... Read more »

  • July 14, 2010
  • 03:52 PM

Words as alleles: A null-model for language evolution?

by Wintz in A Replicated Typo

For me, recent computational accounts of language evolution provide a compelling rationale that cultural, as opposed to biological, evolution is fundamental in understanding the design features of language. The basis for this rests on the simple notion of language being not only a conveyor of cultural information, but also a socially learned and culturally transmitted [...]... Read more »

  • July 14, 2010
  • 03:52 PM

Words as alleles: A null-model for language evolution?

by Wintz in A Replicated Typo 2.0

For me, recent computational accounts of language evolution provide a compelling rationale that cultural, as opposed to biological, evolution is fundamental in understanding the design features of language. The basis for this rests on the simple notion of language being not only a conveyor of cultural information, . . . → Read More: Words as alleles: A null-model for language evolution?... Read more »

  • July 14, 2010
  • 10:49 AM

Autism And Wealth

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

We live in societies where some people are richer than others - though the extent of wealth inequality varies greatly around the world.In general, it's sad but true that poor people suffer more diseases. Within a given country almost all physical and mental illnesses are more common amongst the poor, although this isn't always true between countries.So if a certain disease is more common in rich people within a country, that's big news because it suggests that something unusual is going on. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have long been known to show this pattern, at least in some countries, but this has often been thought to be a product of diagnostic ascertainment bias. Maybe richer and better-educated parents are more likely to have access to services that can diagnose autism. This is a serious issue because autism often goes undiagnosed and diagnosis is rarely clear-cut.An important new PLoS paper from Wisconsin's Durkin et al suggests that, while ascertainment bias does happen, it doesn't explain the whole effect in the USA: richer American families really do have more autism than poorer ones. The authors made use of the ADDM Network which covers about 550,000 8 year old children from several sites across the USA. (This paper also blogged about here at C6-H12-O6 blog.)ADDM attempts to count the number of children with autism based onabstracted data from records of multiple educational and medical sources to determine the number of children who appear to meet the ASD case definition, regardless of pre-existing diagnosis. Clinicians determine whether the ASD case definition is met by reviewing a compiled record of all relevant abstracted data.Basically, this allowed them to detect autism even in kids who haven't got a formal diagnosis, based on reports of behavioural problems at school etc indicative of autism. Clearly, this is going to underestimate autism somewhat, because some autistic kids do well at school and don't cause any alarm bells, but it has the advantage of reducing ascertainment bias.What happened? The overall prevalence of autism was 0.6%. This is a lot lower than recent estimates in 5-9 year olds in the UK (1.5%), but the UK estimates used an even more detailed screening technique which was less likely to leave kids undetected.The headline result: autism was more common in kids of richer parents. This held true within all ethnic groups: richer African-American or Hispanic parents were more likely to have autistic children compared to poorer people of the same ethnicity. So it wasn't a product of ethnic disparities.Crucially, the pattern held true in children who had never been diagnosed with autism, although the effects of wealth were quite a bit smaller:The difference in the slope of the two lines suggests that there is some ascertainment bias, with richer parents being more likely to get a diagnosis for their children, but this can't explain the whole story. There really is a correlation with wealth.So what does this mean? This is a correlation - the causality remains to be determined. There are two obvious possibilities: to put it bluntly, either being rich makes your kids autistic, or having autistic kids makes you rich.How could being rich make your children autistic? There could be many reasons, but a big one is paternal age: it's known that the risk of autism rises with the age of the father, maybe because the sperm of older men accumulates more genetic damage, and this damage can cause autism. In general richer people wait longer to have kids (I think, although I can't actually find the data on this) so maybe that's the cause.How could having autistic kids make you richer? Well, unfortunately I don't think it does directly, but maybe being the kind of person who is likely to have an autistic child could. Autism is highly heritable, so the parents of autistic children are likely to carry some "autism genes". These could give them autistic traits, or indeed autism, and autistic traits, like being intensely interested in complex intellectual matters, can be a positive advantage in many relatively well paid professions like scientific research, or computing. Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen recently wrote a book all about that. I hope I will not offend too many when I say that in my experience it's rare to meet a scientist, IT person or, say, neuroscience blogger, who doesn't have a few...Durkin, M., Maenner, M., Meaney, F., Levy, S., DiGuiseppi, C., Nicholas, J., Kirby, R., Pinto-Martin, J., & Schieve, L. (2010). Socioeconomic Inequality in the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence from a U.S. Cross-Sectional Study PLoS ONE, 5 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011551... Read more »

  • July 14, 2010
  • 10:03 AM

Taung, 2.3 Million Years Ago – Scratched bones and fossil primate teeth as keys to a lost world

by Laelaps in Laelaps

On December 23, 1924, the Australian anatomist Raymond Dart chipped away the last bit of rock encasing the skull of a small fossil primate. The specimen had been part of a collection of fossil scraps sent to him from a limestone quarry in Taung, South Africa - not too far from where he was teaching [...]... Read more »

  • July 11, 2010
  • 05:05 AM

Academic capitalism and the spread of English

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

In 2009, I contributed a chapter about the social inclusion of migrants in Australia to an edited book about immigration policy published in Japanese in Japan. The book is doing well – a second edition has just been published – … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • July 8, 2010
  • 03:35 PM

Atlatls to Bows: A Suspiciously Large Arrow

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In comments to the previous post, pato’ links to a recent press release on the discovery of an atlatl dart in a melting ice patch near Yellowstone.  This type of discovery is becoming more common as global warming causes ice patches and glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, releasing artifacts that have been frozen [...]... Read more »

Keddie, G., & Nelson, E. (2005) An Arrow from the Tsitsutl Glacier, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 113-123. info:/

  • July 8, 2010
  • 11:32 AM

Put Down Your iPhone and Watch the Game: Notes on the Home Team Advantage

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Baseball is not golf. Yes, in both sports players attempt to hit a ball with a stick, but that's essentially where the similarities end. Baseball, unlike golf, thrives on the noisy participation of the fans. Golf asks spectators to "remain still and quiet during a player's shot [and] crowds are strongly discouraged from cheering until after a player hits the ball." Baseball will have none of

... Read more »

  • July 8, 2010
  • 08:01 AM

Can linguistic features reveal time depths as deep as 50,000 years ago?

by Wintz in A Replicated Typo

Throughout much of our history language was transitory, existing only briefly within its speech community. The invention of writing systems heralded a way of recording some of its recent history, but for the most part linguists lack the stone tools archaeologists use to explore the early history of ancient technological industries. The question of how [...]... Read more »

Greenhill SJ, Atkinson QD, Meade A, & Gray RD. (2010) The shape and tempo of language evolution. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. PMID: 20375050  

  • July 7, 2010
  • 11:25 AM

The Virtual Experience of Time: VR and Online Games

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

In an earlier post, I explored the conflicts that can result from an attempt to compress time and space (e.g., jet lag). The question I left you with, Readers, was whether the physical and social ripples that result from navigating space-time compression can be minimized online? Recently, I suggested that the Internet may be a timeless state. But does this argument hold in virtual reality? Once

... Read more »

Murray, C., & Sixsmith, J. (1999) The Corporeal Body in Virtual Reality. Ethos, 27(3), 315-343. DOI: 10.1525/eth.1999.27.3.315  

  • July 7, 2010
  • 02:57 AM

Men, English, and international romance

by Lachlan Jackson in Language on the Move

“Japanese guys aren’t the most popular creatures on earth when it comes to romance. Sad but true.” That’s the claim of Meiko Mochizuki Swartz, self-professed bilingual, bicultural ‘expert’ and author of an online book titled Nihonjin no Otoko wa Motenai … Continue reading →... Read more »

Piller, Ingrid . (2006) A passion for English: desire and the language market. Aneta Pavlenko. Ed. Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 59-83. info:/

  • July 6, 2010
  • 05:36 PM

Rethinking Criminology(ies)

by Kevin Karpiak in Anthropoliteia: the anthropology of policing

As I try to put together a course on “Policing in Society” for the upcoming semester at the same time that I try to figure out for myself the place of anthropology in criminology (or vice versa, or somesuch). I came across this article, which I think has particular potential for our discussions here: Rethinking [...]... Read more »

  • July 1, 2010
  • 12:08 PM

What's eating you? - Bugs, bacteria, and zombies

by Laelaps in Laelaps

The trailer for Shaun of the Dead.

Not all zombies are created equal. The most popular zombie archetype is a shambling, brain-eating member of the recently deceased, but, in recent films from 28 Days Later to Zombieland, the definition of what a zombie is or isn't has become more complicated. Does a zombie have to be a cannibal corpse, or can a zombie be someone infected with a virus which turns them into a blood-crazed, fast-running monster?

For my own part, I have always preferred the classic George Romero zombies from the original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead films (as well as my most favorite of zombie films, Shaun of the Dead). The shuffling, groaning masses not only deliver social commentary in spades - i.e. our transformation into mindless consumers inextricably drawn to shopping malls - but the prospect of slowly being closed in by a seemingly unstoppable horde is far more frightening than any sprinting zombie. Nevertheless, there is one thing that bugs me about zombie movies in the classic vein - where are all the flesh-eating insects? Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • June 29, 2010
  • 05:44 PM

Social Networks Help World Cup Spectators Cope With Chance

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Given the reduced volume of World Cup related posts in my Twitter and Facebook streams, it appears that soccer fever is abating the in US. The reach of the World Cup has been far this year, thanks in part to the role of social media outlets in encouraging discussion and raising awareness about the sport. For a few weeks, Twitter and Facebook were inundated with World Cup related posts, with

... Read more »

  • June 27, 2010
  • 01:15 PM

How did the victims of the Plinean Eruption of Vesuvius die?

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Even at the most extreme edges of the flow of stuff out of the volcano Pompeii, at the far edge of the mud and ash that came from the volcano's explosion, the heat was sufficient to instantly kill everyone, even those inside their homes.

And that is how the people at Pompeii, who's remains were found trapped and partly preserved within ghostly body-shaped tombs within that pyroclastic flow, died. They did not suffocate. They did not get blown apart by force. They did not die of gas poisoning. They simply cooked. Instantly. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • June 23, 2010
  • 07:11 PM

Kadanuumuu: All about the torso!

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

A new fossil discovered by Yohannes Haile-Selassie has been announced this week in the PNAS. The partial skeleton, nick-named Kadanuumuu, or “Big Man,” is taxonomically consistent with other postcranial fossils belonging to Australopithecus afarensis. But, there are a few interesting and notable bones represented in this fossil which amend our understanding of how early Australopithecus [...]... Read more »

Haile-Selassie, Y., Latimer, B., Alene, M., Deino, A., Gibert, L., Melillo, S., Saylor, B., Scott, G., & Lovejoy, C. (2010) An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004527107  

  • June 23, 2010
  • 05:37 PM

Ancient "Big Man" Confirms That Humans Stood Tall Early

by Laelaps in Laelaps

The skeletons of Lucy (left) and Kadanuumuu (right). Both belong to the early human species Australopithecus afarensis. (Images not to scale.)

I never fully appreciated how small Lucy was until I saw her bones for myself. Photographs and restorations of her and her kin within the species Australopithecus afarensis had never really given me a proper sense of scale, and when I looked over her incomplete skeleton - formally known as specimen A.L. 288-1 - I was struck by her diminutive proportions. In life she would have only been about three and a half feet tall. Her physical stature seemed to be inversely proportional to the influence her bones have had on our understanding of our origins.

As it turns out, Lucy was small even compared to members of her own species. Although it is unlikely to diminish her notoriety, this week a team of paleoanthropologists led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie have released the description of another, older partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis discovered by Alemayehu Asfaw in the famous Afar region of Ethiopia. The discovery of this skeleton marks only the second time that parts of the forelimbs and hindlimbs of one individual A. afarensis have been found together, and it provides some new insights insights into how early humans moved. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Haile-Selassie, Y., Latimer, B., Alene, M., Deino, A., Gibert, L., Melillo, S., Saylor, B., Scott, G., & Lovejoy, C. (2010) An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004527107  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 11:50 AM

Homo sapiens can bite hard, after all

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Three-dimensional models of hominoid skulls used in the study - (a) Hylobates lar; (b) Pongo pygmaeus; (c) Pan troglodytes; (d) Gorilla gorilla; (e) Australopithecus africanus; (f ) Paranthropus boisei; (g) Homo sapiens. They have been scaled to the same surface area, and the colors denote areas of stress (blue = minimal stress, pink = high stress). From Wroe et al, 2010.

It is all too easy to think of human evolution in linear terms. From our 21st century vantage point we can look back through Deep Time for the first glimmerings of the traits we see in ourselves, and despite what we have come to know about the undirected, branching pattern of evolution, the origin of our species is often portrayed as a slow rise from the ape in which brains eventually overtook brute strength. One of the most prominent examples of this was modifications made to our jaws. It has been widely assumed that, compared to apes and our extinct hominin relatives, we have relatively weak jaws - why should we need to exert heavy bite forces if our lineage developed tools to process food before it entered our mouths? It was our relatives among the robust australopithecines - namely Paranthropus - which obviously developed the strongest jaws, but a new study just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B questions these long-held assumptions.

As outlined in the introduction of the paper by Stephen Wroe, Toni Ferrara, Colin McHenry, Darren Curnoe, and Uphar Chamoli, the hypothesis that our species has a diminished bite force has primarily been based upon the study of other, obviously heavier-jawed hominins. On the surface this would seem to make sense - our jaws are nowhere near as robust as those of those of the multiple species of Paranthropus - yet our teeth seem well-suited to withstanding heavy bite forces. Among living apes, for example, we have the thickest amount of enamel, one of several features we posses which are consistent with the ability of teeth to withstand strong bites. Some have argued that these features are holdovers from when our prehistoric ancestors required stronger bites to process tough foods, but the team behind the new paper decided to create a detailed test which compared the bite mechanics of our species to some of our close hominin and hominid relatives, both living and extinct. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Wroe, S., Ferrara, T., McHenry, C., Curnoe, D., & Chamoli, U. (2010) The craniomandibular mechanics of being human. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0509  

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