Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia

22 Oct

Why Evolution Is True

A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other traits related to heart disease.” That is based on longitudinal studies of human health over decades, observing changes in these traits and presumed estimates of the genetic basis of their variation.

Now, however, we can, by DNA sequencing, look at DNA directly, and with some fancy statistical footwork, get an idea of which genes have changed in frequency so fast that they must have been due to positive natural selection. That’s the subject of a new paper in Science by Yair Field et al. (reference and free download below).  The authors conclude that several…

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Anthropology Feels Like Home

21 Jul

Welcome to the AAA Blog

This post was submitted by Callie Randall, a high school senior and anthropology student interning with the AAA.

When I was a little girl, I began to realize I was different than a lot of my peers. It was beyond the apparent truth of being the only black kid in gifted or intensified classes and more than feeling like I was the only child that said please and thank you to the lunch ladies. It was something less transparent. My ability to acknowledge the things that made me different set me apart from many others. In the simplest of terms, I was observant. I took in my surroundings everywhere. As I got older, I tried to understand why things were the way they were and why people chose to do certain things or why they chose to not. The world was big and beautiful and mysterious and with wide eyes everything…

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Anthropology Changed the Way I See the World

7 Jul

Welcome to the AAA Blog

This post was submitted by Veronica Sirotic, a high school senior and anthropology student interning with the AAA.

For the longest time, I thought anthropology was a chic boutique for women’s clothing. Little did I know, anthropology would change the way I see the world.

My interest in anthropology began two years ago when I signed up for a two-year anthropology class. Many friends recommended it to me and I heard it was an easy A. My first class started with a plain definition of anthropology: Anthropology: the study of humans, past and present. We were given a packet to skim. At first glance, the packet detailed a wacky and bizarre society. The people in the unnamed society would stick themselves in ovens in order to darken their skin. They would only eat at particular times during the day and the food they ate strictly adhered to the time of…

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Anthro Blogging 101: Allegra Lab

1 Jul Featured Image -- 416

The Geek Anthropologist

In this edition of Anthropology Blogging 101, we welcome Miia Halme-Tuomisaari and Julie Billaud, Editors in Chief at Allegra Lab.

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Tell us a little about Allegra Lab. How did it get started? What would you say is the purpose of Allegra Lab and what are its anthropological and digital orientations?

First, thank you giving us the opportunity to present Allegra Lab, the funkiest blog in the anthropological blogosphere (after the Geek Anthropologist, of course)! We started Allegra Lab in 2013, mostly because of our dissatisfaction with the way anthropological knowledge was shared with the world. Our primary aim was to create a space where anthropologists could show the best of themselves, demonstrate the richness of their work while simultaneously speaking to a broader audience, not limited to our small academic circles. Our vision was that anthropologists had important things to say and that it was high time to make their voice…

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Flagged: Children on July 4th

29 Jun Featured Image -- 414

Interesting anthropological analysis of this familiar (to those in the US) holiday.

Welcome to the AAA Blog

Author Cindy Dell Clark, associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, did fieldwork on Memorial Day and July 4th during 2005-2012.  She has also studied American families at Christmas and Easter, chronicled in her book “Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith” (University of Chicago Press).

During the years 2005 to 2012, when I conducted research on July 4th family rituals, the United States imported — mostly from China — over $32,000,000 worth of American flags.  These flags testify to and plot the vigorous ceremonial life of the American nation-state:  decorating military veterans graves’ at Memorial Day and the caskets of war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq, waving atop flag poles in front of schools and inside classrooms, at capitals and public buildings.  In public places, flags are daily raised and later lowered, raised only at half mast to honor the passing of revered Americans.

But Old Glory comes…

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Neanderthal, The Interior Cave Decorator

28 May Featured Image -- 410

Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC) Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC)

A pile of hundreds of broken stalagmite pieces found deep inside Bruniquel cave, France were made by humans from about 176,000 years ago. The ancient structures are actually made of more than 400 pieces of stalagmites, located about 300 meters from the cave’s entrance. All the stones are similarly sized, piled up, and arranged in two circles. The researchers also found signs of fire on the structures, as well as burned bone fragments. By analyzing the stalagmites as well as the calcite that grew on top of them, the researchers were able to date the site to about 176,500 years ago. At that time, only Neanderthals lived in Europe.

The findings were published earlier this week in Nature and indicate Neanderthals were creating complex structures way before modern humans arrived in Europe. The only other known remnants of Neanderthal constructions are…

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Steve Pinker demolishes John Horgan’s view of war

23 May

Why Evolution Is True

As you may recall, Science Contrarian John Horgan’s notorious “admonition to skeptics” blog post at Scientific American criticized the entire skeptical community for its supposed failure to campaign against war. That “hard target”, said Horgan, should take precedence over our attempts to attack “soft targets” like homeopathy, global warming denialism, and opposition to vaccination and GMO foods.  But he also criticized those who propounded what he called the “deep-roots theory of war”.  Let me refresh you on what he said (note that every single one of his “references” goes to a Horgan blog post!):


The biological theory that really drives me nuts is the deep-roots theory of war. According to the theory, lethal group violence is in our genes. Its roots reach back millions of years, all the way to our common ancestor with chimpanzees.

The deep-roots theory is promoted by scientific heavy hitters like Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham and Edward…

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