I was noodling around online and found a video interview from last year's Darwin Day event here at UW. Regular readers won't learn anything new in the first few minutes, but at around 4:20, I start talking about how I got into anthropology.
I don't have much time to come up for air this week, it's been an incredibly busy and exciting meeting so far. But I wanted to take a moment to pass along this link, in which Ann Gibbons describes last night's plenary session for Science: "Anthropological Casting Call".
Paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained that he organized the 12 April share-and-tell session of published fossils at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists because many members have never even seen casts of important fossils, including Lucy, the 3.1-million-year-old member of Au. afarensis. As he lined up three skulls that showed changes in the evolution of the members of the human family from 1.8 million to 1.6 million years ago, Hawks said that seeing the fossils is the best way to learn about human evolution. "There are people in this association who are responsible for teaching evolution in the U.S. who have not even seen a cast of Lucy," he said.
What an incredible crowd we had -- at one point around 200 people, crowding around the biggest collection of fossil casts that has ever been assembled at the meetings. Here's a photo from my phone; I wish I had a wide-angle lens to get the entire crowd, as this is less than half of the room!
I've just gotten word that the long-awaited Denisova documentary on the National Geographic Channel is running next Thursday night at 10:00 pm Eastern in the U.S.
Yes, they called it "Sex in the Stone Age". I find it to be a great improvement over the working title, "X-Woman".
I have a small role in this documentary, mainly contextualizing how we can use a genome to investigate the phenotypes of ancient people. The film crew got some great coverage of the Denisova area when I was there last summer, and spoke extensively to the Max Planck sequencing team as well as the Russian excavators from the Institute of Archaeology in Novosibirsk. I hope they did a good job with the writing and editing!
Here's the promo text they've been sending around:
A fragment of a pinky bone and a tooth twice the size of today’s average molar are the only remnants of a species we now know lived at the same time and place as modern humans—and interbred with them. They are a part of us we never knew existed. What did these “people” look like? And how do they fit into what we thought we knew about our biological development as a species?
It's such a fascinating problem, and I'm glad it's being shown to a broader audience. I just wish it weren't at the very same moment when I'll be doing the Plenary Session for the AAPA meetings in Portland!
I am going to be offering a summer course this year that is outside my ordinary teaching rotation, Anthropology 300, "Cultural Anthropology: Theory and Ethnography". This is a survey of the history of anthropological theory. As a biological anthropologist, I have a distinctive perspective on this subject, which reflects my continued engagement with the history of anthropology and my exceptional training as a four-field anthropologist. I'm really excited to be able to offer this course to students here at UW!
If you're in the southern Wisconsin area early this summer, I encourage you to look into this course, either as a student or guest auditor. The course is offered in the 3-week Early Session, from May 29 to June 17. This is a great schedule for students who are taking other summer classes, because it is finished before the regular 8-week session starts on June 18.
I will be building a unique set of resources, including interviews, topical modules, and website devoted to the material. All this will be open access and free, so even if you're not in the area, I still encourage you to follow along with the course.
I guarantee that this will be the most highly-focused and thought-provoking survey of anthropological theory - a boot camp in the history of ideas about culture and human nature. I can't wait to start!
The University today announced that I have won a big research award, the H. I. Romnes Fellowship "Romnes Fellowships awarded to 11 recently tenured faculty". It is a great honor!
I'm excited that the research money will allow me to carry out some important research travel and project planning. I can't wait to share the projects as they develop!
I have an article in Slate, where I riff on last week's silly suggestion to "bio-engineer humans" to stop climate change: "Can Bioengineers Make Human Beings More Sustainable?"
My take: The experiment has already been done!
When the climate warmed by several degrees around 8,000 B.C., it must have seemed at first like a wonderful dream. The glaciers melted. The human population grew and grew. There were more people than ever before, using a broader range of resources and eating a broader range of foods, and they invented beautiful and complex cultures.
That's when these people of the early Holocene did something truly bizarre. They reacted to all this climate change by engineering a new, more sustainable ecology. And they began to foster mutant children who would flourish in an alternate, globally warmed future.
Here's what I find interesting: Bioethicists suggest totalitarian-sounding approaches to genetic change. But with lactase persistence and amylase duplications, nature took a different course:
When it comes to cutting meat, natural selection has acted more like an entrepreneur than a eugenicist. Instead of giving us an aversion to meat, it lures us away from meat by offering a milkshake sweetened with corn syrup.
Of course, that just makes the population grow faster. Only one way to really solve this problem, and yes, my essay goes there...
I'll be traveling to Denver next week to give a public lecture at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The lecture will be at 7:00 on Thursday, March 1. Details are below.
I'm really excited about this because the DMNS was the first natural history museum I visited when I was a kid. Well, after the Sternberg Museum in Hays, which used to be in a little space in the Geology department on campus but was still totally awesome.
This is a fun public talk with lots of my own research work interspersed with great stories about Neandertals, archaeologists, and the feel of these ancient places where we find skeletal remains. If you're in the Denver area and follow this stuff, by all means come out and see it!
For those who may be associated with the University of Colorado in Denver, I have a seminar presentation the following day as well.
Exploring the Genomes of Neandertals
Thursday, March 1
What happened to Neandertals? Are their genes among us today? Paleoanthropologist John Hawks will present new genetic discoveries that are shaping our understanding of human biology. Learn about Neandertal lifestyles and their relationship with modern Homo sapiens, and get a first-person account of Denisova Cave, where a Neandertal relative was discovered based only on its genome. Find out more about Hawks's research and why he spells Neanderthal without the h at http://johnhawks.com/weblog.
The University of Wisconsin has a news article out on my new position as HHMI Faculty Fellow: "Forest and Hawks named 2012 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Fellows".
Hawks is an innovative educator and experienced mentor with a strong commitment to active learning and getting students involved in research.
“It is important to me that science be accessible, and that means that undergraduate students should be trained as creators, not merely consumers,” he says.
This is a really engaging program to work with, and we have to potential to do some real research on how biology undergraduate education can be improved. Plus, there's a great group of graduate and postdoctoral students now preparing to run the program in the fall, and it should be fun to mentor them!
I will be in Ann Arbor next week visiting the University of Michigan. For those in the area, I'll be giving a seminar next Wednesday, February 15.
Title: "Behavioral implications of archaic human genomes"
Time: 5:00pm, Wednesday, February 15.
Place: East Hall, Room 3048
Looking forward to seeing all my friends there!