Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kennewick Man will be reburied, but quandaries around human remains won’t

A mysterious set of 9,000-year-old bones, unearthed nearly 20 years ago in Washington, is finally going home. Following bitter disputes, five Native American groups in the Pacific Northwest have come together to facilitate the reburial of an individual they know as “Ancient One.” One of the most complete prehistoric human skeletons discovered in North America, “Kennewick Man” also became the most controversial.

Two teenagers searching out a better view of a Columbia River speedboat race in 1996 were the first to spot Kennewick Man’s remains. Since then, the bones have mostly been stored away from public view, carefully preserved in museum storerooms while subject to hotly contested legal battles.

Some anthropologists were eager to scientifically test the bones hoping for clues about who the first Americans were and where they came from. But many Native Americans hesitated to support this scientific scrutiny (including tests which permanently destroy or damage the original bone), arguing it was disrespectful to their ancient ancestor. They wanted him laid to rest.

This high-profile discovery served as an important, if maddening, test case for a significant new law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It aimed to address the problematic history behind museum human remains collections. First it mandated inventories – many museums, in fact, were unaware how large their skeletal collections really were. Then, in certain cases, it called for returning skeletons and mummies to their closest descendant group. Since NAGPRA passed in 1990, the National Park Service estimates over 50,000 sets of human remains have been repatriated in the United States.

The legal framework fits well in cases where ancestry could be determined – think remains found on a specific 19th-century battlefield – but other instances became more contentious. Scientists sometimes argued that very old remains, including Kennewick Man, represented earlier migrations into the Americas by groups who might have moved on long ago. This point of view often clashed with indigenous perspectives, particularly beliefs that their ancestors have lived in specific places since the dawn of time.

Drawn against this complex background, it’s no wonder it’s taken almost two decades to bring the Kennewick Man story into better focus.

Long history of scientizing some human remains

Museums in the U.S. and Europe have collected and studied human remains for well over a century, with the practice gaining considerable momentum after the Civil War. Archaeologists, anatomists and a mishmash of amateurs – influenced by an array of emergent sciences and pseudosciences – gathered bones by the thousands, shipping them in boxes to museums in an effort to systematically study race and, gradually, human prehistory.

Museum “bone rooms,” organized to collect and study human remains, helped facilitate new scientific work in the late 19th and early 20th century. The skeletons provided better data about diseases and migration, as well as information about historic diet, with potential impact for living populations.

But building museum bone collections also represented major breaches in ethics surrounding traditional death and burial practices for many indigenous people across the Americas and around the world. For them, data gathering was simply not a priority. Instead, they sought to return their ancestors to the earth.

Considered in context, the concerns raised by many Native Americans are not particularly difficult to comprehend. For example, doing archival research for my book “Bone Rooms,” I learned of the case of several naturally mummified bodies discovered in the American Southwest in the 1870s. The dried corpses were paraded around San Francisco, before being exhibited for the public in Philadelphia and Chicago. Once the immense popularity of the exhibitions died down, the bodies were distributed to several museums across the country where they were put into storage.

Presenting human remains as purely scientific specimens and historical curiosities hurt living descendants by treating entire populations as scientific resources rather than human beings. And by focusing mainly on nonwhite groups, the practice reinforced in subtle and direct ways the scientific racism permeating the era. While some European American skeletons were collected by these museums for comparative purposes, their number was vastly outpaced by the number of Native American bodies collected during this same period.

Anthropologists and other scientists have worked to address some of these negative legacies. But the vestiges of past wrongdoings have left their mark on many museums across the country. Returning ancestral human remains, sacred artifacts and special objects considered to hold collective cultural value attempts to serve as partial redress for these problematic histories.

Kennewick Man’s odyssey

Inaccurate initial media reports muddled the Kennewick Man story. After the first anthropologist who looked at the skull proclaimed a resemblance to European Americans (specifically the actor Patrick Stewart), a New York Times headline in 1998 announced, “Old Skull Gets White Looks, Stirring Dispute.” Indeed, as the paper commented, the bogus reports leading people to believe Kennewick Man might be a white person “heightened an already bitter and muddled battle over the rights to Kennewick Man’s remains and his origins.”

Hidden away from public view, the prehistoric remains were anything but forgotten. Many indigenous people came to view Kennewick Man as a symbol for the failings of the new NAGPRA law.

Some scientists, on the other hand, made impassioned arguments that the bones did not fall under the purview of the new rules. Their extreme age meant the remains were unlikely to be a direct ancestor of any living group. Following this logic, several influential scientists argued the bones should therefore be available for scientific study. Indeed, extensive scientific tests were carried out on the skeleton.

Two years after his discovery, Kennewick Man moved to the behind-the-scenes bone rooms at the Burke Museum on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. The long tradition of gathering and interpreting human bones in museums made the decision seem almost natural. Still, it proved a highly problematic (and temporary) “solution” for many Native Americans who wanted the remains buried.

Last year, genetic testing finally proved something many people had suggested for some time: Kennewick Man is more closely related to Native Americans than any other living human group.

Reconciling scientific curiosity with scientific ethics

Should human remains – including the rare, ancient or abnormal bodies sometimes considered especially valuable for science – ever be made into scientific specimens without their approval or that of their descendants? If we do choose to collect and study them for science, who controls the knowledge drawn from these bodies?

These are big questions. I argue that the effort to scientize the dead brings about distinct and specific responsibilities unique to human remains collections. Careful consideration is necessary. Cultural and historical context simply cannot be ignored.

By some estimates, museums today house more than half a millionindividual Native American remains. Probably hundreds if not thousands of sets of skeletal remains will face these big questions in the coming decades.

Indicative of changing attitudes and ethical approaches to museum exhibition, recent calls to display Kennewick Man’s remains have largely been rebuked, despite potential for engaging large audiences. The prospect for new knowledge or effective popular education is tantalizing, but these objectives should never eclipse basic human and civil rights.

Two-and-a-half decades after NAGPRA, museums in the United States – including the American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History – join the Burke Museum in continuing to maintain sizable human remains collections. Kennewick Man may be among the most high-profile cases of human remains going under the microscope – both in terms of the scientific study he was subject to and the intensity of the debate surrounding him – but he is certainly far from alone.

Skeletons wait patiently while the living attempt to work these problems out, but this patience is granted only because the bones have no other choice.

2016. “Kennewick Man will be reburied, but quandaries around human remains won’t”. The Conversation. Posted: May 19, 2016. Available online:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beyond the Pyramid: How Food Guides Vary Around the World

No matter where you go in the world, the key components of a healthy diet remain the same: load up on whole grains and veggies and limit sugary sweets. But countries differ greatly in the images they use to depict their food guides.

The familiar "plate" design of the U.S. food guide, which aims to show portion sizes of various food groups, is a far cry from China's food pagoda, and Fiji's food-guide pineapple.

To see what food guides look like around the world, Live Science checked out the displays from 70 different countries. We found food guides highlighting local food staples and others targeted to indigenous populations. And we saw countries getting really creative with their food guides. 

Here are the results from our virtual tour around the world.

Strange designs

In 2011, the United States replaced its iconic food pyramid with a plate, but food pyramids still dominate the landscape: Out of the 70 countries included in our analysis, 24 use pyramids to depict their dietary guidelines. The shapes are particularly popular in Europe, where 15 countries, from Albania to Spain, use pyramids.

We found that the second most popular food-guide design is a plate. In addition to the U.S., 10 other countries choose to display their recommendations in plate form. These nations include Mexico, Malta and the United Kingdom.

Somewhat similar to plate-shaped food guides were another popular choice: circles and wheels. Six countries opt for a circular display, including Australia and the Netherlands.

But off the beaten path of plates and pyramids, other interesting shapes pop up. Cooking vessels are used for a handful of food guides, mainly for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. We found six countries that use some sort of cooking vessel. Saint Lucia, for example, uses a coal-cooking pot for its food guide, while Guyana opted for a stew pot. In addition, two countries use a basket: Belize and Dominica.

Other countries embrace structures for their food guides that highlight those nations' own cultures. For example, Mongolia's food guide is shown as a ger, which is a traditional Mongolian tent. Benin, a country in Africa, uses a traditional house for that nation. In addition, China uses a food pagoda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, an island in the Caribbean, uses a sugar mill.  

And in four countries, the food guides were depicted simply as a food. Both Fiji and the country of Antigua and Barbuda, for example, fashioned their food guides using a pineapple. Other countries use local delicacies: Grenada has a nutmeg-shaped food guide, and the nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines uses a breadfruit-shaped guide. 

Not every food guide we looked at fit neatly into a category. Take, for example, Jamaica's goat-skin drum, or Canada's rainbow. Thailand chose a flag, while Turkey picked a four-leaf clover. And, surprisingly, we found that not one, but two countries use a spinning top: Japan and Venezuela. 

What about water?

It's often said that people should drink at least eight glasses of water daily, but you won't find water on the United States' plate graphic. However, many countries include water in their displays. Indeed, we found that exactly half of the countries in our analysis signaled to their citizens that it's important to stay hydrated.

In some guides, pitchers or drops of water are depicted next to or in the center of the display, but some countries get more creative. For example, in Benin's food guide (a traditional house), there is a bottle of water and a glass in the doorway. And Venezuela has water streaming from the top of its spinning-top display.

Other countries, such as Romania and Latvia, made water the base of their pyramid displays, along with one other thing: physical activity.

Get moving!

A little less than half of the countries (32 out of 70) in our analysis included physical activity as a part of their food guides, highlighting the importance of both a healthy diet and physical activity for a healthy lifestyle.

But how does a country include physical activity in a food guide? By flexing its creative muscles.

In Belize's food guide, which is a basket, people are depicted doing various forms of exercise — such as biking or swimming — across the handle of the basket. And in Japan's spinning-top food guide, a human figure is depicted running on top of the object.

Other countries, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, use completely separate pyramids for physical activity. Sri Lanka's physical-activity pyramid, for example, includes activities that should be done every day at the base, followed by activities that should be done three to five times a week as the second level, activities that should be done two to three times a week as the third level, and recommendations for limiting the activities at the top

Miller, Sara G. 2016. “Beyond the Pyramid: How Food Guides Vary Around the World”Live Science. Posted: May 19, 2016. Available online:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Antikythera Mechanism: Ancient Celestial Calculator

The Antikythera Mechanism has been called an “ancient calculator,” but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The shoebox-size device has a complex gearwheel system of 30 intricate bronze gear wheels used to run a system that displayed the date, positions of the sun and moon, lunar phases, a 19-year calendar and a 223-month eclipse prediction dial. This makes it an analog computer of great complexity. No other machine of known existence shows a similarity in advanced engineering for at least another 1,000 years. 

The Antikythera Mechanism has been called an “ancient calculator,” but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The shoebox-size device has a complex gearwheel system of 30 intricate bronze gear wheels used to run a system that displayed the date, positions of the sun and moon, lunar phases, a 19-year calendar and a 223-month eclipse prediction dial. This makes it an analog computer of great complexity. No other machine of known existence shows a similarity in advanced engineering for at least another 1,000 years. 

The discovery

In 1900, a boatload of sponge divers in the Mediterranean were forced off course by a storm and took shelter nearby the island of Antikythera. The next day, they went diving near the island and discovered a 2,000-year-old Greek shipwreck, according to NOVA. 

The ship likely sank between 70 B.C. and 60 B.C. on a voyage from Asia Minor to Rome. The sponge divers salvaged from the ship three flat pieces of corroded bronze that later became known to be the Antikythera Mechanism.

The device has been dated as coming from the second or early first century B.C., according to research published in the science journal Nature. Research, published in the journal Archive for History of Exact Science in 2014, found that the mechanism was timed to begin in 205 B.C.

What it does

For decades, scientists could only guess about the use of the mechanism because it is too fragile to examine by hand. Advancements in imaging, such as 3-D X-ray scanners, has allowed scientists to see the many working parts of the machine and inscriptions that offer directions on how to use the device.

It was believed that it is an ancient astronomy calculator that shows the four-year cycle of the early Greek competitions that inspired today's Olympic Games. Inscriptions on the device list names linked to the Olympiad cycle of games. 

"The first clues that suggested a link with the ancient cycle of Greek games came when the word 'NEMEA' was read near a small subsidiary dial on the mechanism," said Tony Freeth, a scientist with Images First Ltd. in the United Kingdom and coauthor on the Nature study.

The Nemean Games was one of the crown games in the Olympiad cycle. Other names were also found, which included 'ISTHMIA" for the games at Corinth, 'PYTHIA' for the games at Delphi, and the word 'OLYMPIA' for the Olympic Games.

Additional research and reconstruction of a working model of the device in 2006 found that it may not be Greek as formerly believed, according to Nature. It may actually be Babylonian, making the device centuries older than previously thought, which means that the Babylonians may have played a large role in shaping Greek advancements in astronomy, though this has been highly debated. 

Physical description

The Antikythera Mechanism is not all in one piece. There are 82 catalogued fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism and they are kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, according to the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Many of the pieces have been named and functions have been attributed them.

The calendar scale represents a 360-day year and is divided into 12 months of 30 days each plus a five-day extra period, which corresponds to the Greek-Egyptian calendar.

The planetary dials list the five planets that were known at the time: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It is thought that these dials may have shown planetary cycles.

The zodiac scale is a 360-degree dial divided into the 12 signs of the zodiac, which are split into a "fast" zone and a "slow" zone. These speed zones are believed to represent the varying apparent speed of the sun.

These dials had seven pointers, total, though they are lost or destroyed. The sun pointer shows the date on the calendar scale and the sun’s position in the sky on the zodiac scale. It makes a complete turn for each year. The moon pointer shows the moon’s position in the sky on the zodiac scale. 

Below the moon pointer is a revolving black-and-white ball that represents the moon’s phases. This seems to have modeled the moon's elliptical orbit around Earth rather than a circular orbit. This is at odds with Greek philosophers' belief that all heavenly orbits were perfect circles. 

There was also a handle, which researchers think was used to move the pointers back and forth.

Rumors of a hoax

There are many conspiracy theories online that claim that the Antikythera Mechanism is a hoax simply because some believe that ancient people couldn’t possibly build a device so complex. The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project stated that an examination at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens has found that the device is not a hoax.

Bradford, Alina. 2016. “Antikythera Mechanism: Ancient Celestial Calculator”. Live Science. Posted: May 18, 2016. Available online:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Words, more words ... and statistics

To segment words, the brain could be using statistical methods

Have you ever racked your brains trying to make out even a single word of an uninterrupted flow of speech in a language you hardly know at all? It is naïve to think that in speech there is even the smallest of pauses between one word and the next (like the space we conventionally insert between words in writing): in actual fact, speech is almost always a continuous stream of sound. However, when we listen to our native language, word "segmentation" is an effortless process. What are, linguists wonder, the automatic cognitive mechanisms underlying this skill? Clearly, knowledge of the vocabulary helps: memory of the sound of the single words helps us to pick them out. However, many linguists argue, there are also automatic, subconscious "low-level" mechanisms that help us even when we do not recognise the words or when, as in the case of very young children, our knowledge of the language is still only rudimentary. These mechanisms, they think, rely on the statistical analysis of the frequency (estimated based on past experience) of the syllables in each language.

One indicator that could contribute to segmentation processes is "transitional probability" (TP), which provides an estimate of the likelihood of two syllables co-occurring in the same word, based on the frequency with which they are found associated in a given language. In practice, if every time I hear the syllable "TA" it is invariably followed by the syllable "DA," then the transitional probability for "DA," given "TA," is 1 (the highest). If, on the other hand, whenever I hear the syllable "BU" it is followed half of the time by the syllable "DI" and half of the time by "FI," then the transitional probability of "DI" (and "FI"), given "BU," is 0.5, and so forth. The cognitive system could be implicitly computing this value by relying on linguistic memory, from which it would derive the frequencies.

The study conducted by Amanda Saksida, research scientist at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, with the collaboration of Alan Langus, SISSA research fellow, under the supervision of SISSA professor Marina Nespor, used TP to segment natural language, by using two different approaches.

Based on rhythm

Saksida's study is based on the work with corpora, that is, bodies of texts specifically collected for linguistic analysis. In the case at hand, the corpora consisted of transcriptions of the "linguistic sound environment" that infants are exposed to. "We wanted to have an example of the type of linguistic environment in which a child's language develops," explained Saksida, "We wondered whether a low-level mechanism such as transitional probability worked with real-life language cues, which are very different from the artificial cues normally used in the laboratory, which are more schematic and free of sources of 'noise'. Furthermore, the question was whether the same low-level cue is equally efficient in different languages." Saksida and colleagues used corpora of no less than 9 different languages, and to each they applied two different TP-based models.

First they calculated the TP values for each point of the language flow for all of the corpora, and then they "segmented" the flow using two different methods. The first was based on absolute thresholding: a certain fixed reference TP value was established below which a boundary was identified. The second method was based on relative thresholding: the boundaries corresponded to the locally lowest TP function.

In all cases, Saksida and colleagues found that transitional probability was an effective tool for segmentation (49% to 86% of words identified correctly) irrespective of the segmentation algorithm used, which confirms TP efficacy. Of note, while both models proved to be quite efficient, when one model was particularly successful with one language, the alternative model always performed significantly worse.

"This cross-linguistic difference suggests that each model is better suited than the other for certain languages and viceversa. We therefore conducted further analyses to understand what linguistic features correlated with the better performance of one model over the other," explains Saksida. The crucial dimension proved to be linguistic rhythm. "We can divide European languages into two large groups based on rhythm: stress-timed and syllable-timed." Stress-timed languages have fewer vowels and shorter words, and include English, Slovenian and German. Syllable-timed languages contain more vowels and longer words on average, and include Italian, Spanish and Finnish. The third rhythmic group of languages does not exist in Europe and is based on "morae" (a part of the syllable), such as Japanese. This group is known as "mora-timed" and contains even more vowels than syllable-timed languages.

The absolute threshold model proved to work best on stress-timed languages, whereas relative thresholding was better for the mora-timed ones. "It's therefore possible that the cognitive system learns to use the segmentation algorithm that is best suited to one's native language, and that this leads to difficulties segmenting languages belonging to another rhythmic category. Experimental studies will clearly be necessary to test this hypothesis. We know from the scientific literature that immediately after birth infants already use rhythmic information, and we think that the strategies used to choose the most appropriate segmentation could be one of the areas in which information about rhythm is most useful."

The study is in fact unable to say whether the cognitive system (of both adults and children) really uses this type of strategy. "Our study clearly confirms that this strategy works across a wide range of languages," concludes Saksida. "It will now serve as a guide for laboratory experiments."

Science Daily. 2016. “Words, more words ... and statistics”. Science Daily. Posted: Available online:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Research finds skull condition thought extinct is actually widespread

Some forensic anthropologists thought the skull condition called cribra orbitalia (CO) was a thing of the past - but new research from North Carolina State University and the University of the Witwatersrand finds that it not only still exists, but is fairly common in both North America and South Africa.

CO is a condition in which the bone inside the eye sockets becomes porous. It is not known to cause any adverse health effects, but is generally regarded as being caused by iron deficiency anemia.

The condition has traditionally been used by anthropologists to assess diet and health in prehistoric populations. For example, the presence of CO could tell researchers that a population was not getting a sufficiently varied diet.

"But there's been a lot of debate about the prevalence of CO in modern populations, with some saying it had effectively disappeared," says Ann Ross, director of the Forensic Sciences Institute at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. "We wanted to know if CO was still extant and, if so, how common it is in modern populations, relative to earlier eras."

For this study, the researchers looked at modern, historic and prehistoric human remains from South Africa, North Carolina and the Western Hemisphere Database. Altogether, the researchers evaluated data on 844 skulls: 245 prehistoric, 381 historic (as recent as the early 20th century) and 218 modern.

Their findings were surprising.

The researchers found that CO was not only present in modern populations, but that it was not even uncommon.

For example, the researchers found that two of the five modern North American juvenile skulls evaluated in the study - 40 percent - had CO. And 15 of the 60 South African juveniles evaluated in the study - 25 percent - had CO.

"We thought we might see some CO, but not to the extent that we did," Ross says. "The high rates may stem from the fact that these remains were part of forensic cases - there were often related to cases of homicide or neglect. These cases are not representative of health for all children."

Overall, the researchers found that 12.35 percent of modern North Americans and 16.8 percent of modern South Africans, across all age groups, had CO.

Both rates are higher than their historic counterparts. Only 2.23 percent of historic South African skulls evaluated had CO, and only 6.25 percent of historic North American skulls. Even the prehistoric North American skulls had a lower rate of CO, at 11.86 percent.

"We think the increased prevalence of CO in the modern skulls may be due to intestinal parasites in some populations and iron-poor diet," Ross says.

"These findings drive home the fact that disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, and parts of the developing world, are still struggling with access to adequate nutrition," Ross adds. "Corn may give people a full belly, but it's not going to give people all of the nutrients they need to be healthy."

The paper, "Cribra Orbitalia: Prevalence in Contemporary Populations," is published online in the journal Clinical Anatomy. Lead author of the paper is Maryna Steyn of the University of the Witwatersrand. The paper was co-authored by Deona Botha of Witwatersrand and Sarah Voeller, a former graduate student at NC State.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Research finds skull condition thought extinct is actually widespread”. EurekAlert. Posted: May 17, 2016. Available online:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Life before the Silk Road: Gone but Not Forgotten [Video]

The oases of northwestern China have served as a crossroads for nomads and farmers for thousands of years. But figuring out where the early inhabitants of what is now known as the Tarim Basin came from—let alone which languages they spoke—has long challenged linguists and archaeologists. The answers to this seemingly obscure mystery could, however, help explain why nearly half the world's population speaks one of more than 400 interrelated tongues, as Michael Balter writes in the May Scientific American. This video provides insight into what life might have been like for some of the ancient peoples of the basin.


Gorman, Christine. 2016. “Life before the Silk Road: Gone but Not Forgotten [Video]”. Scientific American. Posted: May 1, 2016. Available online:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ancient Irish musical history found in modern India

An archaeologist studying musical horns from iron-age Ireland has found musical traditions, thought to be long dead, are alive and well in south India.

The realisation that modern Indian horns are almost identical to many iron-age European artefacts reveals a rich cultural link between the two regions 2,000 years ago, said PhD student Billy Ó Foghlú, from The Australian National University (ANU).

"Archaeology is usually silent. I was astonished to find what I thought to be dead soundscapes alive and living in Kerala today," said the ANU College of Asia-Pacific student.

"The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe's prehistory.

"And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artefacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India's past."

The findings help show that Europe and India had a lively cultural exchange with musicians from the different cultures sharing independently developed technology and musical styles.

One example of this musical mixing is depicted in a carving of a celebration in Sanchi dating from c300 BC that shows a group of musicians taking part, playing two European carnyces, a horn with an animal's head.

The musical style of Kerala explains some of the mysteries surrounding the horns that have been unearthed in European iron-age excavations and suggest a very different musical soundscape to current western music said Mr Ó Foghlú.

"Some almost identical instruments have been unearthed together, but they are slightly out of tune with each other to western ears," Mr Ó Foghlú said.

"This was previously assumed to be evidence of shoddy workmanship. But in Indian music this kind of dissonance is deliberate and beautiful.

"Horns are used more as a rhythm instrument, not for melody or harmony in a western sense."

The research is published in the Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology.

Science Daily. 2016. “Ancient Irish musical history found in modern India”. Science Daily. Posted: May 13, 2016. Available online:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

tudy finds nationality is not a good indicator of work-related cultural values

Researchers and businesses have often operated under the idea that work-related cultural values are defined by country - just think of stereotypes about countries that are known to have hard workers or are team-oriented. A new study finds that nationality is actually a bad proxy for work-related cultural values, and points to other groupings - such as occupation - as more reliable indicators.

"I study work-related values - how culture informs our beliefs and behaviors related to work," says Bradley Kirkman, co-author of a paper on the work. "This field has long defined and measured culture based on national borders. We wanted to know if nationality is really the best way to delineate cultural values and boundaries. And we learned that it's not a very good marker." Kirkman is the General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership and head of the Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at North Carolina State University. The paper was co-authored by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Calgary.

To examine the issue, the researchers looked at data from 558 studies on work-related values. The studies covered 32 countries from around the world, including the United States, Brazil, France, South Africa and China.

Specifically, the researchers evaluated variation, both within each country and between countries, on four work-related cultural values:

  • Individualism, which measures the extent to which a society places emphasis on individuals as opposed to groups;
  • Power distance, which measures the importance of status and hierarchy in work settings;
  • Uncertainty avoidance, which measures the extent to which cultures are willing to accept ambiguity or the unknown; and
  • Quantity versus quality of life, which measures emphasis on competition and material wealth versus emphasis on societal welfare and well-being.

The researchers found that approximately 80 percent of variation in these values was within countries. For example, at the low end, only 16.6 percent of the variation on individualism was between countries - 83.4 percent of the variability was within countries. At the high end, 20.8 percent of variation on power distance was between countries - which still left 79.2 percent of the variability within countries.

"This told us that country does not equal culture on work-related values," Kirkman says.

Researchers then evaluated other demographic and economic indicators to see if they could find a better proxy for work-related values - and they did.

For example, occupation and socioeconomic status both significantly outperformed country as indicators on power distance. For example, only 20.8 percent of variation was between countries. But differences between occupations accounted for 50.1 percent, while differences between socioeconomic status accounted for 32.2 percent.

Occupation and socioeconomic status also significantly outperformed country on individualism, but fared worse than nationality as indicators on uncertainty avoidance and quantity versus quality of life.

"This work highlights the illusion of national homogeneity and shows that there is a real danger in equating country and culture in a work context," Kirkman says. "Making generalizations based on country can lead people to draw very inaccurate conclusions that may influence both individual and organizational business and management relationships.

"For example, if a U.S. manager is transferred to a foreign office and makes decisions based on national stereotypes about workplace culture, it could blow up in his or her face," Kirkman says.

The paper, "Does Country Equate with Culture? Beyond Geography in the Search for Cultural Boundaries," is published online in the journal Management International Review. Lead author of the paper is Vas Taras of UNC-Greensboro. The paper was co-authored by Piers Steel of the University of Calgary.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Study finds nationality is not a good indicator of work-related cultural values”. EurekAlert. Posted: May 13, 2016. Available online:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ancient Australia: world’s first nation of innovators

For the first couple of centuries of European occupation of Australia the history of its Indigenous people, as written by white fellas, drew heavily on adjectives like ‘primitive’.

As both a white fella and an anthropologist devoting much of my time to writing about human origins, I can only try to imagine the devastating effects this has had on people’s lives.

Without doubt it has played a role in the long battle Indigenous communities have had for acceptance by the wider community; being central to issues like land rights, and today, constitutional change and calls for a treaty.

To many anthropologists and archaeologists, based especially in the northern hemisphere, Australia was seen as an uninteresting backwater. The continent being settled very late in prehistory - they thought - and well after humanity’s major cultural achievements had already occurred.

This view slowly began to change with the discovery that Australia had in fact been occupied for tens of thousands of years. The unearthing of the Mungo Lady and Mungo Man at the Willandra Lakes in southwest New South Wales during the 1970s showed that people had been here for close to 40 thousand years.

But this was just the first in a series of discoveries and rethinks that would come to show the continent’s Indigenous people were truly pioneers in the global (collective) journey of humankind.

The ‘Innovation Nation’, the Prime Minister hopes we will become, began with these ancient Australians, and they racked up a large number of cultural world ‘firsts’, which we should all recognise and celebrate.

Here are just a four examples that show Australia was the world’s first Innovation Nation.

A long and perilous journey

Just getting to Australia was a remarkable feat in itself. Hundreds of kilometres of open sea to be crossed, and to a continent no one knew existed for certain.

But get here they did, and flourish they did. Australia saw the world’s first cross-horizon maritime journey by a people who would go on to discover an entire continent.

A continent of strange plants and animals; more than its fair share of deadly creatures; and landscapes varying from snow capped mountains to hot deserts, rainforests, chains of seasonal lakes and crocodile infested estuaries.

The first people settled Australia at least 50 thousand years ago, and by at least 30 thousand years ago, had settled most or all of the continent.

For some archaeologists, the settlement of the island continent marks no less than the emergence of the human mind itself!

Sense of the afterlife

The earliest Australians had a rich spiritual and symbol filled culture, with a strong sense of the afterlife. Around 40 thousand years ago the Mungo Lady was cremated, the world’s first cremation. At about the same time the Mungo Man’s body was sprinkled or painted in red pigment (ochre), the first time we saw such an elaborate burial anywhere in the world.

Early innovators in tools

Australia now lays claim to the oldest edge-ground axe, following a new report by a team of Australian archaeologists led by Peter Hiscock of the University of Sydney and published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

The tool, dated between 49 and 44 thousand years old, is the oldest example of the kind of axe that we might expect to see in our local hardware store (if they were still made from stone that is!): a ground cutting edge, mounted on a balanced handle.

It’s the kind of tool that takes careful planning and high skill to make, has multiple stages in production and multiple elements, and would be ideal for the kinds of tasks we would use an axe for today.

The discovery tells us that the first settlers of Australia stepped up to the challenges the continent posed to them and invented new and sophisticated tools to make a success of the place.

It also marks a very ancient cultural connection between these early pioneers and Indigenous people today, with edge-ground tools still being made until very recently.

Earliest cosmetic physicians

Just like today, where people tattoo or pierce their skin with items of jewellery, or even put themselves through cosmetic surgery, traditional cultures across the world turned to artificial means to enhance or alter their appearance.

In the past people filed or knocked-out (‘evulsed’) their teeth, scarified their skin, performed circumcisions or manipulated the skulls of their babies so they would grow up with distinctively shaped heads.

Some ancient skulls from the Willandra Lakes, Kow Swamp and various other places in Australia have rather unusual shapes. And when anthropologists have compared them to skulls from other cultures, such as in New Guinea or South America, where infant heads were manipulated by their mothers for cultural reasons, they look remarkably similar.

So, Australia has the oldest evidence for deliberately shaping the bones of the skull to produce a distinctive head shape. It’s the earliest known example of cosmetic treatment!

Each year tourists flock to our nation from around the world to experience the richness of Indigenous culture and the remarkably ancient sites and landscapes the country has.

Yet, so many of us at home place too little value on the history and heritage of our nation, as well as the central place Indigenous Australians hold in the common evolutionary story of our species.

At the core of this choice is the value we place as a predominantly Anglocentric nation on the heritage and history of ‘others’. In this case, our fellow (Indigenous) Australians.

We continue to put more value on the places of pilgrimage of our Anglo and Western heritage – places like Stonehenge, the Roman Colosseum or the Greek Parthenon – than we do those of cultural and even evolutionary significance in our own backyard.

By doing so, we are the poorer for it as a nation, and miss the chance celebrate key milestones in the origin of humankind that played out right here, in Australia.

Curnoe, Darren. 2016. “Ancient Australia: world’s first nation of innovators”. The Conversation. Posted: May 11, 2016. Available online:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why rice growers in China are more sexually liberal than wheat growers

Recent years have seen claims that a “national sex revolution” is well underway in China and that it has “has reached a point of no return”. But according to my new research looking at the views of people across China on sex, this is going too far.

In 1989, only 15% of people in China had sex before marriage. This rocketed to 40% in 1994 and 71% in 2012 with 4.5% of married women and 16.5% of men admitting to having had sex with someone other than their spouse. Estimates indicate that about 3-5% of the Chinese population are homosexual, and that around 11% of unmarried men and 5.8% of married men have had sex with another man.

But while sexual behaviour is one thing, sexual attitudes are quite another. In my new research, I analysed data from the 2010 China General Social Survey with responses from more than 11,000 people across 30 Chinese provinces on whether they think it is morally right or wrong for somebody to have sex before marriage, outside wedlock and with another adult of the same sex.

What I found suggests that rather than traditional theories about the influence of Western values and economic development influencing sexual attitudes in China, it could come down to what kind of crops are grown in each province – rice or wheat.

No national sexual revolution

As the graph below shows, I found that attitudes across China were not very accepting towards premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexuality.

What people in China think about sex
[A chart in the article shows that 29% of the people are accepting of premarital sex, 12% accept homosexuality and 8% accept extramarital sex. ]

And far from there being a “national sex revolution”, there are still significant regional differences in sexual attitudes. For example, in Xinjiang province only 7% of people approve of premarital sex and 2% of homosexuality. In contrast, in Guangdong, 54% consider premarital sex morally acceptable and 24% considered homosexuality acceptable. Considerable geographic variation is also noted in attitudes to extramarital sex.

Some researchers have argued that improved nutrition due to socioeconomic development lowers the age of puberty and sexual maturity, and so leads to more liberal sexual attitudes. This is called the modernisation theory. But I found that people from provinces such as Jilin that have relatively high levels of GDP per capita, family income and urbanisation in China do not hold more liberal sexual attitudes than people from less modernised provinces such as Guizhou and Sichuan.

Others argue that China’s sex liberation is caused by Western cultural influences – known as the westernisation theory. They believe that China’s 1978 open-door policy exposed people to Western ideals of individualism and freedom that may have facilitated sex liberation.

But this is only partly true. I found that people from provinces such as Sichuan that have lower levels of trade and cultural exchanges with Western countries have more liberal views on extramarital sex and homosexuality than people from more “westernised” provinces such as Fujian and Jiangsu. But people from more westernised provinces did have more liberal views on premarital sex.

Others have looked to the role played by China’s economic reform in 1978 in liberating sexual attitudes, and the dissolution of state-owned industries and collective working units was accompanied by a notable ideological shift from collectivism to individualism.

At the same time, the mass de-industrialisation gave rise to the service sector – including the provision of sex-related services. In provinces and municipal areas such as Jiangsu and Shanghai that are more de-collectivised and de-industrialised, I found that people are more tolerant of extramarital sex, but not premarital sex or homosexuality.

The ‘rice theory’

China spans over 2.4 billion acres of land, so it is not credible to assume that distinct regions are different only because they have been influenced by social trends such as modernisation and westernisation in different ways. This led me to look into more long-lasting differences between Chinese provinces.

One obvious difference is the food people eat and grow. For centuries, rice plantation has been prevalent in some provinces, while wheat agriculture has dominated others. The “rice theory” suggests that in China people who grow rice and those who grow wheat may think differently.

I found that people from rice-growing provinces such as Guizhou, Fujian and Sichuan, where a large proportion of farmland is devoted to rice paddies, are significantly more accepting of premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexuality, when compared with those from wheat-growing provinces such as Jilin and Shaanxi.

A major difference between rice and wheat plantations is the different levels of irrigation required. Rice paddies require a high level of irrigation, while wheat plantations require a substantially lower level. For centuries before the prevalence of modern machines, rice plantations relied heavily on close cooperation between farmers for the provision of irrigation, while wheat tended to be managed by people working alone.

The need of cooperation for the production of food – a necessity for survival – in rice-growing regions may have helped to cultivate a higher level of interpersonal dependence, mutual understanding and tolerance, which makes social marginalisation less likely. In contrast, the same senses of interdependence and mutual understanding may be less valued in wheat-growing regions because people do not have to rely on each other for subsistence.

My research suggests that the tolerance of non-conventional sexual behaviours borne out by this need of interdependence in rice-growing areas is key to the liberalisation of sexual attitudes. Recent social changes might have led to a “sex revolution” in China, but it seems that the long-standing distinction between rice and wheat agriculture persists and plays an important role in shaping the landscape of sexual attitudes in today’s China. Finding out what is driving different levels of tolerance to certain sexual practices will affect how sex is taught in schools across distinct regions and the way in which an individual feels it is acceptable to behave.

[The article has some good charts that you should check out.

Hu, Yang. 2016. “Why rice growers in China are more sexually liberal than wheat growers”. The Conversation. Posted: May 12, 2016. Available online:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Humans in Southern Arabia 10,000 years earlier than first thought

The last Ice Age made much of the globe uninhabitable, but there were oases – or refugia – where people 20,000 years ago were able to cluster and survive. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield, who specialise in the analysis of human DNA, have found new evidence that there was one or more of these shelters in what is now Southern Arabia.

Once the Ice Age receded – with the onset of the Late Glacial period about 15,000 years ago – the people of this refugium then dispersed and populated Arabia and the Horn of Africa, and might also have migrated further afield.

Study bolsters archaeological theory

The view used to be that people did not settle in large numbers in Arabia until the development of agriculture, around 10-11,000 years ago. Now, the findings by members of the University of Huddersfield’s Archaeogenetics Research Group demonstrate that modern humans have dwelt in this territory for far longer than previously thought. The new genetic data and analysis bolsters a theory that has long been held by archaeologists, although they had little evidence to support it until now.

The new argument for an Ice Age refugium in Arabia – perhaps on the Red Sea plains – is put forward in an article published in the journal Scientific Reports(open access). Its principal author is Dr Francesca Gandini, who was based at the University of Pavia in Italy before relocating in early 2015 to the University of Huddersfield, where she is a Research Fellow in Archaeogenetics and a member of the group headed by Professor Martin Richards.

Dr Gandini is currently playing a central role in the development of an Ancient DNA lab at the University of Huddersfield, which is home to a Centre for Evolutionary Genomics. It has been awarded £1 million by the Leverhulme Trust in order to provide doctoral training to the next generations of specialists in a field that uses the latest DNA science to delve into evolutionary history.

Study of rare mitochondrial DNA lineage

The new discoveries about an Ice Age refugium in Arabia and the subsequent outward migration are based on a study of a rare mitochondrial DNA lineage named ROa, which, uniquely, is most frequent in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Dr Gandini and her co-researchers have reached the conclusion that this lineage is more ancient than previously thought and that it has a deeper presence in Arabia than was earlier believed. This makes the case for at least one glacial refugium during the Pleistocene period, which spanned the Ice Age. The article also describes the dispersals during the postglacial period, around 11,000 years ago, of people from Arabia into eastern Africa. Moreover, there is evidence for the movement of people in the R0a haplogroup through the Middle East and into Europe and there might also have been a trading network and a “gene flow” from Arabia into the territories that are now Iran, Pakistan and India.

Past Horizons. 2016. “Humans in Southern Arabia 10,000 years earlier than first thought”. Past Horizons. Posted: May 12, 2016. Available online:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Five Things to Know About the Diamond Sutra, the World’s Oldest Dated Printed Book

No one is sure who Wang Jie was or why he had The Diamond Sutra printed. But we do know that on this day in 868 A.D.—or the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong in Jie’s time—he commissioned a block printer to create a 17-and-a-half-foot-long scroll of the sacred Buddhist text, including an inscription on the lower right hand side reading, “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents.” Today, that scroll is housed at the British Library and is acknowledged as the oldest dated printed book in existence.

Chances are you know a little something about the Gutenberg Bible, the first book made with moveable type, which came along almost 600 years later. Bibliophiles might also have a working knowledge of other famous manuscripts like the Book of Kells, The Domesday Book, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Well, The Diamond Sutra should be in that pantheon of revered books, as well. Here’s why:


The text was originally discovered in 1900 by a monk in Dunhuang, China, an old outpost of the Silk Road on the edge of the Gobi Desert. The Diamond Sutra, a Sanskrit text translated into Chinese, was one of 40,000 scrolls and documents hidden in “The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas,” a secret library sealed up around the year 1,000 when the area was threatened by a neighboring kingdom.

In 1907, British-Hungarian archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein was on an expedition mapping the ancient Silk Road when he heard about the secret library. He bribed the abbot of the monastic group in charge of the cave and smuggled away thousands of documents, including The Diamond Sutra. The International Dunhuang Project is now digitizing those documents and 100,000 others found on the eastern Silk Road.


The Diamond Sutra is relatively short, only 6,000 words and is part of a larger canon of “sutras” or sacred texts in Mahayana Buddhism, the branch of Buddhism most common in China, Japan, Korea and southeast Asia. Many practitioners believe that the Mahayana Sutras were dictated directly by the Buddha, and The Diamond Sutra takes the form of a conversation between the Buddha’s pupil Subhati and his master.

Why is it Diamond?

A full translation of the document's title is The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion. As Susan Whitfield, director of the Dunhuang Project explains, the sutra helps cut through our perceptions of the world and its illusion. "[W]e just think we exist as individuals but we don’t, in fact, we’re in a state of complete non-duality: there are no individuals, no sentient beings,” Whitfield writes. 

Why did Wang Jie commission it?

According to Whitfield, in Buddhist belief, copying images or the words of the Buddha was a good deed and way of gaining merit in Jie’s culture. It’s likely that monks would have unrolled the scroll and chanted the sutra out loud on a regular basis. That’s one reason printing developed early on in China, Whitfield explains. “[If] you can print multiple copies, and the more copies you’re sending out, the more you’re disseminating the word of Buddha, and so the more merit you are sending out into the world,” she writes. “And so the Buddhists were very quick to recognize the use of the new technology of printing.”

What is one quote I should know from The Diamond Sutra?

It’s difficult to translate the sutra word for word and still catch its meaning. But this passage about life, which Bill Porter, who goes by the alias "Red Pine," adapted to English, is one of the most popular:

So you should view this fleeting world— A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, A flash of lightening in a summer cloud, A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.


Daley, Jason. 2016. “Five Things to Know About the Diamond Sutra, the World’s Oldest Dated Printed Book”. Smithsonian Magazine. Posted: May 11, 2016. Available online:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Social objects in the brain

A new study from IMC researchers Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, and Andreas Roepstorff, published in the scientific journal NeuroImage, used LEGO bricks to investigate the neurocognitive underpinnings of our engagements with symbolic objects. The study suggests that we experience symbolic objects as social entities.

Sometimes objects are just objects, that is, static, material things. But some objects are relevant to us due to their particular role or value in our social lives. Symbolic artifacts such as road signs, national flags, wedding rings, and artworks are imbued with social significance as they are developed, negotiated and engaged in a variety of everyday cultural practices. More than mere physical objects, we thus experience them as vehicles of social meaning: although a red traffic light does not present any physical impediment to movement, it still (most often) stops us from crossing the street.

LEGO Bricks to illustrate

A new study conducted by IMC researchers Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli and Andreas Roepstorff, and just published in the high-ranking scientific journal NeuroImage, investigates the neurocognitive underpinnings of our engagements with such symbolic artifacts. In a two-day experimental study, participants in groups first built collective models of LEGO bricks to illustrate their understanding of abstract concepts such as 'justice', 'safety' and 'collaboration'. Later they went into an fMRI brain scanner where they would be presented with pictures of their own and others' LEGO models. Interestingly, when participants attended to the meaning of the models, brain areas associated with social cognition and language were activated. These areas are often found in studies where participants watch social stimuli or are instructed to think about other people's mental states. Lead researcher Kristian Tylén explains:

"It is really interesting that brain areas associated with social interaction and reasoning are also active when our participants look at static, dead objects. It tells us that these objects have gained symbolic meaning through social interaction in the preceding group interventions".

Furthermore, special activation patterns in brain areas related to social empathy were found when participants saw LEGO models that they had built with their own group in contrast to models made by other groups. Riccardo Fusaroli continues:

"Activation in these areas were found to depend on how closely the participants felt related to their fellow group members after the LEGO construction sessions."

Together these finding shed new light on the special status of symbolic objects in human cognition. More than simple material structures these objects are experienced as an extension of our social engagements with each other, as trails of social and cultural interactions.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Social objects in the brain”. EurekAlert. Posted: May 11, 2016. Available online:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ancient Plague Victims: Did the Quarantine Help or Hurt?

When plague came to the English village of Eyam 350 years ago, it wasn't rat fleas that infected the majority of people with the deadly bacteria, but rather human-to-human transmission, a new study finds.

From 1665 to 1666, the villagers of Eyam heroically quarantined themselves with the hopes of protecting people in neighboring villages from catching the deadly disease. During the 14-month quarantine, entire families died, said study senior researcher Xavier Didelot, a senior lecturer of epidemiology at Imperial College London.

In all, 257 of the 689 villagers died of plague, historical records show. But the fleas that live on rats infected just 25 percent of those people, the new study found. The other 75 percent caught plague from the bites of fleas and lice that normally live on people, or (less commonly) from contact with bodily fluids from sick people, the researchers found.

The high amount of "human-to-human route of transmission is surprising," Didelot told Live Science in an email. "It was previously assumed that most cases of plague were due to transmission from rodents via their fleas, which is a completely different species from the human flea."

Didelot got interested in the Eyam quarantine during a recent family vacation to the village. "Like most people visiting Eyam, I became fascinated with the story of the 1665-6 plague outbreak, and how the villagers bravely quarantined themselves," he wrote.

Together with his co-researcher Lilith Whittles, a doctoral student also at Imperial College London, he collected all the available data on the Eyam quarantine. The researchers looked at who had died of the plague and when. And they built a statistical model to show the time periods over which people who are infected with the plague become infectious to others, and then eventually die, Didelot said.

The model showed that human-to-human transmission explained the majority of the plague deaths.

The researchers also found that the village's children and those who were poor were at increased risk of the disease. Wealthy people lived in cleaner conditions, and likely had less social contact with other adults than those with less money, they said. But children of all classes often play with lots of other children, including some who may have been sick with plague, they said.

In addition, fewer people died in the winter. This is possibly because there were fewer rats then, but it also might be because people tended to stay indoors and interact less with others, the researchers said.

Eyam quarantine

By the time plague reached Eyam, it had been pandemic in Europe for three centuries. None of the treatments at the time were very effective, but people had realized that some measures — including quarantines — helped stem the spread of the disease, Didelot said.

It was another 200 years before the plague's cause — the bacterium Yersinia pestis — was discovered in 1894, he said.

But although the quarantine may have helped Eyam's neighbors, modern antibiotics that treat the disease make the quarantine a strategy of the past, Didelot said.

"We do not suggest that our study should inform modern practice," he said. The study was published online Wednesday (May 11) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 

Geggel, Laura. 2016. “Ancient Plague Victims: Did the Quarantine Help or Hurt?”. Live Science. Posted: May 10, 2016. Available online:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

900-Year-Old Village Recorded in Volcanic Badlands of New Mexico

In the black-rock badlands of northwesternNew Mexico, archaeologists have documented a 900-year-old village with unique ties to the Ancestral Puebloancitadel of Chaco Canyon.

Consisting of more than a hundred separate sites, including a two-story great house with as many as 85 rooms, the newly recorded community shows a strong influence of Chacoan culture, but at the same time, it appears to have other qualities not found anywhere else.

Some of its stonework has been fashioned from local black volcanic rock, for example, and an intricate system of trails has been worn into the otherwise trackless expanses of lava around it — their exact purpose still unclear.

Taken together, these clues suggest that the settlement — dubbed Las Ventanas — was a one-of-a-kind community in the Chacoan realm: a “hybrid” that hewed closely to the tradition of Chaco Canyon in some ways, but also borrowed and invented other customs to create a system that was unique to this remote town among the lava beds. In the black-rock badlands of northwesternNew Mexico, archaeologists have documented a 900-year-old village with unique ties to the Ancestral Puebloancitadel of Chaco Canyon.

Consisting of more than a hundred separate sites, including a two-story great house with as many as 85 rooms, the newly recorded community shows a strong influence of Chacoan culture, but at the same time, it appears to have other qualities not found anywhere else.

Some of its stonework has been fashioned from local black volcanic rock, for example, and an intricate system of trails has been worn into the otherwise trackless expanses of lava around it — their exact purpose still unclear.

Taken together, these clues suggest that the settlement — dubbed Las Ventanas — was a one-of-a-kind community in the Chacoan realm: a “hybrid” that hewed closely to the tradition of Chaco Canyon in some ways, but also borrowed and invented other customs to create a system that was unique to this remote town among the lava beds. “With the great advances in GPS/GIS work over the last few years, we were able to do exactly that.”

In all, the team covered more than 4,000 acres of desert, and identified about 120 separate sites, ranging from the faint remains of small houses to an impressive two-story great house that included an unusual elevated kiva, fashioned somewhat like a tower.

Judging by architectural clues and tell-tale sherds of ceramic, the sites seem to have been built at around the same time — when the culture headquartered at Chaco Canyon some 150 kilometers away reached its zenith in the late 11th and early 12th century.

But the ruins found at Las Ventanas are distinctly different from those found at Chaco itself, Reed said.

“The ancient Pueblo community at Las Ventanas was an interesting hybrid,” he said.

“I think the builders of the site clearly had links to Chaco Canyon.

“It was built toward the end of Chaco’s heyday, between AD 1075 and 1125 and fits pretty well within the large class of sites called Chacoan Outliers.”

The great house, for example, was constructed in a distinctive style of a solid core covered by a decorate stone veneer that was a hallmark of Chacoan architecture.

“However,” Reed added, “the site has interesting departures from the Chacoan pattern, which clearly indicate that it was built by local people.”

For one thing, some of the structures were made not with sandstone, as Chaco’s monuments had been, but with black volcanic rock.

Reed speculates that this means the structures were not built by migrants from Chaco Canyon, but by locals who wanted to emulate Chaco’s style.

“I think Las Ventanas was built by local Pueblo people from the area, who had trade ties and ceremonial contact with people from Chaco itself,” he said.

And the cultural powerhouse to the north was by no means the only influence on the residents of this lava-rock settlement, Reed added.

“The people of Las Ventanas had close ties to other Pueblo groups to the south, as well as north to Chaco,” he said.

“Many of their ceramics were made using techniques and materials with affinities to the south.”

But perhaps the most intriguing feature that the archaeologists discovered was an intricate network of trails leading away from the open desert and into the black expanses of the lava field.

“What surprised us the most was the vast network of trails that crisscross the lava flow,” Reed said.

“At least two of the trails went all the way across the lava, from southeast to northwest.”

Together, the trails amount to more than 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, in length.

What’s more, many of them don’t appear to lead anywhere in particular.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding was that many of the trails went into the lava with no other likely destination,” he said.

Instead, they seem to simply taper off and disappear, in a manner reminiscent of the incomplete roads that have been found to radiate from Chaco Canyon.

“What this means is the trails were built, primarily, as ritual features themselves, to access different points in the lava – some close to the great house site or other sites and some very deep within the lava,” Reed said.

And along many of the paths, researchers found small caches of goods, ranging from ceramics to stone tools.

These further suggest that the trails may have held a ceremonial purpose, Reed said.

“We have interpreted many of these artifacts as ritual offerings that were intentionally placed along the trails, some in conjunction with collapsed lava tubes,” he noted.

“Although we cannot say for sure, I think the lava flow itself had great spiritual significance for the ancient Pueblo inhabitants.

“It does have significance for the Acoma people today.”

The archaeologists have months of analysis ahead of them, as they sift through all of their new data.

But their investigation of Las Ventanas is already offering unusually lucid evidence of just how diverse and sophisticated the communities were that fell under the aegis of Chaco culture.

Indeed, Reed said, it may be more accurate to say Chaco was more than one culture.

“In short, the Las Ventanas Community shows us the complexity inherent in the Chacoan World,” he said.

“It was not a monolithic society with all sites and communities looking the same across the 50,000 square-mile area — about the size of Ireland.

“Instead, the Chacoan World is best seen as a confederacy of multiple local groups with local traditions, pulled together by the unique skills and talents of the core group in Chaco Canyon.”

De Pastino, Blake. 2016. “900-Year-Old Village Recorded in Volcanic Badlands of New Mexico”. Western Digs. Posted: May 9, 2016. Available online:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Do witchcraft beliefs halt economic progress?

Believing in witchcraft is a salient feature of daily life in many parts of the world. In worst-case scenarios, such beliefs lead to murder, and they may also cause destruction of property or societal ostracism of the accused witches. The first large-scale economics study to explore beliefs in witchcraft, broadly defined as the use of supernatural techniques to harm others or acquire wealth, links such beliefs to the erosion of social capital.

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of social capital relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

It's long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman's statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman's results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.

"Education may contribute to an environment with higher levels of trust and mutual assistance, insofar as it helps to promote a rational worldview and reduce the attribution of any misfortune in life to the supernatural evil forces of other people in the community," Gershman said.

Witchcraft beliefs in Africa and beyond

A major focus of Gershman's findings involves regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The study draws on survey data on personal and regional witchcraft beliefs, primarily from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A respondent is assumed to believe in witchcraft if she claims to believe in either "witchcraft" or "that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone."

Many anthropological case studies document how fears of witchcraft attacks and accusations erode trust and cooperation in African societies. Evidence on the corrosive effects of witchcraft beliefs comes from fieldwork conducted in Tanzania, South Africa, Cameroon, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, and other countries, where witchcraft-related fears manifest themselves in diminished cooperation, breakdown of mutual assistance networks, avoidance of joint projects, mistrust in community members, and general decline in social interactions. Gershman's analysis of the Pew data documents that a systematic pattern of this sort exists in regions in 19 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

The relationship between witchcraft beliefs, trust and erosion of social capital extends to many places beyond sub-Saharan Africa. Using additional survey data from 23 nations (including those in Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East), Gershman compiled a broader country-level dataset on witchcraft beliefs. His analysis also reveals a negative association between witchcraft beliefs and generalized trust in the cross-section of countries, similar to that observed for African regions.

Witchcraft may be alone among supernatural beliefs for having a negative correlation to trust. Beliefs in heaven, hell, reincarnation, angels, miracles, and evil spirits have no relationship to trust, Gershman found.

Why believe in witchcraft?

It's difficult to understand why witchcraft beliefs persist and what purpose they serve. Noted economist and jurist Richard A. Posner theorizes that witchcraft accusations against wealthy community members force them to share their surplus, so witchcraft beliefs promote mutual insurance in societies that lack conventional methods for redistributing resources. Other theories suggest the belief in witchcraft reduces social tensions or de-escalates conflicts; yet that explanation doesn't square with the fact that witchcraft accusations sometimes lead to cascades of ritual killings.

"A belief in witchcraft may be a way to keep order in society, but it's definitely not the best way," Gershman said. "It forces one to conform to local norms because any deviation may lead to an accusation." This type of forced conformity under fear leads to immobility and interferes with wealth accumulation and adoption of innovations.

The consequences of such behaviors likely exceed any potential benefits of witchcraft beliefs, Gershman added. Gershman, who studies the social costs and benefits of culture, has also published research on the "evil eye," a cultural belief that a person's envious glance leads to property destruction. The evil eye belief is also harmful to economic progress but in a different way, Gershman said.

"Witchcraft beliefs are likely to erode trust and cooperation due to fears of witchcraft attacks and accusations. The evil eye leads to underinvestment and other forms of unproductive behavior due to the fear of destructive envy, where envy is likely to manifest in destruction and vandalism involving those who own wealth," Gershman said.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Do witchcraft beliefs halt economic progress?”. EurekAlert. Posted: May 9, 2016. Available online:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Palace Museum in China confirms ancient relics find


The museum, also known as the Forbidden City, said on Thursday that the relics had been found during maintenance work at the historic site.

The Forbidden City was home to China’s imperial palace from 1420 in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) until the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Li Ji, head of the Archaeology Department at the museum’s affiliated academic research institutes, said the relics were found under the west wing of the museum during work on laying an electric cable last year, but it had taken months to appraise them and confirm their age.

“The broken tiles and porcelain pieces are direct evidence that they come from no later than the start of the Ming Dynasty.” Li also said the foundations for construction work from the Ming and Qing dynasties were found above the Yuan relics.

“These three layers of relics indicate how layouts for buildings changed through time,” he said. He added that no Yuan relics had been found previously because of “scrupulous urban construction work” in the Ming Dynasty.

“Our fieldwork shows that almost all previous construction foundations were cleared out when the Forbidden City was built, to provide impeccable detail for the new palaces.”

Li said the current studies are still at a preliminary stage and it is too early to analyze the original architecture.

“Basically, we can be sure it is from an important part of a Yuan Dynasty royal palace, but it’s hard to say if it was on the central axis of Beijing at that time,” he said, adding that the Forbidden City today stands on this axis.

He expects further studies to reveal how this axis has evolved through history.

Li said no large-scale archaeological work will be carried out on the relics, to minimize the impact on surviving ancient architecture.

“It’s like playing puzzles,” he explained. “We begin small-area excavations in different spots, and can obtain a panoramic view through comparative studies.”

2016. “Palace Museum in China confirms ancient relics find”. Heritage Daily. Posted: May 8, 2016. Available online:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hermits in American culture

"Cultures of Solitude" is the title of Dr. Ina Bergmann's current research project. An associate professor at the Department of American Studies of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, she is studying a subject that is a recurring theme throughout US history. It is about solitude and seclusion from society as an extreme expression of the American values of freedom and individualism. Bergmann's main interest is how hermits and recluses are depicted in literature and culture.

For the project, the scientist was awarded a highly sought-after fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (USA) for 2015/16, giving her the opportunity to work as a fellow at the renowned Huntington Library in San Marino (California) in spring 2016.

Robert, the hermit of Massachusetts

In the library, the JMU researcher delved into rare writings from the 18th and 19th century such as "Life and Adventures of Robert, the Hermit of Massachusetts, Who has Lived 14 Years in a Cave, Secluded from Human Society: Comprising, an Account of his Birth, Parentage, Sufferings, and Providential Escape from Unjust and Cruel Bondage in Early Life, and His Reasons for Becoming a Recluse. Taken from his own mouth, and published for his benefit" (1829).

"This is the fascinating story of Robert, a hermit and former slave, who lost his freedom due to deceit and was separated by force from his family," Bergmann says. Robert chose solitude and became a hermit out of desperation and distress: "This narrative aptly demonstrates the impact of slavery in the US and the close link of solitude and freedom."

Work on two book projects

Bergmann intends to incorporate her work in the Californian library into a new book. Under the working title "A Cultural History of Solitude in the USA", the book will deal with the history of solitude phenomena and their by-products. However, the book also covers current aspects such as criticism of society and consumption, desire of freedom, environmentalism and newer lifestyle trends focused on deceleration and simplicity.

The gleanings from Huntington will also be included in a collection of essays which Ina Bergmann is preparing with Ph.D. student Stefan Hippler. The volume will comprise all presentations held at the "Cultures of Solitude" conference organised by Bergmann at the JMU in July 2015. Among the participants were scholars of literature, culture, media and historical science from the US, Canada, Ireland, France and Germany who have specialised in American Studies. Additionally, the collection set to be published in 2016 will include a number of other essays written specifically for this purpose.

Ina Bergmann

Since 1998, Ina Bergmann has been teaching at the University of Würzburg's Department of American Studies where she also did her PhD and qualified as a professor. Other milestones of her teaching career include State University of New York in Albany, the University of Vienna (Austria) and the University of Konstanz (Germany).

A specialist in American Studies, she has studied women's literature, short stories, historical novels, contemporary drama, musicals, films and television and other topics. Her current project on the cultures of solitude will continue positively for her -- with a fellowship from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) that has recently nominated her "Trinity Long Room Hub Visiting Research Fellow" for 2016/17.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Hermits in American culture”. EurekAlert. Posted: May 4, 2016. Available online:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reconstructing the evolution of vegetation on Gran Canaria

Thanks to the analysis of fossil pollen and charcoal remains, a team of scientists has been able to reconstruct the evolution of the vegetation from Gran Canaria between 4,500 and 1,500 years ago. The study reveals that the disappearance of forests in some parts of the island is in part due to the rise in fires and the cultivation of cereals. Both factors are closely related to the arrival of the first indigenous people to the island.

In recent years, fossil pollen remains found on the Canary Islands of Tenerife and La Gomera have helped researchers to learn about changes in the composition of these islands’ forests during the Holocene (starting around 9,600 years ago approximately), as well as how humans have influenced these variations.

Analysing fossil pollen

A team of scientists led by the University of La Laguna has now carried out the first study on the vegetation of Gran Canaria by analysing fossil pollen. This analysis has allowed them to study the dynamics of the vegetation before and after human colonisation of the island. The results of their study have been published in the journal The Holocene.

“We have brought to light the importance of thermophilous vegetation (in this case junipers and palms), in the northern part of the island for at least the last 4,500 years, where it was thought that the dominant vegetation prior to the arrival of humans was mainly laurel forests,” explains Lea de Nascimento, a researcher at the University of La Laguna (Tenerife) and the main author of the study.

This study was carried out at Laguna de Valleseco, located in the northern part of the island, where fossil pollen and charcoal remains were extracted, making it possible to determine the natural features of the area during a period of time from approximately 2550 B.C. to 450 A.D.

The decline of the forests

According to the study, about 4,500 years ago the most abundant plant growth in this area of northern Gran Canaria was thermophilous vegetation, whose forests prefer warm temperatures. Among the species, trees of the genus Juniperus and the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) are notable.

Nevertheless, trees began to disappear about 2,300 years ago from the area that was studied, a period of time which coincides with a rise in the frequency of fires caused by volcanic eruptions or by human presence on the island. “Volcanism during that period of time was very low in intensity and probably did not affect the forests being studied,” stresses the researcher. Therefore, “[the fires] were most likely caused by humans,” she states.

Furthermore, according to the scientist, the data indicate that the earliest inhabitants of Gran Canaria would have arrived on the island a few centuries before the earliest date of human presence known on the island according to archaeological records (1,900 years ago).

From this time onwards, the presence of shrubs and herbaceous plants progressively increases, while other types of vegetation, such as pine and laurel forests, continue to maintain a relatively low presence. Another of the most significant pieces of data provided by the study is the increase in cereal cultivation -especially from the 2nd century A.D. onwards- a reflection of how this agricultural activity gradually developed on the island.

The cultivation of cereals remained stable from then on, while no recovery of trees -especially fire trees (Morella faya)- is observed until the final time period studied, i.e. between the 4th and 5th centuries.

Consequences of human actions

In addition to the pollen remains, fragments of charcoal have been found in the Laguna de Valleseco, a remnant of the fires that took place then. The researchers believe that the inhabitants of the island burned large areas of land in order to obtain new farmland.

De Nascimento points out that the situation in Tenerife was similar to that of Gran Canaria. The arrival of the indigenous people affected the vegetation on the island and led to the decrease or disappearance of some trees, as well as the expansion of shrubs and herbaceous plants. More fires also broke out and an increase in grasses was detected.

Nevertheless, the study of La Gomera did not reveal any significant change in the composition of the forest following the arrival of humans, which could be explained by the fact that it is a small island that was colonised more recently, about 1,800 years ago, and thus had a smaller population.

“The only way to approximate the original state of the vegetation in the area studied would be to plant the plant species that existed there before the arrival of humans, and to eliminate those that are currently present as a result of human activity,” says de Nascimento.

At present, the scientists continue to work in Gran Canaria and Tenerife and are also analysing samples from Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Outside of Spain, their new research focuses on other islands of Madeira and Cape Verde..

“Our main goal is to reconstruct the dynamics of the vegetation on the islands of Macaronesia over time and to link possible changes in the vegetation with climate change and human impact. Furthermore, we strive to integrate the palaeoecological information into the conservation and management of the nature of the islands,” concludes de Nascimento.

Past Horizons. 2016. “Reconstructing the evolution of vegetation on Gran Canaria”. Past Horizons. Posted: May 5, 2016. Available online:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

New Nazca Geoglyph Found in Peru

A new Nazca geoglyph has been uncovered by Japanese scientists in Peru, and it could be linked to a major ceremonial center.

Measuring 98-feet long, the geoglyph is located within the central area of the Nazca pampa, a large, flat, arid region of Peru between the Andes and the coast. The line drawing is of an animal, with many legs and spotted markings, sticking out its tongue.

“It certainly represents an imaginary or mythical creature,” Masato Sakai at the Yamagata University in Japan, said.

Last year a team lead by Sakai discovered dozens of new geoglyphs of animals in the same area using to 3-D scans of the ground.

This time, the researchers just spotted the new lines when walking on the Nazca plateau.

“Because the geoglyph is located on the slopes, it can easily be identified on the ground level,” Sakai told Discovery News.

Mostly known for their massive desert images of animals and birds, the Nazca flourished in Peru between the first century B.C. and the seventh century A.D. and slid into oblivion by the time the Inca Empire rose to dominate the Andes.

The new geoglyph is estimated to date back to the Late Paracas Period (400 B.C. to 200 B.C.). The dating comes from earlier versions of the motifs previously found on the pampa, which are believed to have been created at the Late Paracas period.

The geoglyph features a different technique than most famous Nazca lines. Typical of the Late Paracas Period, the technique relies on the white ground which lies underneath the black oxidized pebbles of the pampa.

“This new animal drawing was created by removing dark surface stones and exposing the underlying whitish ground,” Sakai said. ”The removed stones were then piled up to shape the animal image like a relief.”

He believes the animal drawing might be linked to the vast ceremonial center of Cahuachi, which contains about 40 mounds topped with adobe structures.

“We discovered another geoglyph in 2011, not far from the newly found one,” Sakai said. “It was created using the same technique and showed a pair of anthropomorphic figures in a scene of decapitation.” Decapitation was a popular activity within the Nazca civilization, which was obsessed over trophy heads. They seem to have used the human heads for their ceremonial activity.

Both geoglyphs were located on the slopes, so that they could easily be identified on the ground level.

“Between these two geoglyphs, there is an ancient path leading to the ceremonial center of Cahuachi,” Sakai said.

He believes the geoglyphs were probably related to the pilgrimage to Cahuachi.

“They seem to make the path worth walking,” he added.

Lorenzi, Rossella. 2016. “New Nazca Geoglyph Found in Peru”. Discovery News. Posted: May 3, 2016. Available online:

Friday, June 10, 2016

New data improve techniques for determining whether a jaw bone comes from a man or woman

Researchers at UGR and the Spanish National Research Council have discovered that the differences between the jaw bones of males and females are different between meso-, dolico- or braqui-facial patterns—the three types of anthropometric profiles. As a result, before determining the gender of skeletal remains, it is necessary to establish the vertical facial pattern.

Scientists at the University of Granada and the National Museum of Natural Science (of the CSIC) have applied a new, more accurate technique to analyze the differences in mandible size and shape linked to gender. The new technique will be useful for determining whether a bone comes from a man or a woman.

Their study, published in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology, perfects the technique currently used to identify a subject's gender by analyzing the jaw bone. The results are of great importance to the field of biological anthropology and have further implications for paleoanthropology, paleodemographics, forensic science, orthodontics and other disciplines.

The head author of the study, José Antonio Alarcón Pérez of the Department of Stomotology at the University of Granada, says, "The dolico and braqui-facial subjects present specific patterns of sexual dimorphism in the mandible. These differences could be attributed to the different physiological demands and the difference in the size of the nasal cavity between women and men. Men present higher daily energy expenditures, higher air intake from breathing and differences in body composition compared to women."

A study of 187 jaw bones

The UGR and CSIC study analyzed how the differences linked to gender in the size and shape of the jaw bone varied in function of the vertical and sagittal patterns of the face. Vertical patterns are classified as meso-, braqui- and dolico-facial; sagittal patterns are classified as class I (normal maxillomandibular relationship), class II (mandibular retrognathism versus maxillary prognathism) and class III (mandibular prognathism versus maxillary retrognathism).

In carrying out their study, the authors analyzed the jaw bones of 187 adult subjects (92 men and 95 women) from Granada using lateral teleradiography of the cranium. The size and shape of the jaw bones were studied using specific geometric morphometric techniques.

They found statistically significant differences in the size and shape of the bones between men and women. This sexual dimorphism can be clearly observed in all the patterns, both vertical and sagittal, that were analyzed. The male jaw bone is bigger across all subgroups.

2016. “New data improve techniques for determining whether a jaw bone comes from a man or woman”. Posted: May 2, 2016. Available online:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Influence of religion and predestination on evolution and scientific thinking

Generally seen as antithetical to one another, evolution and religion can hardly fit in a scientific discourse simultaneously. However, biologist Dr Aldemaro Romero Jr.,Baruch College, USA, devotes his latest research article, now published in the open access Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO), to observing the influences a few major religions have had on evolutionists and their scientific thinking over the centuries.

Inspired by the lack of pigmentation and/or eyes in some cave organisms, he focuses on biospeleology to challenge the notions of predetermination and linearity. Although the author makes it clear that fellow scientists do not claim their findings based on religion, he notes that "words matter and that words can hide a lot of the philosophical baggage that sooner or later may influence their ultimate conclusion".

Using examples from across the centuries, Dr Aldemaro Romero Jr. goes back to the times long before Charles Darwin had started compiling his prominent "The Origin of Species" and then turns once again to his evolutionist successors. Thus, he explores the link between the notion of predestination, underlying in various religions and nations, and the evolutionary theories.

The author notices that despite conclusions that evolution is not a linear process, biologists have never stopped seeing and contemplating "preadaptations" and "regressive evolution", when speculating on phenomena such as the lack of eyes in some exclusively cave-dwelling animals. Such choice of words can be easily traced back to assumptions of linearity and, therefore, predestination, common for various religions.

"Since the advent of Modern Synthesis we have a pretty consistent set of evidence that evolution is not linear, that there is not such a thing as direction for evolutionary processes, and that nothing is predetermined since natural selection, the main evolutionary mechanism, is a process that is not moved by any mystical force, nor directs beings toward a particular end," points out Dr Aldemaro Romero Jr..

"Therefore, I hope this paper serves as a warning to scientists that no matter what reductionist view they have in the way they practice their research, if they do not understand the historical roots and the philosophical framework of their research, they are doomed at presenting only a very partial (and many times biased) view of nature," he concludes.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Influence of religion and predestination on evolution and scientific thinking”. EurekAlert. Posted: April 28, 2016. Available online:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Corps determines Kennewick Man is Native American

The ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man is related to modern Native American tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday, opening the process for returning to a tribe for burial one of the oldest and most complete set of bones ever found in North America.

The Northwestern Division of the corps said its decision was based on a review of new information, particularly recently published DNA and skeletal analyses.

The corps, which owns the remains, said the skeleton is now covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The 8,500-year-old remains were discovered in 1996 in southeastern Washington near the Columbia River in Kennewick, triggering a lengthy legal fight between tribes and scientists over whether the bones should be buried immediately or studied. The bones will remain at the Burke Museum in Seattle until the corps determines which tribe will receive them. The next step is for interested tribes to submit a claim to acquire the skeleton for burial, said Michael Coffey, a spokeswoman for the corps in Portland, Oregon.

Determining which tribe receives the bones is likely to be a lengthy process, Coffey said. In the past, the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Wanapum Indians have claimed a connection to them.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Coffey said.

The tribes call the remains the Ancient One and visit the skeleton to hold religious services.

"Obviously we are hearing an acknowledgment from the corps of what we have been saying for 20 years," JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, told The Seattle Times. "Now we want to collectively do what is right, and bring our relative back for reburial."

New genetic evidence determined the remains were closer to modern Native Americans than any other population in the world. Following that, the corps began to re-examine Kennewick Man's status.

"I am confident that our review and analysis of new skeletal, statistical, and genetic evidence have convincingly led to a Native American Determination," said Brig. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, commander of the corps' Northwestern Division.

Most scientists trace modern native groups to Siberian ancestors who arrived by way of a land bridge that used to extend to Alaska. But features of Kennewick Man's skull led some scientists to suggest the man's ancestors came from elsewhere. Researchers turned to DNA analysis to try to clarify the skeleton's ancestry. They recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone, mapped its genetic code and compared that to modern DNA from native peoples of the Americas and populations around the world.

The results showed a greater similarity to DNA from the Americas than from anywhere else, with a close relationship to at least one Native American population, the Colvilles, in Washington state.

Geranios, Nicholas K. 2016. “Corps determines Kennewick Man is Native American”. Posted: April 27, 2016. Available online: