Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Checkout a Real Anthropology Blog

While researching Paranthropus, I stumbled across a blog authored by John Hawks, a Biological Anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He blogs about recent articles by others, his own research, and general news in the world of Anthropology. This is now one of my favorite stops on the information superhighway.

You should definitely stop by.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Why Should I Have to Decide? I'm not even 45!

Every time I take courses in a new anthropological subdiscipline, I love it. I started with an infatuation with Archaeology, then fell head-over-heels for Social/Cultural Anthropology. Now, I'm only a couple of weeks away from completing my first Biological (formerly known as "Physical") Anthropology course, and I can't get enough.

ASM 104 has been as easy as its low number indicates, but I have hung on every word. I already knew the overview of the story of human origins, and we even covered it for a couple of weeks when I took ASB 222 (Buried Cities and Lost Tribes). I just wasn't prepared for how interesting it would actually be.

Paranthropus boisei
Every time Heather Smith (the instructor) would move to the next slide of her extremely organized class materials, I had more questions... questions that I'm sure she never expected to be answering in a 100-level course, although she had no problem doing so (she's a Ph.D. candidate at ASU in Biological Anthro).

I was sitting at a table during one of our lab sessions, looking at across at a skull of Paranthropus boisei (previously known as Astralopithecus boisei). I knew there was significant sexual dimorphism w.r.t. body size, yet the anterior teeth (incisors and canines) were not really any bigger than my own (this is true for P. boisei males and females).

Gorilla gorilla
I was wondering: How that could be? In extant (currently living) species of apes, not only were males much bigger than females, but the guys also posess very large canines. But here was a 2 million year old hominid where the males were much bigger in size, yet they lacked the large teeth for threatening (or attacking) other males.

(I think it is interesting to note that both P. boisei and G. gorilla are vegetarians. The enormous sagittal crest along the top of the their skulls was an anchor for the large temporal muscles needed for chewing fibrous plant stuff).

Recent hypotheses propose that this was an indication of monogamy in P. boisei-- that perhaps the males didn't have large incisors because they didn't need them for male-male competition over females because each male mated with a single female... "just like humans."

I immediately had felt like there were a couple of problems with this line of thinking. First and foremost, humans were not monogamous until very recently in our history. Nearly all documented human cultures in the past (and many still today) featured polygynous marriage patterns. Monogamy is a pretty recent idea for humans, and still far from universal.

Second, representatives of the Paranthropus genus thrived for a million years on this planet, and in spite of their small canines, males were significantly larger than females. Humans, on the other hand, show only slight dimorphism in comparison.

Oh boy... I'm getting pretty wordy here. Suffice it to say, I have another hypothesis to counter the "Paranthropus was just like us... monogamous" argument, but I'm keeping the details to myself until I can do some proper research and write something up. Yep, I'm working on an outside-of-class research project. See how totally consumed I am by this new thing?

I'm probably taking a Linguistics course next semester, so I can go crazy over my final anthro discipline.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

A Busy Semester

Week five of the semester has come and gone, and it is finally taking its toll. I'm not behind yet, but I can feel it slipping away. Two classes at once may be biting off too much.

This weekend will probably tell me how the rest of the term will go: I have a 5-page paper due in my Indians of the Southwest course, and I still haven't begun to write. It's a good course. Dr. John Martin is an engaging and entertaining lecturer, as long as he's not reading from his notes. He's had so much first-hand experience with the cultures here is the Southwest that he has a great story on every subject.

I was lucky enough to visit Havasupai canyon in June, and was all the more interested in the Hualapai and Havasupai when we covered them in class. Dr. Martin knew quite a bit about them, and when I was reading about them in Volume 10 of the Handbook of North American Indians, I discovered why: John Martin lived with the Havasupai for a year and used them as the subject for his doctoral dissertation (he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1967).

I've really been enjoying my Physical Anthropology class! Learning about primate anatomy, elementary genetics, and human evolution has been a blast (although it is very easy at this level).

I'll post my paper as soon as I get it done.

Update: It's done. Here's the PDF version of my paper on the Tewa Origin Myth.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Field School at Elden Pueblo

I just today finished a week-long archaeological field school at Elden Pueblo, just North of Flagstaff, Arizona.

This was my second full week at the Arizona Archaeological Society field school, directed by Peter Pilles. He is the staff archaeologist for the Coconino National Forest, and is the director of the Elden Pueblo Archaeological Project.

Elden Pueblo is a 65-room pueblo with trash mounds, smaller pueblos, kiva, a large community room, and numerous pit houses that both pre-date and are contemporaneous with the main pueblo. It is the type site for the Elden Phase of the Northern Sinagua tradition (A.D. 1150-1250).

I spent the entire week finishing off work on Pithouse 8, a masonry-lined, rectangular pithouse which had been abandoned , burned, and filled. Later, an above-ground pueblo was constructed on top of the filled pithouse.

Our objectives were to clean out fill which had accumulated since last season, attempt to excavate in search of the South pithouse wall, and expose a bit more of the profile on the East side of the 8-foot deep excavation.

We were able to clarify the stratigraphy of the East side of the pit, but never located the South wall. We found hundreds of large pottery sherds, a few pieces of worked obsidian, and some animal bone.

It was a great experience. Due to the importance of identifying and analyzing all the levels in the pithouse, Peter Pilles spent several hours in our unit, guiding us through the identification of the strata. He can see things I would never have found on my own, yet were obvious once he pointed them out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Semester Ended Well

That's because my grade report finally came in for ASB 311: I got an "A"! The take-home final was not that easy, and I was a little afraid that I might end up with a B+.

I'm already registered for next Fall. I'll be taking another class from Dr. Martin (Indians of the Southwest), as well as an introductory course in physical anthropology from Mesa Community College (Stones, Bones, and Human Evolution).

I glad it's Summer, but it's gonna be over soon!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Additional Graduation Requirements

I had an appointment recently with an advisor from ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) where we discussed how many of the classes from my first B.S. would apply toward the new B.A. in Anthropology.

It looks like the requirements are stiffer than when I originally attended in the mid 1980s. In addition to all of the courses required for my major, I will also need to take courses which meet the following requirements. Many of them could count toward my major:

ASU General Studies
"L" Classes - "Literacy and Critical Inquiry" (6 hours needed, so pick two)

"C" Courses - "Cultural Diversity" (3 hours needed, pick one)

"H" Courses - "Historical" (3 hours needed, pick one)

CLAS - College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
"HU" Courses - "Humanities and Fine Arts" (3 hours needed, pick one)

"Bridge" Course (3 hours needed, pick one)

This totals up to 18 hours of additional requirements, although I can definitely take 9 of these hours as part of my major. Still, that's three additional courses whicch I did not expect to take.

For details on these new courses, see my updated plan.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Back to Work

The Spring semester has begun, and I'm finally attending class at Arizona State University.

I'm taking ASB 311, Principles of Social Anthropology, from Dr. John Martin. It was pretty cool to be back on the ASU campus after all these years! I was amazed at how much looked exactly the same as when I attended there in the early 1980s. I felt a bit out of place in the classroom with 40 other students, all of them appearing to be less than 22 years old.

We're going to begin by studying the Dobe Ju/'Hoansi, and follow that with in depth looks at three other cultures.