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  • February 18, 2014
  • 09:00 PM

Can you teach a wolf brain new tricks? Some thoughts on artificial selection and brain evolution in canids

by JB in Bone Broke

A few weeks ago, I attended another Evolution and Human Adaptation lecture. The ultimate reason I went to another talk was to expand my mind and learn about the evolution of the human brain, though as always the proximate reason I attended the talk was to avoid working on my NSF draft. This week's topic was "Brain Evolution and Human Uniqueness". Tom Schoenmann, a professor at Indiana University, discussed the strategies that biological anthropologists use to unpack the evolution of human encephalization, or our increase in brain size over and above what you'd expect based on our body size. His research incorporates all sorts of exciting new techniques. Watching him talk about mapping quantitative and qualitative differences between chimp and human brains, I felt like Alan Grant sitting in on Hammond's infamous "Dino DNA" presentation. I didn't even know we could do that! ... Read more »

Guo, K., Hall, C., Hall, S., Meints, K., & Mills, D. (2009) Left gaze bias in humans, rhesus monkeys, and domestic dogs. Animal Cognition, 409-418. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0199-3  

Odendaal JS, & Meintjes RA. (2003) Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs. Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), 165(3), 296-301. PMID: 12672376  

  • February 15, 2014
  • 12:28 PM

Future Humans – How Will Evolution Change Humanity

by JBSheppard in Antisense Science

As environmental pressures decrease, and social changes become more influential, how will human living affect our own evolution in the future?... Read more »

  • February 13, 2014
  • 05:00 PM

Sussing out site taphonomy: Understanding formation processes in the Sonoran Desert

by JB in Bone Broke

Last year I got wind of an exciting project that was being undertaken at the University of Michigan. Jason De León, an anthropologist and professor in my department, was looking for a faunal analyst to examine some bones for him. This project had everything. Taphonomy. Bones. Applied Anthropology. Social Inequality. Borders. Faunal Prep. Osteological Analysis. Animal Behavior. In short, all it was lacking to entice a bioarchaeology graduate student was Poptarts and an unending supply of black coffee.... Read more »

  • February 13, 2014
  • 10:35 AM

Social Complexity and Funerary Practices in Mali

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

The rise of social complexity is in interesting phenomenon. We’ve discussed before how cemeteries can be used to determine differences in social status and groups using the artifacts, burial placement and human remains to locate patterns. Over time though, these relationships shift, and in general they become more complex. Instead of status being based in … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • February 12, 2014
  • 10:28 PM

Inventing languages

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

An objection that is commonly raised against Esperanto and other auxiliary languages is that they are “invented.” Somehow, being “invented” is assumed to give Esperanto a shady character: it’s just not natural. The problem with this view is that – … Continue reading →... Read more »

Mühlhäusler, Peter. (2000) Language Planning and Language Ecology. Current issues in language planning, 1(3), 306-362. DOI: 10.1080/14664200008668011  

  • February 12, 2014
  • 07:47 PM

Scientific Approaches to Enriching the Lives of Sanctuary Wolves and Wolf-Dog “Hybrids”

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Hi Julie and Mia, I wanted to update you on some unique but exciting research that I conducted while working toward my Ph.D. at the University of Florida’s Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab. This particular research focuses on the welfare of wolves and wolf-dog “hybrids” in private sanctuaries.The common use of the term “hybrid” is perhaps the first indication of how poorly we understand these animals. The term “hybrid” is technically inaccurate – as wolves and domestic dogs are considered taxonomically the same species, so “wolfdog” or “wolf-dog cross” is more accurate. It is estimated that there are 300,000-500,000 wolfdogs in the United States, but a solid census – as well as reliable means of identifying them – is sorely needed. Hundreds of wolfdogs are either euthanized or surrendered to sanctuaries - permanent residences for unwanted, abused and neglected wolves and wolfdogs that cannot be adopted out by shelters. Although typically filled to capacity, private sanctuaries have little funding opportunities, often relying only modest private donations and volunteers to keep the facility running and ensure that the animals’ needs adequately met. Consequently, the cost of implementing traditional enrichment items (e.g., toys, objects, scents) to keep the animals stimulated may neither address this goal or prove to be financially feasible. In many cases, the goal of enrichment for captive animals is not only to increase species-typical behaviors and activity levels, but to reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors as well. Interaction with regular, experienced volunteers, however, is an alternative approach. Many animals arrive at sanctuaries with long histories of human interaction, having been obtained by their former owners from breeders at a young age and raised in an environment similar to our pet dogs. The ResearchWe observed three pairs of wolfdogs and one pair of wolves, all of which resided for at least six months at Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary in Green Cove Springs, Florida. For years, owners John and Debra Knight and their volunteers have prioritized daily human interaction sessions to their animals without the use of food-based reinforcers. This provided a unique opportunity for me to examine the effects of human interaction alone on the animals’ behavior. Was there any scientific merit to my observations, or did I simply just want to believe that these animals were responding positively to their new lives? This also seemed to be an ideal opportunity to investigate whether human interaction was a a legitimate enrichment strategy for a captive animal population. The FindingsFor all subjects, the levels of positive, species-typical affiliative behaviors increased, as did their overall increased activity levels. Remarkably, subjects spent significantly more time playing with the other animal in their enclosure when human interaction was provided. In this way, it appears that human interaction also enhances the behaviors between the paired animals.Three wolfdogs also exhibited pacing (widely considered a stereotypic behavior in captive animals) in initial baselines. The pacing was reduced substantially or eliminated for during a human interaction sessions.These findings, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, collectively support the notion that human interaction is in itself enriching for well-socialized wolves and wolfdogs. Needless to say, these results did not come as a surprise to volunteers at Big Oak (or the other sanctuaries I have worked with) – who have spent countless hours closely interacting with their animals. More data is certainly needed to determine if this effect is true for other wolves and wolfdogs at other sanctuaries, as well as the long-term effects of human interaction on behavioral welfare. Although the lack of scientific studies on wolfdog behavior leaves many opportunities to scientists interested in studying them, it poses a difficulty for the general public who seek objective, reliable information on wolfdogs. So, I think it’s worth ending with some recommendations for future reading.You will likely come to find that everyone has their own opinion on wolfdogs – and that is because no two wolfdogs are the same; nor are any of our experiences with them identical. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I look forward to research that continues to examine ways of further improving the welfare of these wonderful – but often misunderstood – animals. Best,Lindsay R. MehrkamPh.D. CandidateCanine Cognition & Behavior LabUniversity of Florida  PS: Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary is in need of donations. Details here: Reading:... Read more »

  • February 12, 2014
  • 05:34 PM

Brief notes on archaeology’s “Grand Challenges”

by Ian Jones in Dug-up Commonplaces

Two papers came out at the end of January — one in American Antiquity and the other a two-page Opinion in PNAS explaining the rationale for the first — with the goal of laying out “grand challenges” for future archaeological work.  Many bloggers much more widely read than myself have already written about them, but […]... Read more »

Kintigh, Keith W., Altschul, Jeffrey H., Beaudry, Mary C., Drennan, Robert D., Kinzig, Ann P., Kohler, Timothy A., Limp, W. Frederick, Maschner, Herbert D. G., Michener, William K., Pauketat, Timothy R.... (2014) Grand Challenges for Archaeology. American Antiquity., 79(1), 5-24. DOI: 10.7183/0002-7316.79.1.5  

Kintigh, Keith W., Altschul, Jeffrey H., Beaudry, Mary C., Drennan, Robert D., Kinzig, Ann P., Kohler, Timothy A., Limp, W. Fredrick, Maschner, Herbert D.G., Michener, William K., Pauketat, Timothy R.... (2014) Grand challenges for archaeology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(3), 879-80. PMID: 24449827  

  • February 12, 2014
  • 12:30 PM

Genome of America’s Only Clovis Skeleton Reveals Origins of Native Americans

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

The remains of a one-year-old boy who died 12,600 years ago in what’s now Montana are giving up exceptional information about the place his people held in American history, and the origins of Native Americans on both continents of the New World.... Read more »

  • February 7, 2014
  • 10:05 AM

A Dog Can’t Teach a Dog New Tricks (But It Can Teach a Wolf)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In a dirt-floored room in Austria, a puppy sniffed and pawed at a wooden box with a treat inside. It circled the box over and over, unable to find a way in. Finally it sat at the feet of a nearby human and looked up at her appealingly, swishing its tail. The woman stared at […]The post A Dog Can’t Teach a Dog New Tricks (But It Can Teach a Wolf) appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

  • February 6, 2014
  • 02:27 AM

Emergency service provision in linguistically diverse societies

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

A few years ago, emergency service provision to speakers of languages other than English in Australia came under scrutiny when an Afghan woman tried to call the police but did not receive any assistance a few days before she was … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 4, 2014
  • 05:00 PM

Humans: Low energy, high payoff

by JB in Bone Broke

One of the recurring motifs in any intro-level Human Evolution class is the importance of bipedalism. I’ve tried to teach this topic in a variety of ways, even going so far as to encourage undergrads to walk like chimpanzees – torso swaying laterally, knees slightly bowed, spine kyphotic. For some reason, they never seem to want to do this in front of their peers. However, one of the easiest ways to get students to appreciate our unique form of locomotion is to emphasize the amount of energy we save by striding around on two legs. Bioenergetic studies since the 1980s have demonstrated that when it comes to locomotor efficiency, we’re actually doing pretty well for ourselves as a species. Humans are at least on par with other quadruped mammals when it comes to locomotor efficiency, and human bipedalism is even more energetically efficient than chimpanzee locomotion (Rodman and McHenry, 1980).... Read more »

Rodman PS, & McHenry HM. (1980) Bioenergetics and the origin of hominid bipedalism. American journal of physical anthropology, 52(1), 103-6. PMID: 6768300  

Kleiber, M. (1947) Body Size and Metabolic Rate. Physiological reviews, 27(4), 511-541. info:/

Pontzer H, Raichlen DA, Gordon AD, Schroepfer-Walker KK, Hare B, O'Neill MC, Muldoon KM, Dunsworth HM, Wood BM, Isler K.... (2014) Primate energy expenditure and life history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(4), 1433-7. PMID: 24474770  

  • February 4, 2014
  • 10:43 AM

Patterns of Trauma and Conflict in Pre-Hispanic Argentina

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Conflict, war and trauma has always been one of the hot topics of historic and archaeological studies. Conflict has often been seen as a pivotal theme in the development and collapse of many civilizations. It can cause groups to unite against one another, as well as divisions between them. In some senses, our own view … Continue reading »... Read more »

Gheggi, MS. (2014) Conflict in Pre-Hispanic Northwest Argentina : Implications Arising From Human Bone Trauma Patterns. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. info:/

  • February 3, 2014
  • 06:00 AM

Ancient California Islanders Relied on Drifting ‘Tarballs’ for Petroleum, Study Finds

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

New research suggests that, for as much as 8,000 years, people on the Channel Islands didn’t have to look to the mainland for their supply of asphaltum. Instead they appeared to have enjoyed a kind of ancient economic independence.... Read more »

Kaitlin M. Brown, Jacques Connan, Nicholas W. Poister, René L. Vellanoweth, John Zumberge, & Michael H. Engel. (2014) Sourcing archaeological asphaltum (bitumen) from the California Channel Islands to submarine seeps. Journal of Archaeological Science. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.12.012  

  • February 1, 2014
  • 02:47 AM

Prehistoric Southwestern Cultures More Mysterious than the “Vanishing Anasazi”

by teofilo in Gambler's House

As I’ve mentioned before in reference to the Fremont culture of what is now Utah, while the Anasazi of the Four Corners region are by far the most famous of the prehistoric southwestern societies, and particularly famous for their allegedly mysterious disappearance, there’s actually very little mystery about what happened to them. They very obviously […]... Read more »

  • January 30, 2014
  • 01:44 PM

"Lewontin's Fallacy" and Race

by Alexis Delanoir in How to Paint Your Panda

Race is a hotly debated topic in both the sciences and politics. One contended issue is whether or not race, as a human classification, exists at a biological level. Richard Lewontin in 1972 argued that it is not so, but one famous paper by AWF Edwards contested his conclusions. So was Lewontin right? This post examines the arguments on both sides and comes to the conclusion, in the author's opinion, that race is not a valuable taxonomy for humans.... Read more »

Rosenberg, NA. (2002) Genetic structure of human populations. Science. info:/

  • January 26, 2014
  • 07:20 PM

The Grand Challenge of Archaeology: Getting young people to respond to a survey, apparently

by JB in Bone Broke

While trawling the internet recently, I was directed to a post on SEAC underground, a southeastern archaeology blog jointly authored by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. One of its authors was perplexed by the results of a … Continue reading →... Read more »

Kintigh, Keith W., Altschul, Jeffrey H., Beaudry, Mary C., & et al. (2014) Grand Challenges for Archaeology. American Antiquity, 79(1), 5-24. DOI: 10.7183/0002-7316.79.1.5  

  • January 23, 2014
  • 07:49 AM

Cemetery or Sacrifice in Carthage… Again

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

About a year and a half ago, I posted an article about the Tophet of Carthage. The cemetery was used for over 600 years, between 730 BCE and 146 BCE, and there are no adult graves found at the site, only those of infants, lambs, and goat kids. The grave markers all have dedications to … Continue reading »... Read more »

J.H. Schwartz, F.D. Houghton, L. Bondioli, & R. Macchiarelli. (2012) Bones, teeth, and estimating age of perinates: Carthaginian infant sacrifice revisited. Antiquity, 738-745. info:/

  • January 19, 2014
  • 05:00 PM

Nickel for your thoughts: Mortuary imagery on early 20th century "hobo nickels"

by JB in Bone Broke

Mortuary imagery on hobo nickels...... Read more »

Kuwahara RT, Skinner RB 3rd, & Skinner RB Jr. (2001) Nickel coinage in the United States: the history of a common contact allergen. The Western journal of medicine, 175(2), 112-4. PMID: 11483555  

  • January 18, 2014
  • 06:21 AM

Recipe discovered for drink Asterix and the VIkings: Nordic Grog

by Chiara Civardi in United Academics

If you have ever seen „Asterix and the Vikings” I am sure you will remember Olaf Timandahaf and its Viking tribe, celebrating and drinking from skull- made mugs. The aim of a new study was to discover what exactly the beverage inside these mugs was.If you are keen to try it, the recipe is as follows:... Read more »

  • January 17, 2014
  • 05:16 PM

“Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia”

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

“Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia” is the title of a recent paper by McMichael et al. published in Proceeding of the Royal Society B. It is not open access but you can read the abstract here. In this paper McMichael et al. present a predictive model for the presence of Terra Preta in Amazonia.  The model predicts the likelihood of finding Terra Preta sites in any given spot within Amazonia.  In general, I liked the idea behind the paper. These models give us an objective basis for further research and discussions. It is thanks to this kind of work that we can go beyond subjective views about the extent of human impact in pre-Columbian Amazonia and start to formulate hypothesis that, through survey and measurement, can be later tested. The first important result of this paper is that, given the data available, we can now estimate that terra preta is likely to be found only in a 3.2% of the forested areas of Amazonia. This is far less than other previous estimates (Erickson, 2008).However, I find the discussion of McMichael et al. a bit disappointing with regards to two points. The first is the meaning they give to the presence of terra preta; the second is the reasons they give to explain the absence terra preta outside of Brazil.What is terra preta? Is it the result of permanent settlement where people cooked and dumped food remains for centuries, eventually causing the enrichment of the soil in with charcoal, phosphorous, organic matter and the rest of elements used to define terra preta? Or is it the result of soil management techniques aimed at improving fertility and agricultural potential? McMichael et al. seem to imply that terra preta is the latter: the result of soil fertility enhancement. They say: “The lack of terra pretas in western Amazonia may be because the Andean-derived soils of western Amazonia did not require nutrient enrichment… [the bold is mine]”. However, this kind of interpretation of terra preta being the result of Pre-Columbian agricultural intensification has been challenged by many authors. Neves & Petersen (2006) discovered that at the Hatahara occupation site (close to Manaus) pre-Columbians actually used terra preta to build burial mounds, which is a strange use for an agricultural soil that took centuries to form. Of course, we cannot exclude that pre-Columbians took advantage of the fertile terra preta for their gardens associated to their homes; in the same way that they could have taken advantage of the fertility of pre-existing middens (see Arroyo-Kalin, 2012 for a discussion on this).But this does not mean that people intentionally created terra preta for agriculture!Recently, Glaser & Birck (2012) concluded their review about the state of the scientific knowledge about the properties and genesis of Anthropogenic Dark Earths in Central Amazonia saying: “there is no scientific evidence indicating that forgotten agricultural techniques for large scale soil fertility improvement are responsible for terra preta genesis”. This leads us to my second concern: what does it mean when no terra preta is found? Here, McMichael et al. suggest that the lack of terra preta indicates that people decided to produce food in some other way, due to cultural and/or environmental reasons. They say: “[In the Llanos de Moxos] instead of terra preta formation, large societies sustained themselves by using techniques such as fish weirs and raised-field agriculture”. But, is it cultivating little gardens that large societies sustained themselves? I think the answer is no. In fact, pre-Columbians living in terra preta sites performed agriculture in the surrounding area, eventually forming terra mulata sites. Terra mulata sites are far larger than terra preta ones. Terra mulata sites do not contain pottery and are far less fertile than terra preta ones, but still, they are richer in organic matter than the normal Amazonian oxisols (more on this here). It is terra mulata that formed because of ancient agricultural use, not terra preta.The main problem we face when tackling the question of terra preta is its definition. The definition that is generally given to terra preta coincides with the description of the geochemistry of a midden (From Wikipedia: an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics, and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation) and there are middens everywhere in the world! As a consequence of this, terra preta sites are now appearing everywhere... We should also keep in mind that the whole terra preta concept is rooted in the context of the big surprise that the first researchers had when they found black organic sediments in the middle of Amazonian heavily weathered soils. In fact, terra preta is often defined (and mapped in the field) in relation to the surrounding soil (Fig. 1). In my view, there is not much that actually differentiates terra preta from other occupation horizons elsewhere. I have seen several places in the Bolivian Amazon that, because of the colour of the soil, concentrations of P, Ca, charcoal etc., would fit quite well into the definition of terra preta (see for example this). It is just that they are not called terra preta, yet :- ). It could be that the absence of terra preta sites outside Brazil is merely the result of researchers giving these kinds of soils/deposits different names in different regions, such as “middens” or “occupation horizons”.Figure 1: oxisol left, terra preta right (from Wikipedia)I think that the, otherwise excellent, paper by McMichael at al. could have benefited from incorporating into their model a database of terra mulata sites, instead of terra preta sites. Or, even better, if they had used a database of pre-columbian occupations, including the archaeological sites known outside of Brazil. This would have provided a more reliable tool for modelling pre-Columbian agriculture (if a terra mulata database had been used) or settlements patterns (if a database of archaeological sites had been used) within the Amazon basin; and for modelling pre-Columbian disturbance of the natural environment.References McMichael CH, Palace MW, Bush MB, Braswell B, Hagen S, Neves EG, Silman MR, Tamanaha EK, & Czarnecki C (2014). Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 281 (1777) PMID: 24403329... Read more »

McMichael CH, Palace MW, Bush MB, Braswell B, Hagen S, Neves EG, Silman MR, Tamanaha EK, & Czarnecki C. (2014) Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 281(1777), 20132475. PMID: 24403329  

Erickson, C.L. (2008) Amazonia: the historical ecology of a domesticated landscape. In: H. Silverman, W.H. Isbell (Eds.), Handbook of South American archaeology. Springer, Berlin, pp. 157-183. DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-74907-5_11  

Neves, E.G., & Petersen, J.B. (2006) Political economy and pre-Columbian landscape transformations in Central Amazonia. In: W. Balée . info:/

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