Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Evolution Crackpot Index

Heard of the Rapture Index? Here's the Evolution Crackpot Index. Higher scores get you closer to "revolutionary" thinking in creationism and intelligent design.

From John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts (via The Crackpot Index):

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to biology.

1. A -5 point starting credit.

2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.

6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).

8. 5 points for each mention of "Heackel", "Dawkin", "Steven Gould" or "Eldridge".

9. 10 points for each claim that genetics or evolution is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity. An extra 5 points for citing your engineering, dentistry, medical or computing degree as authoritative in biology. An extra 5 points for a pseudomedical qualification (such as homeopathy or holistic massage).

11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it.

12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.

13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory, or to anyone who can prove evolution is true.

14. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at genetics, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

15. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.

16. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

17. 10 points for each claim that Punctuated Equilibrium Theory, or some similar recent view in biology, in evidence of creationism (or some similar view such as Intelligent Design or, or claim that modern biology is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

18. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift" and that we need to go beyond Darwinism.

19. 20 points for suggesting that you or your hero deserve a Nobel prize.

20. 20 points for every use of religious or science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.

21. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.

22. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary" or "Darwinist establishment" or cognates.

23. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy" or cognates.

24. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported (e.g., that Darwin recanted on his deathbed).

25. 30 points for suggesting that some major scientist, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.

26. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by a pre-industrial culture (without good evidence).

27. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, eugenicists, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

28. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

29. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.

30. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant, especially after their death, or for announcing the "death of Darwinism".)

31. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions, formal models, or exact hypotheses.

32. 10 points for every claim of lurker e-mail support.

33. 100 points for asserting that molecular evolution of complex proteins is impossible because of the large neutral gaps that selection would have to cross, or that there are boundaries between species or other groups of organisms that evolution cannot breach.

What's He Talking About????

My favorite local conservative, Kurt Bonham at FlyAtNight appears to take exception to my recent take on Lassen County's performance during the election. I say "appears" because Kurt's ufocused style of "there's a point in here somewhere" style of writing makes it somewhat difficult to understand where he's coming from.

The first thing he writes is that I'm a "quasi-local Blogger". What the hell does that mean? Living and working in Susanville doesn't qualify me as "local"? Or is Kurt one of those geographic "traditionalist" dinosaurs who believes you can't be considered part of the community unless you were born here? Got news for you, buddy: I was born in San Francisco (ah, gasp!). In Limbaughian logic I guess that makes me and Nancy Pelosi bosom buddies.

The next point Kurt tries to make is that I have some kind of distorted view of the military. He writes the following:

The Professor also provides us with his point of view about the military

And then cites the following paragraph from my post:

“Supporting the Military” in Lassen County means slapping magnetic stickers on your car and rooting for the demise of “islamo-fascists” in front of FOX News from the safety of your up-to-date hi-tech entertainment center; all the while basking in your own tax cuts, going to church on Sunday to pat yourself on the back for being so moral, and adding to your collection of ATVs. But God forbid you would help pay the cost of the “war on terror” with increased taxes or be inconvenienced by a reduction of services or volunteer your vacation time to assisting the war effort, or foregoe profits in your business until the war is over. Whatever analogy FOX news pundits need to conjure up regarding the current war on terror, it is no where near to the sacrifices paid on the home front during WWII. For those without relatives in combat, this is a leisure-time war on the homefront, not far removed from world-wide video game pumped into your house every night.

Only a conservative would take a political accusation against himself and tell the whole world it was really an insult to the military (which is why everyone in the world but conservatives knew what John Kerry was really joking about!). Kurt and his fellow conservatives need to learn how to read and stop trying to "Swiftboat" everything. I was making two very clear points in that paragraph and several others:

1) I find it ironic that Lassen County voters by and large supported sleazeball Doolittle 2:1 over Lt. Colonel Charlie Brown (a man who serving his country while Doolittle was figuring out how rich he could get with political power) and then claim to "support the troops"; and, more importantly,
2) I think "support" for the troops is largely feined by anyone who is not personally connected to the war. It's a cheap argument if you don't have loved-ones doing the fighting.

This is NOT about the military; it is about those who claim support FOR the military while paying no costs themselves. However, in the interest of clarifying my position, let me be clear:

- my thoughts and prayers go to our men and women who are doing the fighting, and to their relatives back home doing the worrying (that includes you, Kurt, if you have relatives in Iraq or Afganistan); I don't believe the Iraq war is doing one thing for our personal security here, and I think the troops need to come home, but don't think for one minute their lives and their relatives' piece of mind aren't important to me;

- I think everyone else has no personal connection to the war and therefore talk is cheap. I think if this is really a "war", then everyone should be paying a cost to support it. If you aren't serving yourself, you should be paying significantly higher taxes to defray the costs from future generations. I don't think businesses should make profits from the war, or during it. If you really want public buy-off on this war as important, then the cost should be shared by more than just those doing the fighting;

- Tell you what else I think: If you think there's no support for the war now, I bet if we were paying high taxes to support it, there would be almost zero support. That's because I don't personally think too much about those who claim to support the war if they haven't demonstrated a personal connection to it. I think most "support" is limited by the pocket book - it's a good thing so long as someone else is doing the dieing and we don't have to shell out any money in support.

So let me ask the Kurts of this world a simple yes or no question: do you think everyone should share the cost and burden of this war?

Kurt then goes on to make the following statement:

The use of the word “God” is a slap at those with religious beliefs. The Professor rants about things he has little knowledge of simply because he has summarily dismissed non-progessives as non-entities. So much for unbiased science.

What is he talking about? Since when is use of the term "God" a slap at those with relligious beliefs? When did I dismiss non-progressives as non-entities? Where was I talking about science in that post? Does Kurt actually understand the English language?

Finally, this gem:

The Professor, an instructor at an institution of higher learning, certainly has a strange view of the educational system

…we will need to continue fighting against using ancient texts written by primitive people as a basis for 21st century policy.

Textbooks are not supposed to promote public policy. Textbooks are supposed to impart the current thinking and historical perspective on the subject being taught. The re-writing of history is not the purpose of instruction. How history is interpreted is fair game. Unfortunately, the Professor wants to re-write educational policy in his own likeness.
What should concern parents and administrators is that the Professor apparently instructs and researches with a predetermined bias that excludes all possibilities that don’t fall within his universe of thought. This is not unbiased science but political thought injected into what is supposed to be science.

Uhh...I was talking about the Bible. But thank you for proving my point. "Textbooks are supposed to impart the current thinking and historical perspective on the subject being taught" - I couldn't agree more!...and the Bible provides no "current thinking and historical perspective" for use in a classroom. As I said, it's an ancient text written by a primitive, tribal people with no understanding of modern science, history or almost any other subject. It shouldn't be used as a textbook or as a basis for public policy (although folks like Doolittle seem to think it justifies the war in Iraq). Thanks for agreeing with me on that point, Kurt.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is There a "Biblical Archaeology"? Some Comments

In reading the November/December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, I happened to catch a letter by James K. Hoffmeier at Trinity International University objecting to the substance of a previous editorial from Professor Ronald Hendel at UC Berkeley. In “Is There a Biblical Archaeology?” (BAR July/August 2006), Hendel suggests that biblical archaeology in the tradition of William Albright has been largely abandoned. Albright sought to verify the historical nature of the Bible texts through archaeological excavation and research (although often portrayed in this manner, Albright’s theoretical perspectives on biblical archaeology were more complex and, like most scholars, changed through time). This endeavor, Hendel suggests, “…did not illumine the times of Abraham, Moses and Joshua. Rather, it helped to show that these times and events are largely unhistorical”. Hendel further opines that the only folks engaged in Albrightian style biblical archaeology are fundamentalists and evangelical Biblical scholars.

Hoffmeier disagrees with this assessment, accusing Hendel and others in the so-called “minimalist axis” of dismantling the Bible’s historicity. He cites in support William Dever’s assessments of minimalist (revisionist) archaeology as “anti-Biblical archaeology” and Dever’s criticism of minimalists for using data selectively and cavalierly. Hoffmeier further uses Thomas Levy and Mohammad Najjer’s recent archaeological work in southern Jordan supporting a re-thinking of the level of societal complexity achieved by the biblical Edomites. [In brief, the issue here is that the Bible refers to David having battled the “kingdom” of the Edomites in contrast to current archaeological data suggesting that the Edomites were a tribal level society at the time of David and unable to field an army of sufficient size to have been accurately described in the Bible. Levy and Najjer’s work suggests highland sites in the area have been overlooked and these suggest a higher level of Edomite complexity than previously thought]. Hoffmeier clearly thinks Biblical Archaeology is not dead, and in fact evangelicals are contributing significantly to its advance.

Two observations struck me while reading Hoffmeier’s letter and returning to the original articles that he cites. The first is that I question whether the whole minimalist/maximalist debate in biblical archaeology is really a construct of biblical fundamentalism more than it is a theoretical debate in archaeology. Supposedly “minimalists” see the Bible as offering little or no history verifiable through archaeological research. At the other end of the spectrum, “maximalists” see the Bible as mostly historical, documenting people, places and events frequently verified by archaeology. Although I have not read every piece on this subject, I simply don’t see those accused of “minimalism” defining themselves that way. What I generally see instead is maximalists defining any archaeology that disagrees with biblical literalism defined as “minimalist”. It is not just that there is a minimal view of the bible as historical; it is that suggesting any biblical passage fails a test of historical verification is itself considered a minimalist position. Along the supposed continuum from minimalist to maximalist, for fundamentalists and evangelicals it appears minimalism occupies the range from 0 to 99%.

Secondly, I see the same selective interpretation and quotation mining among those criticizing the axis of minimalism as I do among creationists and intelligent design activists criticizing evolution. Hoffmeier’s letter, far from convincing me that Hendel was incorrect in his assessment of Biblical Archaeology, suggests quite the opposite. Typical of those who seek to defend the theological nature of the Bible as historical in and of itself, what Hoffmeier doesn’t reveal about his sources’ positions on the matter is far more enlightening than what he actually cites. Hoffmeier cites Dever’s critique of minimalism as the quintessential last word on the subject. I do not claim to deny Dever’s position on the issue (and I would argue that he is correct in the selective use of data often seen in minimalist approaches to bible archaeology) but as usual there is a deeper context to the statement. Dever, in the very same article cited by Hoffmeier (Dever, W. G. 2006, The Western Cultural Tradition Is At Risk, Biblical Archaeology Review Vol 32 (2)) , indicates the following (p. 76):

We cannot turn the clock back on the time when archaeology allegedly “proved the Bible.” We must allow archaeology as it is practiced today to challenge, as well as to confirm, the Bible’s stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The Biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably do reflect some historical memories of actual people and places, but the “larger-than-life” portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and are, in fact, contradicted by the archaeological evidence. Some of Israel’s ancestors probably did come out of Egyptian slavery, but there was no military conquest of Canaan, and most early Israelites were displaced Canaanites. Monotheism may have been the ideal of Biblical writers, but many, if not most, Israelites throughout the Monarchy were polytheists.

For any fundamentalist defending the theological historicity of the Bible this is “minimalist” or “revisionist” archaeology! If you don’t confirm what we already know, then you’re not doing appropriate archaeology! Hoffmeier cites Dever again, specifically from the latter’s chapter on “The Current School of Revisionists” in his What Did Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, in an apparent effort to further show that archaeology is moving away from the minimalist/revisionist perspective and toward demonstrating the historical nature of the Bible. But while Dever clearly has issues with revisionism, they are base on issues of archaeology, not theology. In reference to his debate with Finkelstein (who, by the way, Hoffmeier clearly impunes as a bible revisionist – not at all the sense I get from actually reading Finkelstein's work!) on Israelite ethnicity, Dever notes following:

But it is significant that ours is a strictly anthropological and archaeological difference, one that has nothing to do whatsoever with biblical maximalists and minimalists…(p.43)

In citing Dever several times I cannot help but conclude that Hoffmeier is trying to conflate Dever’s critique of revisionism from a strictly archaeological and anthropological perspective with Albrightian bible archaeology. In this context it is interesting that Dever suggests Finkelstein, in questioning Israelite ethnicity on archaeological grounds, is an unwilling pawn in the minimalist-maximalist debate. However, I also wonder whether Dever is himself a victim in the manner in which his revisionist critique is selectively quoted by those defending a greater theological confirmation of the bible. Dever is correct: “Biblical” archaeology has changed dramatically over the last decades (and he himself is largely responsible for introducing such innovations as Binfordian processual archaeology to the methods employed by those conducting professional work in the land of the bible), but there are many who won’t let the extreme theological positions complete their overdue death.

Hendel is also absolutely correct: “The only children of this divorce who are still doing Biblical Archaeology in the Albrightian style are fundamentalists and evangelical Biblical scholars.” (Is There a Biblical Archaeology? BAR 32(4) 2006). Hoffemeir doesn’t accept this, and cites Dever to further his position. But ironically for Hoffmeier, Dever himself seems to accept Hendel’s proclamation:

What the revisionists seem to mean by “biblical” Israel is the Israel of mythic proportions. This is the Israel reflected in numerous “stories” that are embellished with exaggerations and fanciful features such as miracles, compiled partly from sagas, legends, folk-tales, and outright inventions. Above all, it is the story of an Israel that is set in an over-arching theocratic framework whose intent is always didactic. It aims not at historical narrative per se, but at elucidating the hidden theological meaning of events and their moral significance. Of course this “Israel” is not historical, except for revealing something of the historical context of its writers and final editors. But then few modern readers except Fundamentalists ever thought that it was. (Dever, W. G. (2001) What Did Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? Pp. 46).

I can see no reason not to conclude that only Fundamentalists are conducting “Bible Archaeology”. Residents in my own town of Susanville have participated in these projects and then returned (along with their sponsors such as Carl Baugh) to proclaim that “archaeology is proving the Bible correct”; without having the foggiest notion about current methods or theological positions in archaeological research in the Middle East. Even the term “Bible Archaeology” has been dropped in favor of “Syro-Palestinian” archaeology!

I have often made the case that a methodological and philosophical connection exists between those who engage in traditional “Biblical Archaeology” and those who advocate Intelligent Design and other forms of Creationism (and by extension, why archaeologists should engage in the evolution-intelligent design debates and not eschew their responsibilities to their biology brethren). Finally, Hendel makes this connection in referring to Biblical Archaeology scholars of today and in doing so nails the core flaw of intelligent design:

But these scholars often eschew the critical methods of Biblical scholarship and historiography, and so relegate themselves to the margins of scholarship. They are like the advocates of creationism or “intelligent design” in the field of biology – they adopt critical methods when the results do not conflict with their theology.

Only fundamentalist advocate “Biblical Archaeology” and “Creationism” – the real scholars in archaeology and biology left these folks in the dust long ago.

Friday, November 10, 2006

PZ, Lassen County And the 2006 Elections

I couldn't help but catch PZ's morning-after cynicism regarding the election - quite frankly, I was having similar thoughts. It is a good thing that power has shifted back to the Democrats, but that is largely superficial and a closer look at the election results belies some major problems bubbling beneath the political surface.

Pro-science candidates and issues generally faired well in this election, at least in Ohio, Missouri (stem cell initiative passed) and Pennsylvania (where anti-science Santorum finally got the boot he deserved!), although Red State Rabble and others will have more work to do in Kansas where two creationists maintained their positions on the state board. On the other hand, gay marriage bans passed in several states, meaning that most people prefer basing their decisions on texts written by tribal peoples than on reasoned thought. And the fact that the Missouri stem cell initiative only barely passed furthers suggests a large number of people still believe a hundred blastocytes are the equivalent of the 5 year old neighbor kid riding his trcycle down the street. Unreasoned religious fanaticism remains a problem at all political levels: local, state, national and the world.

Locally, the election results were less heartening. Lassen County remains culturally primitive, although there is some encouragement that the view might be changing (albeit at a geological pace!). In looking at the overall results, approximately 60% of Lassen County voters tended to go for conservative candidates, 30% for liberal candidates and 10% for everyone else. Most disappointing was that Lassen County voted to keep one of the most vile, corrupt and morally reprehensible members of Congress we have nationwide: John Doolittle. In doing so, they rejected an individual who actually served his country with honor. "Supporting the Military" in Lassen County means slapping magnetic stickers on your car and rooting for the demise of "islamo-fascists" in front of FOX News from the safety of your up-to-date hi-tech entertainment center; all the while basking in your own tax cuts, going to church on Sunday to pat yourself on the back for being so moral, and adding to your collection of ATVs. But God forbid you would help pay the cost of the "war on terror" with increased taxes or be inconvenienced by a reduction of services or volunteer your vacation time to assisting the war effort, or foregoe profits in your business until the war is over. Whatever analogy FOX news pundits need to conjure up regarding the current war on terror, it is no where near to the sacrifices paid on the home front during WWII. For those without relatives in combat, this is a leisure-time war on the homefront, not far removed from world-wide video game pumped into your house every night.

As for the propositions, Lassen County voted against education, for parental notification, against the prospect of alternative energy and to enable developers' to run roughshod over local governments under the guise of "preventing government acquisition of private property". Fortunately the rest of state was somewhat more sensible in its approach. It's going to take a lot more work to bring Lassen County kicking and screaming out of the 19th century.

Locally, I am somewhat discouraged by school board elections. Several potential creationist candidates were elected (I base "potential" only on my assumptions of their positions based on their religious backgrounds - there have been no publicly overt statements regarding changing science curriculum in the community). Of course I'll be watching school curricula discussions closely and the staff at most schools in the area know they have my support (and that of the NCSE and others) should any intelligent design or other creationist "proposals" come forward.

Despite the euphoria over the election, I agree with PZ that the nation (and the world) continue to teeter on the edge of the cultural abyss. At the bottom of that abyss is religious fundamentalism. We will need to continue to fight for the rights of those who do not share the views of religious conservatives; we will need to continue fighting against pro-biblical versions of science that eschew reason for mythology; we will need to continue fighting efforts to place religions of all stripes on a political pedistle free from critique; we will need to continue fighting against using ancient texts written by primitive people as a basis for 21st century policy. We still have a lot of work to do.

Four Stone Hearth: Second Edition

Check out the second edition of Four Stone Hearth, the new blog carnival specializing in anthropology. It's being hosted by Afarensis. The next one will be November 22, hosted by

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tales From the Crypt: What Teeth Can Tell Us About Life, Death and Prehistoric Human Behavior

In the inaugural edition of Four Stone Hearth, Afarensis posted on the amazing information even fragments of teeth can provide researchers on evolutionary relationships, diet, and a whole host of additional features of an individual's life history. In the comments to this, Kambiz remarked on another type of tooth analysis that can yield important information on the age of animals at death and provide important insights into prehistoric behavior. It just so happens that much of my graduate research focused on the exact method Kambiz references: dentali increment analysis.
Teeth are comprised of three tissues: enamel, dentine and cementum. Most of us are familiar with enamel – it’s the white stuff we see forming the crown of the tooth. Dentine forms the body of the tooth and may also be familiar to most of you (if you haven’t been properly anaesthetized, you’ll know real quick if the dentist drills past the enamel and into the dentine!). Most people are probably not familiar with the third tissue: cementum (my own dentist actually wasn’t!). In general, cementum forms along the roots of teeth within the alveolar (bony) socket of your upper and lower jaw. Its function is to do exactly as its name suggests: it is quite literally responsible for “cementing” your teeth within the socket so that they don’t loosen. You exert great pressure (longitudinally and laterally) when you chew, and without deposition of cementum your teeth would be loosened from your skull. Cementum is also added to continually erupt your teeth so that they maintain occlusal contact (ideally, when you bite down the tops of your upper and lower teeth should remain in contact). Because you wear the enamel down as you chew, the constant eruption of the teeth through your life maintains your ability to keep the surfaces in contact and allow you the ability to masticate (chew) your food. Every other animal within the class Mammalia also deposits cementum on the roots of their teeth.
So cementum is deposited throughout the life of an individual. That information would be of little use except for one other characteristic that cementum possesses: it is deposited in distinct layers that correspond to seasons of the year and by extension, track the age of the animal until death. We refer to these layers as “cementum increments” or “dental increments”. The figure here shows incremental layering in a typical mammal (a bighorn sheep) under high magnification (the basic method of “dental increment analysis” is to cut thin sections of teeth (specifically the roots) and examine them under a polarizing light microscope – it’s more complicated than that, but I won’t bore you with the details here). In general, dark or opaque layers represent seasons of stress: dry season in tropical latitudes, winter in temperate latitudes. Light or translucent layers represent seasons of growth: wet season in tropical latitudes, summer in temperate latitudes. A combination of one opaque and one translucent increment represents a year in the animal’s life. More than that, by understanding the rate of growth in each of the increments, we can estimate not only age-at-death, but also season-of-death. In other words, I can take a tooth from an archaeological site and tell you not only the animal’s age at the time it died, but also the time of year that it was killed. Age and season information can tell give us wonderful insights into prehistoric human behavior on a number of levels. In the photo at left, a total of five pairs of increments are identified, indicating an animal approximately 5.5 years of age (there is some adjustment that needs to be made for tooth eruption - increments don't actually start to form until the tooth comes into occlusion - that time varies by tooth).
For example, much of the work I conducted on the applicability of this method to tropical taxa such as wildebeest and zebra, was done in the context of Hadza hunter-gatherers in East Africa. Observations (and increment data) suggest Hadza hunters take far greater numbers of older zebra when hunting from ambush sites such as blinds near water holes than they do impala, which tend to be younger. Moreover, they take many more male zebra (sex is defined on the basis of tooth remains, but not through dental increments – there are also other aspects of bone morphology that can be used to identify the sex of an individual). The traditional explanation of this is that Hadza hunters, like many aboriginal people throughout the world, act in a conservatory manner: generally taking only those individuals that no longer contribute to the reproductive potential of herd – in this case, older males that have lost their harems to younger males. In effect, native people like the Hadza are thought to manage game populations through selective harvesting. Turns out, this isn’t the case. While Hadza do tend to take more old adult males from ambush hunting during the dry season (confirmed through dental increment analysis) during other times of the year when hunters encounter them randomly through encounter hunting, they take males, females, old and young in roughly the same proportions as they occur in a living herd. There are a number of things at play here (season, age, herd social dynamics, Hadza hunting technique), but the data suggest that, because of their particular behavior around water holes, male zebra “bachelor” groups tend to be more vulnerable to Hadza hunting techniques. The Hadza are not “selecting” for older male zebra. They are simply taking what is being more readily presented to them in a given situation. In contrast, Hadza hunters take far more female impala while ambush hunting: again, this suggests they do not actively select for specific age and sex classes, but take what is easiest. I have found no data to support the claim that aboriginal people engage in active management of game populations.

But increment data are not just applicable to tropical mammals. I have also been looking at deer teeth from archaeological sites along western slope of the Sierra Nevada in California. In this region, dental increment data on seasonality and death of large numbers of deer remains (and other data) are forcing a different view of the prehistory. This is the area of Ishi, the lone Yahi who left the rugged “front country” of Mill and Deer Creek drainages in 1911 and entered the world of Euro-Americans, ultimately dying of tuberculosis in Berkeley in 1916. Traditionally, and based largely on the recent ethnographic and historic record of Ishi and the Yahi/Yana Indians (and less on solid archaeological work) the region was assumed to be the traditional homeland of the Yahi/Yana. Therefore, the expectation is that this region will contain village sites and logistical camps associated with a broad spectrum of human activities conducted by males and females of all ages. Conventional wisdom has it that the major rockshelters and midden sites within the area represent village sites and associated activities.
Much of this expectation is severely biased by too great a reliance on Native American ethographies – what is often referred to as the “tyranny of the ethnographic record”. Except for the very late period, dental increment data suggests the region of Ishi was largely used for the seasonal procurement of game (particularly deer) and did not see establishment of major village locations. Dental increment data from a number of sites suggests limited seasonal use of these locations as deer hunting camps. Seasonal signatures from deer tooth increments are commensurate with Hadza kill sites. In other words, the range of seasonal “readings” is very limited and suggests these sites were used for very limited duration, unlike village sites, where animals would have been introduced over a longer time frame and reflect a much greater range of seasonal signatures. This is further supported by skeletal part representation at most of these sites – deer skeletal parts are dominated by skulls, backbones and ribs, indicative of the major meat-bearing bones having been transported somewhere else and not consumed onsite. Interestingly, the seasonal ranges reflected in the increment data show two very clear time frames of site use: late fall and early spring. Today the deer herds migrate from higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada to the

In the bar graph above, green and yellow bars indicate timing of the migration for today's deer herd occupying the Ishi Wilderness region of California. Red bars indicate prehistoric timing of the migrations indicated by dental increment data. The earlier summer/fall migration seen today is thought to result from hunting pressure during the current summer archery season, which may be responsible for pushing the deer out of the higher elevations earlier than the prehistoric pattern.
Sacramento Valley in the fall where they remain throughout the winter. In the early spring, the deer reverse the process and migrate back to higher elevation. Dental increment data suggests this patter of migration has been in place in this region for the last 2500 years and is not simply a phenomenon of historic times.

Finally, age data from these sites is suggestive of increasing hunter pressure on deer herds over the last three millennia. Prime-age adult deer comprise a progressively smaller proportion of the deer taken prehistorically beginning about 3000 years ago. By 500 years ago deer kills are predominately comprised of yearlings and two year olds, suggesting the herd has become largely over-hunted. This is consistent with data suggesting an increasing population of aboriginal people on the landscape during this time and other data which suggests a declining efficiency of taking larger game. It also further dispels any notion of aboriginal people as being wise stewards of the land. Given enough time and larger populations, humans of all cultural backgrounds can take a toll on wild game and will do so if it is in their best interests.

I have necessarily abstracted many of the details regarding dental increment analysis and application, but hopefully this will provide some background on the method. For further reading I recommend the following:

Lieberman, D. E. (1994). The biological basis for seasonal increments in dental cementum and their application to archaeological research. Journal of Archaeological Science 21: 525-39.

Lubinski, P. and C. J. O’Brien (2001). Observations on seasonality and mortality from a recent catastrophic death assemblage. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(8): 833-842.
O’Brien, C. J. (2002). A re-evaluation of dental increment formation in East African mammals: implications for wildlife biology and zooarchaeology. In (Pike-Tay, A. and D. Weinand Eds) Assessing Season of Capture, Age and Sex of Archaeofaunas: Recent Work. University of Victoria, International Council for Zooarchaeology.

O’Brien, C. J. (2001). Seasonality Studies and Deer Teeth: An Introduction to Dental Increment Analysis in California. Society for California Archaeology Newsletter 35(1).

O’Brien, C. J. (1994). Determining Seasonality in East African Archaeological Faunas: An Ethnoarchaeological Application of Cementum Increment Analysis. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Pike-Tay, A. (1991). Red Deer Hunting in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwest France: A Study in Seasonality. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports International Series, 569.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What "Supporting the Troops" Means To The GOP

From Positive Blasphemy:

This cartoon just says it all. How dumb do you have to be to understand that Republican "support" of the troops is limited to slapping magnetic stickers on their cars. One of the problems with the Iraq situation is that there is no real buy-in from anyone who doesn't have a family member serving in the military. Talk and magnetic stickers are cheap. Would Republicans still be in favor of the war if we raised taxes by 2-300% to cover the costs of the "war on terror"?. Perhaps no business should be allowed to make a profit until, as Bush says, "we win"...whatever the hell that means. The ONLY people paying a cost for this war are those in uniform. And that's not morally right.

Happy Birthday Earth! You Just Passed 6009!

Via Threads From Henry's Web, I see that my favorite Christian fundamentalist apology website, Worldnutdaily, is ecstatic over the re-release of Bishop James Ussher's Annals of the World. Those familiar with the history of science (and those having taken my Anthropology 1 course) will recognize Bishop Ussher as the 17th century Anglican bishop who determined that the earth was not only created in 4004 BC, but that he also figured it that it came into existence on October 23 of that year (we apparently missed the earth's birthday two weeks ago - perhaps Bush and his fundamentalist buddies can make it a federal holiday?).

Worldnutdaily reports that everyone will be happy except for us Darwinists:

Of course, there will be those who disagree with Ussher's calculations of time – especially evolutionists who need billions of years to explain their theory of how life sprang from non-life and mutated from one-celled animals into human beings.

Of course, there will be those who accept without critique Ussher's calculations of time - especially creationists who require a 6000 year old earth in which to fit their personal interpretation of Genesis, written by tribal folks with no knowledge of science. Henry's Web calls it as it is:

But the article also calls this book “. . . a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously.” That is simply incredible. Practically the entire field of ancient near eastern archeology has been created since that book was written. It is, itself, a historical artifact, and not a good source for the facts of the history of the world or of their interpretation. If homeschoolers are being taught history in this fashion, we have a great deal to be worried about.

One of the main reasons why I'm not all that excited about homeschooling: most of it is an attempt to limit knowledge, not expand it. I will probably purchase a copy of Ussher's book - in the context of a history of people trying to understand the world around them I think it is probably a classic. But to consider Ussher's book as having any practical application today is nonsense. His views went the way of the dodo long ago.

New Edition of Four Stone Hearth Coming UP

Afarensis is hosting the next edition of Four Stone Hearth - a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology. If you're interested in anthropology, please check it out. And feel free to submit something.