Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Four Stone Hearth - 69th Edition

Welcome to another edition of the Anthropology Blog Carnival known as the Four Stone Hearth. Named for the four fields of Anthropology, I plan to offer this edition's blog posts by those categories, which a bonus fifth category at the end.

Sociocultural Anthropology

We're pretty light on posts involving the observation of extant cultures, but Paddy K has done some informal ethnography at his work place: He wonders if the shared behavior he observed is universal in The Milk Leavers.

Here's another look at ordinary people: The Ordinary People Project at Ethnography.com (found via Savage Minds). Mark Dawson says he is "taking a few months off to drive to Alaska and have conversations with the random people that I meet along the way." He has already posted videos of his first three interviews.


I recently took a seminar on the ancient built environment, so I was immediately intrigued by Theoretical Structural Archaeology. The sad part for me is that I didn't have time to even read post #30 before I pulled all of this together, let alone posts one through twenty-nine (which are all intended to be read in order). This is no fluffy blog with a few tidbits from Geoff Carter's work-- it IS his work. He is using his blog as the primary vehicle to further his research and share it with us.

Tim Jones at Remote Central takes us beneath the waters of Lake Huron where evidence of Paleoindian hunters has been found. Tim not only summarizes the recent discoveries, he places them in the context of the very different environment that existed 10,000 years ago in the area of the Great Lakes (among other things, many parts were clearly above water!).

Under another lake in Sweden (Vänern, the country's largest), a 20-meter-long wreck was discovered and almost immediately touted as the remains of a Viking ship. Martin Rundqvist (the coordinator of this fine blog carnival) was lucky enough to receive photos and x-rays of the Viking weapons recovered from the ship, and rains on the parade when he points out they are neither "Viking," nor "weapons." Read the whole story (and hear Martin's radio appearance on the subject) ar Aardvarchaeology.

Greg Laden sets the record straight on a recent paper proposing a new contributor to changes in the Earth's magnetic field (archaeometric dating is the loose tie-in for our purposes, and it's a good read).

It's Summer time, and that means Field Work. Some arhcaeologists are using their blogs to chronicle their excavations (I'll bet you know of a lot more-- maybe we should compile a more complete list for next time).
  • Mark Henshaw, the Archaeology Dude, will be reporting on his season at the Father Angel Site in Pennsylvania. He's posting videos, too.
  • Brian, at Old Dirt - New Thoughts, reports on his already-completed field season in the Aleutian Islands.
  • Checkout RECAP, sponsored by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) in the UK, which will be publishing digital materials from completed projects over the last decade.

Biological Anthropology / Human Evolution

More secrets revealed from the waters: Tim Jones also has an excellent writeup on a Neanderthal fossil dredged from the North Sea over at Anthropology.net. This is the first time a find like this has been made.

The news of Darwinius masilae set the press and the internet all atwitter (did I say that?), and Carl Zimmer reports that the online journal PLoS One will be publishing a corrected version of the article which formally announced the find. His post at The Loom is titled Darwinius: Science, Showbiz, and Conflicts of Interest

Daniel Lende points us to a list of posts created by his students in his course "Alcohol and Drugs: The Anthropology of Substance Use and Abuse" at Neuroanthropology. They were assigned to look into human compulsion, and wrote some compelling stuff, including this one on Compulsive Internet Use. Daniel also provides some details on how he structured the course and the assignments.

Another post at Neuroanthropology provides links to Trances Captured on Video, providing "film footage of trance states of various kinds–rituals, dance, shamanic, etc."


Wanna be a Linguist? The Linguistic Aanthropology blog has a post listing Universities Offering Graduate Programs in Linguisitics.

Anthropology on the Internet (Bonus Topic)

The internet is changing everything. Information comes to us in many new forms and avenues now that we have the internet, shunting aside not only printed news but even Television sources (for example, people have turned to Twitter to follow current events in Iran, and bashed CNN while they were at it). These posts address the way the internet is changing the way we do anthropology.

John Hawks (what 4SH is complete without a post from him?) discusses a recent controversy about bloggers at scientific conferences, although it doesn't seem to have hit the Anthropology field... yet.

The proliferation of open access journals published online is considered a boon to the open sharing of research, but it looks like "Buyer Beware" still applies. Mike Smith (an Aztec archaeologist) alerts us to the story about a supposedly peer-reviewed Bentham OA Journal which accepted a hoax paper for publication. The submitted paper was created by a very clever article-generating program which puts together very professional-looking articles with figures and tables, and every sentence is technical nonsense.

It's amazing to believe that the Open Anthropology Cooperative already boasts over 900 members, and is about three weeks old. If you haven't heard about it, please visit anthropologie.info for a great introduction. It is a marvelous use of the internet to provide greater access and interaction for anthropologists around the world.

Lastly, Neuroanthropology has an annotated list of various internet tools and resources to help you integrate social networking into your anthropological practice. Anthropologists out there on the interwebs are using Twitter, Ning networks, Wikis, blogs, Livejournal, and more to keep in touch. To be honest, bythe time this blog carnival comes out every two weeks, the people who are really plugged in via these tools have probably already seen it all... are 4SH's days numbered?

Okay, that's it for this time. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the 70th Edition of the Four Stone Hearth in two weeks, hosted at the new home of Afarensis.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Four Stone Hearth #68

Jump on over to Remote Central to read the latest edition of the Four Stone Hearth Anthropology Blog Carnival. This is a big one-- it took me several minutes just to scan it without clicking through!

Oh, and if you like reading the Four Stone Hearth every two weeks, imagine how cool it must be to join the Open Anthropology Cooperative!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Evidence that Neanderthals were Eaten by Humans? Not Yet.

Sometimes, the news media can't resist a sensational, yet false, headline. I caught a glimpse of the following headline:

Humans May Have Eaten Neanderthals

Yep, I clicked through to the news story, and it included these lines:
Scientists and day-dreamers have long wondered, "What happened to the Neanderthals?" those ancient, distant cousins of modern day humans. Well, the answer may be, we ate them.
The story cites a recently published study, and interviews the lead author. I decided to track down the original paper, and was surprised to see that the full article is available online from the Journal of Anthropological Sciences.

I read the abstract, scanned the article, and searched for the word "cannibal." Here is the most relevant quote from the paper:

"In our case, however, contextual pieces of information needed to favour the cannibalistic interpretation are missing."

Silly journalists! Well, the paper does seem to show that Homo sapien and Homo neanderthal remains were found in the same context, so it is interesting. Just not as dramatic as the news headline would have us believe.

Here's the abstract from the journal article:

The view that Aurignacian technologies and their associated symbolic manifestations represent the archaeological proxy for the spread of Anatomically Modern Humans into Europe, is supported by few diagnostic human remains, including those from the Aurignacian site of Les Rois in south-western France. Here we reassess the taxonomic attribution of the human remains, their cultural affiliation, and provide five new radiocarbon dates for the site. Patterns of tooth growth along with the morphological and morphometric analysis of the human remains indicate that a juvenile mandible showing cutmarks presents some Neandertal features, whereas another mandible is attributed to Anatomically Modern Humans. Reappraisal of the archaeological sequence demonstrates that human remains derive from two layers dated to 28-30 kyr BP attributed to the Aurignacian, the only cultural tradition detected at the site. Three possible explanations may account for this unexpected evidence. The first one is that the Aurignacian was exclusively produced by AMH and that the child mandible from unit A2 represents evidence for consumption or, more likely, symbolic use of a Neandertal child by Aurignacian AMH. Th e second possible explanation is that Aurignacian technologies were produced at Les Rois by human groups bearing both AMH and Neandertal features. Human remains from Les Rois would be in this case the first evidence of a biological contact between the two human groups. The third possibility is that all human remains from Les Rois represent an AMH population with conserved plesiomorphic characters suggesting a larger variation in modern humans from the Upper Palaeolithic.

The full paper is here.

UPDATE: John Hawks comments on the sensationalism as well.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Making Your Work Available (Open Access Anthropology Day)

When searching the literature for material to support my own research, Google Scholar is an indispensable tool. Still, there are many articles that look promising, but to which I do not have electronic access (even through my own institution's library).

Self-archiving is a great idea, but many authors do not make their work available in this way. Even if they do, it is often very difficult to find... the availability of the paper on a personal web site does not mean I am going to find a link to it in Google Scholar search results.

One way around this is to self-archive your papers at Selected Works, from Berkeley Electronic Press. This commercial project offers free web pages to individual academics where they can post their own work, and the best part: Papers posted at Selected Works are indexed by Google Scholar.

In preparing for this post, I was testing out whether I could find papers I knew were self-archived. Michal E. Smith, a Mesoamerican archaeologist who is a big proponent of self-archiving (and the creator of Publishing Archaeology), makes his papers available on his own website. I searched for some of these papers using Google Scholar, and found PDFs of them... not on his own page, but at his Selected Works page.

Self-archiving on your own university website is fine (and everyone should do this), but with Selected Works, you get an easy, professional-looking way to make your downloadable publications available and findable via the internet.

Useful links:

Financial viability of open access

You should self-archive your publications

Selected Works

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Were Australopithecines Obligate Bipeds?

In a recent paper published in the journal Nature, Jeremy DeSilva demonstrates that early hominins did not climb like chimpanzees.

By studying the way chimpanzees climb, DeSilva was able to get a detailed understanding of the role their ankles play. While climbing a tree trunk, a chimpanzee's ankles flex and rotate in ways that would be impossible for a human to replicate.

DeSilva compared the ankle anatomy of chimps and humans, and then compared these to fossil tibia and tali (the tibia is the weight-bearing bone of the lower leg, and the talus is the upper foot bone which, along with the tibia and fibula, forms the ankle joint) from over a dozen hominins from 4.12 to 1.53 million years ago.

What he found is that the anatomy of early hominin ankles shows that they were as poorly adapted as humans to the kind of climbing done by chimps. John Hawks has a really good summary on his website, and brings other recent papers and findings into the discussion-- you should read it.

Here's the rub for me: Was Astralopithecus afarensis a facultative or obligate biped? The thinking up until now has been that they were climbers and facultative walkers. The problem here is that many of the adaptations present in the A. afarensis post-cranial anatomy show that a life in the trees is likely far in their distant past (although clearly it it further in our past-- our body mass relative to arm length/strength is all wrong, and we do not exhibit curved finger bones as the australopithecines did).

For climbing, they no longer have an opposable phallux to allow them to grasp branches with their feet, Their arms are not long enough to wrap around a tree trunk (being closer in proportion to humans than chimps), and DeSilva has shown their ankles are no longer adapted to climbing. Take a look at the figure below, which compares the skeletal anatomies of Homo sapiens (a), H. erectus (c), Pan troglodytes, aka chimps (b), and A. afarensis (f) (from Endurance running and the evolution of Homo).

This leaves us with terrestrial locomotion. Their pelvis, knee, ankle, and big toe are all well-adapted to an upright, striding gait, and they could not have moved about as a quadruped, since their arms are simply not long enough. All of this seems to point to A. afarensis being an obligate biped.

I'm not a biological anthropologist, so don't take my word for it... but it's something to think about.


2009 DeSilva JM. Functional morphology of the ankle and the likelihood of climbing in early hominins. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 106:6567-6572.

2004 Bramble DM, Lieberman DE Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature 432:345-352.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Casualty of the Bad Economy

I've always given my employer a lot of credit for being so supportive of my efforts to go back to school, even allowing me to take courses during the day and flexing my schedule to accommodate.

Well, the good times are over here too, it seems. I was notified that full-time employees would no longer be allowed to take college courses during regular business hours. In these tough times, they want to get everything they can out of their existing workforce, and I get that.

When I was taking lower division anthropology courses at the community colleges here in Phoenix, that was no big deal-- most were offered at night. Graduate courses are another issue entirely. This severely restricts what I can do, and certainly eliminates any possibility of attending NAU any time soon.

Lots of thinking to be done...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to NAU?

Sometimes a little thing can make a big difference.

I've been feeling as though my educational plan was stalling-- I'm about to finish the last anthropology course of my B.A., and had no real prospects for next year. ASU won't accept me (since my BA is from there), and I wasn't excited by my UofA experience in Tucson.

I had looked at the Fall 2009 schedule at NAU, but all of the graduate classes I would consider taking were at highly inconvenient times, with any one of them causing me to basically miss a day of work every week. Given the current job market, the last thing I need to do is draw attention to myself by asking for exceptional treatment.

I have no idea why I did it, but I looked at NAU's online schedule for the Fall again... and noticed that Dr. Smiley's Lithic Analysis course had been moved to Tuesday afternoons at 4:00pm!

I applied to NAU as a non-degree-seeking grad student, and e-mailed the professor to make sure he was OK with me taking the class. He replied almost immediately that I was welcome to take the class, so I guess I'm heading North next semester.

How does this fit? Well, if I apply and get accepted into the NAU Masters program for Fall 2010, I can already have 6 graduate hours to apply to the program (plus 3 more transfer credits for the graduate seminar on the Preclassic Maya I took in Tucson).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Slow Semester

After two straight semesters of graduate seminar courses (which were a lot of work, but that I enjoyed immensely), I have an easy load this semester. I am only taking a single undergraduate course: ASM 246, Human Origins, taught by Donald Johanson (as I described back in November).

Johanson is an enjoyable lecturer: Always friendly, explains things clearly, and has great stories from his fieldwork in Africa. My only disappointment is how much of this material was already covered in ASM 104. This makes it more difficult to sit through the lectures, since there's so little "aha" information (at least for me).

The light load has left me with a lot more time for my personal research projects, yet I find that I am squandering a great deal of the extra time and not making much headway. Why is it that the more time we have for something, the less efficient we are at getting things done?

I read a great story in the New York Times about an author, Simon Sinek, who discovered he got a lot less writing done when he reduced his travel and had more time for writing. It seems that he did most of his writing on the plane, and the inevitable dead battery in his laptop provided a sense of urgency that motivated him to write quickly.

Does this mean I need a greater workload to be more productive? Perhaps...