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  • November 3, 2010
  • 03:25 PM
  • 798 views

Why It Takes Long-Term Thinking to Influence a Fetus

by David Berreby in Mind Matters


Low weight at birth is associated with all sorts of health troubles later in life, so it seems a great idea to give nutritional supplements to pregnant women in developing nations, to add some heft to their babies. Yet the results aren't impressive. (The anthropologist Christopher W. Kuzawa notes, for instance, that this review of 13 such programs found the average weight improvement for the babies was a paltry one ounce.) Which illustrates the state of work on "fetal origins"—the theory that pre-birth experiences in the womb have a powerful effect decades later on the adult mind and body. On the one hand, as Annie Murphy Paul writes in Origins, her fine new book about the field, the idea suggests that we should ensure that developing fetuses have a healthy environment. On the other hand, the work so far can't say how to do that.
The other day, at this conference I heard Kuzawa propose an explanation for some of this befuddlement: We can "tell" the baby-to-be that food is abundant by making sure its mother ate well last month; but its development may depend instead on how that mother ate through her entire life.
A keystone of much "fetal origins" work is that the developing infant responds to cues about the kind of world it will have to join. Is food scarce or plentiful? Is life anxiety-filled or calm? Do people live to be 90 around here, or drop by 62? The mother's experience of life, translated into hormones, blood sugar, blood pressure and other chemical signals, helps determine which of the developing baby's genes are activated and how much, molding it to fit its future environment.
New parents easily imagine this fetus as a clueless investor, reacting every hour to the latest news flash. (Hence their neurotic fears about that one sip of alcohol, bite of sushi, or late-night fight that will ruin the budding child's life.) Instead, Kuzawa proposes, we should see the developing baby as a long-term player, looking for clues about its world on different time scales: months, years or even generations.
That perspective could provide a framework to organize and explain disparate pieces of data that Murphy Paul mentions. For instance, some research has found that a mother's malnourishment late in pregnancy puts her child at higher risk, decades later, for diabetes, while malnourishment in early gestation is a risk for heart disease. And the stresses of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 seem to increase the risk of schizophrenia in adults who were gestated then—if their mothers were in the second month of pregnancy, but not the fourth or fifth. All this suggests there are distinct periods in a pregnancy, each one particularly sensitive to one environmental influence, but not others.
Kuzawa proposes to use evolutionary reasoning to find the hidden logic of these different windows. Doing so, he says, will probably require figuring out the time-frame of the each cue that an embryo uses to prepare itself for its world.
Which brings us back to nutritional supplements: If fetuses were "tuned" to today's cues about their environment, then they should respond to maternal nutritional supplements much more than they do. But it stands to reason, Kuzawa said, that a creature that will live for 30, 40 or even 90 years should not prepare itself for the environment of next month. Next month may be way out of line with typical conditions. To prepare for eating in the mother's world, the fetus ought to find out what her whole life was like.
Some eerie facts of fetal-growth research seem to line up with the idea. Here are a couple Kuzawa cited. In this study of mothers and children in 1930's England, a woman's adult height was not a great predictor of her daughter's birth weight. Much better was the mother's height back when she herself was 7. And this study in Guatemala found that infants who grew faster in their first three years of life were those whose mothers had eaten better as children.
Kuzawa thinks our species may have evolved a mechanism for "telling" the fetus what to expect on average over decades or even generations. By basing its development on its mother's childhood condition (which means, Kuzawa points out, that it's reflecting its grandmother's experience, and so on backwards in time), the fetus takes a long-term average of conditions in its world. It can't be "fooled" by one rich harvest or a plague year. That makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. But it also means the fetus can't be "fooled" by our well-meaning attempts to guide it for the few months of its mother's pregnancy.
How does this square with evidence that disasters and wars do have a big and immediate effect on the children gestated during the crisis? As Murphy Paul recounts, these "natural experiments" suggest that bad experiences have immediate effects. (Douglas Almond has found (pdf) that children whose mothers were pregnant during the 1918 flu pandemic were 15 percent more likely than near-peers to drop out of high school; they earned lower wages throughout life, and as older adults were 20 percent more likely to be disabled.)
Perhaps severe shocks overwhelm the usual pathways by which environment communicates with embryo, Kuzawa suggests. If that's so, then extreme cases like the 1918 flu pandemic or the Dutch Hunger Winter are a mixed blessing for fetal-origins research. On the one hand, they show dramatic effects which helped convince skeptics; but, on the other, they may not represent the way the system usually works.
For parents and policy wonks, too, Kuzawa's idea is a mix of good news and bad news. If the developing fetus is impervious to day-to-day ups and downs, our minor scrapes and flubs can't harm it. But that also means that our well-intentioned efforts won't help it much, either. At least, not until we take its own long view of life.
Kuzawa, C. (2005). Fetal origins of developmental plasticity: Are fetal cues reliable predictors of future nutritional environments? American Journal of Human Biology, 17 (1), 5-21 DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20091
Martin RM, Smith GD, Frankel S, & Gunnell D (2004). Parents' growth in childhood and the birth weight of their offspring. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 15 (3), 308-16 PMID: 15097011
Stein AD, Barnhart HX, Wang M, Hoshen MB, Ologoudou K, Ramakrishnan U, Grajeda R, Ramirez-Zea M, & Martorell R (2004). Comparison of linear growth patterns in the first three years of life across two generations in Guatemala. Pediatrics, 113 (3 Pt 1) PMID: 14993588 ... Read more »

  • November 3, 2010
  • 05:00 AM
  • 1,031 views

Paleo and Low-Carb Diets: Much In Common?

by Steve Parker, M.D. in Diabetic Mediterranean Diet Blog

My superficial reading of the paleo diet literature led me to think Dr. Loren Cordain was the modern originator of this trend, so I was surprised to find an article on the Stone Age diet and modern degenerative diseases in a 1988 American Journal of Medicine.  Dr. Cordain started writing about the paleo diet around 2000, [...]... Read more »

Kuipers, R., Luxwolda, M., Janneke Dijck-Brouwer, D., Eaton, S., Crawford, M., Cordain, L., & Muskiet, F. (2010) Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 1-22. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510002679  

  • November 1, 2010
  • 10:29 PM
  • 1,186 views

Witchcraft or Psychedelic Trip?

by Dan Bailey in Smells Like Science

Were the Salem Witch Trials sparked by grain infected with toxic hallucinogens?... Read more »

  • November 1, 2010
  • 08:35 PM
  • 777 views

The diversity of values held by conservation scientists and why this matters

by Phil Camill in Global Change: Intersection of Nature and Culture


Right up there with climate change, biodiversity conservation is one of the most challenging issues at the intersection of nature and culture.  Part of this challenge arises because of genuine differences in how people value other species.
In an interesting forthcoming article in Conservation Biology, Chris Sandbrook and colleagues at Cambridge University argue that these value [...]... Read more »

SANDBROOK, C., SCALES, I., VIRA, B., & ADAMS, W. (2010) Value Plurality among Conservation Professionals. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01592.x  

  • October 31, 2010
  • 05:43 PM
  • 824 views

The Vampire in the Plague Pit

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Amid the chaos of a mass grave of plague victims, the 2006-2007 summer project team from the Archeoclub of Venice got a surprise. Among the dead they found evidence of belief in the undead, fear of the vampire. So how do you stop the undead from feasting on the corpses in the mass grave?  The [...]... Read more »

  • October 31, 2010
  • 11:53 AM
  • 772 views

"Rebel access to [natural] resources crucially shapes armed civil conflict"

by Benno Hansen in Ecowar

How does rebel access to natural resources affect conflict? "How". Not "if". That is the question investigated by Päivi Lujala of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, recently published in the Journal of Peace Research.

Or rather: Where previous research has either suggested a link or sought to explain it by an indirect effect through resource abundance tending to corrupt weak ... Read more »

  • October 29, 2010
  • 02:01 PM
  • 555 views

The Adoption of Altruism

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Barbara J. King:Since animals, including humans, are merely ambulatory vehicles for their selfish genes, according to the dominant framework, it would be to one's benefit to care for a niece or cousin that lost their mother but not for a stranger of which there was no genetic relation. This is because any genes that promoted such altruism towards unrelated individuals would end up losing out by using up resources that didn’t perpetuate themselves. However, these “altruistic genes” would be passed on and thrive if they were helping a kin member with similar genetic makeup. In the currency of reproductive fitness, nepotism pays.However, a study in the journal Primates by Cristiane Cäsar and Robert John Young report on a case of adoption among a wild group of black-fronted titi monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons) from the rainforests of Brazil.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in The Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Reference:Cäsar, C., & Young, R. (2007). A case of adoption in a wild group of black-fronted titi monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons) Primates, 49 (2), 146-148 DOI: 10.1007/s10329-007-0066-x... Read more »

  • October 28, 2010
  • 05:43 AM
  • 760 views

Sons of the conquerers: the story of India?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression


The past ten years has obviously been very active in the area of human genomics, but in the domain of South Asian genetic relationships in a world wide context it has seen veritable revolutions and counter-revolutions. The final outlines are still to be determined. In the mid-1990s the conventional wisdom was that South Asians were [...]... Read more »

Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Mait Metspalu, Ying Choi, Reedik Mägi, Irene Gallego Romero, Pedro Soares, Mannis van Oven, Doron M. Behar, Siiri Rootsi, Georgi Hudjashov.... (2010) Population Genetic Structure in Indian Austroasiatic speakers: The Role of Landscape Barriers and Sex-specific Admixture. Mol Biol Evol. info:/10.1093/molbev/msq288

  • October 27, 2010
  • 11:38 PM
  • 1,056 views

Food for thought: Cooking in human evolution

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

Did cooking make us human by providing the foundation for the rapid growth of the human brain during evolution?  If so, what does this tell us about the diet that we should be eating, and can we turn back the culinary clock to an evolutionarily ideal diet?  A number of provocations over the last couple of weeks have me thinking about evolution and diet, especially what our teeth and guts tell us about how our ancestors got their food.
I did a post on this a while back at Neuroanthropology.net, putting up my slides for the then-current version of my ‘brain and diet’ lecture from ‘Human evolution and diversity,’ but I’m also thinking about food and evolution because I just watched Nestlé food scientist, Heribert Watzke’s TED talk, The Brain in Your Gut. Watzke combines two intriguing subjects: the enteric nervous system, or your gut’s ‘second brain,’ and the evolution of diet.  I’ll deal with the diet, gastro-intestinal system and teeth today, and the enteric nervous system another day because it’s a great subject itself (if you can’t wait, check out Scientific American).

This piece is going to ramble a bit, as it will also include some thoughts on the subject of diet and brain evolution sparked by multiple conversations: with Prof. Marlene Zuk (of the University of California Riverside), with Paul Mason (about Terrence Deacon’s article that he and Daniel wrote about), and following my annual lecture on human brain evolution as well as conversations today with a documentary crew from SBS.  So let’s begin the meander with Dr. Watzke’s opening bit on why he thinks humans should be classified as ‘coctivors,’ that is, animals that eat cooked food, rather than ‘omnivores.’

Although I generally liked the talk, I was struck by some things that didn’t ring quite right, including Dr. Watzke’s opening bit about teeth (from the online transcript):
So everyone of you turns to their neighbor please. Turn and face your neighbors. Please, also on the balcony. Smile. Smile. Open the mouths. Smile, friendly. (Laughter) Do you — Do you see any Canine teeth? (Laughter) Count Dracula teeth in the mouths of your neighbors? Of course not. Because our dental anatomy is actually made, not for tearing down raw meat from bones or chewing fibrous leaves for hours. It is made for a diet which is soft, mushy, which is reduced in fibers, which is very easily chewable and digestible. Sounds like fast food, doesn’t it.
Okay, let’s not be pedantic about it, because we know that humans, in fact, do have canines.  Watzke’s point is that we don’t have extended canines, long fangs that we find in most carnivorous mammals or in our primate relatives like chimps or gorillas.
The problem is that the absence of projecting canines in humans is a bit more interesting than just, ‘eat plants=less canine development.’  In fact, gorillas are completely vegetarian, and the males, especially, have massive canines; chimpanzees eat a very small amount of animal protein (something like 2% of their caloric intake), and they too have formidable canines.  Our cousins don’t have extended canines because they need them for eating – rather, all evidence suggests that they need big fangs for fighting, especially intraspecies brawling among the males in order to reproduce.
Teeth of human (left), Ar. ramidus (middle), and chimpanzee (right), all males.
The case of chimpanzee canines is especially intriguing because, with the remains of Ardipithecus ramidus now more extensively discussed, a species potentially close to the last common ancestor of humans and chimps, we know very old hominids didn’t have pronounced canines.  If the remains are indicative of our common ancestor with chimpanzees (and there’s no guarantee of that), then it’s not so much human canine shrinkage alone that’s the recent evolutionary development but also the re-development of chimpanzee canines, probably due to sexual competition.
Even with all the possible points of disagreement, the basic point is that human teeth are quite small, likely due both to shifts in our patterns of reproduction and sexual selection and to changes in our diet.  Over the last few million years, our ancestors seemed to have gotten more and more of their calories out of meat, one argument goes, at the same time that our ancestors’ teeth were getting less and less capable of processing food of all sorts (or, for that matter, being effectively used as a weapon).
Hungrier and hungrier, with weaker jaws and smaller teeth
As I always remind my students in my lecture on human brain evolution, if big brains are so great, why doesn’t every animal have one? The answer is that big brains also pose certain challenges for an organism (or, if you prefer, ‘mo’ neurons, mo’ problums’).
The first and most obvious is that brains are hungry organs, devouring energy very fast and relentlessly, especially as they grow.  The statistic that we frequently throw around is that the brain constitutes 2% of human body mass and consumes 25% of the energy used by the body; or, to put it another way, brain tissue consumes nine times as many calories as muscle at rest.  So, if evolution is going to grow the brain, an organism is going to have to come up with a lot of energy – a smaller brain means that an animal both can eat less and be more likely to survive calorie drought.
But hominin brain growth also presents a few other problems, which sometimes get underestimated in accounts of our species’ distinctiveness.  For example, natural selection had to solve a problem of excess heat, especially if big-brained hominids were going to do things that their big brains should tell them are ill advised, like run around in the hot sun. As your brain chews up energy, it generates heat, and the brain can overheat, a serious problem with sunstroke.  The good news is that somewhere along the line our hominin ancestors picked up a number of adaptations that made them very good at shedding heat, from a low-fur epidermis and facility to produce copious sweat to a system of veins that run from the brain, shunting away heat (for a much more extensive discussion, see Sharma, ed. 2007, or the work of anthropologist Dean Falk, including her 1990 article in BBS laying out the ‘radiator theory’).
Not only is our brain hungry and hot; our enlarged cranium also poses some distinctive challenges for our mothers, especially as bipedalism has narrowed her birth canal by slowly making the pelvis more and more basket shape (bringing the hips under our centre of gravity).  The ‘obstetrical dilemma,’ the narrowing of the birth canal at the same time that the human brain was enlarging, led to a bit of a brain-birth canal logjam, if you’ll pardon the groan-worthy pun (see Rosenberg and Trevathan 1995).
Although frequently presented as a significant constraint on brain growth (and I’m sure all mother... Read more »

Rosenberg, K., & Trevathan, W. (2005) Bipedalism and human birth: The obstetrical dilemma revisited. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 4(5), 161-168. DOI: 10.1002/evan.1360040506  

Suwa, G., Kono, R., Simpson, S., Asfaw, B., Lovejoy, C., & White, T. (2009) Paleobiological Implications of the Ardipithecus ramidus Dentition. Science, 326(5949), 69-69. DOI: 10.1126/science.1175824  

Wrangham, R. (2003) 'Cooking as a biological trait'. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular , 136(1), 35-46. DOI: 10.1016/S1095-6433(03)00020-5  

  • October 27, 2010
  • 09:25 PM
  • 1,057 views

Archaeologists Unearth a "Vampire" Grave

by Dan Bailey in Smells Like Science

In the 1990's archaeologists uncovered a grave in Connecticut dating from the mid-1800's that provided the first physical evidence of a historical belief in vampires in New England.... Read more »

  • October 27, 2010
  • 02:57 PM
  • 1,122 views

Where did all these primates come from? – Fossil teeth may hint at an Asian origin for anthropoid primates

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Where did anthropoid primates come from? This question has not been an easy one to answer. Since the early days of paleontology various experts have proposed a slew of scenarios for the origins of the primate group which today contains monkeys and apes (including us), with different experts favoring various combination of places, times, and [...]... Read more »

Bajpai, S., Kay, R., Williams, B., Das, D., Kapur, V., & Tiwari, B. (2008) The oldest Asian record of Anthropoidea. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(32), 11093-11098. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804159105  

K. Christopher Beard. (2006) Mammalian Biogeography and Anthropoid Origins . Primate Biogeography, 439-467. info:/10.1007/0-387-31710-4_15

Beard, K., Marivaux, L., Chaimanee, Y., Jaeger, J., Marandat, B., Tafforeau, P., Soe, A., Tun, S., & Kyaw, A. (2009) A new primate from the Eocene Pondaung Formation of Myanmar and the monophyly of Burmese amphipithecids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1671), 3285-3294. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0836  

Jaeger, J., Beard, K., Chaimanee, Y., Salem, M., Benammi, M., Hlal, O., Coster, P., Bilal, A., Duringer, P., Schuster, M.... (2010) Late middle Eocene epoch of Libya yields earliest known radiation of African anthropoids. Nature, 467(7319), 1095-1098. DOI: 10.1038/nature09425  

  • October 25, 2010
  • 12:50 PM
  • 3,123 views

Anatomy of a Superstition: When Your Eye "Jumps"

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice


The eye sees all, and can possibly warn
of danger in Trinidadian folklore.
Credit: Wikipedia
Trinidadians have a rich collection of superstitions, many of which found their way to the island via colonialism. These beliefs reflect the ways ideas and explanations have been blended here—and elsewhere—in the face of globalization. There is one, however, that I have grown up with that seems unique to Trinidadians. It concerns an involuntary eye spasm known colloquially as when your eye "jumps." The superstition has multiple parts and meanings depending on which eye is affected:If your right eye jumps, you are going to hear good news. If your left eye jumps, you are going to hear bad news (Roberts 1927: 161).
If your right eye jumps, someone is speaking well of you. If your left eye jumps, someone is saying bad things about you.* (If you think of the name of people you know, when you name the right person—who is speaking badly about you—your eye will stop jumping) (Robert 1927: 161)
If your right eye jumps, you'll see someone you haven't seen in a long time.
If your left eye jumps, a loved one/friend is doing something behind your back.
If your left eye jumps, a love one/friend may be in trouble.
*There seems to be some confusion with this particular version of the superstition since I have also seen/heard it reverse (i.e., right eye = someone speaking ill of you). It is included here in the parallel form to match the other suggestions.
There are additional variations to this theme, but all emphasize the dichotomy between the left and right eye in relation to bad versus good events. The eye has long figured in superstitious lore—for example, the idea of the "evil eye" may date to 600 BC, and since this only marks documented reference to the belief, it may in fact be older than that. As a source of vision, awareness, and knowledge, it is no surprise that beliefs relating to the eye tend to suggest a forewarning.
Superstitions are often met with a certain degree of scorn. Rational folks are often quick to dismiss them. But still they lurk in the background until the opportunity arrives when they can suggest a potential "What if?" Historically, when discussing superstitions scholars (e.g., Matthews 1945; Roberts 1927) have categorized them as "primitive" beliefs of "simple" people, and overlooked the insights they may offer on the way people view the world. While many superstitions have religious or supernatural undertones, many others offer interesting observations on life in a particular location. And if you dig deep enough, there are sometimes suggestive details that can explain why some superstitions persist.
For example, in a collection of West Indian beliefs and superstitions Basil Matthews (1945) discusses the Caniteel in Trinidad: a particular hour on a particular day between July 15th and August 15th during which any plants planted will fail to grow (141). No one knows for sure when the day or the hour actually occurs. What they do know is that generally what happens is that during this period worms eat the heart of the plant. Trinidadian farmers view this period as a bad time. Many avoid planting on July 15th, and then plant on alternate days hoping to avoid the Caniteel. Some avoid planting altogether during this period. The farmers have connected a real event (the activity of the worms) with a superstition (don't plant, this period is bad).
The same may be the case for eye jumping. The phenomena is largely harmless, but appears to be poorly understood by science. It is officially classified as benign essential blepharospasm (BEB), a phenomenon that can be disruptive in severe cases causing functional blindness:The condition is progressive with the early symptoms being irritation and discomfort in the eyelids causing an increase in the blink rate, which can progress over time to frequent, forceful involuntary and uncontrollable closure of the eyelids (Kowal et. al. 1998: 123).The condition is idiographic, but researchers believe that it may be linked in part to fatigue, stress, eyestrain, and/or caffeine (Robb-Nicholson 2010: 8). In a health column in the Harvard Women's Health Watch, Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson advises a writer of ways to cope with "eyelid twitching":There are several things you can do to ease the spasms. Close the eye and apply a warm compress—or try pulling gently on the lid. Get more sleep, and reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake. If the twitching occurs while you're reading or using a computer, relax your eyes occasionally by focusing on something in the distance. If your eyes are dry or irritated, use lubricant eyedrops (8).Even in the less severe form, eye jumping can still be disruptive (or at the very least, irritating), marked by a fluttering sensation in the eyelid, twitching of the eye, or the repeated closing and reopening of the eyelid. And it can last anywhere from minutes to hours or can occur intermittently over the course of several days. Perhaps its disruptiveness has contributed to its role in superstition. Let's consider the following:Eye jumping may be caused by stress in some form.
Because it is disruptive, it is memorable.
When a negative or otherwise anticipated event occurs following an eye jumping episode, it can be easily connected to eye jumping because the phenomenon sticks in the mind of the afflicted.
Since Trinidadians appear to follow the traditional notions of right = good, left = bad, it may be that they are selecting events following experiences of stress that match the eye afflicted by BEB. So for example, if they are anticipating speaking to a relative who has missed a telephone call, the anticipation may turn to worry and as a result experience BEB as a stress response. When the relative finally calls, the afflicted person may recall that their eye jumped and connect the two. This may also explain the fluidity between assigning events to the eyes. While Trinis largely follow the right/left dichotomy, they have been known to blur the line and simply say "My eye was jumping." It may also be that events that can be tied to the afflicted eye are more readily remembered. Similar to the Caniteel, Trinidadians have connected a real event (BEB) with a superstition (the eye afflicted by BEB can predict or warn of events).
Superstitions, however you view them, can be a source of comfort. They offer a way to take control of a situation and in this case to reaffirm ties—note that the eye jumping superstition is connected to loved ones. They can become deeply ingrained. When my eye jumps, I'm inclined to tell myself quite seriously to just "quit it." Meaning, quit worrying about it. I know that my stress levels are generally elevated when my eye jumps, but invariably, when the phenomenon persists, it opens the door for "What if." The event in itself also adds to my stress levels, creating a nagging sensation of worry that I refuse to openly acknowledge but seem to acknowledge in small ways. For example, my behavior changes slightly. I might call loved ones more frequently. And if I happen to learn of an event that occurred to one of them in this period, I find myself wondering about which eye the was afflicted. Superstitions are persistent. It's one of the reasons they've survived time and travel.
Do you have a family superstition that crops up from time to time? Something your grandmother or mother said or did continuously? Something that you yourself came to believe for no explicable reason? With Halloween just around the corner, let's open the vaults and see what's lurking in the shadows of our minds.

Cited: ... Read more »

Kowal L, Davies R, & Kiely PM. (1998) Facial muscle spasms: an Australian study. Australian and New Zealand journal of ophthalmology, 26(2), 123-8. PMID: 9630292  

Matthews, B. (1945) West Indian Beliefs and Superstitions. The American Catholic Sociological Review, 6(3), 139. DOI: 10.2307/3707527  

Roberts, H. (1927) Louisiana Superstitions. The Journal of American Folklore, 40(156), 144. DOI: 10.2307/534893  

  • October 25, 2010
  • 11:12 AM
  • 799 views

How does an anthropological perspective contribute to our understanding of birth control? Part I

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

This is a heavily revised version of a series I wrote for my LEE Blog on biological anthropology and hormonal contraception. This post deals with contraindications for hormonal contraceptives.... Read more »

Burkman RT, Fisher AC, Wan GJ, Barnowski CE, & LaGuardia KD. (2009) Association between efficacy and body weight or body mass index for two low-dose oral contraceptives. Contraception, 79(6), 424-427.

Morin-Papunen L, Martikainen H, McCarthy MI, Franks S, Sovio U, Hartikainen AL, Ruokonen A, Leinonen M, Laitinen J, Järvelin MR.... (2008) Comparison of metabolic and inflammatory outcomes in women who used oral contraceptives and the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device in a general population. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 199(5), 5290-2147483647. PMID: 18533124  

  • October 24, 2010
  • 10:16 PM
  • 547 views

Mesa Verde Water Control

by teofilo in Gambler's House

I’ve previously discussed water control technologies at Chaco, where they were particularly important given the extreme aridity of that area even by Southwestern standards.  There is abundant evidence, however, that water control was a widespread activity throughout the ancient Southwest, even in areas with more reliable water sources.  The best-studied water control systems have been [...]... Read more »

  • October 20, 2010
  • 08:51 PM
  • 1,189 views

Facing Death and Uncovering the Past

by Dan Bailey in Smells Like Science

A real life Indiana Jones style adventure story (with less whips) about a priceless archaeological discovery deep in the Guatemalan Jungle.... Read more »

Saturno WA, Stuart D, & Beltrán B. (2006) Early Maya writing at San Bartolo, Guatemala. Science (New York, N.Y.), 311(5765), 1281-3. PMID: 16400112  

  • October 19, 2010
  • 08:09 AM
  • 1,005 views

Mashing up banana wild relatives

by Jeremy in Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

Over at the Vaviblog is a detailed discussion (though not nearly as detailed as the paper) of a new paper outlining a new theory for the origin of the cultivated banana. Edible bananas have very few seeds. Wild bananas are packed with seeds; there’s almost nothing there to eat. So how did edible bananas come [...]... Read more »

  • October 19, 2010
  • 08:00 AM
  • 855 views

Banana domestication revisited

by Jeremy in The Vaviblog

Edible bananas have very few seeds. Wild bananas are packed with seeds; there’s almost nothing there to eat. So how did edible bananas come to be cultivated? The standard story is that some smart proto-farmer saw a spontaneous mutation and then propagated it vegetatively. Once the plant was growing, additional mutants would also be seen [...]... Read more »

  • October 19, 2010
  • 05:39 AM
  • 708 views

Did cavemen eat bread?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression


Food is a fraught topic. In How Pleasure Works Paul Bloom alludes to the thesis that while conservatives fixate on sexual purity, liberals fixate on culinary purity. For example, is it organic? What is the sourcing? Is it “authentic”? Obviously one can take issue with this characterization, especially its general class inflection (large swaths of [...]... Read more »

Anna Revedin, Biancamaria Aranguren, Roberto Becattini, Laura Longo, Emanuele Marconi, Marta Mariotti Lippi, Natalia Skakun, Andrey Sinitsyn, Elena Spiridonova, & Jiří Svoboda. (2010) Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1006993107

  • October 19, 2010
  • 03:07 AM
  • 385 views

Wired to be Social

by Glialdance in Glial Dance

Humans are a social species, we interact with other people – aided by language- and exchange information on daily basis. The effects of social isolation have been demonstrated and predicted to be very severe and “de-humanising” in many cases with a long list of adverse effects on cognitive abilities and emotional stability. The question often posed when [...]... Read more »

Umberto Castiello, Cristina Becchio, Stefania Zoia, Cristian Nelini, Luisa Sartori, Laura Blason, Giuseppina D’Ottavio, Maria Bulgheroni, & Vittorio Gallese. (2010) Wired to be Social: the ontogeny of human interaction. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • October 18, 2010
  • 02:34 PM
  • 1,059 views

There are more things in heaven and earth, cobber, than are dreamt of in your philosophy

by Alun in AlunSalt

Studying astronomy in culture should be simple. There’s only so much that is visible by the naked eye, and it follows predictable patterns. Modern astronomy means that we can reconstruct what was visible anywhere in the world in human history, within certain boundaries for errors. If we know what happens when, then studying a culture... Read more »

Clarke, P.A. (2007) An Overview of Australian Aboriginal Ethnoastronomy. Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture, 39-58. info:/

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