Saturday, April 26, 2014

Early Levallois Technology and Its Implications: New Data from Olorgesailie, Kenya

Alison Brooks (George Washington University), Richard Potts (Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution) and John Yellen (National Science Foundation)
Abstracts of the SAA 79th Annual Meeting

Abstract:  The Olorgesailie basin, in the Rift Valley of southern Kenya, is well-known for its spectacular concentrations of Acheulean handaxes and large game butchery sites, dating from over 1 Ma to 493 ka, as well as for pioneering studies in landscape archaeology. New excavations since 2001 have revealed that these early occupations were followed by a long sequence of Middle Stone Age occupations without handaxes, beginning well before 315 ka and ending before 64ka. In this presentation, we compare cores from the later Acheulean horizons of Members 11 and 13 of the Olorgesailie formation (between 625 and 550 ka), to those of MSA sites dating from over 315 ka to after 220 ka. We demonstrate that Levallois technology begins to emerge early on in this sequence during the Acheulean, well before its appearance in dated Middle Eastern or European contexts, and we consider the implications of this for human evolution. We also show that Levallois cores are made in many different raw materials, both local and transported, and that their frequency is episodic and non-linear through time. From 220 ka on, however, most sites are characterized by industries with small standardized Levallois cores.

Friday, April 25, 2014

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On the chronology of the Uluzzian

Katerina Douka, Thomas F. G. Higham, Rachel Wood, Paolo Boscato, Paolo, Gambassini, Panagiotis Karkanas, Marco Peresani, Anna Maria Ronchitelli


Abstract:  The Uluzzian, one of Europe's ‘transitional’ technocomplexes, has gained particular significance over the past three years when the only human remains associated with it were attributed to modern humans, instead of Neanderthals as previously thought. The position of the Uluzzian at stratified sequences, always overlying late Mousterian layers and underlying early Upper Palaeolithic ones, highlights its significance in understanding the passage from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic, as well as the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans in southeastern Mediterranean Europe. Despite several studies investigating aspects of its lithic techno-typology, taxonomy and material culture, the Uluzzian chronology has remained extremely poorly-known, based on a handful of dubious chronometric determinations. Here we aim to elucidate the chronological aspect of the technocomplex by presenting an integrated synthesis of new radiocarbon results and a Bayesian statistical approach from four stratified Uluzzian cave sequences in Italy and Greece (Cavallo, Fumane, Castelcivita and Klissoura). In addition to building a reliable chronological framework for the Uluzzian, we examine its appearance, tempo-spatial spread and correlation to previous and later Palaeolithic assemblages (Mousterian, Protoaurignacian) at the relevant regions. We conclude that the Uluzzian arrived in Italy and Greece shortly before 45,000 years ago and its final stages are placed at ∼39,500 years ago, its end synchronous (if not slightly earlier) with the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption.



According to his reports it seemed to be a primary burial, as the skeleton was lying on its back [in front of his cave] . . . The inhumation was accompanied by two ribs of Bos primigenius

Supplementary Information 1
Sampling, Library Preparation and Sequencing

Alissa Mittnik*, Susanna Sawyer, Ruth Bollongino, Christos Economou, Dominique Delsate, Michael Francken, Joachim Wahl, Johannes Krause

from the paper:

Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, Alissa Mittnik, et al.,
Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans.
BioArxiv 2013 (preprint). Freely accessible → LINK (last version) [doi:10.1101/001552]


"The Late Mesolithic Loschbour sample stems from a male skeleton recovered from the Loschbour rock shelter in Heffingen, Luxembourg." 

"The skeleton was excavated in 1935 by Nicolas Thill. The in situ find is not documented, but was described retrospectively by Heuertz (1950 [1], 1969 [2]). According to his reports it seemed to be a primary burial, as the skeleton was lying on its back in a flexed position and with arms crossed over the chest. The inhumation was accompanied by two ribs of Bos primigenius, dated in 1975 by conventional radiocarbon to 7115 [plus/minus 45] BP (GrN-7177; 6,010-5,850 cal BC)[4] and a small flint scraper.  The skeleton was AMS radiocarbon dated in 1998 to 7,205 [plus/minus 50] before present (BP) (OxA-7738; 6,220-5,990 cal BC)[5]. Based on morphological, radiological and histological data, the estimated age of death is 34 to 47 years[6]. Pathological finds include slight dorsal and lumbar vertebral osteoarthritic lesions, minimal unsystematized enthesopathies and an osteo-dental discharge fistula[6]. The skull seems at least partly decorated with ocher[6]. A second and older(final middle Mesolithic) burial, with a cremated individual dated in 1999 to 7,960 [plus/minus 40] BP (Beta 132067, AMS radiocarbon method), was discovered in a nearby pit among ashes [5]. The disturbed archaeological layers in which the two burials were found contained rich lithic assemblages, including microlithic artefacts of early, middle and late Mesolithic periods (e.g. points with retouched and unretouched bases, points with bilateral retouch, an obliquely truncated point, a point with a slanted base and surface retouch, mistletoe points with surface retouch, a scalene triangle, narrow backed bladelets and a truncated bladelet with a narrow back), massive antler tools, faunal remains from aurochs, red deer, wild boar, and roe deer [4,7,8] and two perforated allochtonous fossilized shells of Bayana lactea [9]. New excavations in 1981 and 2003 revealed additional information on the stratigraphy [10,11], taphonomic processes and palaeoenvironment."

Monday, April 21, 2014


Walkabout is a 1971 film set in Australia, directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg (credited as Lucien John) and David Gulpilil. Edward Bond wrote the screenplay, which is loosely based on the novel Walkabout by James Vance Marshall.

Genomic and cranial phenotype data support multiple modern human dispersals from Africa and a southern route into Asia

Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Silvia Ghirotto, Florent Détroit, Dominique Grimaud-Hervé, Guido Barbujani, and Katerina Harvati


Despite broad consensus on Africa as the main place of origin for anatomically modern humans, their dispersal pattern out of the continent continues to be intensely debated. In extant human populations, the observation of decreasing genetic and phenotypic diversity at increasing distances from sub-Saharan Africa has been interpreted as evidence for a single dispersal, accompanied by a series of founder effects. In such a scenario, modern human genetic and phenotypic variation was primarily generated through successive population bottlenecks and drift during a rapid worldwide expansion out of Africa in the Late Pleistocene. However, recent genetic studies, as well as accumulating archaeological and paleoanthropological evidence, challenge this parsimonious model.

They suggest instead a “southern route” dispersal into Asia as early as the late Middle Pleistocene, followed by a separate dispersal into northern Eurasia. Here we test these competing out-of-Africa scenarios by modeling hypothetical geographical migration routes and assessing their correlation with neutral population differentiation, as measured by genetic polymorphisms and cranial shape variables of modern human populations from Africa and Asia. We show that both lines of evidence support a multiple-dispersals model in which Australo-Melanesian populations are relatively isolated descendants of an early dispersal, whereas other Asian populations are descended from, or highly admixed with, members of a subsequent migration event.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

DeepDyve and ReadCube

With the advent of DeepDyve and ReadCube, for a modest cost, it is now possible for the public to easily get access to journal articles as they are published.  For instance, a number of important articles and discussions have recently been published in the Journal of Human Evolution (DeepDyve link) which I have not posted on this blog (and have not seen posted on other blogs).  For those curious about the latest developments, I'd highly recommend DeepDyve and ReadCube.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is the STEM Crisis a Myth?

Published on Oct 17, 2013 
The September 2013 article "The STEM Crisis Is a Myth," by IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Robert N. Charette, triggered a hearty response from readers. Many commenters shared his view—that there is no shortage of scientists and engineers—and quite a few were against it. It seemed clear that a discussion of the issue should continue.

Read more:
IEEE Spectrum's Special Report:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot/Pied de Corbeau)

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.”

Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot/Pied de Corbeau),
Chief of the Siksika People (Blackfoot People)

Crowfoot biography by Hugh Dempsey
collected works of Hugh Dempsey

Siksika Nation wiki
Siksika Nation website

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let's Throw a Stanford-Oxford Money Party and Invite Only Our Male Friends"

Stanford is throwing a Big Data in Biomedicine conference.  (Link)

I generally try to ignore the pervasive gender imbalance all around me in technology, but in this case, it is so blatant and close to home, that I think I'll say something.

Apparently, the topic of the conference is "driving innovation for a healthier world."

I note that there are only six women speakers to this conference (out of 45, a ratio of less than 15%). [I originally thought it was only two, but recounting, there are six women, out of forty five.]

Given that many of the chosen speakers at the conference are not directly in the field of bioinformatics or statistics, but are in related fields such as public policy, traditional medicine, or radiology, it is inexcusable that the number of women researchers at this conference is not approaching half.  This is conference about health, after all, which impacts women at least as much as men.

Vinod Khosla is an invited speaker, as is John Hennessy, the President of Stanford, and Robert Gentleman, Senior Director of Bioinformatics at Genentech, and David Glazer, Director of Engineering at Google.

The conference is being held in Silicon Valley, where I live and work, as a woman engineer.  The same place where women technology workers struggle to get even three months of maternity leave and struggle mightily to re-start their careers, should they decide to take some time out in order to take longer than three months of maternity leave.  The same place where, as a result of not being able to take maternity leave, most children are not breast fed for more than a few months and therefore do not benefit from the known life long health benefits of breast feeding.

And how about that pay differential between women and men in Silicon Valley?  According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, "as of 2012, men working full time in Santa Clara made a median $91,471 annually, compared to $56,996 for women." 

It is not as if there are not more women qualified to speak at this conference.  True, many of them may not be researchers at Stanford or Oxford, but some are researchers at companies such as Genentech.  I happen to know several who would definitely be more qualified than some of the speakers I see on the list.

It's really shameful.  Oxford and Stanford, Google, Khosla Ventures and Genentech should be ashamed to throw a boys' club money party and call it a "conference" on bioinformatics and "health". Health?  I'll believe it when I see these guys lobbying for at least six months of paid maternity leave across the board, career re-entry paths for women in technology, and gender parity at conferences.


Daniel and Lior, thanks for your comments.  Personally, I think it would be a shame for anyone to withdraw from the conference. 
I don't believe in tokenism, but I think the conference is really missing out by not having more women and more diversity in the mix.  I'm not in bioinformatics, but obviously, writing this blog, I've run across so many great papers this year from a very broad mix of researchers.  Many are not at Stanford or Oxford, but more women and a broader mix of people from different cultural backgrounds would richen and strengthen the conversation about future directions in bioinformatics, health and innovation. 
OK, Good.  Thanks Daniel and Lior.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

EDGAR - Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research

GHG (CO2, CH4, N2O, F-gases) emission time series 1990-2010 per region/country

The GHG total, expressed in metric ton CO2 equivalent is calculated using the GWP100 metric of UNFCCC (IPCC, 1996). The GHG are composed of CO2 totals excluding short-cycle biomass burning (such as agricultural waste burning and Savannah burning) but including other biomass burning (such as forest fires, post-burn decay, peat fires and decay of drained peatlands), all anthropogenic CH4 sources, N2O sources and F-gases (HFCs, PFCs and SF6).