Friday, January 18, 2019

Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Traps?

Gideon Lewis-Kraus
The New York Times Magazine
January 17th, 2019

This extraordinary critique of the state of ancient DNA research and publication is a long read.  I will not extract quotes from the article, as it really is necessary to read the whole article, top to bottom, to begin to grasp what in wrong within ancient DNA research today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Each Man Has His Own Friends: The Role of Dream Visitors in Traditional East Cree Belief and Practice

James Bay Cree Drum, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Regina Flannery, Mary Elizabeth Chambers
Arctic Anthropology
Vol. 22, No. 1 (1985), pp. 1-22 (22 pages)

Page 6:

Hunting songs were the ubiquitous gifts bestowed in dreams.  A man received a song when he dreamed he heard “someone” singing as he comes to him (an indirect reference to the powatakan).  On waking, he began “to sing just like he has been dreaming,” and might sing for several hours to fix it in his memory, but not after daybreak.  The content of the songs often consisted of brief phrases referring to the animals released to the hunter; for instance, one man’s song repeated, “Someone is walking around in the snow,” a reference to the caribou.  Because of their intimate nature, a man’s songs would never be repeated by others, even children, as long as the man was an active hunter.  Very old men, however, allowed young boys to sing their songs.

Since almost all daily activities in the bush are accompanied by singing, a good hunter might have had a large repertoire of songs, including those sung while making traps or stretching hides, for example.  While these, too, should not be sung by others, and the most important songs were those sung before and after a hunt.  Songs used in preparation for a hunt were sung only at night and were divinatory, as it was said "by his singing a man sees what he is going to hunt."

Whether the singer had a drum or a rattle, or both, or neither, to accompany his songs was again a matter of the individual dream experience.  A man had to dream the drum or rattle before he could make it, and dream the motifs for embellishing it.  The East Cree drum is doubleheaded with "snares" on both sides; the larger size drum, associated with the caribou, was often painted on both heads with a ring of red paint around the outer circumference and with varying designs composed of red dots in the center.  According to dream instructions, smaller drums, also doubleheaded, might have been decorated with a realistic depiction of a wavey [snow goose, Chen caerulescens], in flight or at rest, or a beaver.  These were said by Tommy Jacob to be "pictures" of the respective owner’s powatakan.  An individual’s drum had its own acahkw and ordinarily was never used by others except at a feast, when the host might pass his drum to other men to accompany the singing of their own songs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I Woke Up Like This

Beyoncé Knowles, Aaron Muka, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Chauncey Hollis, Raymond DeAndre Martin, Rashad Mohammed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Parkwood, Columbia
(Link) wikipedia

James D. Watson
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA 
(Link) amazon, first edition published in 1968 by Atheneum, New York

pages 16-18

". . . it was increasingly difficult to take Maurice’s mind off his assistant, Rosalind Franklin.

"Not that he was at all in love with Rosy, as we called her from a distance. Just the opposite – almost from the moment she arrived in Maurice’s lab, they began to upset each other. Maurice, a beginner in X-ray diffraction work, wanted some professional help and hoped that Rosy, a trained crystallographer, could speed up his research. Rosy, however, did not see the situation this way. She claimed that she had been given DNA for her own problem and would not think of herself as Maurice’s assistant.

"I suspect that in the beginning Maurice hoped that Rosy would calm down. Yet mere inspection suggested that she would not easily bend. By choice she did not emphasize her feminine qualities. Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not. There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents. So it was quite easy to imagine her the product of an unsatisfied mother who unduly stressed the desirability of professional careers that could save bright girls from marriages to dull men. But this was not the case. Her dedicated, austere life could not be thus explained – she was the daughter of a solidly comfortable, erudite banking family.

"Clearly Rosy had to go or be put in her place. The former was obviously preferable because, given her belligerent moods, it would be very difficult for Maurice to maintain a dominant position that would allow him to think unhindered about DNA. Not that at times he didn’t see some reason for her complaints – King’s had two combination rooms, one for men, the other for women, certainly a thing of the past. But he was not responsible, and it was no pleasure to bear the cross for the added barb that the women’s combination room remained dingily pokey whereas money had been spent to make life agreeable for him and his friends when they had their morning coffee.

"Unfortunately, Maurice could not see any decent way to give Rosy the boot. To start with, she had been given to think that she had a position for several years. Also, there was no denying that she had a good brain. If she could only keep her emotions under control, there would be a good chance that she could really help him . . ."

Rosalind Franklin (credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Beryl Lieff Benderly
Rosalind Franklin and the damage of gender harassment
August 1st, 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists 
Anchor Book, a division of Random House 2015
(Link) amazon

"We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men."

Marnie Dunsmore
blog note, January 8th, 2019

I first read "The Double Helix" in the early 1980s while I was studying physics at the Royal Military College of Canada.  In this book, I found Watson's comments regarding Rosalind Franklin to be grossly antagonistic toward a professional colleague and intentionally subjugating on the basis of gender.

At the time, many of my physics professors were from the United Kingdom (Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, and Saint Andrews).  They would have been well acquainted with the search for the structure of DNA at the Cavendish Labs at Cambridge, and at King's College in London.  I'm sure most of them had read "The Double Helix".

On a few occasions, while studying physics, I did experience overt harassment.  I experienced quite a bit of unconscious bias, as well.  At the time, I had no language or context for this differential experience, and could not quite understand the motivation behind the hostile behavior on the part of some.  I most of all ignored this behavior and enjoyed the subject matter.  No one, however, ever spoke to me about gender based discrimination in physics.  My experience of harassment and gender bias, and lack of acknowledgement by my professors that women experienced harassment and discrimination in physics, was a dissociating experience.

Rosalind Franklin's experience of harassment and discrimination was there at the foundation of molecular biology.  It was written about in the 1960s. Why, only now, fifty years later, is there any open discussion of this?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ethnoastronomical perspectives on Saami religion

Bo Sommarström
Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis
Volume 12, 1987


There are several difficulties in interpreting the pictures on the Saami shaman drums. Some of the figures found in the space between the central sun sign and the edge on some fifty drumskins occupy positions within certain quadrants like similar figures in our traditional western star charts. The present study continues the theme of by making a comparison of the pictures on the edge and the central figure complex (the sun sign). As the analysis has been extended, it has also become possible to adopt a new position with regard to the overall picture. This has led to observations that the zodiac can be discerned more or less clearly in the mass of constellations, that the positioning is decided by orientating the drum in relation to the height of the sun and thus to the Saamis' calendar, to the seasons and to the cardinal points. It is moreover probable that the drums were connected, at least indirectly, to a commonly held idea about the natural elements and their connection with people's basic temperaments. In other words: the similarity between the Saamis' "magic drums" and the astrolabes found among the European neighbouring peoples has been further reinforced, provided one means by this the basic pattern of the figures and their arrangement in a holistic system which we could regard as a psycho-cosmogram. It is even possible that the Saami shaman, noai'de, if he peered from underneath, through the semitransparent drumskin, could understand the horoscope diagram with its reversed constellations/signs as was used by his colleagues in the rest of Europe—as a theistically sanctioned cosmological projection, in contrast to the natural reproduction by the Saami drum of the apparent anti-clockwise rotation of the stars once every twenty-four hours.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Liminality, rock art and the Sami sacred landscape

Our reconstruction of the ancient Sami world-view, based on various sources (Mulk & Bayliss-Smith 2006: 96). In this diagram the images representing Máttaráhkká and the funeral boat are copied from two figures depicted at the Badjelándda site (D18 and D13 respectively).

Figure 7: Our reconstruction of the ancient Sami world-view, based on various sources (Mulk & Bayliss-Smith 2006: 96). In this diagram the images representing Máttaráhkká and the funeral boat are copied from two figures depicted at the Badjelándda site (D18 and D13 respectively).

Inga-Maria Mulk, Tim Bayliss-Smith
Journal of Northern Studies


The paper suggests that cultural landscapes were permeated by religious meanings in all pre-modern societies, including Sami societies before c. AD 1600. We suggest that knowledge of this sacred landscape was not restricted to an elite or to shamans, but was widely shared. For the Sami, religious rituals and associated images (e.g. rock art) involved all levels within a social hierarchy that linked the individual adult or child, the family, the band or sijdda, and the association of family groups or vuobme. We can decode the sacred landscapes of such societies if we can reconstruct sites of perceived anomaly and liminality in the landscape. This is discussed in the article with reference to Proto-Uralic cosmology in general and the Sami world-view in particular. The concepts of anomaly and liminality enable us to interpret the Badjelánnda rock art site in Laponia, northern Sweden, as not only a place of resource procurement (asbestos, soapstone) but also a sacred site. We suggest that the Badjelánnda site should be seen as a gateway to the Underworld, and therefore visits for quarrying, human burials at the site, or wild reindeer hunting in the vicinity were marked by ritual acts, directed perhaps towards the Sami female deity Máttaráhkká. The rock art should therefore be interpreted as an aspect of religious ritual, and in a context where anomalous topography signified that the Badjelánnda site was necessarily a liminal place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Down In Yon Forest

Singer:  Bruce Cockburn on Christmas, 1993 recording
Collected from Southern Appalachia by John Jacob Niles


Down in yon forest be a hall,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
'Tis coverlided over with purple and pall.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh in that hall is a pallet bed:
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
'Tis stained with blood like cardinal red.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

And at that pallet is a stone
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
On which the Virgin did atone
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Under that Hall is a gushing flood:
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
From Christ's own side 'tis water and blood.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Beside that bed a shrub tree grows,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
Since He was born hit blooms and blows.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh, on that bed a young Squire sleeps,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
His wounds are sick, and see, he weeps.
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

Oh hail yon Hall were none can sin,
Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!
Cause hit's gold outside and silver within,
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!

See also:

The Meaning of the Corpus Christi Carol
Richard L. Greene
Medium Ævum
Vol. 29, No. 1 (1960), pp. 10-21

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Corpus Christi Carol

Mezzo Soprano:  Janet Baker
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Piano:  Gerald Moore

The Meaning of the Corpus Christi Carol
Richard L. Greene 
Medium Ævum 
Vol. 29, No. 1 (1960), pp. 10-21

Friday, December 21, 2018

Lux Aeterna

Lux Aeterna by Ivo Antognini (Link
performed by the Phoenix Chamber Choir (Vancouver, Canada), 
Graeme Langager, conductor

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why Current Genetic Ancient DNA Evidence Does Not Tell Us When Humans Reached North America

I have recently seen discussed among people interested in the peopling of the Americas that there is now enough ancient DNA evidence to definitely tell us when humans first arrived here.

I will now discuss why the currently available ancient DNA evidence for Siberia, Asia, Alaska and North America is insufficient to make this assertion.

Here is the ancient DNA genetic evidence that I am aware of, related to Siberia and North America, in the period of interest (42,000 to 9,800 years ago):

Yana RHS
date: 31,500 years BP

date:  12,707–12,556 years BP

date:  11,500 years BP

date:  24,000 years BP

date:  9.8 years BP

date:  39,000 to 42,000 BP

If you account for the fact that Beringia was unflooded and walkable until 11,000 years ago, you would expect that there would be continuous gene flow between Siberia and North America until 11,000 years ago.  Kolyma, in fact, shows this.  But this gene flow would have over written the genetic signature of earlier populations in Beringia.  Therefore, the correct experiments would look at the structure and gene flow of populations between Asia and the Americas using contemporaneous-in-time samples between the Americas and Asia.

Since we do not as yet have contemporaneous-in-time samples in the Americas that could be compared to Mal'ta, Yana RHS, and Tianyuan, we cannot say that we have properly run the experiment to look for how and when humans moved between Asia and America in the last 40,000 years.  Looking objectively at the last 40,000 years with contemporaneous comparisons between continents would be a good start for these geneticists.

What I do see in these ancient DNA papers and associated material in the press are lots of "eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows", showing a big jump from East Asians 26,000 years ago to Native Americans 13,000 years ago, but with a complete absence of data for Beringia and the Americas earlier than 13,000 years ago.  Take, for instance, this article:

This model has a 13,000 year gap where we do not know where anyone was.  And there is no data for the Americas, not even Alaska and the Yukon, before 13,000 years ago.  Yet we know humans were in the Yukon for more than 10,000 years prior to 13,000 years ago, based on the Bluefish Cave site.

A further weakness of the current paradigm that argues for the peopling of the Americas after 16,000 years ago is that it does not account for the obvious back migrations that would have continuously occurred between Siberia, Asia and the Americas.  These back migrations would continue to "over-write" earlier populations in the region.

Therefore, the current genetic evidence does not indicate with any degree of confidence that humans reached the Americas south of the Cordilleran-Laurentide ice sheets only after 16,000 years ago.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Human Occupation of Northern Australia by 65,000 Years Ago

Clarkson et al.
20 July 2017


The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.