Posts tagged "anthropology"
Cooking made us human! Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.
Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham has speculated that controlled fires and cooked meat even influenced human brain evolution. He suggests that humans were cooking prey as far back as the first appearance of Homo erectus 1.9 million years ago, just when humans were experiencing major brain expansion, and proposes that cooking allowed our ancestors to evolve larger, more calorie-hungry brains and bodies, and smaller guts suited for more easily digested cooked food.
This is Kristina Killgrove. She works at the University of North Carolina and is a biological anthropologist whose research primarily focuses on theorizing migration in antiquity and on understanding urban development and collapse through the analysis of human skeletal remains. She thinks that the best science story of 2011 is the sequencing of the Black Death genome.
Her blog: http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/
What other scientists think are the best stories of 2011: http://www.livescience.com/17668-scientists-studies-2011.html
Have you noticed that some South American tribes have huge heads? The mystery has been solved! Usually, environmental pressures drive evolution (biotic factors like predators and disease or abiotic factors like altitude, UV radiation, or climate). In the case of the Amazonian Xavánte tribe, sexual selection and isolated cultural practices led to significant changes to their morphology (shape). A full quarter of the tribe’s population was made up of sons of a single chief, Apoena, who had five wives. You can see how being more reproductively successful means that any traits of theirs can quickly come to dominate the population.
Time for bed! The oldest known bedding, sleeping mats made of mosquito-repellant evergreens that are about 77,000 years old, has been discovered in a South African cave. Microscopic analysis of the bedding suggested the inhabitants repeatedly refurbished the mats.
Read more in the Dec. 9th issue of Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1322.1.full
A musk ox is not an ox, nor is it musky. It is one of only two arctic ungulates that survived the end of the Pleistocene Era (last Ice Age) and is genetically adapted to survive the harsh climate of the far North. Its long hair skirt, covering a fine wool coat and a 2-inch layer of fat, allows the animal to retain heat during the long, lean winters. They eat lichens, moss and roots buried in the snow, and Arctic flowers in the summer. It has the longest hair of any mammal!
All populations of animals evolve though random mutations in their DNA, which can sometimes be beneficial and add up to major differences over time. Humans are the only ones who adapt with our wits (called acclimatization, when it happens to an individual) and basically live anywhere! These cool glasses are a way that Inupiaq have acclimatized by protecting their eyes from sun and snow glare.
Here’s a story on NPR about human adaptations and cultural evolution: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129604791
Ancient humans were also mostly right-handed. Scientists from the University of Kansas found evidence of ancient humans’ handedness in an odd place: front teeth. Scratch marks can be used to determine if ancient Homo species, living more than 500,000 years ago, used their right or left hands to process animal hides. During processing, they would stretch the hide by holding one side with one of their hands and the other in their mouth.
There are a whole bunch of implications of this, like the fact that because the brain was lateralized, they probably also had spoken language.
Orangutans living in Borneo scavenge fish that wash up along the shore and scoop catfish out of small ponds for fresh meals, anthropologist Anne Russon of York University reported . Over two years, Russon saw several animals on these forested islands learn on their own to jab at catfish with sticks, so that the panicked prey would flop out of ponds and into a red ape’s waiting hands.
“If orangutans can do this, then early hominids could also have practiced tool-assisted fishing,” Russon said.