Category: Biological Anthropology in the News

Prof. Kathryn ClancyFrom Science magazine online, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science — “Fieldwork is a rite of passage for anthropologists. It gives the initiate firsthand knowledge of a culture, along with a feeling of camaraderie with colleagues, often in remote and rugged locations. But for women there is also a dark side — a risk of sexual harassment and rape, according to a survey of fieldwork experiences released today. Anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, who authored the study, found a disturbingly high incidence of physical sexual harassment among respondents: More than 20% of female bioanthropologists who took part said that they had experienced ‘physical sexual harassment or unwanted sexual contact.’ Most of these victims are female, and most of the perpetrators were colleagues of superior professional status, sometimes the victim’s own fieldwork mentor.” Read the full article online (by John Bohannon, Science, April 13, 2013), and another article by the UIUC News Bureau, both with links to Prof. Clancy’s Context and Variation blog for Scientific American.

Marshall SahlinsMarshall Sahlins Resigns from the National Academy of Sciences

Inside Higher Ed

A Protest Resignation
February 25, 2013 – 3:00am

The eminent University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins resigned from the National Academy of Sciences on Friday, citing his objections to its military partnerships and to its electing as a member Napoleon Chagnon, a long-controversial anthropologist who is back in the news thanks to the publication of his new book, Noble Savages.

Read more:

How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

New York Times

Published: February 13, 2013

. . . Among the hazards Napoleon Chagnon encountered in the Venezuelan jungle were a jaguar that would have mauled him had it not become confused by his mosquito net and a 15-foot anaconda that lunged from a stream over which he bent to drink. There were also hairy black spiders, rats that clambered up and down his hammock ropes and a trio of Yanomami tribesmen who tried to smash his skull with an ax while he slept. (The men abandoned their plan when they realized that Chagnon, a light sleeper, kept a loaded shotgun within arm’s reach.) These are impressive adversaries — “Indiana Jones had nothing on me,” is how Chagnon puts it — but by far his most tenacious foes have been members of his own profession. . . He spent much of the past decade working on a memoir instead, “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists” . . .

Read the rest of the article here! Chagnon

RipanMalhi2Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) Workshop at Institute for Genomic Biology

The Institute for Genomic Biology will once again be hosting the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) Workshop. The workshop will take place from August 4-10, 2013, at the IGB to discuss genomics as a tool for Native American communities and assist in the training of Native Americans in the concepts and methods currently used in genomics.

The aims of the workshop are to facilitate discussions on indigenous values and whether scientific methods can be beneficially incorporated with these values, and to provide awareness of how genomics is currently used as a tool to assist in projects focused on natural resources, history and biomedicine. Additional instruction in fundamental concepts and methods in genomics and bioinformatics, including both theoretical aspects and practical laboratory- and computer-based training, will take place.

“The SING workshop fosters a new generation of intellectual leaders with the tools to address the expanding frontiers of genomic science and interactions with indigenous communities,” says Ripan Malhi, Director of the SING program.

Combining ethical, legal, and social discussions surrounding historical Native American encounters with science and hands-on training in the latest genomics techniques and analytical programs, the goal of the workshop is to help prepare participants for future leadership positions in science research and teaching careers.

The SING workshop was first held at the IGB in 2011, with 12 attendees and several faculty advisors participating from universities across North America. The upcoming workshop looks to double the number of participants.

Tallbear“The SING workshop is an important resource for Native American students who often engage genomics out of a commitment to their tribal communities. SING offers a multi-disciplinary curriculum that recognizes that ‘science’ and ‘society’ are not separate, but entangled,” says Kim TallBear, SING faculty and assistant professor at UC Berkeley.

The workshop is open to tribal college students, community college students, university undergraduate students and graduate students, and individuals who would like to continue their education in the sciences. Registration is now open, and full details can be found at


January 31, 2013

UC-Berkeley Exonerates Anthropologist Who Was Accused of Stealing Ideas

By Tom Bartlett


[Updated (1/31/2013, 10:10 a.m.) with a response from Michael Lissack.]

Terrence Deacon did not commit plagiarism. He did not steal anyone’s ideas. Instead, he was the victim of a “relentless e-mail and Internet campaign” that unfairly damaged his reputation.

Those are the key findings of a report released late Wednesday by the University of California at Berkeley, which investigated allegations that Mr. Deacon, a professor of anthropology at the university, borrowed and then failed to cite much of the material in his 2012 book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter.

In the report, an investigative committee determined that, while there was “considerable overlap in the issues discussed” in Mr. Deacon’s book and Alicia Juarrero’s Dynamics in Action,published more than 10 years earlier, it found no evidence of pilfering. The committee instead concluded that Mr. Deacon “pursues, independently, a line of thought which is, at a very general level, similar to that pursued by Juarrero.”

Read the rest of the article (from the Chronicle of Higher Education) here:


Terrence Deacon

“How Did We Get Here?” A Conversation with Ripan Malhi, with Stephanie Levi

Co-sponsored by IPRH and the Chicago Humanities Festival

Date: November 10, 2012; Time: 4:00 p.m.

Location: Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph Street, Chicago

When did humans come to the Americas? And how? Those are some of the oldest (and greatest) questions of anthropology. Theories abound, but they are obsolete. Over the last few years, new genetic research technologies have upended our understanding, suggesting an intriguing model that turns on multitiered colonizations along with settlements in Beringa. University of Illinois professor Ripan Malhi is at the forefront of this scholarly revolution, which also involves the development of novel research collaborations with native communities. Malhi discusses his research with Stephanie Levi, founder of Science Is Sexy, which gives Chicagoan nonscientists and scientists alike a short, sweet taste of science in their everyday lives through a series of public events.

This program is generously underwritten by Colette and John Rau.

For program details and ticket information, visit the Chicago Humanities Festival website

A manuscript accepted for publication in Psychological Science–but not yet published–is already making news.  And not all good.  The study claims a causal correlation between the timing of women’s menstrual cycles and their voting preferences.  Among many online critical assessments, our own Prof. Clancy critiques the study here:

A replica of the Denisovan finger bone sits on a human hand.

Mystery Relative’s DNA Highlights Unique Human Traits

Chronicle of Higher Education

By Josh Fischman

August 30, 2012

The young woman from southern Siberia has been tantalizing scientists for about two years. They knew a few skimpy details, like that she was a she, and lived at least 50,000 years ago. Also she was not a modern human, but she or others in her group may have mated with our more direct ancestors, contributing a little DNA we still carry today.

Today we know what her DNA is — and more important, we have a better sense of what genes are uniquely ours. Many of them have to do with brain development and vision, and could be traits that set us apart from these near-modern humans in Siberia called Denisovans, their sister group the Neanderthals, and other shadowy relatives in Africa.

A newly unveiled and highly detailed genome map reveals those distinctions. It also uses genetics, not traditional geology, to place the woman in Denisova Cave about 80,000 years ago, not 50,000, and attempts to silence skeptics who have asserted that mating with modern humans was a product of geneticists’ imaginations.   Not a bad haul from a piece of finger bone that’s smaller than your knuckle.   “This represents a culmination of my efforts to study ancient DNA, which began in the 1980s when I started fooling around with mummies,” said Svante Paabo, a geneticist who led the work published on Thursday in Science. Mr. Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, published a “draft” genome sequence in 2010 — it indicated the gender of the finger-bone owner — but he acknowledges it was prone to error and covered only about 60 percent of the genome.   The new sequence covers more than 99 percent, thanks to a new technique developed by Mr. Paabo’s team that, in essence, pulls apart the two mirror-image strands of the DNA double helix and exposes each one for a complete analysis, something hard to do when the fragmented, timeworn molecule is bound together.

Read the full article online in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape

By Kate Clancy

August 20, 2012

Prof. Kate Clancy regularly contributes blog articles to Scientific American in her column “Context and Variation.”

(A warning to readers: this August 20 blog discussion concerns violence against women and graphic mention of miscarriage).

So Congressperson Todd Akin of Missouri has said some interesting things. Referring to the possibility of pregnancy after rape, and whether abortion should be allowed in this circumstance, he said according to his understanding “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” but that, should one embryo slip through, that “the punishment should be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.” In Akin’s non-apology about his insensitivity towards the “thousands” of rape survivors each year, he remains firm on the point that abortion shouldn’t be allowable for pregnant victims, saying “…I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

I don’t like writing about rape. I didn’t like turning my Laser Beam Eyes of Ladybusiness Justice on my Twitter feed today, which was a constant stream of information, reaction to, and anger about Akin and his baseless, stupid comments. Rape reminds me of the ways in which I am powerless, simply by being female. It doesn’t matter how many contact sports I play or muscles I build. It doesn’t matter how big my husband is. Sometimes I look at my life, and see what I’ve built, and how I’ve tried to protect myself. And I wonder what measures other women have taken for the same reasons, measures that ultimately mean little in the face of cultural conditioning to make men happy, of sexual dimorphism in musculature, of a powerful rape culture.

Read Prof. Clancy’s full blog article here.


Image courtesy of Laura Shackelford / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Image courtesy of Laura Shackelford / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Human Skull Begins to Fill in 20,000-Year Gap in Fossil Record

Laura Shackelford‘s work on very early human remains uncovered in Laos has been the subject of media coverage by Discover Magazine and other publications.

Discover Magazine blog —

Back in the day, in the northern part of modern-day Laos, an early modern human died and its corpse washed into a nearby cave. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a particularly noteworthy event. But researchers dated the remains of this human’s skull to at least 46,000 years ago, making it the oldest modern human ever discovered in Southeast Asia.

Scientists discovered the skull fragments back in 2009, but have only this week published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Features not found in any earlier specimens of the Homo genus, such as the absence of a brow ridge on the skull’s frontal bone, mark it as a modern human.

The remains had been hidden under layers of sediment that had washed into the cave over the years. Because there were no signs of a dwelling or of a ceremonial burial, the body to which the skull once belonged was probably swept into the cave from outside as well. Luminescence dating, which measures the energy that crystals in the dirt can store, told the researchers that the last time the sediment layer around the skull experienced sunlight or heat — before it drifted into the dark cave — was between 46,000 and 51,000 years ago. And they calculated the skull’s age with uranium-thorium dating, a radiometric technique often used on materials that retain uranium, like bones and teeth. The skull was about 63,000 years old, indicating that it lay outside the cave for a while before it washed in along with the sediment on which it sat.

This time window makes the new fossil at least 20,000 years older than modern human fossils previously uncovered in the same area, illuminating a blank period in the fossil record and providing evidence for the commonly accepted “Out of Africa” theory of human development. How exactly Homo sapiens spread across the globe is still under debate, but according to this hypothesis, modern humans evolved in Africa and then quickly migrated out of the continent. This skull demonstrates that modern humans had reached Southeast Asia by about 60,000 years ago, a migration pattern that aligns with archaeological and genetic evidence, as well as the Out of Africa theory’s predictions.


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