We are not all Neanderthal: this is how science proceeds

31 Jan

Why Evolution Is True

by Matthew Cobb

You may recall that back in October we reported the amazing discovery that, as I put it in the headline, “Neanderthal genes are everywhere“. Up until then, it had been thought that only those human populations outside of Africa carried Neanderthal genes, as a consequence of our ancestors having mated with our Neanderthal cousins—mainly in Europe and the Middle East. People from sub-Saharan Africa, it was thought, did not carry those genes, because their ancestors did not leave Africa, and so didn’t meet the Neanderthals (whose ancestors had left Africa several hundred thousand years earlier).

What happened in October was that a group of researchers from around the world, led by Gallego Llorente of Cambridge University, studied the DNA of Mota, an Ethopian man who lived around 4,500 years ago. They found that he carried an unexpectedly high proportion of DNA from European populations, including DNA…

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Opinion: Not All Terrorism is Foreign

12 Jan Featured Image -- 371

I’m happy to see Clark College student Michael Ceron addressing this timely and important issue.

The Clark College Independent

Just to the southeast of Burns, Oregon lies the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a 292 square-mile area known for the 320 species of birds that inhabit it throughout the year. Unfortunately, birds are not the main attraction today.

A self proclaimed militia has been occupying the space since late January 2, following a rally to secure the release of a father-son ranching duo that was charged with committing arson on Federal land in 2012.

This militia is demanding that a judge review the case of Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, the two ranchers accused of arson. They also demand that the federal land be returned to private citizens for their use.

Members of the militia include the sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher made famous by a standoff with federal law enforcement officials over cattle grazing on government land.

While some residents disagree with the court’s decision to…

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Between The Knots, Untying The Mystery Of Incan Khipus

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Khipus are an ancient language system in the form of wool or cotton strings with knots. There is an intricate relationship between the knots, the where the type and location of the knot denotes meaning. The way the khipus’ are woven with colored strands and twisted together also add a layer of meaning. We have about 900 khipus discovered to date, and a very rudimentary understanding of them. There is even a Harvard database to document and compare them, but the context of this language system has largely been lost… Until recently.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.07.14 AM Khipus before it has been cleaned and untangled. Credit William Neuman/The New York Times

At a site called Incahuasi, about 100 miles south of Lima, Peru, researchers have been excavating 29 khipus right in the very place where they were used… An agricultural processing place, where it seems they were used as accounting books. The khipus were found…

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Best of 2015: Anthropology News

22 Dec

It offends me as an archaeologist II

12 Nov

Part II: In which a leading candidate for the United States presidency claims that the Giza Pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain.


This story from the Washington Post includes Republican candidate Ben Carson’s quote from a 1998 commencement:

“Now, my own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson continued. “Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big — when you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time — to store that much grain.”

“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for a reason. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they had special knowledge and that’s how they were —’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.

Yes, archaeologists “think” that the Giza Pyramids were built as tombs for pharaohs. (Bonus question: what are archaeologists’ reasons for thinking that and how do they differ from Carson’s reasons for thinking they were grain silos?). Yes, there are people who think they were built by aliens, but these people are not “various of scientists.”

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty responded by not responding: “Does he even deserve a response? He doesn’t.” There’s something to be said for ignoring outrageous claims. On the other hand, we don’t want them to gain legitimacy by going unchallenged. I think it’s important for people (especially Americans) of all political and religious perspectives to reiterate that Ben Carson does not speak for us.

Changing Tides: Celebrating Women’s Valor on Veterans Day

10 Nov Featured Image -- 361

Welcome to the AAA Blog

This Veterans Day, Americans will celebrate the sacrifice and heroism of those who served in uniform from World War I to the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us will thank our brothers, fathers, uncles, and perhaps even grandfathers for their patriotism and military service. Far fewer Americans will extend their arms to salute the many women who have bravely defended our nation’s freedom.

Unfortunately, women veterans are largely invisible in our nation’s narrative. Images of Vietnam veterans and heroic Iraqi combat veterans pervade our national imagery and the bravery of World War II veterans is celebrated in docudramas, shaping our cultural understanding of who is and is not a veteran. When Americans think of veterans, they rarely think of women.

Women comprise 15 percent of Active Duty U.S. troops and nearly 19 percent of Reserve forces, and the number of women entering the military is steadily…

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It offends me as an archaeologist

8 Nov

I frequently think about dialogue from the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. There’s a funny line applicable to almost any life situation imaginable. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from the 1997 episode “The Yada, Yada, Yada”:

Father Curtis: [in a confessional booth] Tell me your sins, my son.

Jerry: Well, I should tell you that I’m Jewish.

Father Curtis: That’s no sin.

Jerry: Oh, good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

We’re all capable of being offended on multiple overlapping levels: personally, professionally, spiritually… It’s often tempting to use a blog as a place to rant about things that offend us, and I resist the temptation to do that. Mostly. You can read back through previous posts to see that evolution denial really aggravates me. It aggravates me as an anthropologist, a scientifically literate person, an intellectually honest person, a father of school-aged children, etc. I’m comfortable blogging about evolution because, as much as people try to treat it as an opinion-based political issue, it is a scientific theory central to my research – one that I hate to see intentionally misrepresented.

This has inspired me to start an ongoing, occasional series called “It offends me as an archaeologist.” Even with that limitation, there is plenty to be offended by, though I will stick to archaeological topics and not post every time “someone on the internet is wrong.”

In August of this year I was offended (actually devastated and heartbroken) by the public beheading of Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-As’ad. He was an 82-year-old professor and antiquities expert who was murdered by ISIS because he would not reveal the location of even more artifacts for them to petulantly destroy. Al-As’ad was a hero who simply refused to go along with their infantile need to destroy all evidence of the world before Islam (which originated a mere 1500 years ago, leaving a lot of prior history to destroy).

Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus dating from the first century.

We should all honor the memory of Khaled al-As’ad. The fact that this elderly scholar proved threatening to a terrorist organization reveals his strength and their weakness.


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