Dogs are particularly good at tasks that involve communicating or cooperating with humans, which has led some researchers to speculate that they are really good at solving social tasks, more generally. For example, dogs can figure out where a human's attention is, are really good at picking up on eye-gaze and finger pointing cues, distinguish among different individual humans (by contrast, humans are really bad at distinguishing among different individual monkeys, for example), and at least in o........ Read more »
Wobber, V., & Hare, B. (2009) Testing the social dog hypothesis: Are dogs also more skilled than chimpanzees in non-communicative social tasks?. Behavioural Processes, 81(3), 423-428. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.04.003
Chimpanzees have culture (or not) depending on your definition.Image: Irish Wildcat / Creative Commons
Author's Note: The following is an expansion on my reply to anthropologist Dan Sperber on the PLoS ONE article "Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees."
Culture is like art or pornography, it's hard for people to define but everyone knows it when they see it. Cultural anthropologists have long struggled to develop a consistent definition of the very thing that they study, a proble........ Read more »
Here is a far-reaching and crucially relevant question for those of us seeking to understand the evolution of culture: Is there any relationship between population size and tool kit diversity or complexity? This question is important because, if met with an affirmative answer, then the emergence of modern human culture may be explained by changes [...]... Read more »
Kline MA, & Boyd R. (2010) Population size predicts technological complexity in Oceania. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. PMID: 20392733
Although some have emphasized the need to breed crops for future climatic conditions, much of the world’s farming population relies on landrace populations, not formal breeding networks.
Undeniable, of course, and a good reason to not forget landraces, or farmers’ local varieties, when thinking about how agriculture will (or will not) adapt to climate change. And [...]... Read more »
Mercer, K., & Perales, H. (2010) Evolutionary response of landraces to climate change in centers of crop diversity. Evolutionary Applications. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2010.00137.x
So say Mijares and colleagues (2010), reporting the discovery of a small human third metatarsal from Callao Cave in the northern Philippines. The paper present a brief overview of fieldwork conducted at Callao since 2003 that exposed Pleistocene deposits at the site. The age of the layer in which the metatarsal was recovered was obtained through Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) and Uranium Series (U-Series) on two cervid teeth, one of which yielded an age of 66 +11/-9 kya.From Mijares et al. (2010:........ Read more »
Mijares, A., Détroit, F., Piper, P., Grün, R., Bellwood, P., Aubert, M., Champion, G., Cuevas, N., De Leon, A., & Dizon, E. (2010) New evidence for a 67,000-year-old human presence at Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines. Journal of Human Evolution. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.04.008
Bonobo Week continues! I'm donating whatever proceeds I receive from my blogging shenanigans for the entire month of June to help the bonobos at Lola Ya Bonobo.
Imagine that you're wandering in the desert and you come across two magic lamps. One lamp grants three wishes. It's your standard sort of magic lamp with a genie in it. (No wishing for extra wishes, of course.) The second magic lamp is, well, a moody magic lamp. It's inconsistent. Sometimes it grants one wish, and sometimes it grants se........ Read more »
Heilbronner, S., Rosati, A., Stevens, J., Hare, B., & Hauser, M. (2008) A fruit in the hand or two in the bush? Divergent risk preferences in chimpanzees and bonobos. Biology Letters, 4(3), 246-249. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0081
"Dinah", a young female gorilla kept at the Bronx Zoo in 1914. From the Zoological Society Bulletin.
Frustrated by the failure of gorillas to thrive in captivity, in 1914 the Bronx Zoo's director William Hornaday lamented "There is not the slightest reason to hope that an adult gorilla, either male or female, ever will be seen living in a zoological park or garden." Whereas wild adult gorillas were "savage" and "implacable" beasts which could not be captured (a photo of a sculpture included ........ Read more »
Merceron, G., Kaiser, T., Kostopoulos, D., & Schulz, E. (2010) Ruminant diets and the Miocene extinction of European great apes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0523
DUNHAM, A., ERHART, E., & WRIGHT, P. (2010) Global climate cycles and cyclones: consequences for rainfall patterns and lemur reproduction in southeastern Madagascar. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02205.x
How does natural selection account for language? Darwin wrestled with it, Chomsky sidestepped it, and Pinker claimed to solve it. Discerning the evolution of language is therefore a much sought endeavour, with a vast number of explanations emerging that offer a plethora of choice, but little in the way of consensus. This is hardly new, [...]... Read more »
Deacon, T. (2010) Colloquium Paper: A role for relaxed selection in the evolution of the language capacity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(Supplement_2), 9000-9006. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914624107
An unexpected gem from last year's Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association: Mind over medicine.Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with psychoanalysis. Rutherford and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of lots of clinical trials of antidepressants. Neuroskeptic readers will be all too familiar with these. But they did an interesting thing with the data: they compared the benefits of antidepressants in trials with a placebo condition, vs. trials with no placebo arm, such as trials com........ Read more »
Rutherford, B., Roose, S., & Sneed, J. (2009) Mind Over Medicine: the Influence of Expectations on Antidepressant Response. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(2), 456-460. DOI: 10.1177/00030651090570020909
One of the issues raised by the recent Sarmiento comments is that of the Miocene apes and the evolution of a short back. All extant apes possess a “short back,” by which we mean a reduction in the lumbar spine combined with an upward elongation of the blades of the pelvis. This back is a nice, [...]... Read more »
McCollum MA, Rosenman BA, Suwa G, Meindl RS, & Lovejoy CO. (2010) The vertebral formula of the last common ancestor of African apes and humans. Journal of experimental zoology. Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution, 314(2), 123-34. PMID: 19688850
Pilbeam, D. (2004) The anthropoid postcranial axial skeleton: Comments on development, variation, and evolution. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 302B(3), 241-267. DOI: 10.1002/jez.b.22
Preuschoft, H., Hayama, S., & Günther, M. (1988) Curvature of the Lumbar Spine as a Consequence of Mechanical Necessities in Japanese Macaques Trained for Bipedalism. Folia Primatologica, 50(1-2), 42-58. DOI: 10.1159/000156333
NAKATSUKASA, M., KUNIMATSU, Y., NAKANO, Y., & ISHIDA, H. (2007) Vertebral morphology of Nacholapithecus kerioi based on KNM-BG 35250. Journal of Human Evolution, 52(4), 347-369. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.08.008
It has been said that "word frequency" is the most important variable in language research, despite the belief by many that it can't be used as a variable because no one really knows what a word is. (see: Minifalsehood: We can't tell what a word is!?!? and A run in my stocking ...)
A recent study in PLoS looks at a heretofore under investigated area, word/character use in Chinese. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Cai, Q., & Brysbaert, M. (2010) SUBTLEX-CH: Chinese Word and Character Frequencies Based on Film Subtitles. PLoS ONE, 5(6). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010729
As digital and social media infiltrate the world of sports, and make teams, athletes, reporters, and information overall more accessible for fans, there is a greater opportunity for fans to connect to the game. This connection is important to the longevity of the franchises, and has largely been borne on the shoulders of the games' announcers. But why bother turning up the volume on the radio or
... Read more »
Hallett, T. (2003) EMOTIONAL FEEDBACK AND AMPLIFICATION IN SOCIAL INTERACTION. The Sociological Quarterly, 44(4), 705-726. DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2003.tb00532.x
Like atlatls, but to an even greater degree, bows are rare in the archaeological record because they were made of perishable materials. While some types of atlatls had more durable attachments such as hooks and weights, bows were almost always made of wood and various fibrous materials, except in some areas where they were made [...]... Read more »
Hibben, F. (1938) A Cache of Wooden Bows from the Mogollon Mountains. American Antiquity, 4(1), 36. DOI: 10.2307/275360
I’ve said quite a lot about atlatls, so perhaps it’s time to move on to the second part of this series. The bow and arrow is a sufficiently popular weapon system even today that it doesn’t need much introduction. It’s important to note, however, that most archaeologists have concluded that the bow and arrow is [...]... Read more »
The skull of a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), photographed at the AMNH's "Extreme Mammals" exhibit.
There was something strange about the assemblage of Homo erectus fossils found at Zhoukoudian - the famous 750,000 - 200,000 year old site in China popularly known as Dragon Bone Hill. Despite the abundance of skulls and teeth, there were hardly any remains of the hominins from below the neck. Where were the bodies?
The majority of Homo erectus fossils from Zhoukoudian were discovered and s........ Read more »
Noel T. Boaz, Russell Ciochon, Xu Qinqi, and Liu Jinyi. (2000) Large Mammalian Carnivores as a Taphonomic Factor in the Bone Accumulation at Zhoukoudian. Acta Anthropologica Sinica, 224-234. info:/
Boaz, N. (2004) Mapping and taphonomic analysis of the Homo erectus loci at Locality 1 Zhoukoudian, China. Journal of Human Evolution, 46(5), 519-549. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.01.007
For those of you familiar with the formal mathematical models of cultural evolution (Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman, 1981; Boyd & Richerson, 1985), you’ll know there is a substantive body of literature behind the process of cultural transmission. It comes as a surprise, then, that experiments in this area are generally lacking. For instance, if we look [...]... Read more »
Mesoudi, A., & Whiten, A. (2008) Review. The multiple roles of cultural transmission experiments in understanding human cultural evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1509), 3489-3501. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0129
Prozac and suicide: what's going on?Many people think that SSRI antidepressants do indeed cause suicide, and in recent years this idea has gained a huge amount of attention. My opinion is that, well, it's all rather complicated...At first glance, it seems as though it should be easy to discover the truth. SSRIs are some of the most studied drugs in the world. We have data from several hundred randomized placebo-controlled trials, totaling tens of thousands of patients. Let's just look and see wh........ Read more »
Dudley, M., Goldney, R., & Hadzi-Pavlovic, D. (2010) Are adolescents dying by suicide taking SSRI antidepressants? A review of observational studies. Australasian Psychiatry, 18(3), 242-245. DOI: 10.3109/10398561003681319
It is well documented that Thomas Robert Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population greatly influenced both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace’s independent conception of their theory of natural selection. In it, Malthus puts forward his observation that the finite nature of resources is in conflict with the potentially exponential rate of reproduction, [...]... Read more »
For some time now, evolutionary biologists have used phylogenetics. It is a well-established, powerful set of tools that allow us to test evolutionary hypotheses. More recently, however, these methods are being imported to analyse linguistic and cultural phenomena. For instance, the use of phylogenetics has led to observations that languages evolve in punctuational bursts, explored [...]... Read more »
Lycett SJ, Collard M, & McGrew WC. (2009) Cladistic analyses of behavioural variation in wild Pan troglodytes: exploring the chimpanzee culture hypothesis. Journal of human evolution, 57(4), 337-49. PMID: 19762070
Greenhill, S., Currie, T., & Gray, R. (2009) Does horizontal transmission invalidate cultural phylogenies?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1665), 2299-2306. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1944
A new study interestingly implies that human activities may not always be bad for biodiversity. Long before the colonizers arrived in South America, indigenous farmers, belonging to the Arauquinoid cultures, had already interfered with the Amazonian biodiversity. Their novel agricultural engineering methods had changed the savannah ecosystem, resulting in increased biodiversity. Thus states the solid paper, on 'Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchi........ Read more »
McKey D, Rostain S, Iriarte J, Glaser B, Birk JJ, Holst I, & Renard D. (2010) Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchiness in Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(17), 7823-8. PMID: 20385814
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