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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:

risingstarr2014

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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John Hawks Announces Free Online ‘Human Evolution: Past & Present’ Course for 2014

7 Apr

The palaeoanthropologist professor John Hawks has released news about an exciting and innovative massive open online course (MOOC) entitled ‘Human Evolution: Past and Present’.  The course is to be taught online and will begin in January 2014.  John Hawks is a well known anthropologist who studies the bones and genetics of ancient humans, and is the Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The course will detail all the latest aspects of continuing research into human evolution, and the course will feature expert interviews, mini-documentaries, guided laboratories, participatory science, as well as looking to the future of human evolution with the ‘impact of technology on our future evolution’.  This represents the best of open access science, and the chance to participate in a truly worldwide educational initiative.

Importantly Hawks announces that:

“This course and all its materials will be open and free for anyone, anywhere in the world. As of this moment, more than 6500 people have already signed up for the course. The course is still more than nine months away, and I’ll be developing materials across the entire time up through January” (emphasis mine).

Update 30/01/14

Sadly due to US export restrictions the US goverment have now banned Coursera MOOC courses in Sudan, Iran and Cuba.  This frankly illogical banning of the freedom of education is indicative of the worst aspects of a government.

Further Information

  • Read more on the announcement of the MOOC on the John Hawks weblog here, and sign up here for the course.  This is a fantastic initiative and one not to miss if you are interested in human evolution and human osteology.