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Palaeo Updates: Call for Palaeoanthropologists to Study Rising Star Hominin Remains and Start of John Hawks Human Evolution MOOC

22 Jan

Another quick post here but one that highlights a project that is pretty impressive in its implications for palaeoanthropology.  Also noted here is the start of a MOOC (Massively open online course) on human evolution that may interest the readers of this blog.

The Rising Star Expedition in South Africa has uncovered around 1200 skeletal elements from around 12 individual hominins in the first season of excavation, an unparalleled find in the excavation of palaeoanthropological sites.  Now the project is advertising openly for early career scientists to examine and describe the skeletal remains found in the cave (my favourite quote: “Palaeoheaven has arrived, it’s just solid fossils”).  This is a unique opportunity in the field of paelaeoanthropology.  Typically fossil hominin sites are kept secret with only a lucky few allowed access to prepare, study and describe the fossils once they have been carefully excavated on site and taken to a palaeo laboratory to be looked at in more detail.  This is usually a process that can take years of careful work by a small team.

But the Rising Star Expedition has been different from the very beginning, with key members of the team tweeting and blogging every incredible scene of the South African cave site and openly advertising for participants.  Now the team have advertised for early career scientists to apply for the chance to study the hominin fossils.  As stated on John Hawks blog entry on the advertisement, the Rising Star team want to recruit a large group of scientists to come together for a five-week long workshop in May/June of this year to study the remains and produce the first high quality and high impact research papers on this batch of fossil hominins.

Here is Rising Star director Lee Berger’s open invitation to study the hominin remains gathered from the Rising Star Expedition project in South Africa:


The announcement by Lee Berger, professor at the university of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and describer of Australopithecus sediba, found at the Malapa site.

Graduate students who have finished their data collection, and have the support of their supervisors, will also be considered for the opportunity.  As John Hawks states in his blog post the applicant for the workshop should be very clear in stating their experience and the datasets that they can bring to the project, be clear about your own skills, knowledge and value and do not be afraid to apply.  This is a fantastic opportunity to be involved in the study of human evolution, at the very cutting edge of the research.  I wish all the applicants the best of luck and I look forward to the dissemination of the research itself.

In other news today marks the beginning of the 8 week free MOOC course on Human Evolution: Past and Future produced by the aforementioned palaeoanthropologist John Hawks.  The MOOC, provided by Coursera, takes a in-depth look at human evolution detailing not just the complexity of the fossil record but also of the genetic record.  The course includes all the exciting news from the Rising Star Expedition and exciting footage and interviews with palaeoanthropologists at sites from around the world (including the Dmanisi site in Georgia, Malapa in South Africa and others).

I am particularly looking forward to the discussion of human evolution within the past 10,000 years and the stunning advancements made with extracting ancient DNA from fossil hominins.  I joined this course a few months ago when I first mentioned the course on this blog but you can still join up now.  Just remember that the course is split up into weekly topics so you may not want to miss one.  I have so far watched the majority of the interesting and well presented videos for the first week, the focus of which is our place among the primates.  I cannot wait to join in and participate in the course fully, hope to see you there!

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Highlights: Disability in History, A 7 Year Walk, & Science Writing

14 Jan

The first few weeks of 2013 have been pretty busy so far, but I have noticed several interesting articles that are worth a read.  Regular readers of this blog will know I have a personal interest in disability and it’s effects upon the individual and society, from both the prehistory and historic periods.  As such I am excited to highlight the work of English Heritage and their information on the European centered ‘History of Disability: From 1050AD to the Present Day‘ webpage.  The site has a wonderful overview of the changing attitudes and roles that disabled people faced throughout this period.  Taking in the broad categories of the Medieval period, the Tudors, and the later centuries block by block, the website helps provide information on the social aspects of physical and mental disability in the various period societies.  In conjunction with the website, I also came across this article ‘Graciosi: Medieval Christian Attitudes to Disability‘ by Cusack (1997: 414-419), published in the Disability and Rehabilitation journal, which is free to view on the Academia website.  It is an interesting read, and helps to  introduce the Medieval and later period views on disability and the social implications for individuals affected.

Meanwhile over at the BBC website there is an article on Paul Salopek and the journey he hopes to make over the next 7 years.  Starting in Ethiopia in East Africa and ending near the southern point of South America in Tierra del Fuego, Salopek hopes to walk the entire journey to retrace the journey of early humans and the evolution and expansion of Homo sapiens.  Specifically the biologist and journalist will be relaying his thoughts and encounters with people each and every day of his journey, helping to detail the explosion of modern man, whilst also taking the time to articulate his views via ‘slow journalism’, as opposed to today’s fast paced news sites and blogs.

Directly related to this is a recent entry on John hawks’ weblog, titled ‘Online Communication Bias Upon the Public Perception of Science‘, where the renowned palaeoanthropologist highlights a recent Science article by Brossard & Schuele (2013: 40-41) on the negative effects of science representation in online and digital media.  The comments by Hawks are quite eye opening, as is the original paper (unfortunately behind a pay wall).  The article highlights and relates to the way we (as a public body) consume science articles in the fast moving digital world of journalism through popular and established media, particularly the main papers.  The authors found that the main body of the article is often misunderstood, with the comments sections in particular affecting the readers comprehension of the articles themselves.

So this is a brief update into my recent readings.  The next few blog entries will concentrate on the next Skeletal Series update, which have admittedly been a long time coming.  Further to this I will also write about an exciting and informative methodological update in relation to the ‘Bioarchaeology of Care‘, as espoused by Tilley & Oxenham (2011).  Generously Tilley has emailed me a copy of her recent paper, and it provides further detailed information on how the disabled individuals found in the archaeological record are assessed for care.

‘Personal Stories In Science’ at Deep Sea News

2 Feb

Whilst recently reading over John Hawk’s excellent weblog I came across this entry on embracing personal experience on the rise through science.  The link to the original blog entry, here at DeepSeaNews.Com, concerns how personal experiences can be shared and related to give inspiration to aspiring scientists.  The entry, by Kevin Zelnio, details his experiences of how he ended up pursuing a career in marine biology.  Especially important is his message concerning that whilst his story isn’t unique, his personal details are, and that we all have stories inside of ourselves that can be shared and can help enthuse and inspire other people who are struggling on the path to start a career in science.

As I have blogged about many times before, my bone condition has helped to shape my life to a certain extent, and has largely changed it for the better.  My undergraduate degree, alongside my own medical experiences, have helped me pursue an education in which I have a keen willingness to engage with and to pursue at a higher level.  I enjoy producing art (in a somewhat limited sense!) & enjoy both making and listening to music immensely; I’ve taken part in things in which I’d never thought I’d get a chance.  However, this is only a part of my life.  Whatever I end up doing in the future, I will certainly not regret one day that I have lived.  I won’t bore you with details but I may produce a more personal update sometime in the future, if it will make inspiring reading!

Self Portrait Of My Hand & Foot!

Another part of the picture here is the presentation, research and results from the academic world and the wider release of the results in the public sector.  As a recent post by Kristina Killgrove, here at her blog Powered By Osteons, discusses the recent results concerning the US consultation on public access to scholarly work, with some stiff reactions from the AAA & AIA (whom, for some unfathomable reason, are against Open Access).  As more academics than ever are blogging and sharing research from a number of fields around the world, it is perhaps surprising to find this sort of structured defensive of research that, previously, can take years and even decades to become available to an often very interested public.  As detailed on the blog post, the academic blogs are having a field day in criticising the reactions from the AAA & AIA.  The letter regarding the comments from the AAA is found here

The personal experiences of scientists pursuing careers and the turmoil that they have been through are perhaps now more than ever what a lot of people need to hear, especially in the field of archaeology and archaeological sciences.  As the jobs market constricts nationally & the world economy shrinks, it can be especially disheartening to pursue a dream and realize that sometimes things are just outside of your control employment-wise.  More students than ever are pursuing Master & PhD courses whilst competition to gain a job becomes stiffer then ever; certainly as more qualifications are required, alongside extensive site and commercial experience to become a competitive employee.

As I enter my second semester as a graduate student at the University of Sheffield, I’m starting to realize that I should soon start job hunting and sending out my own CV.  What happens after September when the course finishes, I certainly do not know!  However, I shall take comfort knowing that the path to a science career is not an easy option to take, that I shall sweat to become what I want to be, and to know that working hard can indeed sometimes have its benefits.