Ralph Holloway profile

Michael Balter wrote a nice "Scientist at Work" profile of paleoneurologist Ralph Holloway.

Ralph is one of my real idols in the field, so it's a pleasure to read this. Of course it begins with the hobbit, but Balter devotes much of the piece to explaining the lunate sulcus controversy of the 1980's and 1990's.

I think that Balter really captures the most important aspect of Holloway's scientific work with this:

Most notably, during his 43 years at Columbia, Dr. Holloway has argued that hominid brains began to evolve important anatomical alterations several million years ago, when they were ape-size and had yet to undergo the striking expansion often seen as humanity's hallmark.
We humans are rightly proud of our big brains. But most anthropologists now agree with Dr. Holloway that increases in size alone cannot explain advanced human cognition. There have also been structural changes that distinguish the brain of Homo sapiens from those of our hominid ancestors, as well as those of close cousins like the chimpanzee.

The lunate sulcus story illustrates this point quite well, but far more important (and less controversial) has been Holloway's identification of an enlarged Broca's area in the KNM-ER 1470 endocast. Only recently has imaging analysis been able to flesh out some of the internal ways that brain reorganization has characterized primate and human evolution. But the external manifestations on endocasts were a leading indicator -- and remain the only direct source of evidence about brain function from fossils.

There's much more to say than this, but start with the profile!