Archive for the ‘anthropology’ Category

U.S. Government Will Allow Religious Nuts to Bury a 1 of a Kind Scientific Specimen

February 13, 2017

Democrats like to paint Republicans as being anti-science and of course this is true.  Republicans dispute scientific facts about everything from the harmful effects of pollution to the fundamental basis of biological science.  But when it is politically expedient, democrats can be just as anti-science.  On September 28, 2016 democrats caved-in to religious nuts who want to bury an extremely rare specimen where it will be lost forever to science.  The specimen is known as Kennewick man, first discovered 20 years ago.  It’s a nearly complete skeleton of a man who lived 9,000 years BP.  Skeletal remains of humans from this age in North America are so rare that only a few have ever been discovered.  The Army Corps of Engineers was going to let Native American tribes bury this precious specimen shortly after its discovery, but some scientists banded together and sued for the right to study it.  They won in court and luckily we now have increased our knowledge about the life of early archaic man in the Pacific northwest.  In 2015 a genetic study of this specimen determined Kennewick man shared a common ancestry with modern Native-Americans.  Unfortunately, this gave new legal momentum to the religious nuts who want to perform a ceremonial burial with the specimen, even though the study did not show any direct relationship with the tribes that inhabit the region today.  An amendment introduced by a democratic congresswoman was attached to a bill signed by then President Obama that will let these idiotic Indians throw away any more potential scientific knowledge we can learn about Kennewick man.  Future advancements in science could give us the opportunity to glean further knowledge from the specimen, but alas, unless there is another successful lawsuit, this rare specimen will be lost.  And it’s all because of the unnecessary deference given to stupid superstitions.

This clay facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man or "the Ancient One" was carefully sculpted around the morphological features of his skull, and lends a deeper understanding of what he may have looked like nearly 9,000 years ago. The remains will be repatriated to Columbia Basin tribes for traditional burial under legislation passed by Congress. Photo: Brittney Tatchell, Smithsonian Institution

The government is going to let ignorant Native-Americans bury this 9000 year old skull. A nearly 1 of a kind scientific specimen will be lost to science forever.

Image result for Obama is a shithead

I didn’t realize that Obama and the democrats were just as anti-science as the republicans.

In my opinion all religion is brainwashing for simple-minded people, and scientists know this, though they are often reluctant to say so.  If this dispute involved Christian fundamentalists, many scientists would be loudly protesting this amendment.  I’m sure they would call them “bible thumpers.”  But they seem unusually quiet about this because they are afraid of being called racist or politically incorrect for getting in a conflict with an indigenous belief system.  Well, I won’t be silenced.  I have no tolerance for ignorant beliefs no matter what group spouts them.  These Native-Americans are pushing their religion on us, and I think it is an outrage.  This specimen doesn’t belong to them.  They did not personally know Kennewick man.  None of their great-great-great-great-great grandparents knew Kennewick man.  In fact the ancestors of some of these tribes may have even fed upon Kennewick man’s kin.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/native-american-cannibalism-and-dog-eating/ ) Their claim on this specimen is based on phony political correctness. They can’t demonstrate to which tribe Kennewick man belonged, probably because none of the tribes existed yet when he lived.  So all the 5 tribes of the Pacific northwest (Umatilla, Nez Pierce, Colville, Yakama, and Wanapum) are going to share the burial ceremony, and the specimen is going to be buried in a secret location to prevent disinterment. How ridiculous.  What politically correct bullshit.  When Europeans discover thousand year old human specimens in Europe, no group ever comes forward to claim they have the right to the remains because they are relatives.  Human remains are not sacred…they are just bones.

Image result for Stupid Native american ceremony

Native Americans on their way to bury scientific knowledge.

After I die I do not want to be cremated.  I want to be buried, so there is a chance my remains could be discovered by scientists 30,000 years in the future.  They can study or do whatever they want with my skeleton, and I’m pretty sure I won’t care.

Heinrich Events Caused Annual Mass Whale Strandings during the Pleistocene and early Holocene

October 10, 2016

Despite the universal chorus of politicized alarmists, earth is currently experiencing a period of relative climatic stability compared to the dramatic climatic fluctuations that occurred during the Pleistocene.  The presence of vast ice sheets in the northern hemisphere contributed to this ancient climatic instability.  Glaciers blocked rivers, creating huge glacial lakes.  Warm spikes in average annual temperatures weakened the ice dams and caused breaches.  Massive outflows of frigid fresh water and icebergs periodically flooded into the North Atlantic, shutting down thermohaline circulation.  The gulf stream normally carries tropically heated water into the North Atlantic, and this keeps overall climate temperate, but after torrents of cold fresh water stopped this process, average annual temperatures dropped as much as 15 degrees F in less than a decade, precipitating severe stadial conditions that lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years. These meltwater pulses are known as Heinrich events, named after the scientist who first recognized this cycle.

During Ice Ages warm stages of climate cyclically caused glacier dams to burst, releasing massive amounts of cold fresh water plus icebergs.  This shut down the North Atlantic Gulf Stream which brings tropically heated water north, resulting in a sudden decline in average annual temperatures.

A graph showing average annual temperature fluctuations over the last 100,000 years from data gleaned inside Greenland ice cores.  Cyclical Heinrich Events caused the sudden declines in temperatures.

I assumed Heinrich Events severely disrupted marine ecosystems, causing decisive population declines in most fish and other ocean fauna, though a few species may have benefitted from reduced competition or other factors.  But I thought there would be no paleontological evidence because preservation and detection of animal remains during brief time intervals in marine environments seemed unlikely.  However, a recent paper highlights evidence that Heinrich Events were detrimental to marine life.  Scientists found this evidence in a seaside Sicilian cave named la Grotta Dell’Uzzo.  This cave had previously revealed the Pleistocene remains of mammoth, rhino, lion, red deer, and wild boar.  Humans have also periodically occupied this cave from the late Pleistocene through the Holocene, and scientists have excavated human skeletons, artifacts, and food remains.  Chemical analysis of human bones found in the cave helped scientists determine the diet of the hunter-gatherers who occupied the cave during the early Holocene.  They ate red deer, wild boar, shellfish, fish caught near shore (such as grouper), acorns, grapes, and wild beans and peas.  However, 1 human specimen and 1 red fox bone, dating to 8200 BP, revealed an interesting difference. Both the human and the fox ate unusual quantities of whale meat during their lifetimes.  Red foxes don’t normally include whale meat in their diet, and humans from other generations of cave dwellers here hardly ever exploited this resource. Moreover, whale bones with butcher marks on them were found associated with the human and fox specimens in the same strata.  The scientists who examined this evidence determined humans exploited climate-driven whale strandings at this locality.

Mass stranding of pilot whales in Australia.  Heinrich Events disrupted marine ecology and caused high annual mortality among many species of whales.

File:De- San Vito lo Capo, Zingaro-NatSchGeb, Uzzo-Grotte.jpg

Evidence of early Holocene mass whale strandings was discovered in this seaside cave in Sicily, known as la grotto dell’Uzzo.

The last major Heinrich Event occurred 8200 years ago, following the final dissolution of glacial Lake Agassiz in Canada.  This massive meltwater pulse disrupted fish migrations and reduced fish populations, making it harder for many species of whales to find prey.  Stressed and malnourished whales are more likely to strand on beaches.  The Gulf of Castallammare, adjacent to la Grotto Dell’Uzzo, is an acoustic dead zone difficult for whales to navigate.  This is where frequent, probably annual, whale strandings occurred for centuries, and the evidence suggests humans and foxes exploited this resource.  Based on the zooarchaeological record, the most common species of whales stranded here were pilot whales (Globicephala melus), Risso’s dolphin ( Grampus griseus ), and short-beaked common dolphin ( Delphinus dolphio ). Frequent whale strandings likely occurred worldwide following Heinrich Events.  Off the coast of North America dire wolves, bears, and other large carnivores scavenged this wealth of protein during the Pleistocene.  There were certain spots, such as the 1 in Sicily, where carnivores learned to regularly search for this bounty.  Carnivore populations may have been higher near the coast due to this additional resource.  Unfortunately, evidence of these sites were long ago inundated by rising sea level.

Reference:

http://www.nature.com/articles/srep16288

Marcello, Mannino; at. al.

“Climate-driven Environmental Changes around 8200 Years Ago Favored Incidences of Cetacean Strandings and Mediterranean Hunter-Gatherers Exploited Them” 

Scientific Reports 2015

 

A Viable Scientific Explanation for why Africans Dominate Sports

September 10, 2015

Thomas Jefferson declared that “…all men were created equal…” Everybody knows this statement isn’t literally true.  When I was a little guy in grade school I wanted to become an NFL star.  Then I ran track in the 7th grade and much to my disappointment discovered there were many faster runners than me.  I knew I was too small and slow to ever make it as a professional football player.  Later in life, I wished I was 3 inches taller because I learned the chicks dig taller men.  Alas, I realized in some respects I was even less than average.

Thomas Jefferson didn’t actually mean all men were created equal, but he did believe all men should be treated equally under the law.  The subject of this blog entry is a touchy topic, so I want to make it clear that I agree with  the true meaning of Jefferson’s declaration, and I don’t believe in discriminating against people of varying races or religions.  I do not believe any race is superior to any other, though there are clear physical differences between races.  My essay is based on scientific facts published in peer-reviewed literature.  A scientific fact can not be considered racist or bigoted.

Athletes of African descent dominate running and jumping events in track, basketball, and certain positions in football such as running back, wide receiver, and defensive back.  There is not a single white cornerback in the NFL and only a handful of white running backs. This disparity can’t be explained by socio-economic factors alone.  While it is true that the average African-American family is economically poorer than the average white family, the total population of poor white people in America far outnumbers the total population of poor black people.  The pool of potential white participants who would like to escape poverty by playing basketball in the NBA or cornerback in the NFL is large but there are very few able to compete at that level due to a lack of natural ability.  There is an interesting and viable scientific explanation for this disparity.

Africa is the original birthplace of the human race.  Genetic studies show the original home of all species includes a more genetically diverse population.  After a new species evolves, they colonize new regions.  The populations that colonize new regions descend from the smaller gene pool that invaded the new territory. The history of Homo sapiens is an especially excellent illustration of this concept.  The ancestors of all Homo sapiens currently living on earth originally evolved in south Africa about 200,000 years ago.  About 60,000 years ago, a small population of humans left Africa and eventually the ancestors of this group spread throughout the world.  The entire population of Europeans, Asians, and Australian aborigines descend from just 1 or a few tribes that left Africa long ago.  This means Africans are more genetically diverse than the people who colonized the rest of world.  There is more genetic diversity in an African village of 70 people than there is in all of China.

The Khomani bush people of south Africa are the oldest race known.  Scientific studies show they are genetically the most diverse people in the world.  All of humanity descends from their ancestors.  Photos of Khomanis are remarkable.  Of course, they all have dark skin, but their facial features show a wide variation.  Some look Caucasian, some look Asian, and some have Negro features.

Khomani African Bushmen are genetically the oldest human race.  Their ancestors are the ancestors of tribes that gave birth to other Africans, Caucasians, and Asians.  Facial features within this tribe vary–some look Asian, others Negroid, and some resemble Caucasian.  Note the woman on the left.  She looks Asian, while the baby has Negroid features.

These Khomani children could almost pass for white.

As the descendants of the Khomani colonized the rest of Africa, the various tribes became geographically isolated.  Humans evolved in Africa for 140,000 years before any left the continent, so the overall population on this continent remained genetically more diverse than the human populations in the rest of the world.  This genetic diversity meant extremes in various body types were more pronounced in Africa than in Europe and Asia.  For example 7 foot tall Watusi tribesmen lived within miles of 4 foot tall pygmies.  Studies show that people who lived in west Africa evolved (on average) an higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers than any other population of people.  This made them extraordinary sprinters and jumpers.  This explains why all cornerbacks in the NFL  and most Olympic sprinters are of west African descent.   Studies show that people living in east Africa evolved the ability to produce more energy producing enzymes.  This helps with long distance running and explains why Kenyans are dominating marathon running.

Image

Pygmy tribes live just a few miles from the very tall Watusis, demonstrating the amount of genetic diversity in Africa.  You won’t find any pygmies in the NFL or NBA.  Almost all African-Americans in those sports leagues are of west African descent located to the northwest of pygmy tribal areas.

finish line in men's 100 meters at olympics

The average human of West African descent has an higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers than other humans.  This explains why people of West African descent dominate sprinting, basketball, and certain positions in football such as running back, receiver, and defensive back.

Studies have also found that the average African has a greater bone density than the average white person.  This durability aids in contact sports.  Africans have a much lower rate of developing osteoporosis and hip fractures.  African women are less than half as likely to suffer hip fractures when they get older than white women.  They are even less likely to get hip fractures than white men.  However, this greater bone density is a disadvantage in competitive swimming.

Note: None of these minor physiological differences are related to intelligence in anyway.

References:

Entine, Jon

Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and why We’re Afraid to Talk About it

Public Affairs 2000

Henn, Brenna; et. al.

“Hunter-gatherer Genome Diversity Suggests a Southern African Origin for Modern Man”

PNAS 2011

Hockberry, Marc

“Racial Differences in Bone Structure”

Transactions of American Clinical Climatological Annual 2007

Survival of the Fittest and Dwarfism–A Paradox

September 4, 2015

The concept of natural selection forms the basis for the Theory of Evolution.  Environmental forces select the fittest members of each population to pass on their genes.  Most people think survival of the fittest means selecting the biggest, fastest, and strongest; and that is often true.  However, insular evolution (the evolution of species on islands) shows that survival of the fittest can mean the opposite as well.  During the Pleistocene many species of megafauna became stranded on islands.  Islands are often devoid of large predators.  Megafauna evolved to a greater size in response to predation, so without the presence of predators, there was no longer selective pressure toward a larger size.  Smaller individuals were just as likely to survive.  Moreover, these smaller individuals had an advantage on islands where less food was available.  On continents megafauna could migrate to different regions when forage became scarce, but they didn’t have this luxury on islands.  Smaller individuals were more likely to survive during times of scarcity because they required less food.  This explains the tendency toward dwarfism among Pleistocene megafauna that lived on islands.

During the Pleistocene there were 8 species of dwarf ground sloths living on Cuba, 7 on the island of Hispaniola, and 1 on Puerto Rico.  Megaloncus rodens was 1 of the species that lived on Cuba, and it grew to 200 pounds.  By contrast the smallest species of continental ground sloth grew to 500 pounds.  Dwarf ground sloths survived in the Caribbean until as recently as 4700 BP, about 1200 years after humans colonized the region.  Humans must be responsible for their extinction because there was no major climatic change during this time period.

Skeletal mount of Caribbean dwarf ground sloth (Megalocnus rodens) next to a paleontologist in 1920.  All continental species of ground sloths were larger than men.

Full-sized Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus colombi) swam to the Channel Islands off the coast of California and eventually evolved into a dwarf species known as Mammuthus exilis.  Evidence suggests they arrived as early as 250,000 years BP and survived 2 complete glacial/interglacial cycles but became extinct when men found the island.  The late surviving population of mammoths living on Wrangel Island off the Alaskan coast were not a dwarf species, but those living on St. Paul’s Island off Alaska were.

Each island in the Mediterranean Sea had its own species of dwarf elephant or mammoth.  Dwarf elephants lived on Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, and Stylus (now underwater).  Dwarf mammoths lived on Crete.  Every time sea level fell in response to glacial expansion, new waves of elephants colonized these islands, and all evolved into dwarf species.  Distances were shorter between the mainland and the islands during glacial expansions, and it was easier for these large animals to swim there.  Some of these dwarf species were still large animals, weighing as much as 500 pounds, but others reached heights of just 3 feet tall.

Size comparison between human, full sized elephant, and 2 different species of dwarf elephants.

Some Mediterranean islands also hosted populations of dwarf hippos.  Sicily, Malta, Crete, and Cyprus were home to 4 different species of dwarf hippos respectively.  There were 3 different species of dwarf hippo living on Madagascar until 1000 years ago when humans wiped them out.

Hippo in Middle~Late Pleistocene Mammalian by sinammonite

Artist’s depiction of extinct Mediterranean dwarf hippos.  P. minor lived on Cyprus, H. melitensis lived on Malta, H. creutzburgi lived on Crete, and H. pentlandi lived on Sicily.

Stegodon floresiensis insularis was a dwarf species of elephant that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores.  It shared the island with a dwarf hominid, Homo floresiensis, known famously as the hobbit.  This hominid likely evolved from Homo erectus, but in isolation from the parent population became a dwarf species.  The hobbit grew to 3.5 feet tall and had the brain capacity of a chimpanzee.  Nevertheless, the area of their brain associated with language was well developed, and they may have been as intelligent as modern humans because their ratio of brain capacity to body size was similar.  They hunted dwarf stegodons.  Komodo dragons and even marabou storks were a threat, especially to juvenile hobbits.  Homo floresiensis lived as recently as 14,000 BP.

Artist’s depiction of real life hobbits (Homo floresiensis) battling marabou storks on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Ground sloths, elephants, and hippos were/are excellent long distance swimmers.  That explains how they colonized islands.  The ancestors of the hobbit either built rafts or accidentally rafted to the island on flood debris.  If they built rafts, they may have forgotten the technology after several generations.

There are over 200 medical causes of dwarfism, and some traits that cause it can be inherited.  A human dwarf is defined as an adult less than 4’10” in height.  Some kinds of dwarfism in children can be treated with growth hormones and drugs that stimulate appetite.  Parents fear their children will face societal prejudice, if they don’t reach a “normal” height.  Few realize the trait for dwarfism could potentially be favorable for natural selection, if environmental conditions on earth deteriorate.  The traits that favor future survival of the fittest on this island earth can’t be predicted.

What happened when James Lusted, who stands just 3ft 7in tall, took his fiancee for a romantic meal at a Harvester in Cardiff?

If the world suffered a severe shortage of food for millennia, human evolution would tend toward dwarfism.  Humans with smaller body size have an  advantage in environments with less food.

References:

Muhs, Daniel; et. al.

“Late Quaternary Sea-Level History and the Antiquity of Mammoths (M. exilis and M. colombi) on the Channel Islands National Park, California, USA”

Quaternary Science Review May 2015

Poulakatis, Nikos; et. al.

“Ancient DNA Forces Reconsideration of Evolutionary History of Mediterranean Pygmy Elephants”

Biology Letters 2006

The Shrinking Brain

July 5, 2015

Humans (Homo sapiens), like all other organisms, are continuously evolving, and the forces that shape human evolution have also changed.  Before the development of agriculture, ecological pressures were the primary influence on human evolution.  Human populations were scattered and low.  Each individual had to work and think harder then because survival in primitive environments required greater endurance and intelligence.  Pleistocene Homo sapiens had to do it all.  On average Cro-magnon man, also known as European early modern humans, had larger jaws and teeth, a bigger lung capacity, and a larger cranial capacity than present day man.  The average cranial capacity of a human being living 20,000 years ago was 1500 cubic centimeters compared to 1350 cubic centimeters for an average human today.  This larger brain capacity does mean they were more intelligent, but of course lacked our present day knowledge.  During the agricultural revolution social competition replaced ecological processes as the primary influence on human evolution.  This led to a division of labor, reducing the need for such a large cranial capacity.  Human intelligence has declined all over the world since.

Shrinking Brain in Humans

Modern humans have a smaller brain capacity than their recent ancestors.  Incidentally, this illustration is misleading.  Homo sapiens did not evolve from Neanderthals.  Instead, Homo sapiens and Homo neandethalis shared a common ancestor–Homo heidelbergensis. Homo Neanderthals were also a distinct species, not a subspecies.

Domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, and dogs also have smaller cranial capacities than their wild ancestors.  Humans culled the larger, wilder individuals; creating tamer breeds.  Humans culled people who didn’t conform to society’s rules as well.  In this way humans may have eliminated many people with larger brains that just couldn’t fit in.  One study of a primitive society in New Guinea showed that as much as 10% of the males were executed because they couldn’t follow society’s rules.  The death penalty selects for tamer humans by eliminating aggressive individuals from the gene pool.  The death penalty was also common in western societies until the 20th century.

Aggressive intelligent humans had a big advantage over tame humans when the world was a wild place.  But some of the characteristics that favored survival in a wilderness are counterproductive in a civilization  dependent upon the rule of law to prevent chaos.

Human cranial capacity is on the increase again.  Over the past 200 years there has been a major improvement in the average human’s diet.  Better nutrition is leading to larger cranial capacities.  The brain is a large fatty organ that requires a great deal of energy.  With a better food supply humans with large brains are more likely to survive.  However, I believe this recent trend is temporary.  I predict future generations will suffer from greater incidences of malnutrition as the world population outstrips the ability of farmers to produce enough food for everybody.

References:

Bailey, Drew; and David Geary

“Hominid Brain Evolution: Testing Climatic, Ecological, and Social Competition Models”

Human Nature 2009

McAuliffe, Kathleen

“If Modern Humans are so Smart, why are our Brains Shrinking?”

Discover Magazine 2010

How to sell Books with a Misleading Premise

June 30, 2015

I finished reading The Invaders: How Humans and their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction by Pat Shipman, and it left me shaking my head in confusion.  The author debunked the title of her book on page 213 when she wrote “…there are no well-dated Neanderthal sites younger than about 40,000 years ago; all are older.  Unless future finds show wolf-dogs in even earlier sites, Neanderthals were extinct by the time wolf-dogs appeared.”  If Neanderthals were extinct by the time humans supposedly began working with “wolf-dogs,” the human-dog connection can’t possibly be the reason Neanderthals became extinct.  I think the author invented a sensationalist title to sell copies of a book that is based on a completely unfounded premise.  Perhaps it was the publisher’s idea.  The last chapter of this book seems to be an incoherent add-on.

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction

The author of this book convincingly refutes her own premise.

The premise of her book depends upon 1 highly controversial study.  This study used a complex statistical analysis of dog and wolf skull measurements to differentiate between the 2.  These scientists measured a skull from Goyet Cave, Belgium; dating to 36,000 calendar years BP, and determined it had a 99% chance of being from a dog.  Prior to this find, it was thought humans didn’t domesticate dogs until about 14,000 BP.  Some other canid skulls measured in this study, dating to older than 14,000 BP, were also determined to be dog rather than wolf.  However, another study (referenced below) completely contradicts this conclusion.  These scientists used a 3-D morphometric analysis of the same ancient canid skulls and determined the Goyet Cave specimen and others of similar age were wolf, not dog.  A DNA study of these specimens determined these particular canids were not ancestral to modern dogs or extant wolves.  They were probably just an extinct ecomorph of wolf.  Alas for Pat Shipman, her hypothesis is a poorly reasoned fantasy.

Humans didn’t need dogs to rub out Neanderthals.  Humans likely had far superior organizational skills as well as advanced technology such as projectile weapons and knitting needles.  Humans could survive in a colder climate with better clothing and could successfully hunt animals on open plains.  I’m certain humans beat Neanderthals in battle by using strategy and tactics.  I do think humans were the sole factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.  If Homo sapiens never colonized Europe, Neanderthals would still be there today.  Climate change can’t be the reason for their extinction because Neanderthals survived dozens of dramatic shifts in climate phases during their >250,000 year occupation of Europe.

I found a couple of other minor mistakes in The Invaders worth noting.  This isn’t a big deal–I know there are mistakes on my blog, but I’m too lazy to go back and edit corrections.  The late surviving population of mammoths on Wrangel Island lasted until 4000 BP, not 3000 BP, and they were not a dwarf population as Pat Shipman mistakenly claimed.  They were fully-sized woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius).  She also reproduced a graph in her book from a study that mistakenly classifies the aurochs (Bos taurus), the ancestor of modern cattle, as a steppe environment inhabitant.  The aurochs favored habitat was riparian woodland.  Cattle need frequent access to water and are not well adapted to arid grassland habitat.

Reference:

Drake, Abby; et. al.

“3D Morphometric Analysis of Fossil Canid Skulls Contradicts Domestication of Dogs during the Late Paleolithic”

Scientific Reports 2015

Did Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalis) really Interbreed with Humans (Homo sapiens)?

June 26, 2015

Warning: Do not read this blog entry, if you are younger than 18.  The nude images might cause blindness.

A new study published in the scientific journal, Nature, of a 40,000 year old skull suggests Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalis) interbred with humans (Homo sapiens).  This particular specimen, found in Romania, is thought to be 6%-9% Neanderthal, and the authors of this study think this individual had a great-great-great-great Neanderthal grandparent.  He left no living  descendants, but other studies of Neanderthal DNA determined Homo sapiens and Homo neandetheralis did hybridize, and some modern Europeans and Asians might be 1%-3% Neanderthal.  The media likes this story, and a study casting doubt on the assumptions used to identify past hybridization is being ignored.  I didn’t even see the study listed in the new journal article’s references, so the scientists involved in Neanderthal DNA studies are unaware of the article or are ignoring it as well.

The ignored study, referenced below, was written by A. Ericksson and A. Manica.  They write “tests for hybridization rely on the degree to which different modern populations share genetic polymorphisms with genomes of other hominins.”  A polymorphism is defined as 2 clearly different phenotypes existing in the same population of a species.  A phenotype is the composite of an organisms observable characteristics.  For example a population of humans could consist of big blondes and small brunettes–2 different phenotypes.  The authors of this study show that examples of shared polymorphism attributed to hybridization could actually have originated before H. neanderthalis and H. sapiens diverged over 200,000 years ago.  Both species of humans evolved from H. heidelbergensis.  The population of H. heidelbergensis that colonized Europe evolved into H. neanderthalis.  The population of H. heidelbergensis that stayed in Africa until ~45,000 years ago evolved into H. sapiens.  An Asian colonization evolved into the poorly known Denisovans.

The authors of this study believe their findings don’t rule out the possibility of hybridization in Europe, but they urge “caution” when making the assumption that hybridization occurred.  To determine whether or not the degree of shared polymorphism was the result of hybridization or was part of an earlier genetic pattern from the founding population structure would require DNA from a specimen pre-dating the divergence of these 2 species.  Viable DNA can’t be extracted from specimens that old.

Neanderthal-2.jpg

Representation of a female Neanderthal based on DNA studies.  Note the red hair.  Neanderthals had red hair.

Nude female Homo sapiens.  Human women are much cuter than Homo neanderthalis.  Moreover, female Neanderthals were probably considerably stronger than male Homo sapiens.  I doubt the 2 species interbred.  Genetic studies can’t discern certain hybridization without studying the DNA of the ancestral common ancestor of both species.  This is impossible because those fossils are too old to harbor DNA.

I doubt H. sapiens bred with H. neanderthalis.  The 2 populations of humans had been isolated from each other for over 200,000 years.  Behavior patterns likely dramatically differed. Facial features were significantly different, and I think they didn’t recognize each other as mating material.  Neanderthals were intelligent ambush predators that used thrusting weapons, and they were physically more powerful than humans.  But humans were smarter and had developed projectile weapons.  Humans ate a wider variety of foodstuffs, contributing to greater fertility.  I think humans wiped out Neanderthals within a few thousand years.  Assimilation was unlikely.

Reference:

Ericksson, A.; and A. Manica

“Effect of Ancient Population Structure on the Degree of Polymorphism Shared between Modern Human Populations and Ancient Hominins”

PNAS 2012

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/35/13956.full

Pleistocene Man-Eaters

June 9, 2015

The sum total of paleoindian skeletal material ever discovered could fit inside a single coffin and with room to spare.  This isn’t true of Pleistocene Homo sapiens  remains found in Europe where bogs and caves are more common than in America.  Also, humans lived in Europe for tens of thousands of years, whereas humans occupied the vast spaces of America for just the last few thousands years of the Pleistocene, another factor that explains this disparity in abundance of remains. The rarity of human fossil remains from America makes it impossible to determine how often Homo sapiens fell prey to large predators on this continent.  Despite the absence of evidence, I have no doubt America’s large carnivores were man-eaters at least some of the time.  The sole mystery, one that will probably never be solved, was the frequency of this behavior.

Humans are still part of the food chain.  The region including India and Nepal provide the best evidence for this.  The people who live here have long held a respect for animals.  The Hindu faith predominates in this region and with it comes a tradition of not destroying wildlife.  A large and growing population of people living side by side with dangerous carnivores has resulted in countless cases of man-eating tigers (Panthera tigris) and leopards (Panthera pardus).  The Champarat tiger killed 430 people in the early 20th century.  The Panar leopard killed 400 people circa 1910.  The leopard of Rudraprayag killed 126 people over an 8 year period until a hunter shot it in 1926.  Between 1907-1938, 33 different man-eaters killed an estimated 1200 people.   Today, leopards kill more people in India than any other large predator because they are still relatively common while tigers are rare.  But in the Sundarbans region, where the world’s largest mangrove forest grows, tigers killed 50-60 people a year until recently when management practices greatly reduced this annual toll.

image

A tiger vs. an unarmed Homo sapiens is a mismatch.

leopard-attack-in-India

Leopards kill more people in India than any other carnivore.

An unarmed man is no match for a big cat.  Tigers can drag an 800 pound cow for 2 miles.  Jim Corbett, a famous hunter of man-eaters, tracked a tiger that dragged an 800 pound cow up a steep hill for over a mile.  At 1 point the cow’s leg got stuck between 2 saplings, but the tiger yanked the cow free, tearing the leg off where it got left behind, snared on the tree saplings.  That kind of strength is astounding.  They can crush a human’s skull with just a paw blow.  In addition to this awesome brute strength, sharp claws and teeth can sever an artery and cause quick death through loss of blood.  Leopards are even known to attack and kill full grown gorillas (Gorilla sp.), an ape that is much more powerful than a human.  Most man-eaters suffer some type of injury that prevents them from hunting their usual prey, but sometimes they just develop a taste for human flesh.

Paleoindians had throwing spears, clubs, and knives.  Just as importantly, they lived in groups and could gang up on an aggressive carnivores.  Their weapons were an equalizer, and their teamwork gave them an edge in most encounters.  Still, I’m sure the beasts won some battles.  In some cases I believe whole tribes were annihilated by individual man-eating predators.  A sneaky big cat could have potentially carried off 1 human every few nights for a couple months until there were no tribe members left.  Paleoindians surely built stout structures to shelter them from dangerous animals as well as from inclement weather.  When men were hunting, sturdy lodges were needed to protect the women and children.

Posted Image

How many paleo-indians were killed by Smilodon fatalis and Arctodus simus, the 2 carnivores depicted in this image?  Incidentally, the giant short-faced bear was not as long-limbed as drawn in this illustration.

Here’s a list of the large carnivores that at least occasionally preyed on paleoindians: sabertooth (Smilodon fatalis), scimitar tooth (Dinobastis serum), giant lion (Panthera atrox), jaguar (Panthera onca), cougar (Puma concolor), dire wolf (Canis dirus), timber wolf (Canis lupus), dhole (Cuon alpinus), giant short-faced  bear (Arctodus simus), grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), black bear (Ursus americanus), and polar bear (Ursus maritimus).  Paleoindians won the war against these predators.  I believe they actively hunted them.  Perhaps, paleoindians purposefully killed as many prey animals as they could to eliminate the large carnivores’ food supply.  The extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna may have been the result of a concerted effort by humans to make America a safer place to live.  The large carnivores that did survive learned to fear man and inherited a more timid attitude toward Homo sapiens.

The Greatest Mail Route Ever

March 1, 2015

South Florida was still an isolated wilderness in 1885.  There were no roads, rail lines, or north to south rivers.  This made communication with the rest of the U.S. difficult.  Not many people lived here–just a few thousand crackers living off the land and some Seminole Indians.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Postal Service established a mail route from Jupiter to Miami.  The route required the mailman to walk on the beach and row across various bodies of water.  In 1887 this route was split between 2 postal workers.  One man carried the mail from Jupiter to Palm Beach, and the other carried it from Palm Beach to Miami.  A schooner took the mail from Miami to Key West.  The route from Palm Beach to Miami consisted of 40 miles of beach walking and 28 miles of rowing.  The route started with a boat ride across Lake Worth followed by a walk to Delray Beach where the carrier stayed overnight at the Orange Grove House.  The next day he walked to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the Fort Lauderdale House.  On the 3rd day he boated across the New River, walked to Biscayne Bay, and rowed across the Miami River.  The route from Palm Beach to Miami and back took 6 days.

These carriers were known as barefoot mailmen because it was easier to walk on harder wet places of sand, not well suited for shoes.  On one occasion some stupid jerk rowed a barefoot mailman’s boat to the other side of the New River.  In an attempt to retrieve the boat, James Hamilton, the 2nd of the 3 men to have this route, tried to swim to the other side, but either drowned or was killed by a shark, alligator, or crocodile. His body was never recovered. In 1892 an overland road was built connecting south Florida with the northern part of the state, and a rail line soon followed.  This marked the end of the barefoot mailman’s route.

For a naturalist this route on the still pristine beaches of south Florida would’ve been a fantasy come true.  Many varieties of sea shells, now rare on Florida’s crowded beaches, were common then.  Schools of mullet and mackerel could be observed from the beach, and these fish were so abundant, it would take 20-30 minutes for the schools to pass.  Predatory fish such as amberjacks were often seen attacking the schools which would break apart, then reunite after the predators satiated their hunger.  A magazine article published in 1893 (referenced below) illustrates the former abundance of fish here.  William Henn, his wife, and a small crew sailed from the Indian River to Cape Sable. Everyday, they caught as many pompano and blue fish as they wanted, and they saw large sharks and sawfish while boating over a shallow sandbar.  At Cape Sable their boat was left aground by an ebbing tide.  Mosquitoes forced them to set up camp on the shore where they built large smoky fires to drive away the mosquitoes.  To amuse themselves, they used 4 pound mackerel as bait and in less than an hour caught 5 sharks that ranged in length from 9-12 feet long.  Scientists estimate the average size of an ocean fish caught by sportsmen off the Florida coast since 1956 has declined from 40 lbs to 5 lbs.  60 years earlier, the fish were even larger.  The really large fish are gone now.

hypoluxo scrub natural area

The Hypoluxo Natural Scrub Area in Palm Beach Florida.  The beginning of the mailman’s south Florida route looked just like this 130 years ago.

Theodore Pratt wrote an interesting short novel based on the adventures of the early barefoot mailmen of south Florida.  They walked from Palm Beach to Miami–a 6 day round trip.

Historical Photographs Expose Decline in Florida's Reef Fish, New Scripps Study Finds

Results of a fishing trip off Key West Florida, Circa 1956.  A modern day sports fishing trip using this same charter boat company will yield results weighing on average 88% less.  At the time of the barefoot mailman route, fishing was even more pristine than during 1956.

The bird life would have also been a wonder.  Shorebirds and wading birds had plenty of nesting habitat before hotels crowded them.  Songbirds that favored the beach scrub habitat serenaded the barefoot mailmen.  Wolves were not yet extirpated here, and black bears searched the beaches at night for turtle eggs.  Florida panthers hunted deer and wild hogs.

The people who occupied south Florida when it was a wilderness frontier lived an interesting way of life.  They built their houses with lumber salvaged from shipwrecks.  The roofs were made from palm thatches.  They also scavenged supplies from shipwrecks, so that some commodities could temporarily became abundant in these seaside communities.  Hunting and fishing provided much of their protein, though some raised cows and chickens.  They grew sweet potatoes, corn, watermelons, squash, beans, and tomatoes.  Many tried re-establishing orange groves with the wild oranges originating from the, by then, ancient Spanish settlements.  These wild oranges were usually sour but could be grafted with scions yielding sweet fruit.  Some gathered arrowroot and made starch (still used today as an ingredient in baby cookies).  Alligator skins, egret feathers, and otter fur were traded for cash.

I wouldn’t want to give up my life of modern conveniences, but for just 1 week, I’d like to trade places with 1 of the barefoot mailmen, so I could see what Florida’s beaches looked like before developers ruined them.

References:

Henn, William Lt. U.S. Navy

“Caught on a Lee Shore”

The Century Magazine June 1893

Mclenachan, Loren

“Documenting Loss of Large Trophy-Sized Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs”

Conservation Biology 2008

 

The Pleistocene Penis

December 17, 2014

Organisms with separate male and female sexes evolved from hermaphroditic ancestors.  Hermaphroditic species are still common.  Many species of plants and some species of animals are able to self-fertilize because they are both male and female.  One would think the evolution of an hermaphroditic organism to a species with separate male and female sexes happened so long ago that it would be impossible for biologists to study.  But, surprisingly, this is not true.  There are over 100 species of plants in the evolutionary process of transitioning between hermaphroditism to a state of separate sexes.  The most familiar species in this transitional state is the wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana.

Biologists believe the evolution of separate sexes was the result of a beneficial mutation.  Organisms that have separate sexes have increased genetic variation, thus improving the chances the species will survive.  Hermaphrodites suffer higher rates of inbred defects and eventually are eliminated from transitioning populations by the hybrid vigor of male x female combinations.  In stressful environments organisms with separate male and female sexes can allocate resources to seed or pollen, not both–another advantage over the hermaphrodite.

Plants rely on wind and insect pollination.  Males and females of many primitive aquatic animals release sperm and egg in each other’s vicinity, relying on water flow to aid fertilization.  But the evolution of a structure to directly deliver a male’s sperm inside a female’s body was a great advance.  This structure is known as a penis.  The oldest known penis in the fossil record belonged to an extinct species of shrimp (Colymbosathon ecplecticas) that lived 425 million years ago. 

Mammoths and mastodons had the largest penises of any land mammal during the Pleistocene and theirs was comparable in size to those of modern day elephants.

i-2325d7f6567e1a7459f965b85b2d82cd-Elephant-penis.jpg

This bull elephant is in the mood to mate.  Note the large penis.  Mammoths and mastodons had the largest penises of any Pleistocene land mammal.

Homo sapiens has the largest penis of any primate.  There’s no evidence Pleistocene humans ever practiced the bizarre and barbaric practice of genital mutilation known as circumcision.  Circumcisions originated in Egypt about 4400 years ago. Religious fanatics in the ancient Egyptian culture rejected the concept of sexual pleasure.  Circumcision spread throughout the Middle East and Africa and was always popular among religious nuts who thought sexual pleasure was bad.  According to the bible (an unreliable source), the early Jews practiced circumcision, but Moses outlawed the practice.  Joshua brought circumcision back because he wanted his men to focus on smiting gentiles rather than sexual pleasure.  Jews have continued this idiotic tradition ever since.  Circumcision became popular in the United States after the Civil War when once again religious nuts were trying to stop boys from masturbating.   It didn’t work–98% of circumcized males admit to masturbating.  Greedy physicians made up falsehoods, supporting the pro-circumcision crusade, so they could make money on a common but unnecessary procedure.  Even today, most American males suffer genital mutilation shortly after birth, though, thankfully, rates are declining.

About a decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatricians admitted there was no medical reason for male circumcisions.  However, in 2012 religious nuts pressured the AAP to restate their position.  The AAP now states, “the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks but the existing scientific evidence is not sufficient to warrant universal circumcision…the final decision should be left to parents to make in context of their religious, ethical, or cultural beliefs.”  So in other words, the AAP is saying it’s ok to torture a baby, if their parent’s religion tells them they are supposed to.  The words cowardly and callous come to mind.

The CDC recently released a report supporting the practice of circumcision because in Africa circumcized men are less likely to spread HIV than uncircumcized men.  Well, first of all, the CDC represents America not Africa.  Second, this reasoning is incredibly illogical.  The spread of HIV could be be completely eliminated if every man had their entire penis cut off, just like broken legs could be prevented with universal leg amputations.  Or less dramatic measures could be taken.  Men could use condoms or engage in sex with less dodgy partners.

There is no medical reason for male circumcision.  There is no significant statistical difference in rates of penile cancer or urinary tract infections between circumcized and uncircumcized men as some have falsely claimed.  There is no moral justication for torturing babies, and I think it is sickening how so many parents are willing to approve of such a stupid, barbaric, religious tradition.  The practice of circumcision, both male and female, should be outlawed.

uncircumcised vs circumcised adult penis

Comparison between a normal penis and the more common (in the U.S.) mutilated penis.

I’m glad I can’t remember my circumcision.  Most American males are strapped down when they are babies and have 12 inches of skin cut off from the most sensitive area of their body…all in the name of religion and tradition.  WHAT AN OUTRAGE!  Are people this insensistive, gullible, and stupid that they would subject their children to torture, just because some stupid rabbi or greedy doctor says they should?

The removal of the foreskin slices off the 5 most sensitive areas of the penis.  Circumcized men are 4.5 times more likely to use erectile dysfunction drugs than uncircumcized men.  These men probably wouldn’t need such medication, if their penises had not been mutilated with the approval of their brainwashed parents.

Reference:

Ashman, T.

“The Evolution of Separate Sexes: A Focus on the Ecological Context”

In chapter 11 of The Ecology and Evolution of Flowers edited by Lawrence Hader and Spencer Barrett

Oxford University Press 2007