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  • January 7, 2011
  • 02:13 AM
  • 852 views

Human Tears Are Not Sexy

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology


Let's have a mature, adult conversation for a moment. I understand that there are lots of things in the world that turn people on in a sensual sort of way. People get aroused by the strangest things, stuff that when you hear about it you think you're being lied to. But women's teardrops are not such a fetish, at least not among the men in a recent study.
Shani Gelstein and colleagues report in the journal Science that human tears not only fail to arouse male test subjects, but the smell of tears actually decreases arousal. The researchers had men sniff two womens' "negative-emotion-related" tears, which were induced by having the women watch sad movies all alone :(
Apparently, most men will think a woman in a picture is less hott (see Tanya Harding, right), when he has just smelled the human female tears that soak the cloth taped to his lip. Having now considered it, I suppose having tears taped under my nose would probably not be an expeditious way to arouse me, either. I shudder at the thought of the man who finds a vial of tears the choice aphrodisiac.
What's more, when the male test subjects smelled plain, unadultered saline solution (as a control) they were less likely to think, "Buzz, your girlfriend - wuff!' but were more amenable think damngrrrl. Testosterone levels also declined after tear treatment, as did sex-related brain activity. Which I figure is synonymous with death for a man. Apparently human female tears send a chemical signal that males receive and it keeps their minds from contemplating ribald grabassery.
So why do humans cry when we get sad? Are tears mere spandrels in the sense of Gould and Lewontin (1979), or do they serve some adaptive purpose for us? I figured it was so other people could more easily detect if we were upset and thereby take advantage of our weakness. But Gelstein and her crew of tear harvesters make a pretty compelling case for some kind of chemical signal. After all, the men never saw pictures of women crying - the women just stared off plain-faced - what differed was males' olfactory exposure to the salty milk of female sadness.
Another question they raise is an interesting one - do all tears make people find others sexually unappetizing? Would women react the same way to man-tears, how would children react to their grandparents' tears? Or what about our tears from crying because of the 'e pluribus anus' flag on Community? Is sexual de-arousal even the selected purpose of tears in the first place?
Needless to say, I'm concerned about our tears. But I'm not gonna cry about it, because it might make women not see me as hott.ReferencesGelstein S, Yeshurun Y, Rozenkrantz L, Shushan S, Frumin I, Roth Y, Sobel N. 2011. Human tears contain a chemosignal. Science, in press. doi: 10.1126/science.1198331
Gould, S., & Lewontin, R. (1979). The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 205 (1161), 581-598 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0086... Read more »

  • January 5, 2011
  • 06:37 PM
  • 2,439 views

Slipping into psychosis: living in the prodrome (part 1)

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

How might it feel to sense your own sanity eroding? Would you realize it? How might you sift the phantoms from physical reality, daydream from delusion, the irrefutable from the implausible? Or, as author Rachel Aviv puts it,
When does a strong idea take on a pathological flavor? How does a metaphysical crisis morph into a medical one? At what point does our interpretation of the world become so fixed that it no longer matters “what almost everyone else believes” [part of the definition of ‘delusion’ in the DSM]? Even William James admitted that he struggled to distinguish a schizophrenic break from a mystical experience. (Aviv 2010: 37)
Aviv wrote in the December issue of Harper’s Magazine: Which way madness lies: Can psychosis be prevented? As Aviv told me in an email, the story arose, in part, out of following young patients at clinics who might be in the prodrome to psychosis, the early stages of experiencing intermittent breaks from shared reality that might lead up to schizophrenia.  Based on interviews with patients and clinicians, Aviv explores how both seek to cope with the warning signs that someone may be sliding toward a definitive break, or ‘conversion’ as it is termed in psychiatry, bolstering the individual’s sense of self and reality against corrosion.
The piece is a powerful, troubling, and thought-provoking read.  Aviv explains:
It is impossible to predict the precise moment when a person has embarked on a path toward madness, since there is no quantifiable point at which healthy thoughts become insane. It is only in retrospect that the prelude to psychosis can be diagnosed with certainty.  (36)
What I particularly appreciate about Aviv’s account is that she writes extensively about the nature of the delusions themselves, about the flow of delusional ideas, their relation to the collapse of a clear sense of self, and the challenges facing an individual who begins to feel the implausible welling up in everyday reality.  She writes that much of psychiatry has tried to get around the specificities of the delusions — Who’s putting thoughts in your head?  How are you being watched?  What sort of ghosts or angels or aliens are following you?
Patients and some clinicians alike have a vested interest in discrediting the content of delusions, dismissing the ideas as errant chemicals or glitches in brain function.  But as Aviv so clearly demonstrates, the specificities of the delusions are both what the patients struggle with daily and the source of the leverage that some of them find to fight off further drift into idiosyncratic worlds.  The delusions matter, both because patients search in them for signs of their truth or unreality, but also because the details of the delusion, not just the fact of having them, arise from our shared reality.
As Aaron (not his real name) told Aviv: ‘What happens if there’s some truth to your delusion? What if it is tied to reality?… They don’t want you to come up with mythical explanations. So they keep telling you over and over again that it’s just your brain’ (44).  This will be part one of a two-part post, the first of which will explore Aviv’s writing and the controversy around prodrome; the second post will follow by tomorrow and talk about the anthropological study of schizophrenia and my own thoughts on the how the content of delusion might affect the experience of psychosis.

Rachel Aviv’s work on prodrome
Rachel Aviv has won a number of awards for writing about mental health, but in 2010 she secured a Writers’ Award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation.  Aviv used the support to follow young people who had been identified as in danger of schizophrenia at a Maine psychiatric clinic and at a specialized clinic in upper Manhattan.  As she explained on the Rona Jaffe Foundation webpage, ‘I am drawn to [the Maine] clinic because it offers a rare glimpse into a community of adolescents self-consciously struggling to maintain their grasp on reality.’
Aviv, out of the blue, sent me her wonderful article in Harper’s Magazine: Which way madness lies: Can psychosis be prevented? (appeared in the December 2010 issue).  Consider it my belated Christmas present to all of you to recommend that you should go read Rachel’s powerful piece, available through Harper’s online archive.  The only reason I haven’t posted something on it sooner is that I wanted to do Ms. Aviv’s piece justice, and it’s taken me longer to do it than I like.
According to Aviv, sixty clinics around the US work on early psychosis, about a third of which focus exclusively on people in the prodrome of psychosis.  The prodrome is:
the aura that precedes a psychotic break by up to two or three years. During this phase, people often have mild hallucinations—they might spot a nonexistent cat out of the corner of their eye or hear their name in the sound of the wind—yet they doubt that these sensations are real. They still have “insight”—a pivotal word in psychiatric literature, indicating that a patient can recognize an altered worldview as a sign of illness, not a revelation.  (36)
In other words, mild (or not so mild) hallucinations alone are not the specific problem with psychosis, but the failure of what we might call the ability to recover the normal, the ‘insight’ to realize that something was a hallucination. Other symptoms seem to precede the onset of serious psychosis — conversion — and demonstrate a process of degeneration.
More recent studies have shown that in the years before people have a psychotic break, they struggle to identify tastes and smells—a banana no longer tastes like a banana, or fresh water begins to carry the odor of mold—and they lose gray-matter volume in certain parts of their brains, particularly the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory.  (38)
In another study, researchers found that subjects with a tendency toward psychosis could discern words in recordings of multiple voices intentionally overlaid so as to make it impossible under normal conditions to understand what was being said.  Normal subjects could not perceive anything.
Part of the loss of reality then was an over-projection of meaning and exaggerated concentration on some aspect of reality that most of us, by consensus, choose to ignore (I’ll come back to this because of course, the consensus is not everywhere the same).
Rachel tells Anna’s story
One thing Aviv brings to the piece in Harper’s is a non-judgmental gentleness and generosity to people who are clearly experiencing the fragility of their own grasp of reality. Aviv tells the story of ‘Anna’ (not her real name), a young woman who had grown up with a schizophrenic mother and lived in fear of following her mother into madness.
Although Anna struggles to communicate her profoundly alien sensations — she described in her personal journal, written while first experiencing troubling thoughts, feeling ‘migrating electrical sensations’ and the sense that ‘words were alive’ (Aviv 2010: 37) — together, Anna and Rachel produce a moving description of the edge of our shared reality. I emphasize this because I don’t want to underestimate the skill of either Aviv or the people she interviewed in piecing together compelling accounts of unusual realities.  As an anthropologist, I very much appreciate the skill of the translator, making another world comprehensible and yet preserving its distinctiveness.
I’m going to take the liberty of piecing together from a number of places in the article a version of the story of Anna because I think it captures with profound sensitivity the fragility of her reality.  Aviv’s (2010) telling of the story is excellent, and I don’t think I can do it justice in paraphrase.
I met Anna last year at her Illinois home, a small, brightly painted town-house apartment, and she tried to pinpoint when she had stopped believing in the reality she’d contentedly inhabited all her life. A petite twenty-eight-year-old with cleanly parted blond hair, she spoke in a thin, strained voice and avoided looking at me. My lips, she said, appeared as if they were moving at a different pace than my voice, and she had to bat away the thought that she was watching a dubbed film.
Anna’s mother is schizophrenic, and Anna had always found her mother’s world-view—derived in part from messages she deciphered in processed-food packaging—distasteful and impossible to comprehend. She assumed that when her mother had a schizophrenic break, the delusions had taken her by force, engulfing her. But an alternate reality did not come to Anna fully formed….
One day, wandering the halls of an academic department, she became fascinated by the physical details of the building: tiny cracks in the wall, a light swit... Read more »

Addington, J., Cadenhead, K., Cannon, T., Cornblatt, B., McGlashan, T., Perkins, D., Seidman, L., Tsuang, M., Walker, E., Woods, S.... (2007) North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study: A Collaborative Multisite Approach to Prodromal Schizophrenia Research. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 33(3), 665-672. DOI: 10.1093/schbul/sbl075  

Corcoran, C., Davidson, L., Sills-Shahar, R., Nickou, C., Malaspina, D., Miller, T., & McGlashan, T. (2003) A Qualitative Research Study of the Evolution of Symptoms in Individuals Identified as Prodromal to Psychosis. Psychiatric Quarterly, 74(4), 313-332. DOI: 10.1023/A:1026083309607  

  • January 5, 2011
  • 12:54 PM
  • 1,144 views

Archaeologists prove the secret to a successful date is knowing what is on the menu

by Alun in AlunSalt

Looking from the outside, one of the most underrated areas of archaeological research at the moment is the Archaeology of the Pacific. It’s possible to make exciting discoveries anywhere in the world. In Polynesia though, it’s hard not to. The reason is that Polynesian archaeology has an odd contradiction. There’s been some excellent research done... Read more »

Petchey, F., Spriggs, M., Leach, F., Seed, M., Sand, C., Pietrusewsky, M., & Anderson, K. (2011) Testing the human factor: radiocarbon dating the first peoples of the South Pacific. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38(1), 29-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.07.029  

  • January 5, 2011
  • 11:15 AM
  • 1,039 views

"Bad-sad-bad" and other responses to death.

by SeriousMonkeyBusiness in This is Serious Monkey Business

Death--every philosopher has a take on it. But what is the take on death from a primatological perspective?... Read more »

Anderson J.R. (2010) A primatological perspective on death. American Journal of Primatology. PMID: 21197638  

  • January 5, 2011
  • 07:22 AM
  • 1,937 views

Maize mystery solved

by Jeremy in Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

Joost van Heerwarden and co-workers have solved a problem in our understanding of maize domestication. Previous work had shown that maize originated from annual called teosinte, Zea mays subspecies parviglumis, a wild species that occurs in low and mid-elevation regions of south-west Mexico. This made the Rio Balsas area, where parviglumis occurs, the most likely [...]... Read more »

van Heerwaarden J, Doebley J, Briggs WH, Glaubitz JC, Goodman MM, de Jesus Sanchez Gonzalez J, & Ross-Ibarra J. (2010) Genetic signals of origin, spread, and introgression in a large sample of maize landraces. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21189301  

Matsuoka Y, Vigouroux Y, Goodman MM, Sanchez G J, Buckler E, & Doebley J. (2002) A single domestication for maize shown by multilocus microsatellite genotyping. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99(9), 6080-4. PMID: 11983901  

Piperno DR, Ranere AJ, Holst I, Iriarte J, & Dickau R. (2009) Starch grain and phytolith evidence for early ninth millennium B.P. maize from the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(13), 5019-24. PMID: 19307570  

  • January 4, 2011
  • 03:51 PM
  • 887 views

Around the web: cognitive sex differences

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

A dissection and link round-up about cognitive sex differences.... Read more »

  • January 4, 2011
  • 02:17 PM
  • 842 views

Legend of the Killer Storks

by Laelaps in Laelaps

What makes a monster? Godzilla, Medusa, Frankenstein’s monster, Fáfnir, the ALIEN, – all these fictional fiends have disparate origins, attributes, and motivations, but they are tied together by their disregard for what we perceive as the natural order. Each is an aberrant creation – something from an earlier age, or something corrupted – that disrupts [...]... Read more »

  • January 2, 2011
  • 12:00 PM
  • 1,455 views

The Language Tree

by Lucas in thoughtomics






In the 17th century, the Japanese shoguns decided that the only Westerners allowed to trade with the Japanese empire, would be the Dutch. By doing so they not only opened up their country to sugar, cotton and silk, they also unintentionally exposed the Japanese language to Dutch words and terminology. Many Dutch naval terms and words [...]... Read more »

Nelson-Sathi S, List JM, Geisler H, Fangerau H, Gray RD, Martin W, & Dagan T. (2010) Networks uncover hidden lexical borrowing in Indo-European language evolution. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. PMID: 21106583  

  • January 1, 2011
  • 05:31 PM
  • 772 views

01/01/2011: Looking forward and backward, so fast you may barf

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

2010 was a big year for anthropology and lawn-chair-anthropologists. There was laughter and crying, and maybe also some yelling. And smiling. Let's take a look back at some of the big events of the past year.Ancient DNA. What a great year for ancient human DNA! In April, Krause and colleagues (2010) announced the sequencing of mitochondrial DNA from a ~50,000 year old girl from Denisova in Siberia. This sequence was twice as divergent from humans as Neandertal mtDNA, which really shocked a lot of people. Then just a week or so ago Reich and colleagues (2010) announced nuclear DNA from the site. The big news was that these ancient humans contributed genes to modern day Melanesians, but not other modern humans sampled. In May, Green and the Pääbo lab announced a draft sequence of the Neandertal nuclear genome. Like with the Denisova story, Neandertal mtDNA is fairly distinct from that of modern humans, and the nuclear genome revealed contribution to some modern humans but not to others. Basically, ancient DNA came out supporting the multiregional model of modern human origins.Malapa hominids. Lee Berger and researchers announced a new fossil site, Malapa, in South Africa. This site yielded 2 partial skeletons (and others forthcoming), including a very well-preserved skull of a subadult. Superficially the thing looked to me like Australopithecus africanus, though the authors argue that it shows some features derived toward the condition of early Homo. But at an estimated 1.75 million years old, it's way too young to have anything to do with the origin of Homo - not to mention its small 400 cubic centimeter cranial capacity. I really don't know what to do with Malapa yet.Woranso-Mille Australopithecus afarensis. This site dates to around 3.6 million years ago, so it's roughly contemporaneous with Laetoli afarensis, or intermediate in age between Laetoli and later afarensis sites like Maka and Hadar. Haile-Selassie and colleagues described a partial skeleton from the site. This male includes part of the pelvis, which didn't get much coverage. But it has a 1st rib, scapula and clavicle, indicating a fairly human-like (rather than ape-like) torso shape. So even for how well we know A. afarensis, we're always learning more about our ancestor.Saadanius hijazensis and catarrhines. I didn't blog about this one at the time as I was getting ready to hit the field. But this was exciting because Iyad Zalmout and friends here at UM discovered and analyzed it. Saadanius was found in ~29 million year old deposits in Saudi Arabia, right around the estimated time of origins of apes. The fossil looks like an Aegyptopithecus to my untrained eye, but apparently may be similar to the last common ancestor of apes and old world monkeys.Field work. I had my first (of hopefully more!) field season at Dmanisi in Georgia. Paleoanthropology would be nothing without fossils, so an important aspect of the job I'd like to do more of is increasing the fossil record. Dmanisi is an amazing place for this, being among the oldest human sites outside Africa, and the interesting 'intermediacy' of the Dmanisi hominids between early Homo and more classic H. erectus. We found some great stuff last year, and I anticipate the site will produce more great fossils in the future. Who knows, maybe more fossiliferous deposits will be found in nearby regions?So it was a helluva year, 2010. What excitement will 2011 bring? Here are some things I'd like to, or expect to, see this year:More ancient DNA - the surprise that many researchers got from Denisova and Neandertal ancient DNA clearly warrants more work on other ancient DNA. What does that of other fossil humans look like? Will the picture of human origins become further complicated (that is, different from paradigmatic out-of-Africa replacement)? In this regard we need to analyze DNA from more late Pleistocene fossils regarded as 'anatomically modern.'a) More about Malapa. I want to say I heard somewhere that there were more hominids than just the 2 presented in the Science paper. These additional specimens will provide further evidence, including what variation within the site was like, and how it fits with other South African specimens. From the appearance of things, these fossils may be late-persisting A. africanus, somehow contemporaneous (roughly sympatric?) with A. robustus and possibly early Homo. Perhaps more work on the geology and taphonomy of Malapa will show it to be older, contemporaneous with the nearby site of Sterkfontein known for abundant A. africanus fossils? Probably not.
b) More hominid sites and fossils in South Africa. One thing that was neat about Malapa was that it was from slightly outside the rest of the South African 'cradle' sites like Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Drimolen, and Swartkrans. When I was in the area in 2008 I went with some researchers on survey of the Sterkfontein valley, new sites are definitely being sought. Perhaps 2011 will see the discovery of more Malapa-like sites?Human fossils from East Asia. Maybe even ancient DNA recovery from the region. East Asia has long been thought to be a potential 'center' of human origins. Earlier in the year, fossils coming from Zhirendong suggest some of the earliest evidence of chin, arguably a 'modern human' feature. Recent fossil and genetic discoveries ought to usher a renewed vigor in examining human evolution in Asia.That's all I feel like doing for now. Happy New Year, all!
ReferencesBerger, L., de Ruiter, D., Churchill, S., Schmid, P., Carlson, K., Dirks, P., & Kibii, J. (2010). Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa Science, 328 (5975), 195-204 DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944
Cann, R., Stoneking, M., & Wilson, A. (1987). Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution Nature, 325 (6099), 31-36 DOI: 10.1038/325031a0
... Read more »

Berger, L., de Ruiter, D., Churchill, S., Schmid, P., Carlson, K., Dirks, P., & Kibii, J. (2010) Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa. Science, 328(5975), 195-204. DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944  

Cann, R., Stoneking, M., & Wilson, A. (1987) Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution. Nature, 325(6099), 31-36. DOI: 10.1038/325031a0  

Green, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M.... (2010) A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021  

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, 107(27), 12121-12126. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004527107  

Krause, J., Fu, Q., Good, J., Viola, B., Shunkov, M., Derevianko, A., & Pääbo, S. (2010) The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia. Nature, 464(7290), 894-897. DOI: 10.1038/nature08976  

Liu W, Jin CZ, Zhang YQ, Cai YJ, Xing S, Wu XJ, Cheng H, Edwards RL, Pan WS, Qin DG.... (2010) Human remains from Zhirendong, South China, and modern human emergence in East Asia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(45), 19201-6. PMID: 20974952  

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  

Zalmout IS, Sanders WJ, Maclatchy LM, Gunnell GF, Al-Mufarreh YA, Ali MA, Nasser AA, Al-Masari AM, Al-Sobhi SA, Nadhra AO.... (2010) New Oligocene primate from Saudi Arabia and the divergence of apes and Old World monkeys. Nature, 466(7304), 360-4. PMID: 20631798  

  • December 31, 2010
  • 10:33 PM
  • 978 views

Cowboy Wash Is Not an Easy Place to Live

by teofilo in Gambler's House

If you stand at the Four Corners monument and look in the direction of Colorado you will see Sleeping Ute Mountain dominating the view.  From this direction you are looking at the southwest side of the mountain, and in front of it you see the southern piedmont.  On the right side of the piedmont, though [...]... Read more »

  • December 31, 2010
  • 05:30 PM
  • 1,066 views

Mapping the “Green Sahara”

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

Guelta d’Archei, Chad. Credit: Dario Menasce. Everyone who is literate knows that the Sahara desert is the largest of its kind in the world. The chasm in cultural, biological, and physical geography is very noticeable. Northern Africa is part of the Palearctic zone, while the peoples north of the Sahara have long been part of [...]... Read more »

Drake NA, Blench RM, Armitage SJ, Bristow CS, & White KH. (2010) Ancient watercourses and biogeography of the Sahara explain the peopling of the desert. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21187416  

  • December 29, 2010
  • 11:03 AM
  • 945 views

Iron Chef: Middle Paleolithic

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

New evidence suggests Neandertals ate cooked foods, and plants at that.
Amanda Henry and colleagues (in press) extracted phytoliths - small mineralized parts from plants - and starch grains from dental calculus found on 2 Belgian (Spy) and 1 Iraqi (Shanidar) Neandertal fossils. I've never seen a study look at this kind of evidence before, I have to say it's pretty neat. Calculus, not just a badass type of mathematics, is mineralized plaque that can build up on teeth. As the Neandertals chewed their foods, the small food particles got trapped in their plaque and this gross matrix hardened onto their teeth. So, if you want to obliterate traces of your diet, and otherwise conform to Western norms of dental hygiene, one thing you can do is be sure always to brush. And floss.Microscopic barley grains. Top row are examples of grains from Shanidar calculus, and beneath each are examples of modern barley to which they are probably related. Fig. 1 from Henry et al. (in press)Types of plants eaten by the Shanidar individual include relatives of modern wheat, barley (see figure), and rye, and what looked like beans and date palm, too. In addition, some of the starch grains bear strong resemblance to plant remains after cooking, probably either by boiling or baking. The Belgian samples provided less broad evidence, indicating presence mainly of some type of underground storage organ (like a tuber) and grass seeds. Many phytoliths and grains were unable to be identified, leaving open the chance that future research on these will uncover utilization of a greater breadth of plants.
This is pretty neat, since studies of the isotopes in Neandertal teeth indicated a strong meat component to the diet. In fact, Neandertals have often been referred to as 'top carnivores.' This new study supports other evidence of a large plant component as well. After all, isotope studies are only one form of evidence of diet. Neandertals weren't just big game hunters, they were hunter-gatherers. What's more, they improved the edibility and nutritive value of their plant (and probably also animal) foods by cooking them. So, this study presents another way in which Neandertals were probably no different from contemporaneous humans.
One has to wonder what these paleolithic meals would have been like. Especially what with claims of cannibalism in some Neandertal sites - perhaps "liver with some fava beans and a nice chiaaanti...fhfhfhfhfhfhfh," to quote Hannibal Lecter. And who would win Iron Chef - the classic Neandertals, or their more 'modern' looking contemporaries?

ReferenceHenry, A., Brooks, A., & Piperno, D. (2010). Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016868108... Read more »

  • December 29, 2010
  • 04:44 AM
  • 2,529 views

What’s the actual size of your personal social network? Some numbers

by ---a in Bodyspacesociety.eu

In 1992 Robin Dunbar proposed a rough estimate of 150. But the "Dunbar's number" pretty much doubled in 1998, when Peter Killworth suggested a mean personal network size of 290. And in 2010 that number doubled again, as Matthew Salganik came up with 610 personal. So who says 1,200?... Read more »

Bickart, K., Wright, C., Dautoff, R., Dickerson, B., & Barrett, L. (2010) Amygdala volume and social network size in humans. Nature Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2724  

Killworth, P., Johnsen, E., Bernard, H. R., Shelley, G., & McCarty, C. (1990) Estimating the size of personal networks. Social Networks, 12(4), 289-312. DOI: 10.1016/0378-8733(90)90012-X  

McCormick, T., Salganik, M., & Zheng, T. (2010) How Many People Do You Know?: Efficiently Estimating Personal Network Size. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 105(489), 59-70. DOI: 10.1198/jasa.2009.ap08518  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 09:18 PM
  • 1,330 views

A Fistful of Teeth – Do the Qesem Cave Fossils Really Change Our Understanding of Human Evolution?

by Laelaps in Laelaps

A handful of fossil teeth found in Israel’s Qesem Cave, described in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and attributed to 400,000 year old members of our own species in multiple news reports, are said to rewrite the story of human evolution. This discovery doubles the antiquity of Homo sapiens, the articles say, and identify [...]... Read more »

Hershkovitz, I., Smith, P., Sarig, R., Quam, R., Rodríguez, L., García, R., Arsuaga, J., Barkai, R., & Gopher, A. (2010) Middle pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave (Israel). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21446  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 10:58 AM
  • 422 views

Denisova the Menace II: Nuclear story

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

Earlier this year, I discussed the publication of a mitochondrial DNA study from a 50,000 year old pinky bone from Denisova in Siberia. The big story there was that the mtDNA of this specimen was twice as divergent (different) from modern humans as Neandertal mtDNA. This suggested to researchers that there was this rogue human group (some [not I] might say 'species') running around Eurasia around the time of the Upper Paleolithic.
Well now they've sequenced the nuclear genome of one of a Denisova denizen. The picture painted is that a Denisova-Neandertal 'lineage' split off from that of modern humans some time in the distant past, then the Denisovans split from Neandertals some time later. Most interesting, modern-day Melanesians seem to derive about 4% of their genes from this 'archaic' Denisovan lineage, whereas this archaic genetic baggage isn't present in other modern human populations.
AMAZING! Think back to the draft of the Neandertal nuclear genome, also published earlier this year. Green and colleagues (2010) reported that the Neandertal nuclear genome revealed that Neandertals contributed up to 4% of the genomes of modern-day non-Africans. Now, the Denisova genome shows that a different and more specific group of modern humans (Melanesians) appears to uniquely share a different set of nuclear genes from an 'extinct' human group.
But if they contributed their genes to modern people, are they really extinct? Of course not! I'm admittedly not a geneticist, but I think what we're seeing here are the genetic signatures of a single, ancient structured population of modern humans. That is to say, all modern humans derive different amounts of their genes from various ancient subpopulations of 'archaic' humans (for 'archaic,' think 'people that lived a long time ago'). There was just little enough contact between these populations for them to have diverged slightly from one another, but still enough contact for them all to have contributed different parts and amounts of genes to people today.
It is weird, then, to see the ancient DNA geneticist Svante Pääbo (out of whose lab this ancient genetic work is done) say this to BBC News:"It is fascinating to see direct evidence that these archaic species did exist (alongside us) and it's only for the last few tens of thousands of years that is unique in our history that we are alone on this planet and we have no close relatives with us anymore."Why are these 'archaic species...alongside us"? The fact that these groups were mixing means that they are a single species - the ability (and propensity) to interbreed is the standard definition of 'species' used in modern biology.
So contrary to Pääbo's quote, I'd say we do have close relatives with us, it's just that modern humans are much more closely to one another related than ancient human populations were to one another. Probably there is more contact between modern human populations, beginning a few tens of thousands of years ago, because population sizes explode to the some 7 billion people we have on earth today. This greater contact means less chance for populations to diverge from one another.
The take-home: We all have multiple ancestors, from various times and places. For more comprehensive and better-informed coverage, check out John Hawks's post on the topic.ReferencesGreen, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M., Hansen, N., Durand, E., Malaspinas, A., Jensen, J., Marques-Bonet, T., Alkan, C., Prufer, K., Meyer, M., Burbano, H., Good, J., Schultz, R., Aximu-Petri, A., Butthof, A., Hober, B., Hoffner, B., Siegemund, M., Weihmann, A., Nusbaum, C., Lander, E., Russ, C., Novod, N., Affourtit, J., Egholm, M., Verna, C., Rudan, P., Brajkovic, D., Kucan, Z., Gusic, I., Doronichev, V., Golovanova, L., Lalueza-Fox, C., de la Rasilla, M., Fortea, J., Rosas, A., Schmitz, R., Johnson, P., Eichler, E., Falush, D., Birney, E., Mullikin, J., Slatkin, M., Nielsen, R., Kelso, J., Lachmann, M., Reich, D., & Paabo, S. (2010). A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome Science, 328 (5979), 710-722 DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021
Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PL, Maricic... Read more »

Green, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M.... (2010) A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021  

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  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 06:00 AM
  • 935 views

When Is A Placebo Not A Placebo?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Irving Kirsch, best known for that 2008 meta-analysis allegedly showing that "Prozac doesn't work", has hit the headlines again.This time it's a paper claiming that something does work. Actually Kirsch is only a minor author on the paper by Kaptchuck et al: Placebos without Deception.In essence, they asked whether a placebo treatment - a dummy pill with no active ingredients - works even if you know that it's a placebo. Conventional wisdom would say no, because the placebo effect is driven by the patient's belief in the effectiveness of the pill.Kaptchuck et al took 80 patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and recruited them into a trial of "a novel mind-body management study of IBS". Half of the patients got no treatment at all. The other half got sugar pills, after having been told, truthfully, that the pills contained no active drugs but also having been told to expect improvement in a 15 minute briefing session on the grounds thatplacebo pills, something like sugar pills, have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes.Guess what? The placebo group did better than the no treatment group, or at least they reported that they did (all the outcomes were subjective). The article has been much blogged about, and you should read those posts for a more detailed and in some cases skeptical examination, but really, this is entirely unsurprising and doesn't challenge the conventional wisdom about placebos.The folks in this trial believed in the possibility that the pills would make them feel better. They just wouldn't have agreed to take part otherwise. And when those people got the treatment that they expected to work, they felt better. That's just the plain old placebo effect. We already know that the placebo effect is very strong in IBS, a disease which is, at least in many cases, psychosomatic.So the only really new result here is that there are people out there who'll believe that they'll experience improvement from sugar pills, if you give them a 15 minute briefing about the "mind-body self-healing" properties of those pills. That's an interesting addition to the record of human quirkiness, but it doesn't really tell us anything new about placebos.Kaptchuk, T., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J., Sanchez, M., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J., Kowalczykowski, M., Miller, F., Kirsch, I., & Lembo, A. (2010). Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome PLoS ONE, 5 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591... Read more »

Kaptchuk, T., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J., Sanchez, M., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J., Kowalczykowski, M., Miller, F., Kirsch, I., & Lembo, A. (2010) Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. PLoS ONE, 5(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 10:51 PM
  • 2,119 views

Meme Theory Today (NSFW)

by Neurobonkers in Neurobonkers

A look at how meme theory can explain the wide spread misquotation of it's own "inventor" Richard Dawkins.... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 09:42 PM
  • 715 views

Was There Any Cannibalism during the “Great Drought”?

by teofilo in Gambler's House

The best-known examples of probably cannibalism in the prehistoric Southwest all cluster in a very short period of time and in a relatively small geographic area: around AD 1150 in the area surrounding the modern town of Cortez, Colorado.  Perhaps the most solidly documented of these assemblages is the one at Cowboy Wash on the [...]... Read more »

  • December 26, 2010
  • 09:39 PM
  • 675 views

What Happened at Cowboy Wash?

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In comments to the previous post, Graham King raises an important question: assuming that the assemblages of broken, burned, and otherwise unusually treated bones at sites like 5MT10010 at Cowboy Wash represent incidents of cannibalism, what does this mean culturally and historically?  After all, cannibalism has occurred in various contexts in many societies, including our [...]... Read more »

  • December 25, 2010
  • 06:41 PM
  • 823 views

Cannibal Coprolite Christmas Continues

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In their critique of the article reporting evidence for alleged cannibalism at site 5MT10100 near Cowboy Wash on the southern piedmont of Sleeping Ute Mountain, Kurt Dongoske, Debra Martin, and T. J. Ferguson challenged many of the conclusions and lines of evidence presented in the article.  Among these was the evidence of consumption of human [...]... Read more »

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