Archive | April, 2012

On Travel Writing By Paul Theroux

23 Apr

Lake Palace, Jaipur. Photograph by Norman Koren 2004.

“And then, after lunch one day in Jaipur, I decided to leave.  Thanks to the train, it was easy to do.  I went to the station, where the train was waiting.  I got on.  The train left.  I simply evaporated.”

Quoted from ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’ by Paul Theroux.

A Clarion Call For Guest Blog Entries

19 Apr

Archaeology, and all of it’s related disciplines, heavily depend on collaboration between various people’s, projects, institutions and countries worldwide.  Blogging can play its part in informing a new audience of goings on, recent finds and new approaches in research in various disciplines.  Blogging can open up research projects to the public and allow opportunities for various sets of people with broad-based skill sets to inject their own knowledge into projects, often in new and interesting combinations.   Science is an inclusive discipline and encourages a broad audience to digest and produce results based on research and experiments adhering to a peer review process.  An interesting example comes via John Hawks own advertisement of the Malapa Soft Tissue project, a project which aims to investigate hominin skin preserved from a 2 million year old site in South Africa, and openly calls for people to join in the research.

These Bones of Mine hopes to introduce the basics of human osteology to a new and disparate audience, whilst also discussing and highlighting interesting news from the archaeological world and beyond.  I also hope it to be a site where information can be passed on to interested sectors of the internet audience.  Therefore, I heartily welcome guest posts on a range of topics.  These include, but are not limited to, the following range of subjects:

  • Osteology (both human and animal)
  • Archaeology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Archaeological Practice (experience of fieldwork, units etc)
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Palaeoanthropolgy
  • Ethnography
  • Palaeontology
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Palaeobotany
  • Genetics
  • Palaeogenetics
  • Forensic Anthropology

Alongside outside subjects such as Human Rights Issues, Heritage at Risk, Cultural Sociology, and Literature or Music.  Any subject within these titles will be considered, and I am particularly keen on prehistory, human osteology, and the effects of an holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the research of archaeological remains.

Please feel free to email me at the following address with ideas for blog posts: thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com

Do not be offended if the subject matter is not appropriate or if I do not reply quickly the academic year is quickly filling up with approaching essay deadlines, dissertation research  and conferences to attend.  The guest posts should be referenced as appropriate (Harvard style) and not extend beyond 2000 words.  Images are welcome, as is the inclusion of the writers own thoughts and interests.  I cannot offer any monetary funding, nor will I openly advertise commercial or private sector companies.  Thank you for your time.

Previous guest blogs include the following (top most recent):

Further updated posts can be found on the ‘Guest Posts‘ tab.

The Worrying Times of Internet Freedom

15 Apr

Whilst I haven’t broached this topic before on this blog, I have mentally chewed through the subject for some time.  How much information do I give out via the internet?  How much is safe and secure?  I had an amazon account, deleted it out of disgust, then reactivated it as I realised it was one of the few places I could buy certain books or music cd’s.  I joined http://www.academia.edu only to realise there doesn’t seem to be a way to privatise your information on the site.  This very blog itself has information on myself and my activities.  Facebook seems to be selling my information left, right and centre, and, as of recent, my own Government seems to be happy to snoop on every aspect of my technological life if certain laws are passed.  How far is too far?  How much should social networking sites pander to governments in general?

Yet the counter point would be to say that this is my choice; largely, that I have decided to spread myself across the internet, that vast domain of the free that is not owned by any singular entity.  I write because I want to write, and yes, sometimes this blog deviates from its meanderings in the study of human remains.

Yet, I still can’t shake that hypocritical shaggy dog off my shoulder- why is my own government trying to enact laws to intercept my every call, text, email and internet browse that I do?  When there is such a clusterfuck of abuse of Britain’s libel laws that dominate in comparison to other European countries- should I trust the government with my own information?  Indeed, they might as well sell my information like the social networks do, and gain some monetary value from its citizens- perhaps that will pay of the enormous amount of debt the country is in, and perhaps stop some of the ‘austerity measures’ that, so far, seem to target the poor, old and infirm.

There are of course questions unasked and answers not given in this post; I am merely chewing through some ideas about my own identity that I myself have put out into the world.  Britain is far from alone in seeking to curtail the freedoms (both real and ‘on-line’) of its population.

As of this and last year (2011/2012), there seems to be a sustained attack on internet freedom, largely conducted by the UK, USA and the EU trying to pass various bills (SOPA, CISPA etc) to enact and engage with excessive and unneccessary spying of online data, often in real time.  Part of this is likely as a reaction to the extraordinary ‘Arab Spring’, London Riots etc, and partly carried out under the guise of national and international ‘security’.

Although we are a democratic country, we should not be idle in our own introspection and development.  We should be active participants in the way we shape and engage with our own country, and the world at large.

Indeed, as I am not a technological junkie (far from it), I shall continue to hand write letters to my friends across the world.  As far as I know, these are some of the few private messages I send out!

Some news, opinion and vital sites for internet freedom:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120302/05420517946/uk-government-pressuring-search-engines-to-censor-results-favor-copyright-industries.shtml  (UK Government Crackdown On Search Engine Information).

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/201241373429356249.html  (UK Censorship).

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2012/03/police-protest-meadows-public  (Public Protest Crackdown).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/15/web-freedom-threat-google-brin  (Internet Threat From All Sides).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/17/walled-gardens-facebook-apple-censors (Internet Walled Gardens).

http://www.wikileaks.org/  Wikileaks provide perhaps one of the most important functions on the internet- accountability for most governments on an international scale.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/audio/2012/apr/24/tech-weekly-podcast-tor-anonymity Article on Tor, the program that allows you to remain anonymous online.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_cispa_corporate_global/?tta  Sign the Avaaz petition to urge the USA to drop the CISPA bill which will give the US excessive and unnecessary Internet surveillance powers.

Evolutionary Thoughts

7 Apr

I’m currently writing an essay on the origins and definitions of Anatomically Modern Humans (Homo sapiens species), and it is an endlessly fascinating (and confusing!) topic.  Recent finds and reports have complicated the picture but have also opened up the delightful hominin evolutionary line (Jurmain et al 2011).  It is also necessarily a wide ranging subject with researchers pinpointing various features of AMH throughout the palaeoanthropological record (Jurmain et al 2011, Pettitt 2005, Tattersall & Schwartz 2008).  By seperating out the modern skeletal anatomymodern behavioural characteristics and genetic information as they appear in the fossil and archaeological record, it is my view that this approach highlights the ever changing nature of what it means to be a modern human.  This triad approach allows the investigator to realise that different aspects of what is typically expressed as AMH traits (Tattersall & Schwartz 2008: 50), whilst taken as a whole, can also be expressed at differing times due to several factors.

From our earliest anatomically modern traits described in the crania of Omo Kibish 1 & 2 from 195,000 years ago (Pettitt 2005), to cultures and symbolic behaviour attributed to populations throughout Africa by 100,000 years ago, and the evidence of the first dispersals of AMH out of Africa around 80,000-60,000 years ago (Wood 2005), it is clear that AMH have spread far beyond their homeland.  However the continuing work of researchers in Africa and elsewhere in the world has also highlighted the rentention of archaic features in certain AMH populations; examples include the intriguing Iwo Eleru crania found in Nigeria (Harvatie 2011, and Dienekes’ Anthropology post here) and the recently described Chinese skeletal remains reporting a complex evolutionary history of East Asian AMH (Curnoe et al 2012).  This can be attributed to various reasons, such as the admixture of those AMH with archaic hominids or population isolation.

Recent email communication with my friend and fellow blogger Confusedious has also highlighted the varied genetic changes in recent populations of Homo sapiens.  His excellent post on gene culture coevolution is a detailed and elegant essay discussing rapid and modern genetic changes in H. sapiens regarding disease loading in populations, gene expression and selective gene adaptation; largely as a result of agricultural uptake and increased population density (Barnes et al 2011, Hawks et al 2007).  Recent molecular work on the origin of TB (Smith et al 2009 & previously wrote about here by me) has helped highlight the need for a nuanced approach in treating the disease in modern populations.  Examples include indigenous Papua New Guinea people and the Torres Strait Islanders, who do not have a genetic history of coevolution with the disease from the practise of intense animal husbandry, and who are now threatened by today’s demographic pressure and population expansion of those who do, and who have selectively adapted to it (Barnes et al 2011).

In conclusion, the gestalt of the Homo sapiens species may be instantly recognizable to some (Tattersall & Schwartz 2008), but there are a number of factors that intertwine, such as skeletal morphology, genetic change and behavioural adaptations, that produce a species that emerged roughly 200,000 years ago and are continuing in their adaptations to this world.

Bibliography:

Barnes, I., Duda, A., Pybus, O. G. & Thomas, M. G. 2011. Ancient Urbanization Predicts Genetic Resistence to Tuberculosis. Evolution. 65 (3): 842-848.

Curnoe, D., Xeuping, J., Herries, A. I. R., Kanning, B., Tacon, P. S. C., Zhende, B., Fink, D., Yunsheng, Z., Hellstrom, J., Yun, L., Cassis, G., Bing, S., Wroe, S., Shi, H., Parr, W. C. H., Shengmin, H. & Rogers, N. 2012. Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians. PLoS ONE. 7 (3): 1-28. e31918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

Harvati, K., Stringer, C., Grun, R., Aubert, M., Allsworth-Jones, P., & Folorunso, C. A. 2011. The Later Stone Age Calvaria from Iwo Eleru, Nigeria: Morphology and Chronology. PLoS ONE. 6 (9): e24024. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024024

Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G. M., Harpending, H. C. & Moyzis, R. K. 2007. Recent Acceleration of Human Adaptive Evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (52): 20753-20758.

Jurmain, R., Kilgore, L. & Trevathan, W. 2011. The Essentials of Physical Anthropology, International Edition.Belmont:Wadsworth.

Pettitt, P. 2005. ‘The Rise of Modern Humans’. In Scarre, C. (ed) The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies. London: Thames & Hudson. pp 124-175.

Smith, N. H. Hewinson, R. G. Kremer, K. Brosch, R. & Gordon, S. V. 2009. Myths and Misconceptions: The Origin and Evolution of Mycobacterium tuberculosisNature Reviews: Microbiology. Vol 7: 537-544.

Tattersall, I. & Schwartz, J. H. 2008. The Morphological Distinctiveness of Homo Sapiens and Its Recognition in the Fossil Record: Clarifying the Problem. Evolutionary Anthropology. 17: 49-54.

Wood, B. 2005. Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Don Epic: Life Scatters Into Innumerable Streams

1 Apr
‘When swept out of its normal channel, life scatters into innumerable streams.  It is difficult to foresee which it will take in its treacherous and winding course.  Where today it flows in shallows, like a rivulet over sandbanks, so shallow that the shoals are visible, tomorrow it will flow richly and fully.’

Quoted from the Russian epic novel And Quiet Flows The Don (1934), by Mikhail Sholokhov.

The Don River. Photograph credit: Gorodnjanski 2007.