Apr 9, 2009 | 4
CHICAGO--Think a little gossip is harmless? Beware: new research says gossiping can be a form of warfare in which information is used as a weapon that could potentially damage a competitor's reputation. An effective defense, according to the study released here last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists: friends.
Study author Nicole Hess, an evolutionary psychologist at Washington State University in Vancouver, says she instructed 500 subjects to imagine that they were competing for a promotion within a corporation. She then had them read a list of positive and negative statements, or “gossip,” about their rival for the promotion, and asked them how likely they would be to relay each tidbit to others in the office.
Apr 6, 2009 | 11
CHICAGO—Neandertals have long been portrayed as dumb brutes. But a growing body of evidence hints that these extinct humans were much savvier than previously thought. The results of a new study presented here last week at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society bolster that view, and suggest that, in fact, Neandertals acted in much the same way as early modern humans.
To compare the behavior of Neandertals and early moderns, paleoanthropologist Bruce Hardy of Kenyon College studied artifacts from a site in southwestern Germany called Hohle Fels. The site contains several levels of archaeological remains. One of these levels dates to between 36,000 and 40,000 years ago and contains tools manufactured in the Mousterian cultural tradition associated with Neandertals. Another comprises items that are 33,000 to 36,000 years old and are made in the Aurignacian style associated with early modern humans.
Apr 2, 2009 | 7
CHICAGO—Scientists have long argued that Neandertal remains from the site of Krapina in northern Croatia exhibit evidence of cannibalism. The fragmentary nature of the bones, along with cut marks on a number of fragments, were said to be signs that our closest relatives feasted on one another. But a new study suggests that the nicks seem to be the result of much more recent handiwork.
Paleoanthropologist and archaeologist Jörg Orschiedt of the University of Hamburg in Germany reported yesterday at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society here that cut marks in the Krapina fossils he studied are randomly distributed and did not necessarily occur in spots that would permit de-fleshing (such as where muscles attach to bones). What's more, the scratches varied – some were shallow and others deep.
Apr 15, 2008
I'm working on a story that will discuss some of the findings presented at the meeting. But in addition to the formal talks there was some interesting hallway scuttlebutt. Hobbit skeptic Maciej Henneberg is proposing that the skeleton known as LB1"”the most complete hobbit by far"”appears on the basis of photographs to have had a filling, possibly a root canal, in its lower left first molar (the M1). If true, this would mean the hobbit is a modern human, not a new species, which is the minority viewpoint that Henneberg and his colleagues have been arguing all along.
Mar 12, 2008
A paper published yesterday in PLoS ONE is fanning the flames of controversy over the wee human remains from Flores, Indonesia. In it paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his colleagues report on small human bones from two caves in Palau, Micronesia. The bones date to between 1,400 and 2,900 years ago. See this story from National Geographic (which helped fund the research) for an account of the discovery.
According to the authors, bones from the older levels of the caves are quite small, even when compared to pygmy populations from Southeast Asia. They may therefore be an example of island dwarfing, a known biological phenomenon in which mammals larger than rabbits evolve smaller proportions as an adaptive response to the paucity of resources available on small islands. Furthermore, these early Palauans exhibit a number of traits that are typically associated with earlier members of our genus, including large teeth, a small face and a non-projecting chin. These characteristics also occur in the hobbits from Flores, and have been used to help make the case that the hobbits represent a previously unknown species of human, Homo floresiensis. But Berger and his colleagues contend that these features may simply arise as a side effect of getting small. And that, they say, "would be consistent with the argument that Flores LB1 [the most complete of the Flores individuals] may represent a congenitally abnormal individual drawn from a small-bodied population of H. sapiens."
Mar 6, 2008 | 1
Dec 10, 2007
Sep 12, 2007
As you may have heard, Alex, the celebrated African Grey parrot, died recently. He was 31. Irene Pepperberg of Brandeis University began working with Alex when he was little more than a year old, hoping to gain insights into avian intelligence. Her pioneering research revealed that Alex was no mere mimic: his skills in language and reasoning rivaled those of chimps and dolphins. (Pepperberg wrote an article for Scientific American describing her work with Alex, available here.) In 1996, former Scientific American editor Madhusree Mukerjee paid Alex a visit at Pepperberg's lab, then at the University of Arizona. Her report from that memorable encounter follows below.
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