Archive for Foundation News

Wenner-Gren Foundation Appoints Respected Anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford as New President

NEW YORK—With a commitment toward sustained leadership in defining the practice of anthropology, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has named respected anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford as its next president.

Rutherford is the chair of the Department of Anthropology and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz whose research and fieldwork has focused on questions of culture and power. She is well known for her work in the West Papua province of Indonesia and for promoting research at the intersections of the range of disciplines that make up the field of anthropology.

Wenner-Gren’s Board of Trustees approved Rutherford’s appointment at its spring meeting last month.

“Danilyn Rutherford has a vision of the broad field of anthropology, an exceptional record of accomplishment, and the creativity and drive to lead Wenner-Gren,” said Lorraine Sciarra, chair of the board and the head of the presidential search committee.

“Professor Rutherford’s incredible intellect and capacity for connecting people and ideas made her an exceptional choice for leading Wenner-Gren as the foundation continues to expand its role as a steward of anthropology across the subdisciplines,” Sciarra added. “Her innovative spirit will help the foundation make a powerful case for the ongoing importance and relevance of anthropology. The foundation is extraordinarily fortunate to have Professor Rutherford as its next president.”

As Wenner-Gren marks its 75th anniversary, Rutherford will create a new strategic plan for the foundation while continuing its functions associated with being one of the major funding sources for international anthropological research. These include directing programs for the foundation’s research grants and fellowships as well as conferences and symposia that are incubators of the newest ideas in anthropology.

Rutherford will work closely with the Board of Trustees, an Advisory Council of leading scholars in anthropology the foundation’s staff and external stakeholders.

“These are exciting times for anthropology, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to take part in shaping the discipline’s future,” Rutherford said. “There’s so much good work being done. Wenner-Gren is in a perfect position to create a space for conversation among anthropologists trained in different epistemological traditions. The best research in all the subfields combines rigor and curiosity. I’m looking forward to exploring ways we can find common ground by building on these key features of our scholarship.”

 

A commitment to core values and innovation

Rutherford said she has long respected Wenner-Gren’s commitment to funding a wide array of research across the four subfields of anthropology. “I’ve always admired Wenner-Gren’s commitment to supporting an intellectual ecology where different varieties of knowledge production can flourish. The discipline has always had blurry boundaries. We draw inspiration from fields ranging from biology to history to the arts.”

With an endowment valued at $165 million, the foundation provides more than $5 million in grants each year to support the field of anthropology around the world. This includes supporting anthropological research, academic training and education, collaboration between scholars, development of doctoral programs in countries where the field is underrepresented, innovative projects to raise awareness of anthropology, and conferences, workshops and symposia that bring scholars together to advance knowledge and address some of anthropology’s most pressing issues.

Rutherford said she is eager “to build on Wenner-Gren’s efforts to further deepen the impact of the foundation and demonstrate the significance of anthropology to a broad public audience beyond the field.” Since 1959, the foundation has published Current Anthropology, ranked as one of the top journals in the field in terms of impact, citations of its content and influence.

Recent innovations include providing open access to select Current Anthropology articles online and the launch in January of the SAPIENS news and commentary website, which is aimed at transforming how the public understands anthropology.

“I am impressed by Wenner-Gren’s efforts to cultivate new modes of scholarly engagement,” Rutherford said. “It’s a question of access. I believe that anthropologists have an ethical duty to speak in clear, compelling ways not only to their students and the broader public, but also to fellow academics in the U.S. and abroad. I’m honored to serve as the next leader of the foundation.”

Rutherford will succeed Leslie C. Aiello, who will retire after serving as the foundation’s president since April 2005. Aiello will become president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 2017.

Under Aiello’s leadership, Wenner-Gren solidified its preeminent position in anthropology, expanded its commitment to research needs not met by other funding sources, and strengthened its strategic focus on programs to invigorate the field domestically and internationally.

 

About Danilyn Rutherford, Ph.D.

Rutherford received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a minor in Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University in 1997 after receiving her master’s from Cornell in 1991. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Science in history and biology, with distinction, from Stanford University in 1983.

Rutherford arrived at UC Santa Cruz as an associate professor in 2009 before becoming professor and chair of anthropology in 2011. She previously was an associate professor in anthropology at the University of Chicago, a principal researcher in the West Papua Study group sponsored by the East-West Center Washington and the Carnegie Corp. of New York, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

Rutherford has published extensively on a broad range of topics that include nationalism, Christianity, kinship, money, language ideology, affect, disability, and technology. She published Raiding the Land of Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier in 2003 and Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua in 2012. She has contributed to numerous books and authored dozens of journal articles, critical reviews and other publications.

Rutherford will serve as president-elect of Wenner-Gren until assuming the position of president in July 2017.

In Memoriam

Within the space of a few months, the discipline of anthropology lost four major figures, who were also all a part of the history of the Foundation: Ernestine Friedl, Sidney Mintz, Frederik Barth, and Hal Conklin.

Ernestine Friedl died in October 2015 at the age of 95.  She was the first anthropologist to do a full-scale study of modern Greece and among the first to write on gender cross-culturally, proposing hypotheses about the determinants of women’s status in different societies.  She had a long and distinguished career in academic administration, first in the City University of New York and then at Duke University, where she became the first woman appointed as Dean of the faculty.  She was elected as president of several professional organizations, including the American Anthropological Association.  A long-time friend of the Foundation, Friedl served on the Advisory Council (1987-1991) and subsequently as an advisor to the Board of Trustees.

Sidney W. Mintz died in December 2015 at 93.  He had been a professor at Johns Hopkins University, whose anthropology department he founded. One of the principal figures in bringing a historically rooted political economy into anthropology, he was known especially for his groundbreaking research on proletarian populations in the Caribbean, based on his fieldwork in islands of all three of the area’s major languages.  His signature work, Sweetness and Power, was a global view of the connections between the development of empires, slavery, commodity production, and consumer taste. He is also considered the founder of food anthropology. Mintz participated in four International Symposia, where he was memorable for his acumen and wit, and he received four small grants, including one that enabled crucial archival research on sugar in the British diet. (Photo: Johns Hopkins U, Homewood)

Frederik Barth died in January 2016 at 87. The founder of the first department of social anthropology in Scandinavia (in Bergen, Norway), he was enormously influential in both Europe and North America for his processual theories, which stressed agency over structure.  His treatment of ethnicity as a matter of fluid identities and shifting boundaries stood in contrast to the then-prevailing focus on ethnic groups. A prolific and courageous ethnographer, he carried out fieldwork in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Oman, Bali, and Bhutan. Wenner-Gren played an important part in Barth’s work. The conference on “Scale and Social Organization” that he organized at Burg Wartenstein yielded a pioneering volume, and he was a participant in six other International Symposia. Several of the nine small grants he received supported his diverse field research.

Harold Conklin died in February 2016 aged 89. Associated with Yale University for many years, he was a linguist and a cultural anthropologist with special distinction in ethnoecology, the study of indigenous ways of knowing the natural world. He was interested in Native Americans from an early age, in fact was adopted into the Mohawk Nation while still in elementary school. He did extensive and important fieldwork in the Philippines, first with the Hanunoo; his article on their way of categorizing color became a founding entry into a new field, ethnoscience. He then began his long-term research with the Ifugao and became their foremost interpreter. His ethnographic atlas on Ifugao environment and culture, supported in part by a Wenner-Gren grant, became a landmark of meticulous documentation. He received seven other grants and participated in two conferences at Burg Wartenstein. Conklin was a devoted friend of the Foundation. He served on the Advisory Council (1986-1990) but was also an indispensable informal advisor to two presidents.

 

Sydel Silverman

President Emerita, Wenner-Gren Foundation

SAPIENS is Live!

 

Today’s the day – SAPIENS is live!

We’ve come a long way, and the Web’s home for everything anthropology is now free and available for you to enjoy. Remember to check back often: You’ll see new content throughout the week.

We hope you like SAPIENS as much as we’ve loved building it. And we’re just getting started!

As with any new website, there are sure to be a few rough spots, so if you come across anything that needs to be fixed, please let us know so that we can continue to improve the site.

Enjoy, and thanks for your support!

The SAPIENS Team

Introducing SAPIENS: A New Voice for Anthropology

Leslie Aiello, Wenner-Gren Foundation

Anthropology has a long tradition of public engagement. From Franz Boas’ battles over concepts of race, to Margaret Mead’s revelations about sexuality, to Ruth Benedict’s illuminations of national character, anthropologists have sought to use their insights to shape public conversations.

Yet, in the last generation, anthropologists have increasingly struggled to find ways to connect with the public at large. Although there have been important efforts by a range of scholars in recent years, as a field we have fallen far short of our potential. Anthropological research has arguably never been more relevant to the world we live in. War, climate change, health, economic disparity, forensics, identity, race, digital media, consumption, language loss, our origins as a species—these are just some of the themes that anthropologists tackle every day. The public, however, doesn’t learn about these issues from the scholars who study them most closely. Instead, the gap between anthropology and the public has been selectively filled by the popular media.

A number of factors have led to anthropologists’ limited engagement with the public. Too often, public engagement unfolds through single efforts by scholars working in isolation—an op-ed here, a TED talk there. There has been a noticeable lack of resources committed to public dialogue about anthropology, and this work has not always been valued by the discipline’s institutions. Anthropology, on the whole, has not gracefully entered the 21st century media landscape.

We hope this is about to change.

In January 2016, the Wenner-Gren Foundation will launch SAPIENS, an editorially independent online publication dedicated to popularizing anthropological research to a broad, public audience. The publication’s goals are to serve as an authoritative source of information about anthropological research, make anthropology more accessible to the general public, and demonstrate anthropology’s relevance to everyday life. Through news coverage, features, commentaries, reviews, and more, SAPIENS provides a public platform for anthropological research as well as for anthropological insights into current events.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation has undertaken this effort to celebrate its 75th year of supporting anthropology worldwide. Substantial resources have been invested in the publication, which will become a key part of the foundation’s ongoing investment in the field. Just as the foundation’s Current Anthropology has become a premier journal for academic dialogue, we hope that SAPIENS will become the nexus for anthropology in the public sphere.

SAPIENS will publish content that provides smart and surprising insights into human culture, language, biology, and history. We’ll skip the dry and stuffy for witty and fun, fresh and incisive, authentic and down-to-earth. Our aim is to deepen our readers’ understanding of the human experience through exciting, novel, thought-provoking, and unconventional ideas that are grounded in anthropological research, theories, and thinking.

Will you join us?

We need your help in spreading the word of the site’s launch to your colleagues, friends, and family. We also hope you will consider writing for us. We want to ensure the site reflects the ideas, views, and work of the entire field—we need your voice to be heard.

Please visit us at: www.sapiens.org.

In Memorium: Dr. Pamela Smith

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our colleague, Dr. Pamela Smith.  During her 16 years of service with the Foundation, she made many contributions to the Foundation’s programs and to its mission.  She served as an advisor to three presidents and coordinated the Foundation’s International Programs from 1995 – 2006.  Her greatest passion was helping international students and scholars, both here at Wenner-Gren, as well as through her work at Pace University.  On the occasion of Pam’s retirement from the Foundation in 2006, we received many beautiful notes from former Wenner-Gren Fellows expressing their gratitude for her support and kindness.  As a tribute to Pam, we include an excerpt from one of the letters below.

 

I am happy to say that Pam has been an anchor in making my career in anthropology what it is today. She embodies the warmth, care, and resourcefulness that makes Wenner-Gren such a great organization. She went out of her way to invite us to gatherings, to send us information about programs and opportunities and to just find out how we are which is rare in many organizations that give rather than receive money. Pam, you are a true friend of global anthropology and I know Wenner-Gren will miss you. But you will remain in our thoughts and our worlds.

 

- Dr. Mwenda Ntarangwi, WGF Wadsworth International Fellow, 1995-99

(Wadsworth International Fellowship, formerly known as DCTF Program)

 

On behalf of the Wenner-Gren Trustees and Staff, we send our deepest condolences to Pam’s family and friends.  We feel privileged to have had her as both a colleague and a friend.

Interview: Michael Chazan on “The Harvard Kalahari Project”

Dr. Michael Chazan is professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and director of its Archaeology Center. Dr. Chazan’s history with the Foundation goes back to 2007, when he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research at Wonderwerk Cave in Northern Cape Province, South Africa, which helped establish it as one of the most important archaeological sites in Southern Africa. In 2011, he and colleague Dr. Susan Pfeiffer co-organized the 2012 Meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) at UToronto with Wenner-Gren support. During the meeting, Chazan and Pfeiffer took the opportunity to organize a retrospective of the Harvard Kalahari project, commemorating its wide influence on the field, and saving for posterity the reflections of the scholars involved.

 

What is/was the Harvard Kalahari Project and why was it important in the development of archaeology and anthropology in Africa?

From 1963 to 1976 a team of researchers led by Richard Lee and the late Irv Devore studied the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari. Their collective work gave rise to insights about diverse topics from child care to nutrition.  For archaeologists this project, including the archaeological and ethnoarchaeological research by Allison Brooks and John Yellin, has been a critical resource for understanding hunter-gatherer societies.

What are the main legacies of the Harvard Kalahari Project? How does it relate to the Kalahari Peoples Fund, which is one of the oldest anthropological advocacy groups in North America?

There is of course a tremendous scientific legacy that stretches across the social sciences.  There is also the literary legacy left by Margerie Schostack’s book, “Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, and the many other books and articles written by the members of the project.  What is clear in the film is that the research team collectively saw the need for social advocacy, leading to the establishment of the Kalahari Peoples Fund – still very active today.  This linkage between a strong program of empirical research and social advocacy is the hallmark of this group’s work. I think quite an interesting model for anthropology as a discipline.

Why was it important to hold a retrospective of the project 2012, who participated, and what were the outcomes of the meeting?

Susan Pfeiffer and I felt that the meeting of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists in Toronto would be a great opportunity to bring together members of the Harvard Kalahari Project to talk about their experience.  Brooks and Yellen are active members, while Richard Lee and Nancy Howell are emeritus U of Toronto faculty. We thought that this would be a natural venue for a reunion. Once we suggested it, momentum arose within the group. All we had to do was secure a venue and arrange for the taping. Part of the motivation for me was the sense that there have been high profile negative stories emerging about anthropological fieldwork, so we can benefit from a reminder of how collaborative research teams can make a fundamental, positive contribution.  We also felt that the so-called Kalahari Debate that had swirled through the 90′s had simmered down to an extent where it would be possible to get a more balanced perspective on the experiences  of the members of the Kalahari Project.
What can we learn from the Harvard Kalahari Project as anthropology and archaeology move into the second decade of the 21st Century?

I think we learn quite a bit from the Harvard Kalahari Project and the initiatives it started.  The project shows the rich potential of collaboration. What we see in the film is how human this collaboration is.  For me, the film is quite inspiring.  We see a group of senior scholars who have been profoundly shaped by the experience they had doing fieldwork. At the same time, we see their deep conviction that research matters– that there is an empirical reality and that gaining new scientific insight is in and of itself important.  Their experience reminds us of the vastness of human experience and the vital contribution that anthropology can make.

WGF in the News: Grantee Habiba Chirchir Leads Important Study

Habiba Chirchir is a biological anthropologist and currently postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. A native of Kenya, Dr. Chirchir received the Wadsworth Fellowship which enabled her to complete her graduate education at New York University and George Washington University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology. A specialist in human bone density and skeletal anatomy, Chirchir is the lead researcher in this newly-published study tracing shifts in bone density in human populations and their relation to parallel changes in lifeways.

Lightweight Skeletons of Modern Humans Have Recent Origin

Decrease of “Spongy” Bone Related to Adoption of Sedentary Lifestyle

New research shows that modern human skeletons evolved into their lightly built form only relatively recently—after the start of the Holocene about 12,000 years ago and even more recently in some human populations. The work, based on high-resolution imaging of bone joints from modern humans and chimpanzees as well as from fossils of extinct human species shows that for millions of years extinct humans had high bone density until a dramatic decrease in recent modern humans. Published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings reveal a higher decrease in the density of lower limbs than in that of the upper limbs, suggesting that the transformation may be linked to humans’ shift from a foraging lifestyle to a more sedentary agricultural one.

“Despite centuries of research on the human skeleton, this is the first study to show that human skeletons have substantially lower density in joints throughout the skeleton, even in ancient farmers who actively worked the land,” said Brian Richmond, an author of the study and curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology.

Modern people (right) have unusually low density in bones throughout the skeleton, including the hand bone joints (metacarpal heads) shown here. This study shows that bone joint density remained high throughout human evolution spanning millions of years, until it decreased significantly in recent modern humans, probably as a result of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. From left to right: modern chimpanzee, Australopithecus, Neanderthal, and modern human. (© AMNH/J. Steffey, courtesy of Brian Richmond)

Compared to our closest living relatives—chimpanzees—as well as to our extinct human ancestors, humans are unique in having an enlarged body size and lower-limb joint surfaces in combination with a relatively lightweight skeleton. But until now, scientists did not know that human bone joints are significantly less dense compared with those of other animals, or when during human evolution this unique characteristic first appeared.

“Our study shows that modern humans have less bone density than seen in related species, and it doesn’t matter if we look at bones from people who lived in an industrial society or agriculturalist populations that had a more active life. They both have much less bone density,” said Habiba Chirchir, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. “What we want to know now is whether this is an early human characteristic that defines our species.”

To explore this question, Chirchir, Richmond, and an international team of researchers used high-resolution computed tomography and microtomography to measure trabecular, or spongy, bone of the limb joints in modern humans and chimpanzees, as well as in fossil hominins attributed to Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus, Homo neanderthalensis, and early Homo sapiens. Their results show that only recent modern humans have low trabecular density throughout limb joints, and that the decrease is especially pronounced in the lower joints—those in the hip, knee, and ankle—rather than the upper joints in the shoulder, elbow, and hand. The appearance of this anatomical change late in our evolutionary history may have been a result of the transition from a nomadic to a more settled lifestyle.

“Much to our surprise, throughout our deep past, we see that our human ancestors and relatives, who lived in natural settings, had very dense bone. And even early members of our species, going back 20,000 years or so, had bone that was about as dense as seen in other modern species,” Richmond said. “But this density drastically drops off in more recent times, when we started to use agricultural tools to grow food and settle in one place.”

This research provides an anthropological context to modern bone conditions like osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disorder that may be more prevalent in contemporary populations due partly to low levels of walking activity.

“Over the vast majority of human prehistory, our ancestors engaged in far more activity over longer distances than we do today,” Richmond. “We cannot fully understand human health today without knowing how our bodies evolved to work in the past, so it is important to understand how our skeletons evolved within the context of those high levels of activity.”

In future studies, the researchers will explore the ways in which the bones are less dense than those of our evolutionary relatives.

This work was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation Wadsworth Fellowship, The Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship, Smithsonian’s Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation grant #s BCS-0521835 and DGE-0801634.

Public Forum Features Leading Anthropologists’ Recommendations for Ebola Response

Experts on West Africa and infectious disease control/prevention will present their recommendations to assist the global Ebola crisis response during a public forum on Friday, Nov. 7. The forum will be webcast.

Convened by The American Anthropological Association (AAA) with the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Canada’s International Development Research Centre, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and The George Washington University, the public forum will be accessible in person and online.

Where: The George Washington University, Media and Public Affairs Building B07,
805 21st St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20052.
Online: http://bit.ly/aaaebola
When: Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, 2:30-5 pm E.S.T.

Friday’s public session will present the findings and recommendations of the Ebola Emergency Response Workshop, a two-day workshop of intensive sessions drawing together the expertise of more than 25 of the world’s leading anthropologists on implementation issues regarding the Ebola response in the United States, Ebola-affected countries and African regional neighbors. Topics will include: prevention, control, surveillance, response, treatment, clinical trials and interventions, health communications, risk factors and the streamlining of local, national and international systems of response.

Experts attending the Ebola Emergency Response Workshop include anthropologists and other social scientists from such leading institutions as the University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University, the Max Planck Institute, the University of Washington, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cheikh Anta Diop University, as well as other researchers who have been working in Ebola-affected regions.
Their distinctive knowledge of social and cultural institutions provides critical context in reviewing current responses and providing actionable guidance to humanitarian responders. During Friday’s open forum, practitioners, policy makers, scholars and the public will be invited to pose questions to the assembled anthropological experts.

This event is co-sponsored by:

American Anthropological Association
International Development Research Centre

Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation
The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
The George Washington University -IGIS
The George Washington University-ESIA Humanitarian Studies Program
The George Washington University-Institute for Ethnographic Research

- – AAA – -
Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association is the world’s largest professional organization of anthropologists, with more than 10,000 members. The Association is dedicated to advancing human understanding and tackling the world’s most pressing problems.

CONTACT:
D. Rachael Bishop,
Director, Communications and Public Affairs, 703-528-1902 x 1163
rbishop@aaanet.org
2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 1301
Arlington, VA 22201
Tel 703-528-1902
Fax 703-528-3546
www.aaanet.org

Wenner-Gren President and Collaborators Revise Timeline of Human Origins

New Synthesis of Research Links Changing Environment with Homo’s Evolutionary Adaptability

Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them.

A large brain, long legs, the ability to craft tools and prolonged maturation periods were all thought to have evolved together at the start of the Homo lineage as African grasslands expanded and Earth’s climate became cooler and drier. However, new climate and fossil evidence analyzed by a team of researchers, including Wenner-Gren President Leslie Aiello, Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Richard Potts, and Susan Antón, professor of anthropology at New York University, suggests that these traits did not arise as a single package. Rather, several key ingredients once thought to define Homo evolved in earlier Australopithecus ancestors between 3 and 4 million years ago, while others emerged significantly later.

The team’s research takes an innovative approach to integrating paleoclimate data, new fossils and understandings of the genus Homo, archaeological remains and biological studies of a wide range of mammals (including humans). The synthesis of these data led the team to conclude that the ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago. Additional information about this study is available in the July 4 issue of Science.

Potts developed a new climate framework for East African human evolution that depicts most of the era from 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago as a time of strong climate instability and shifting intensity of annual wet and dry seasons. This framework, which is based on Earth’s astronomical cycles, provides the basis for some of the paper’s key findings, and it suggests that multiple coexisting species of Homo that overlapped geographically emerged in highly changing environments.

“Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors,” said Potts, curator of anthropology and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo.”

The team reviewed the entire body of fossil evidence relevant to the origin of Homo to better understand how the human genus evolved. For example, five skulls about 1.8 million years old from the site of Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, show variations in traits typically seen in African Herectus but differ from defining traits of other species of early Homo known only in Africa. Recently discovered skeletons of Australopithecus sediba (about 1.98 million years old) from Malapa, South Africa, also include some Homo-like features in its teeth and hands, while displaying unique, non-Homo traits in its skull and feet. Comparison of these fossils with the rich fossil record of East Africa indicates that the early diversification of the genus Homo was a period of morphological experimentation. Multiple species of Homo lived concurrently.

“We can tell the species apart based on differences in the shape of their skulls, especially their face and jaws, but not on the basis of size,” said Antón. “The differences in their skulls suggest early Homo divvied up the environment, each utilizing a slightly different strategy to survive.”

Even though all of the Homo species had overlapping body, brain and tooth sizes, they also had larger brains and bodies than their likely ancestors, Australopithecus. According to the study, these differences and similarities show that the human package of traits evolved separately and at different times in the past rather than all together.

In addition to studying climate and fossil data, the team also reviewed evidence from ancient stone tools, isotopes found in teeth and cut marks found on animal bones in East Africa.

“Taken together, these data suggest that species of early Homo were more flexible in their dietary choices than other species,” said Aiello. “Their flexible diet— probably containing meat—was aided by stone tool-assisted foraging that allowed our ancestors to exploit a range of resources.”

The team concluded that this flexibility likely enhanced the ability of human ancestors to successfully adapt to unstable environments and disperse from Africa. This flexibility continues to be a hallmark of human biology today, and one that ultimately underpins the ability to occupy diverse habitats throughout the world. Future research on new fossil and archaeological finds will need to focus on identifying specific adaptive features that originated with early Homo, which will yield a deeper understanding of human evolution.

In Memoriam: George Armelagos

L-R: Brooke Thomas, George Armelagos, Alan Swedlund, Alan Goodman.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. George Armelagos, the Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. Dr. Armelagos received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1968 and was a major contributor to 20th-century biological anthropology, notably in the fields of paleopathology, bioarchaeology, and evolutionary medicine.

Dr. Armelagos was a long-time friend and contributor to the Foundation, supervising numerous grantees and participating in several Wenner-Gren Foundation symposia, including one, “Health and Disease of Populations in Transition”, which he co-organized with University of Massachusetts colleague Alan Swedlund.

In 2005, Dr. Armelagos received the Viking Fund Medal in recognition of his influential role in the development of biological anthropology. He was the most recent recipient of the award, which has been awarded to distinguished scholars in the field since 1946.

From the 2005 Viking Fund Medal:

Dr. Armelagos is a biological anthropologist whose contributions and numerous publications span the broad field of Anthropology. His special interests lie in the interaction of biological and cultural systems within an evolutionary context. Through his research in the 1960s and 1970s with Sudanese Nubia, Dickson Mounds, and elsewhere, he revolutionized the study of ancient disease in human populations by promoting an epidemiological approach and highlighting the evolutionary and ecological factors that are instrumental to the disease process. He has also done influential work on the evolution of food choice and the impacts of the agricultural transition on human populations in terms of health and disease. This work has resulted in a general theory of the evolution of human disease and the epidemiological transitions that have taken place throughout the course of human history. Through his work he has also encouraged a new generation of skeletal biologists to think about disease in prehistory in complex theoretical ways and back it up with good, empirical research.