evolutionary anthropologist

nature.com
Mummy DNA unravels ancient Egyptians’ ancestry
Genetic analysis reveals a close relationship with Middle Easterners, not central Africans.

“The tombs of ancient Egypt have yielded golden collars and ivory bracelets, but another treasure — human DNA — has proved elusive. Now, scientists have captured sweeping genomic information from Egyptian mummies. It reveals that mummies were closely related to ancient Middle Easterners, hinting that northern Africans might have different genetic roots from people south of the Sahara desert.

The study, published on 30 May in Nature Communications1, includes data from 90 mummies buried between 1380 bc, during Egypt’s New Kingdom, and ad 425, in the Roman era. The findings show that the mummies’ closest kin were ancient farmers from a region that includes present-day Israel and Jordan. Modern Egyptians, by contrast, have inherited more of their DNA from central Africans.

Archaeological discoveries and historical documents suggest close ties between Egypt and the Middle East, but “it is very nice that this study has now provided empirical evidence for this at the genetic level”, says evolutionary anthropologist Omer Gokcumen of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The scientists obtained information about variations in mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, from 90 mummies. Because of contamination, the team was able to acquire detailed nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents, from only three mummies.

Both types of genomic material showed that ancient Egyptians shared little DNA with modern sub-Saharan Africans. Instead, their closest relatives were people living during the Neolithic and Bronze ages in an area known as the Levant. Strikingly, the mummies were more closely related to ancient Europeans and Anatolians than to modern Egyptians.


Well this is fascinating

Compared to other hyenas, the spotted hyena shows a greater relative amount of frontal cortex which is involved in the mediation of social behavior. Studies strongly suggest convergent evolution in spotted hyena and primate intelligence. A study done by evolutionary anthropologists demonstrated that spotted hyenas outperform chimpanzees on cooperative problem-solving tests; captive pairs of spotted hyenas were challenged to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward, successfully cooperating and learning the maneuvers quickly without prior training. Experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced clan-mates to solve the problem. In contrast, chimps and other primates often require extensive training, and cooperation between individuals is not always as easy for them.

 The intelligence of the spotted hyena was attested to by Dutch colonists in 19th-century South Africa, who noted that hyenas were exceedingly cunning and suspicious, particularly after successfully escaping from traps. Spotted hyenas seem to plan on hunting specific species in advance; hyenas have been observed to indulge in activities such as scent marking before setting off to hunt zebras, a behaviour which does not occur when they target other prey species. Also, spotted hyenas have been recorded to utilise deceptive behaviour, including giving alarm calls during feeding when no enemies are present, thus frightening off other hyenas and allowing them to temporarily eat in peace. Similarly, mothers will emit alarm calls in attempting to interrupt attacks on their cubs by other hyenas.

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What Bonobos Can Teach Us

Bonobos share 98.7% of our DNA. Physically, they resemble chimpanzees. But something remarkable sets them apart from their primate cousins, making them an altogether different animal. Bonobos live in almost complete absence of violence; work cooperatively toward shared goals; foster a society that values equality; and engage in prolific casual sex. Could these gentle, promiscuous creatures hold the key to a world without war? Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake, discusses what we might learn from our evolutionary relatives with anthropologist Brian Hare and NPR RadioLab’s Jad Abumrad.

By: World Science Festival.

It’s hard to find a society, a religion or a part of the world that does not find some way to make women feel dirty, guilty, unworthy or dangerous because of their monthly cycle. “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal,” says Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos.

Yet there are exceptions: societies that treat menstruating women with respect.

“Yurok, a native tribe from the northwest coast of the United States stratified by class, had a group of aristocratic women who saw their periods as a time for purifying themselves,” says Alma Gottlieb, professor of anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois. 

In some parts of Ghana, West Africa, young girls sit under beautiful, ceremonial umbrellas when they begin menstruating. “The family would give her gifts and pay her homage,” says Gottlieb. “She is celebrated like a queen.”

Some Cultures Treat Menstruation With Respect

Illustration credit: Hanna Barczyk for NPR

theguardian.com
Early men and women were equal, say scientists
Study shows that modern hunter-gatherer tribes operate on egalitarian basis, suggesting inequality was an aberration that came with the advent of agriculture
By Hannah Devlin

Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Spiders Break Through Our Blind Spots

by Nala Rogers, Inside Science

The spider’s iconic leggy shape can abruptly yank our attention, even when we’re focused on something else, according to a new study. Other shapes such as houseflies and hypodermic needles don’t draw our attention in the same way. This suggests that spiders may be hard-wired into our visual systems, helping us avoid a threat that our ancestors faced for millions of years.

“You can really think of it as sort of a computational circuit that you can program: When you detect a small little mass with radiating segments, you notice it, and bring it to awareness. And then you can avoid it or treat it appropriately,” said Joshua New, assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York City, and first author of the study.

While most spiders are harmless to humans, there is evidence that some dangerous species may have been common during our evolutionary history, according to New.

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