Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sexual Violence in Mali Casts Shadow Over Peace Efforts

Sexual Violence in Mali Casts Shadow Over Peace Efforts
by Flavia Krause-Jackson & Pauline Bax
Bloomberg News Service

Rebels who had conquered northern Mali offered to pay the equivalent of $14 for a 13-year-old girl. When her family said no, they took her anyway.

A week later, she died in captivity, after she was repeatedly raped by a group of armed men.

That incident in April is one of hundreds of documented cases compiled by the United Nations in the past year that shed light on the sexual violence unleashed by insurgents -- mostly Touareg separatists rather than al-Qaeda-linked Islamists -- during their occupation of a sparsely populated and inhospitable Mali region the size of Texas.

Nine months later, the rebels have melted away into the desert as French intervention troops advance. For the women of the farming and cattle-herding communities, the prospect is that yet another peace deal will ignore the record of rape used as a weapon of war.

“The question of sexual violence is not treated as an urgent question, unfortunately,” Hannah Armstrong, an analyst on security in West Africa. The same Touareg fighters now clamoring for negotiations “carried out raid-style attacks during which animals were stolen, slave-caste women raped repeatedly,” she said in an interview in Bamako, the Malian capital.

A total of 211 cases of sexual violence -- including gang rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages and torture -- were committed during house-to-house operations or at checkpoints during 2012, according to the Office of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Rape, Looting

The cases, which have not been made public, were verified over the course of a two-week fact-finding mission in November, when a UN official met in person with witnesses and survivors of sexual assault. Their names were withheld out of concern for their safety as the perpetrators still held the affected areas.

Only a handful of peace agreements address such crimes. The likelihood is that in Mali conflict-related sexual violence will be brushed aside, as has happened in Libya since the fighting that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

A further complication is that those held responsible for the worst abuses against women are young Touareg men of Malian origin who rescinded their claims of independence and are now making peace overtures. The separatist rebel group that unleashed the chaos, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its French acronym MNLA, lost control over its militants soon after it occupied the north and its fighters were seen attacking their own people.

Old Patterns

During the rebellion, traditional patterns of subjugation reemerged with most of the reported abuses occurring after the armed groups seized Gao on March 31 and a day later when they took the fabled capital of the North, Timbuktu.

A 36-year-old woman in Gao was raped in her home by two light-skinned, turban-wearing men speaking Tamacheq, the language spoken by Touareg, according to an account told to UN officials. They broke into her house to demand money and gold ornaments and came in a Toyota Hilux pickup truck flying a yellow, black, red and green flag used by MNLA.

A nomadic people who have roamed the sand dunes of the Sahara for millennia, the Touareg have been romanticized as the “blue men of the desert” for their indigo-dyed cotton robes. In their quest to gain independence for northern Mali, they joined forces with extremist groups such as Ansar Dine, led by a dissident Touareg commander turned radical Islamist, only to be pushed aside later.

French Warning

The MNLA is now courting the Malian authorities and offering to support the French military push.

“From our point of view, the French army should not get involved with them and we’ve cautioned them against collaborating,” the UN director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, said in a Jan. 28 telephone interview while on a mission in Mali to report on human-rights abuses.

Still, the MNLA’s exclusion from the negotiating table may hobble efforts to find a long-term solution for itinerant tribes that have staged numerous uprisings amid complaints that their region was ignored by the central government.

“There should be some kind of acknowledgment of the abuses the MNLA committed as that would go some way to introducing the notion that they have a credible political leadership,” said Armstrong, a specialist in the Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land that spans Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.

The assaults on women in northern Mali also reveal remnants of a culture of slavery, nominally abolished in 1960 when the country gained its independence from France.

Slavery Traditions

The acquisition of livestock and women through raids are part of the traditional Touareg style of warfare, while subjugation of people seen as low-caste is still considered acceptable among some families, according to Temedt, a Malian human-rights group that conducts anti-slavery advocacy.

Women and girls of the darker-skinned Bella community, whose people have historically been considered as slaves of the Touaregs, were in particular targeted by Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, a radical Islamist group that has many Touareg fighters in its ranks, according to UN experts who visited Mali during the turmoil and asked to not be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

“Witnesses and victims from the Bella slave caste told me attackers and looters were Touaregs, not Islamists,” Armstrong said.

Parents were threatened to hand over their daughters for marriage to members of these groups, which invariably led to rape, sexual enslavement and sometimes death, the UN experts said.

Forced Marriage

In one incident, a 15-year-old girl was forced into marriage to Abdul Haqim, a military commander for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Repeatedly raped for months by fighters in the militia base, she was released when she became pregnant, according to the UN investigators.

In Mali, based on cases reported by displaced survivors of sexual violence, rebels conducted “requisitions,” or the abduction of women and girls, from a district to spend the night in their camps. Each night a different district would be required to provide a number of women and girls to the rebels. This, UN officials say, would suggest it was a tactic to subjugate local populations that was condoned by top commanders.

“Conflict-related sexual violence is not specific to any era, culture or continent,” according to a 54-page guidebook for mediators produced last year by the UN. But it is “arguably more powerful and less expensive than a gun.”

Systematic Violence

In the case of the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual attacks provoke displacement to increase aggressors’ access to resources. Amid the warfare during the breakup of former Yugoslavia, such acts disrupted reproduction among targeted ethnic groups, interfering with population growth.

“Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives,” according to UN Women, the UN office for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

While it’s undisputed that rape has been used in war since the earliest armies to instill fear and create ethnic divisions -- and continues in war zones such as Syria -- the view that sexual violence in conflicts is on the rise has been challenged.

A Human Security Report released in October by Canadian researchers said there was a “distortion of evidence” by aid agencies and the UN, which base their assertions on the “small number of countries afflicted by extreme levels of sexual violence.”

‘Mainstream Narrative’

The “mainstream narrative associated with this advocacy exaggerates the prevalence of conflict-related rape,” according to the 132-page report by researchers affiliated with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

The UN Secretary-General’s office responded that accurate data collection is difficult and that the phenomenon leaves women afraid of being banished by their communities or facing reprisals in cultures where victims are urged to keep quiet.

One issue is the scarcity of women in mediation and monitoring teams. It would be easier to get female victims to open up to women than men in places where there is great gender disparity and rape carries a social stigma. Fewer than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements are women, according to a UN Women report on the participation of women in peace processes.

Among the internal refugees in the capital, Bamako, some women also tell stories of rape and abuse, Violet Diallo, a British social worker, said in an interview.

“In the north, especially, it’s taboo to discuss anything that relates to sex.” said Diallo, who helps displaced women in Bamako. “What we hear is probably only the tip of the iceberg.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at; Pauline Bax in Accra at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

Crisis for Women in Timbuktu

Malian women in Timbuktu recount abuse under al-Qaeda group Ansar Din (courtesy AlJazeera English)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

North Africa Now

I've been following the news on North Africa including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Mali over the last year with astonishment at the rapidity of change and also at the extent of the brutality.  I have also increasingly been reflecting on the fact that these countries are struggling with profound levels of proverty, impacts of a degraded environment due to climate change, failed and quixotic internal and international trade and economic policies, food shortages, political collapse, and population pressure.  I am stunned that a region that for so long has been stable is now in great peril.

I've covered these regions extensively on this blog and even since writing about them, great change has taken place.

As I listen to the daily shocking news, it is hard to be focused on the distant past when so much is happening in the present.  For that reason, for the next few weeks, I have decided to repost material that I think does a good job of covering current events in North Africa.  Toward that end, this morning there was excellent coverage on KQED Forum on that of Mali.  I am reposting it here:

Crisis in Mali
KQED Forum
Host:  Michael Krasny

Chris Fomunyoh,
Senior associate for Africa National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)

John Campbell,
Senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
and author of "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink"

Mamadou Diallo,
Regional manager for West Africa with Freedom from Hunger

Mark Quarterman,
Director of research for The Enough Project,
which fights to end genocide and crimes against humanity

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton,
International correspondent for NPR

Friday, January 25, 2013

How Was the Bow and Arrow Invented?

Blog Note:  The following paper makes a compelling argument for the development of the bow from fishing net technology.  I do not necessarily agree with all aspects of the paper and believe that the bow could have been co-developed in other parts of the world.  Notably, the Hadza, an isolated group in East Africa, hunt with a type of long bow.  A quick search of bow development papers shows that in addition to the composite bow, there is a distinctive bow technology, the two-wood bow, in Scandinavia.  There is also the triple curved bow depicted in southern African rock art.   In any case, the argument for a connection between the development of fishing and bow technology, as well as basket making, is convincing.

Ma GuangYan
No. 13, pp. 115-126 (1995)

"Chinese cities and countryside often use a kind of lāo wăng (fishing-catching net) to catch fish in the shallow water of the river, lake, harbor and branching stream. This kind of fish-catching net is made of a wooden stick or a bamboo strip, bent to form a (upside-down U)-shaped frame (bow) and a rope (called the string) stretched taut between the two ends of the frame, with a rope-woven net fixed on the bow proper and the string."

"Thus, gŏng (the bow of the bow and arrow) is evolved from gŭ gŏng (the frame) of gu (the fishing gear). For in the process of making gu, the first step is to bend the wooden stick or bamboo strip into the (upside-down U)-shape and then to tie a rope (or string) tautly to the two ends of the frame. At this very moment, a bow (of the bow and arrow) is practically accomplished. The reasons why the discovery of the catapulting mechanism and function of the bow (of the bow and arrow) resulted from the making of the fishing gear gu will be given in a later part of this paper."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ishi in Two Worlds: The Mongolian Release

Ishi shooting his bow. Deer Creek, Ishi Wilderness, Tehama, 1914.

Ishi in Two Worlds
Theodora Kroeber (Author), Karl Kroeber (Editor)
First published in 1961 by the Regents of the University of California
50th Anniversary Edition, 2011 (amazon)

Chapter 9:

     "For the toxophilist the most interesting thing about Ishi is his shooting of the bow.  An archer today knows the classic shooting stances, the different kinds of bows, and the historic methods of arrow release.  These are technical matters, understood within the difficult language of a special vocabulary.  The pictures of Ishi shooting his bow are more graphic of his method of handling bow and arrow than are words to the uninitiate.  Briefly, the peculiarities of Ishi's shooting were, first, that he preferred to shoot from a crouching position.  This was a matter of tribal custom and tied to the particular hunting practice of the Yana:  a hunter, hidden and crouching behind scant cover, could scarcely hope to make a kill after luring game to himself if he then had to stand up before he could shoot.  The crouch was not a cramped or disadvantageous position for shooting a bow no larger than Ishi's when held as he held it - diagonally across the front of the body, the face of the bow higher then the other limb and to the left.  We might say that Ishi shot from the hip because of the bow position.  Actually the string was drawn at cheek level.  Besides the characteristic crouch and hold, another unusual feature of Ishi's shooting was that at the instant of the arrow's release, the fingers relaxed, allowing the bow to revolve in his hand, until it [the bow] turned over completely.  To achieve this turn requires a steady hold so that the bow does not escape the hand, and a light touch, so that the revolution of the bow is not impeded.  The rhythm of motion involved is comparable to the smooth and full follow through of stroke after a tennis ball has been hit, or the completion of the arc described by a golf club and the motion of the pivot foot in a controlled but fully finished stroke.

     "Ishi's method of arrow release had this intriguing peculiarity:  it was different from any previously described release and remains to this day the only one of its kind to be found either in toxophilic literature or ethnographic literature.  It was a seemingly Yahi, or rather Yana, variant of the Mongolian or Asiatic release, which is one of the five great classes of arrow releases for the world, but one never otherwise reported for native America.  The Mongolian release is expectably used for shooting the composite bow with the aid of a thumb ring, since it is the flexed thumb which accomplishes the pull, the fingers being used only to guide and support the arrow.  Ishi used no thumb guard or ring, and his bow was a simple, not a composite one.  His thumb became sore and swollen with prolonged target practice, but never in the course of hunting.  Ishi drew the bow with the flexed right thumb as in the classic Mongolian release.  The Yana variation was in one finger position:  the tip of the middle finger was placed lightly against the thumbnail to steady and strengthen its hold.

     "The question is, how did it happen that the Yana shot their simple bow differently from all other bowmen, and that their arrow release, alone in America, is a variant of the Mongolian release?  We do not know the answer.  It could be that when Ishi's ancestors started on their long forgotten migratory wanderings out of Asia, they took with them the simple bow which they had become accustomed to shoot as Ishi shot his bow; and that this was in a time before the composite bow and the thumb ring had yet been invented.  Such historical reconstruction carries us back into prehistory, and to a dry land crossing from Asia to America."

Blog note:  Research at UC Berkeley indicates that the arrow points made by Ishi where closer to Nomlaki or Wintu points.  It is therefore possible that Ishi had ancestry from Nomlaki and/or Wintu ancestors as well as the Yahi ancestors from which he acquired his lanugage.  Nomlaki and Wintu speak a Penutian language whereas the Yahi spoke a Yana language which is classified within the Hokan language group.

Related Papers:

DNA analysis of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, China
Qiaomei Fu, Matthias Meyer, Xing Gao, Udo Stenzel, Hernán A. Burbano, Janet Kelso, Svante Pääbo
PNAS January 22, 2012

The Structure of Diversity within New World Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups: Implications for the Prehistory of North America
Ripan S. Malhi, Jason A. Eshleman, Jonathan A. Greenberg, Deborah A. Weiss, Beth A. Schultz Shook, Frederika A. Kaestle, Joseph G. Lorenz, Brian M. Kemp, John R. Johnson, David Glenn Smith
Am J Hum Genet. 2002 July

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stable isotope dietary analysis of the Tianyuan 1 early modern human

Yaowu Hu, Hong Shang, Haowen Tong, Olaf Nehlich, Wu Liu, Chaohong Zhao, Jincheng Yu, Changsui Wang, Erik Trinkaus, Michael P. Richards

PNAS July 7th, 2009


We report here on the isotopic analysis of the diet of one of the oldest modern humans found in Eurasia, the Tianyuan 1 early modern human dating to ≈40,000 calendar years ago from Tianyuan Cave (Tianyuandong) in the Zhoukoudian region of China. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of the human and associated faunal remains indicate a diet high in animal protein, and the high nitrogen isotope values suggest the consumption of freshwater fish. To confirm this inference, we measured the sulfur isotope values of terrestrial and freshwater animals around the Zhoukoudian area and of the Tianyuan 1 human, which also support the interpretation of a substantial portion of the diet from freshwater fish. This analysis provides the direct evidence for the consumption of aquatic resources by early modern humans in China and has implications for early modern human subsistence and demography.

Understanding human adaptations to the environment and specifically their subsistence strategies is a key part of determining the processes and nature of human evolution. In particular, the position of the Tianyuan 1 human fossil remains as one of the oldest marine isotope stage (MIS) 3 modern humans in Eurasia (1, 2) poses the question of whether there might have been changes in human dietary spectra and emphasis associated with the spread of modern human biology. There have been suggestions, based on European faunal assemblages and inferred from technological changes associated with the emergence of the Upper Paleolithic, that there was a shift in human predatory abilities and associated changes in diet. At the same time, carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of both late archaic humans (Neandertals) and Upper Paleolithic early modern humans in Europe (3, 4), as well as analyses of small animal remains (5), have suggested that there was a shift to a broader dietary spectrum around the time of, or shortly after, the spread of modern humans, probably including greater emphasis on aquatic resources. Yet, analyses of western Eurasian archeological faunal remains (6, 7), organic residues (8), and human functional anatomy (9) have suggested little change in human diet or predation before the Mid Upper Paleolithic.

In eastern Eurasia, the nature of any human dietary changes that might have been associated with the emergence of modern humans is still unclear. There is evidence for human predation on and processing of medium and large ungulates at Xujiayao, Zhoukoudian-Upper Cave and Tianyuan Cave (1012). The Zhoukoudian-Upper Cave deposits yielded the remains of freshwater carp (Cyprinus and Ctenopharygodon), plus Arca shells (10), and a bone harpoon point from Xiaogushan may be of a similar age (13, 14). There has been some discussion of human subsistence strategies in China during the Late Pleistocene based on the changes of lithic technology (15, 16). For example, Chen (15) suggested that there were at least 4 different human adaptive strategies in north China (Shuidonggou, Siyu, Upper Cave-Dongfang Plaza-Xiaonanhai, and Xiaogushan). Further away, Niah Cave in peninsular southeast Asia provides indications of changes in dietary breadth from the same age as Tianyuan Cave Layer III (17).

It is in this context that we present here carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotopic analysis of the Tianyuan 1 human remains and associated fauna from Tianyuan Cave. Stable isotope analysis has been proved to be useful for dietary reconstruction, because it provides direct evidence for human diets (18). In addition to the more commonly used carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes, sulfur isotope values have the potential to reveal if the principal foods were from terrestrial or freshwater ecosystems (1921). Therefore, sulfur isotope ratios were also analyzed to assess whether Tianyuan 1 consumed significant aquatic resources.

Discussion and Conclusion:

Carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotope analyses of bones from the Tianyuan 1 early modern human and the associated animals in Tianyuan Cave and the Donghulin site indicate that the human most likely obtained a substantial portion of its protein from a freshwater ecosystem, probably from freshwater fish. These data provide the earliest direct evidence of significant freshwater food exploitation by modern humans in Eurasia, even though it has been suggested (3, 4) that it may have occurred at approximately the same time period in Europe based on the relatively high δ15N values of some early Upper Paleolithic humans.

There is nonetheless increasing evidence for human exploitation of fish remains and maritime coastal resources from earlier, Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age, sites in western Eurasia and Africa (3, 6, 4547). In this context, it was not the exploitation per se of aquatic resources that was unusual in the Tianyuan 1 early modern human, but the evidence for sufficient year-round freshwater fish consumption to register in its bone collagen isotopic signature. It may well be that this evidence is an additional reflection of increasing population size at this time period, additional pressure on food resources, and the associated acquisition of difficult to access small animals (terrestrial and aquatic) by human populations (cf., refs. 5 and 48). This time period is also when modern humans first appeared across most of Eurasia (1, 17, 49), a process [whatever the phylogenetic dynamics may have been (1, 50)] that must have involved substantial population increases to produce the relatively rapid dispersal of modern human biology. The stable isotopic analysis of the Tianyuan 1 may, therefore, provide insight into both MIS 3 human demography and the subsistence dynamics of early modern humans in eastern Eurasia.

Related Papers:

DNA analysis of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, China
Qiaomei Fu, Matthias Meyer, Xing Gao, Udo Stenzel, Hernán A. Burbano, Janet Kelso, Svante Pääbo
PNAS January 22, 2012

A "Copernican" reassessment of the human mitochondrial DNA tree from its root
Behar DM, van Oven M, Rosset S, Metspalu M, Logväli EL, Silva NM, Kivisild T, Torroni A, Villems R
Am J Hum Genet. 2012 Apr 6

The Structure of Diversity within New World Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups: Implications for the Prehistory of North America
Ripan S. Malhi, Jason A. Eshleman, Jonathan A. Greenberg, Deborah A. Weiss, Beth A. Schultz Shook, Frederika A. Kaestle, Joseph G. Lorenz, Brian M. Kemp, John R. Johnson, David Glenn Smith
Am J Hum Genet. 2002 July

Monday, January 14, 2013

Upper Palaeolithic Diet of Sicilians

Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer subsistence in Mediterranean coastal environments: an isotopic study of the diets of the earliest directly-dated humans from Sicily

Marcello A. Mannino, Rosario Di Salvo, Vittoria Schimmenti, Carolina Di Patti, Alessandro Incarbona, Luca Sineo, Michael P. Richards
Journal of Archaeological Science
Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2011, Pages 3094–3100


The subsistence of hunter-gatherers in the Mediterranean Basin has been the object of few studies, which have not fully clarified the role of aquatic resources in their diets. Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating and of isotope analyses on the earliest directly-dated human remains from Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The radiocarbon determinations show that the Upper Palaeolithic (Epigravettian) humans from Grotta di San Teodoro (15 232–14 126 cal. BP) and Grotta Addaura Caprara (16 060–15 007 cal. BP) date to the Late-glacial and were possibly contemporary. The diets of these individuals were dominated by the protein of large terrestrial mammalian herbivores, such as red deer (Cervus elaphus). There is no evidence for the consumption of marine resources, which is probably the result not only of the oligotrophic nature of the Mediterranean, but also perhaps of the lack of adequate technology for exploiting intensively the resources from this sea. In spite of being contemporaneous and of the cultural and technological affinities present between the San Teodoro and Addaura humans, the carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope composition of their bone collagen suggests that significant differences were present in their diets. In particular, the hunter-gatherers from Grotta di San Teodoro, in NE Sicily where coastal plains are backed by high mountain chains (Monti Nebrodi), probably had easy access to resources such as anadromous brown trout (Salmo trutta), which might not have been similarly available in the NW of the island, where reliefs are noticeably lower and watercourses fewer and farther between. This study shows that the high biodiversity of this region, which results from the complex topography of Mediterranean landscapes, was probably exploited opportunistically by Late-glacial foragers. Our data also suggest that intensification and diversification of food acquisition in Sicily did not start in the closing stages of the late Pleistocene, as in other Mediterranean regions, probably because the island had only been (re-)colonized by humans around the Last Glacial Maximum.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Upper Paleolithic Levels of the Cave of Bison

La Grande grotte/The Great Cave, Arcy-sur-Cure, courtesy Hominidé

Les niveaux du Paléolithique supérieur à la grotte du Bison (Arcy-sur-Cure, Yonne) : couches a à d

Francine David, Nelly Connet, Michel Girard, Jean-Claude Miskovsky, Cécile Mourer-Chauviré et Annie Roblin-Jouve
Revue archeologique de l'est
Tome 54, 2005


Français/French:  La grotte du Bison est présentée dans son cadre géologique et son évolution au cours du temps est proposée. Les niveaux du Paléolithique supérieur conservés dans cette cavité se situent entre un Châtelperronien récent et un niveau post-Gravettien.L’analyse pollinique des sédiments montre une succession de phases steppiques séparées par plusieurs hiatus qui correspondent vraisemblablement à des améliorations climatiques. La présence de niveaux caractérisés par une abondance de Chardons (Carduaceae) permet d’établir de fortes corrélations entre la couche D du Bison et la couche VIII du Renne, celle des ours corroborant cette hypothèse dans les deux grottes. Les autres études paléoenvironnementales mettent en évidence un contexte climatique qui évolue de la steppe froide à la steppe très froide « à mammouths ». La faune est dominée par les ours et les oiseaux proviennent pour la plupart de pelotes de régurgitation de rapaces nocturnes dont l’un d’eux devait être spécialisé dans la capture des Cincles plongeurs. L'étude du matériel lithique du D montre un déficit en produits corticaux et la répartition spatiale de l’ensemble du matériel, lithique et faunique, met en évidence deux pôles de densité, près des parois latérales. Il y a absence de foyer reconnaissable. L’ensemble suggère une fréquentation annexe de la grotte par les hommes.

English/Anglais:  This paper presents the geological framework of the Grotte du Bison and proposes its evolutionary timescale. The Upper Paleolithic levels preserved in the cavity are situated between a Late Châtelperronian and a post-Gravettian level. Palynological analysis of the sediments shows a succession of steppic phases separated by several hiatus periods which probably correspond to climatic ameliorations. The presence of levels characterised by thistles (Carduaceae) establishes a strong correlation between level D of the [Grotte du] Bison and level VIII of the [Grotte du] Renne; bears present in the two caves corroborate this hypothesis. Other paleoenvironmental studies indicate a climatic context which evolved from a cold steppe to a very cold « mammoth » steppe. The fauna is dominated by bear. Birds are primarily represented by owl pellets. One of the owl species seem to have been specialized in predation of dippers. Study of the lithic materials of level D indicates a deficit in cortical products. Spatial distribution of the lithic and faunal assemblage exhibits two concentrations of density along the lateral walls of the cave. No hearths were apparent in level D. The ensemble suggests a secondary or intermittant occupation of the cave by Humans. Translated by J.G. Enloe.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A really dumb article in the New York Times

I genearally don't make political commentary on this blog.  However, since the author of the article I am about to discuss is also a professor who works on the philosophy of the life sciences, I will break from my general rule.

A few days ago, I was having my morning coffee, and as is my custom, I grabbed a pile of discarded newspapers, leafed through, and found something to read.  There it was, an article entitled The Myth of Universal Love, by Stephen T. Asma.  The article constructed a convoluted argument against Western liberalism, which Asma somehow related to the impracticalities of trying to buy a nice pair of shoes for his son, weighed against the desire to buy a pair of shoes for a poor child in Chicago. 

The argument reminded me of the kind of excruciated hypothetical arguments that I would often hear in school.  These discussions would often be punctuated by some obscure classical reference.  Unsurprisingly, Stephen T. Asma references Cicero.   He then goes on to argue for tribalism and against what he calls emotional Western liberalism.
He also suggests that we should only "invest" in those to whom we have an immediate emotional connection and to whom we are closest.

As a parent, I can fully appreciate the allusion to constraints on time and the focus it takes to raise a child.  Time and financial constraints do mean that most of our immediate energies are focused on our families. This however, does not mean that I need or want to live only in a narrow circle of my own "tribe."  It is not because of "emotion" that many economists, theologians and philosophers have argued against tribalism.

We cannot build roads, hospitals and institutions of learning on tribalism.  We cannot plan for the future on tribalism.  We could try, but very quickly, we would start to look like the most isolated parts of the Balkans or Scotland, several hundred years ago.

Speaking of the Balkans, my husband, an MIT grad, often laughingly tells me about his late night MIT discussions with some of his libertarian lab mates.  He would often bring up the road argument and the hospital argument.  His libertarian friends would then respond that roads and hospitals could be run on charity and tolls.  This always elicited a loud laugh from my husband, who grew up in New Jersey.  He would then ask if said libertarian lab mates had ever driven in New Jersey, the land of toll roads.  Eventually, after working for a few years in the Garden State, one of the libertarian friends got kind of quiet about the wonders of toll roads.

Perhaps he had finally figured out that it is pure self interest that stirs us away from tribalism.  We cannot construct a broad infrastructure on tribalism.  We cannot predict or construct what our grand children and great grandchildren will need on tribalism.  The best we can do is construct infrastructure, institutions and policies that are broad enough and forward thinking enough to perhaps enable future generations.

Another reason that I think this article is dumb is that it ascribes to all Western liberals a kind of infinite, all flattening impracticality:  "One of the more deeply ingrained assumptions of Western liberals is that we humans can indefinitely increase our capacity to care for others, that we can, with the right effort and dedication, extend our care to wider and wider circles until we envelop the whole species within our ethical regard."  Really? Is that what Western liberals are doing?  Isn't it simply a necessity in a modern world to extend some economic fairness to less fortunate people and nations?  Professor Asma may be isolated enough, too enraptured in his OM position or a little too young to remember the lessons of the Twentieth Century.

You do not need Western liberalism to tell you that tribalism is a despotic deadend.  Perhaps, Stephen T. Asma might want to add to his reading list.  Adam Smith, the economist, George Marshall, the author of the Marshall Plan and Lester B. Pearson, the organizer of the United Nations Emergency Force, would be good starts.

No, tribalism does not a fair, good or efficient economy make.

I do wonder about who is paying Professor Asma's salary.   

Maquinna and Callicum

Maquinna and Callicum at Nootka Sound, Meares Voyages, 1788

The wiki page on Maquinna is good and provides an insight into one of the most well documented first contacts between Europeans and a Native American group.  Links to many of the key documents are give on this Maquinna wiki page.  Maquinna was the chief of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Nootka Sound in the 1780s and 1790s.  The Nuu-chah-nulth language is classified in the Wakashan language group.


Nuu-chah-nulth .org page

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A sequentially Markov conditional sampling distribution for structured populations with migration and recombination

Matthias Steinrücken, Joshua S. Paul, Yun S. Song

Conditional sampling distributions (CSDs), sometimes referred to as copying models, underlie numerous practical tools in population genomic analyses. Though an important application that has received much attention is the inference of population structure, the explicit exchange of migrants at specified rates has not hitherto been incorporated into the CSD in a principled framework. Recently, in the case of a single panmictic population, a sequentially Markov CSD has been developed as an accurate, efficient approximation to a principled CSD derived from the diffusion process dual to the coalescent with recombination. In this paper, the sequentially Markov CSD framework is extended to incorporate subdivided population structure, thus providing an efficiently computable CSD that admits a genealogical interpretation related to the structured coalescent with migration and recombination. As a concrete application, it is demonstrated empirically that the CSD developed here can be employed to yield accurate estimation of a wide range of migration rates.

An explicit transition density expansion for a multi-allelic Wright-Fisher diffusion with general diploid selection

Matthias Steinrücken, Y. X. Rachel Wang, Yun S. Song

Characterizing time-evolution of allele frequencies in a population is a fundamental problem in population genetics. In the Wright-Fisher diffusion, such dynamics is captured by the transition density function, which satisfies well-known partial differential equations. For a multi-allelic model with general diploid selection, various theoretical results exist on representations of the transition density, but finding an explicit formula has remained a difficult problem. In this paper, a technique recently developed for a diallelic model is extended to find an explicit transition density for an arbitrary number of alleles, under a general diploid selection model with recurrent parent-independent mutation. Specifically, the method finds the eigenvalues and eigenfunctions of the generator associated with the multi-allelic diffusion, thus yielding an accurate spectral representation of the transition density. Furthermore, this approach allows for efficient, accurate computation of various other quantities of interest, including the normalizing constant of the stationary distribution and the rate of convergence to this distribution.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies

Gwayasdums Village by C. F. Newcombe, ca.1900

The Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University has a very rich web site on the Native Peoples of the British Columbia Coast.  Many of the groups mentioned in the Virtual Village Project are in the Wakashan-Salish language group which have been discussed on this blog.  A few are not.  Notably, the Haida language has not been related to any other.  In addition to the Virtual Villages, I've added links to some of the other areas such as canoes and totem poles, that might be of interest.

The Virtual Village Project
Monumental Art and Architecture
Northwest Coast Canoes
Totem Poles
Online Exhibits
Bill Reid Centre Home

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deep Whole-Genome Sequencing of 100 Southeast Asian Malays

Lai-Ping Wong, Rick Twee-Hee Ong, Wan-Ting Poh, Xuanyao Liu, Peng Chen, Roiying Li, Kevin Koi-Yau Lam, Nisha Esakimuthu Pillai, Kar-Seng Sim, Haiyan Xu, Ngak-Leng Sim, Shu-Mei Teo, Jia-Nee Foo, Linda Wei-Lin Tan, Yenly Lim, Seok-Hwee Koo, Linda Seo-Hwee Gan, Ching-Yu Cheng, Sharon Wee, Eric Peng-Huat Yap, Pauline Crystal Ng, Wei-Yen Lim, Richie Soong, Markus Rene Wenk, Tin Aung, Tien-Yin Wong, Chiea-Chuen Khor, Peter Little, Kee-Seng Chia, Yik-Ying Teo
3 January 2013

This beautiful paper discusses the need for deep whole-genome sequencing in order to detect low frequency and rare variants and genomic hotspots.  It points out that this is especially true for populations that are not well covered by the 1000 Genomes Project.  It uses Malays (SSMP Singapore Sequencing Malay Project) as the test population (Figures 2, 3 and 5) to demonstrate this.

Of significant interest is Figure 4, which shows regions of density and damaging nsSNP regions by chromosome for the SSMP population.

Figure 7 shows the genomic coverage for the SSM (Singapore Sequencing Malay) population, Europeans (CEU), East Asians (CHB + JPT) and Yorubans (YRI) for various commercially available genome wide genotyping arrays.  The highest variation in coverage performance is seen for the YRI population, especially for low and uncommon variants.

Figure 8 shows the genomic coverage for the Exome Arrays.  There is less variation in coverage across populations from commercially available exome arrays (compared to the genome arrays).

This is a terrific paper which should set the bar for assessing the quality of coverage for populations that are not well covered by the 1000 Genomes Project.  It should serve to inform us as to the intelligent population and experiment dependent choices to be made when selecting commercially available genotyping arrays.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On the Origin of Salish, Wakashnan, and North Caucasian Languages

Vitaly Shevoroshkin
International Journal of Modern Anthropology


The following paper represents a comparison between the most stable words in two language unities: 1)Salish-Wakashan (North America) and 2) Lezghian group of the North Caucasian family (North Caucasus). This comparison shows that any word/root from the list of basic words in Salish and/or Wakashan precisely matches the appropriate word/root of Lezghian as well as its proto-form in North Caucasian. Such close similarity clearly shows that the Salish-Wakashan languages of North America are related to the North Caucasian languages. We may add that the North Caucasian languages are older, and phonetically more complex, than Salish-Wakashan languages. This shows that Salish-Wakashan languages may have originated from the North Caucasian languages, which are a part of a larger unity: the Sino-Caucasian, or Dene-Caucasian phylum, or macro-family. Having this in mind, we can ask ourselves, when and where have the ancestors of the people, who now speak Salish and Wakashan languages, separated from North Caucasian languages. In the paper below, we try to show that this may have happened approximately 5,000 years ago. After this split, the ancestors of the Salish and Wakashan languages started moving to the North-East and reached at the end the North American territory. Something similar has happened with another family that is a part of the Dene-Caucasian phylum: The Yenisseian languages of Siberia are closely related to the Athapascan languages of North America, which presupposes a split between the ancestors of the Yenisseian languages and those of the Athapascan languages at some point in Siberia, after which the ancestors of people, speaking Athapascan languages, migrated to North America.

Related Posts:

Issues in Salish Syntax and Semantics (link)
Little Big Man (link)
Efficient moment-based inference of admixture parameters and ... (link)
Migration Paths:  Dienekes' Clusters Galore Scatter Plot Results (link)
Westward Across the Steppe;  Southward Through the Himalayas (link)

Issues in Salish Syntax and Semantics

Henry Davis, Lisa Matthewson
Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume 3, Issue 4, July 2009


The Salish language family is of special interest for syntactic and semantic theory because it has been argued to differ radically from Indo-European languages in both structure and interpretation (see, e.g., Kinkade 1983; Jelinek and Demers 1994; Jelinek 1995; Ritter and Wiltschko 2005, forthcoming; Davis 2006, 2009; Matthewson 2006a, forthcoming). In this article, we survey four theoretical debates in the syntactic and semantic literature on Salish, one from each of the areas of lexical semantics, super-lexical syntax, semantics and pragmatics, with an eye to pinning down the principal loci of variation between Salish and Indo-European. In the domain of lexical semantics, we argue for the hypothesis that all Salish verb roots are intransitive and unaccusative. In the area of syntax, we outline the predictions of the Pronominal Argument Hypothesis, and provide counterarguments which show that at least some and probably all Salish languages have a fully configurational syntax. Turning to tense, we argue that Salish languages are tensed, despite superficial evidence to the contrary. Finally, we present arguments that at least one Salish language differs radically from English in its pragmatics: it lacks any familiarity presuppositions. Our conclusion is that major parametric differences between Salish and Indo-European languages are not to be found in the syntax or sentence-level semantics, but in the pragmatics, and possibly the lexical semantics.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Caribou and Wolves: The Endless Dance

Caribou and Wolves:  The Endless Dance (47 minutes, produced for the BBC, 2004)

This documentary was filmed in 2003 and 2004 by the Canadian filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner and their assistant, Paul Zakora.  It captures the caribou migration across the barren lands of northern Canada. 

The Inuit also continue to dance with the caribou, although their absolute dependence on the animals is rapidly becoming a distant memory.  Luckily, the ancient human-caribou interdependence has been captured in the full length legendary film Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (amazon), in the novel Lost in the Barrens (amazon), and the non-fictional account of an Inuit group in People of the Deer (amazon).

A recent article in the UK Guardian touches upon the lost world of the human relationship with the caribou in Rudolph and our early ancestors - a love story. Thanks to John Hawks for flagging this article.

Further Reading:

Decline and Recovery of the Bathurst Caribou Herd
Summary Report by Lorien Nesbitt and Jan Adamczewski
November 12, 2009

Update on NWT barren-ground caribou
November 6, 2012

Wolf Numbers Down
in Northwest Territories Wolf Notes, No. 8, 2006/7

Caribou and Climate Change
Greenpeace Report, 1999