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Monday, August 20, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hooray for remote sensing

British archaeologists have discovered an 8000-year-old settlement in the British Channel. The silt deposits have preserved wood and other organic matter:
This discovery just reminds me how maritime archaeology really has great potential here in the Pacific Northwest, either looking at shipwrecks or even hunting for similar stone-age civilizations, and it's a shame it hasn't really taken off yet. I am aware of a lot of cutting edge remote sensing technology and technicians at my current job, and I almost want to develop a match-making service for the archaeologists and the remote sensing scientists. They could make beautiful imagery together! Just look at what they found outside of Angkor:
Apparently the area covers over 1000 square kilometers, or 1000 square miles depending which article you read. The smaller estimate is like saying they found the ruins of the entire L.A. basin. And that's on land, where it's relatively easy to do sensing. What else is out there, people?
Another example of successful maritime archaeology and where remote sensing came in/could have come in handy: A city off the coast of ancient Alexandria was recently discovered:

There is also a load of anth and arch news I've missed out on, but I will try my best to give the top-of-the-hour news report:
There have been several tombs recently discovered all over the lower Americas:

In culture, plants known for having medicinal powers in Uganda are being destroyed by overuse by locals, and by a bid to cut down the rainforest and put in a sugar plantation:
U.S. men are experiencing a backlash of the "metrosexual" and are having operations done to look more manly and rugged:
Researchers in the U.K. are finding a correlation between invading marauders from the north and a rise in demon possessions, and not just a thousand years ago:

On the evolutionary front, speaking of the U.K., England is more genetically homogenous today than it was 1000 years ago, according to Rus Hoelzel:
An odd neanderthal skull is adding fuel to the cross-breeding fire:
And, some scientists are saying that teeth found in Asia show that Europeans came from there instead of Africa:
Plus, Rafe was supposed to write some commentary about the latest Leaky skull found, but in the meantime here's a quick article about it:
Just as a personal comment, I find it hilarious that for the 15 years or so before I was in college there was nothing going on in the field of physical anthropology, and now it seems like they can't stop finding bones.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Women want girly men?

Lynda Boothroyd came out with a study that finds that women think more feminine-featured men make better dads:

While this is nothing new, the conclusion that she makes, that women don't like macho men at all, is a bit overstated. She even goes on to say that we shouldn't look at masculinity as an indicator of genetic fitness. The article doesn't state whether a certain question was asked of the study participants, but it is an important question: Just because these people in the study think the more feminine-looking man would make a better father, which type of man are they more likely to want to have sex with? One is not exclusive to the other. It is entirely likely that women would want to mate with a masculine man but have a feminine man help raise the kid, if they could get away with it. There are cultures where women mate with their husbands but their brothers help raise the kids, so these women don't need to worry about whether their husband will be a good dad, they just have to make sure he's got strong swimmers (so to speak), and a powerful position in society.

I think that she needed to go deeper than she did and not frame her conclusions with such a Western frame of mind.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Genetic structure correlates with suicide risk

Fascinating study out of switzerland, showing yet another possible genetic influence on behavior

"There is convergent evidence from adoption, family, geographical, immigrant, molecular genetic, twin and, most recently, surname studies of suicide for genetic contributions to suicide risk. Surnames carry information about genetic relatedness or distance and, in patrilineal surname systems, are a close substitute for Y-chromosome markers and haplotypes, since surname transmission is similar to the transmission of the nonrecombining part of the Y chromosome. This study investigated whether differences in regional suicide rates correspond to the genetic structure of the Austrian population. METHODS: Differences in district-level standardized suicide rates 1988-94 between the five major surname regions identified for Austria were analyzed. The surname regions used in the analysis reflect the contemporary population structure and closely follow the natural borders found in the topography of Austria, less so its administrative division into nine states. RESULTS: Surname region accounted for a significant (P < 0.001) and substantial (38%) portion of the variance in district-level suicide rates. Adjusting the suicide rates for a set of five social and economic indicators that are established ecological correlates of suicide prevalence (income, and rates of the divorced, unemployed, elderly and Roman Catholics) left the results essentially unchanged. CONCLUSIONS: Regional differences in suicide rates within Austria correspond to the genetic structure of the population. The present evidence adds to related findings from geographical and surname studies of suicide that suggest a role for genetic risk factors for suicidal behavior. Genetic differences between subpopulations may partially account for the geography of suicide. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed."

For the Orangutans, it's all a charade

Doctoral student Erica Cartmill found that Orangutans communicate with each other using gestures, and when their point isn't getting across, they'll adapt their gestures to try and better explain themselves:
Orangutans have been taught sign language before, but Cartmill showed that this is how Orangutans normally speak to each other, or at least to humans who have a tasty-looking banana. These Orangutans had not been taught sign language, and two separate case studies were done at different zoos, so this was really Orangutan improv.
My first thought upon reading this was, "this is is a great demonstration of ape intelligence and how they function together in ape culture."
My second thought was, "I would have loved to do this study if I wasn't so worried about getting my arm ripped off if I didn't give them the banana."