A Christmas update

I am writing these sentences from the Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, a small while after witnessing a pilot buy breakfast for everybody in sight at the airport Dunkin Donuts. It’s truly Christmas Eve at the airport terminal and the perfect opportunity to update my egregiously neglected blog. For those who noticed the lack of recent activity, sorry! For everybody else, picture four months or so of deeply rich and insightful blog entries from my first semester of graduate school and stay the hell away from the archives.

Did my last entry really come before the semester even began? The last few months have rocketed by. It is difficult to encapsulate an entire semester in a short summary and boring to regurgitate detail after detail. To spare you the information (and myself the effort) here is a short sample of thoughts and events from Fall 2010.

It’s been an eventful semester in the anthropology world, with a few stories widely discussed by mainstream news sources and the blogosphere. Most recently, analyses of ancient DNA from the “Denislovans,” the most recently described archaic hominin lineage and the first to be designated  principally on the basis of genetic evidence, found 4-6% contribution of Denislovan DNA to modern-day Melanesians. For those who follow this sort of thing, this is from the same German team that sequenced the first Neanderthal genome and found some Neanderthal genetic contribution to modern-day humans. I will reserve judgment until I peruse their paper (published in Nature, doi: 10.1038/nature09710), but this “archaic contribution” finding is looking to be a theme early on as we begin to turn up more and more sequence data from early hominins.

In other news, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) leadership recently opted to remove references to “science” from their mission statement in a stated objective to cast the field of anthropology in a broader and more “public” light. Perhaps predictably, this story erupted and unearthed old questions about the meaning of anthropology and the meaning of science. Given some time to digest this news, I think that reaction to this story was probably overhyped. The AAA leadership are probably not (I hope so, at least) “anti-science” and their actions probably followed the recognition that, while some anthropology is deeply tied to science, not all anthropology is. While the logic behind their actions is debatable–and I certainly have my reservations about it–I think that this should (and will) act as a wake-up call to both sides of the argument to reexamine their work and how it relates to the unified discipline of anthropology. Expect to see a greater presence of physical anthropology and other science-minded anthropological disciplines next year, when the AAAs meet again.

This one received less press, but I was excited to see the first published paper (published in American Naturalist, doi: 10.1086/657443) from a unique partnership of primatologists involved in long-term (22-45 years) behavioral studies involving seven primate species. Life history data from all studies were pooled into a single comparative database and analyzed. This is an exciting wealth of data and I hope to see this approach applied in the near future to a greater number of species and topics.

On a very unrelated note, here’s a collection of illustrations that I drew up during a week of persistent internet connectivity issues (evidence of desperation in a PhD student left with a working computer and no work to do). Enjoy! Call for boarding now. Enjoy your holidays, everybody!

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