WBEZ | anthropology http://www.wbez.org/tags/anthropology Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en What Does It Mean to Be Intersex? http://www.wbez.org/news/what-does-it-mean-be-intersex-113883 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/hiresb_custom-073b1fc73ec73acb43d3c734848e575adb035c7e-s1500-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res456621002" previewtitle="What is intersex?"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="What is intersex?" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/11/19/hiresb_custom-073b1fc73ec73acb43d3c734848e575adb035c7e-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 368px; width: 620px;" title="(iStockphoto)" /></div><div><div>&nbsp;</div></div></div><p>In the area of 1 in 2,000 people are born intersex. These individuals may have mixed genitalia, meaning some combination of ovaries and testes. This comes about either because ovarian and testicular tissue grow together in the same organ or because a &quot;male side&quot; and a &quot;female side&quot; develop in the body.</p><p>Other intersex individuals may have genetically inherited chromosomal abnormalities such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which may result in masculinization of the genitals in people born with XX chromosomes, or androgen insensitivity syndrome, when the body doesn&#39;t respond to testosterone and a person has XY chromosomes and feminized genitalia.</p><p>If you&#39;ve never heard of intersex, you&#39;re not alone, says Georgiann Davis, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas sociology professor and intersex person, in her October column &quot;<a href="http://www.unlv.edu/news/article/5-things-i-wish-you-knew-about-intersex-people#.VhWCfg5OtLo.twitter">5 Things I Wish You Knew About Intersex People</a>.&quot; (You may have heard the old term &quot;<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/09/16/dont-call-them-hermaphrodites.html">hermaphrodite</a>,&quot; but that term is no longer used; it suggests bodies that encompass all male and all female organs at once, which is not the case.)</p><p>These days, transgender people and some of the challenges they face are pretty much everywhere in the media &mdash; a very good thing, especially when discussion of the right to use the bathroom that&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/us/as-transgender-students-make-gains-schools-hesitate-at-bathrooms.html">matches one&#39;s gender identity</a>&nbsp;is supplemented with attention to risks of suicide and violence faced by transgender people. (Note: Nov. 20 is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/transgender-day-remembrance">Transgender Day of Remembrance</a>.)</p><p>But intersex people aren&#39;t transgender and, for the most part, they are not well-understood in our society.</p><p>During the past two weeks, I&#39;ve taught about intersex to my anthropology and gender undergraduates.</p><p>We start by discussing&nbsp;<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sexing-Body-Politics-Construction-Sexuality/dp/0465077145">Sexing the Body</a>,&nbsp;by biologist and Brown University professor emerita&nbsp;<a href="http://www.annefaustosterling.com/">Anne Fausto-Sterling</a>, which lays out the anatomical and genetic science of the situation and explains how quick the medical profession has been to surgically &quot;fix&quot; babies identified at birth as intersex, by sculpting the body to make it functionally male or female.</p><p>Then we read a novel,&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.abigailtarttelin.com/golden-boy/">Golden Boy</a></em>,&nbsp;by Abigail Tarttelin, in which a British teenager named Max Walker grapples with being intersex. Just at the time when he is starting to date, and wondering how he&#39;ll ever explain to a love interest about his body, he gains from his doctor more information than he ever had before. He asks: Is he really a boy or really a girl? The answer comes back: He is neither.</p><p>Good fiction stirs deep feelings; Tarttelin&#39;s story allows my students, teenagers and those recently teenagers, to map flesh and blood onto the science. In the book, Max&#39;s parents and brother each respond in their own, sometimes explosive ways to his situation and, at times, Max despairs:</p><blockquote><div><p><em>&quot;I realize that I am going to be intersex my whole life. Years and years and decades and maybe for seventy years I&#39;ll be like this. And, unless I find someone who doesn&#39;t mind having sex with me, I&#39;m going to be alone all that time.&quot;</em></p></div></blockquote><p>In the end, Tarttelin lifts Max into a place of light and hope.</p><p>As is clear from an investigative piece last year in&nbsp;<em>The Atlantic</em>&nbsp;titled &quot;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/should-we-fix-intersex-children/373536/">Should we fix intersex children</a>?,&quot; the era of medicalized &quot;repair&quot; of the intersex body is far from over.</p><p>Georgiann Davis in her piece&nbsp;<a href="https://www.unlv.edu/news/article/5-things-i-wish-you-knew-about-intersex-people">makes the same point</a>. She explains:</p><blockquote><div><p><em>&quot;Doctors continue to perform surgery on intersex bodies to squeeze us into an arbitrary male or female box &mdash; one that is narrowly and problematically correlated with gender and sexual stereotypes. These stereotypes force everyone into rigid categories, regardless of the shape or features of their genitalia. If you have a penis, you are expected to use it to penetrate a vagina if you want to be a &#39;real&#39; man. If you have a vagina, you are expected to desire and enjoy vaginal penetration if you want to be a &#39;real&#39; woman.</em></p><p><em>&quot;However, it would behoove all of us to escape these constraints of binary thinking that underline sex, gender, and sexuality. Genitalia are naturally variable and are not predictive of our gender or sexual identities, which are complex and fluid parts of who we are. There are many ways to accomplish your gender and sexual identities both with and without your genitals.&quot;</em></p></div></blockquote><p>This is a powerful statement. And from it, we can learn. As Fausto-Sterling writes inSexing the Body:&nbsp;&quot;There is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference. ... Labeling someone a man or a woman is a social decision.&quot;</p><p>Sure, like many people, I was taught growing up that each of us is either/or, male or female, period. But that&#39;s simply not so.</p><p>Humans are gloriously variable, and we don&#39;t all fit into neat categories like that. We can educate ourselves right out of that old binary way of thinking.</p><div><hr /></div><p><em>Barbara J. King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, often writes about human evolution, primate behavior and the cognition and emotion of animals.&nbsp;Barbara&#39;s most recent book on animals is titled&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/176686699/how-animals-grieve">How Animals Grieve</a>.&nbsp;You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter:&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/bjkingape">@bjkingape</a></em></p><p><em>&mdash; <a href="http://bc.ca/radio/q" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 16:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-does-it-mean-be-intersex-113883 Did the language you speak evolve because of the heat? http://www.wbez.org/news/did-language-you-speak-evolve-because-heat-113687 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/worldlanguagehaet.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>English bursts with consonants. We have words that string one after another, like angst, diphthong and catchphrase. But other languages keep more vowels and open sounds. And that variability might be because they evolved in different habitats.</p><div id="res455002843"><div id="responsive-embed-map-language-20151105">&nbsp;</div><p data-pym-src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/map-language-20151105/child.html">&nbsp;</p><script src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/map-language-20151105/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script></div><p>Consonant-heavy syllables don&#39;t carry very well in places like windy mountain ranges or dense rainforests, researchers say. &quot;If you have a lot of tree cover, for example, [sound] will reflect off the surface of leaves and trunks. That will break up the coherence of the transmitted sound,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.unm.edu/~ianm/index.html">Ian Maddieson</a>, a linguist at the University of New Mexico.</p><p>That can be a real problem for complicated consonant-rich sounds like &quot;spl&quot; in &quot;splice&quot; because of the series of high-frequency noises. In this case, there&#39;s a hiss, a sudden stop and then a pop. Where a simple, steady vowel sound like &quot;e&quot; or &quot;a&quot; can cut through thick foliage or the cacophony of wildlife, these consonant-heavy sounds tend to get scrambled.</p><p>Hot climates might wreck a word&#39;s coherence as well, since sunny days create pockets of warm air that can punch into a sound wave. &quot;You disrupt the way it was originally produced, and it becomes much harder to recognize what sound it was,&quot; Maddieson says. &quot;In a more open, temperate landscape, prairies in the Midwest of the United States [or in Georgia] for example, you wouldn&#39;t have that. So the sound would be transmitted with fewer modifications.&quot;</p><div id="res454932115"><div><div data-flash-url="anon.npr-mp3/npr/specials/2015/11/20151105_specials_georgian.mp3" data-html5-url="http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/specials/2015/11/20151105_specials_georgian.mp3" data-id="454932115" data-pause-metric-action="Pause Audio" data-pause-metric-category="Secondary Audio" data-play-metric-action="Play Audio" data-play-metric-category="Secondary Audio"><div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><h3><iframe frameborder="0" height="290" scrolling="no" src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/454853229/454932115" title="NPR embedded audio player" width="100%"></iframe></h3></div></div></div></div></div><div id="res454998084" previewtitle="The open, temperate terrain of eastern Georgia would make fast-changing sounds like 'str' in 'strength' easier to hear."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="The open, temperate terrain of eastern Georgia would make fast-changing sounds like 'str' in 'strength' easier to hear." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/11/06/georgia_wide-b3c9b5a78ab72913eafca3939990c5f46459984a-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="The open, temperate terrain of eastern Georgia would make fast-changing sounds like 'str' in 'strength' easier to hear. (Sebastian Preuber/Flickr)" /></div><div><div><p>Other scientists have noticed that habitats can affect the way different bird species sing. &quot;Say you&#39;re a bird in a forest, and some guy&#39;s going &#39;Stree! Stree! Stree!&#39; But because of the environment, what you hear is &#39;Ree! Ree! Ree!&#39; &quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://homepage.univie.ac.at/tecumseh.fitch/">Tecumseh Fitch</a>, a linguist at the University of Vienna in Austria who was not involved in the study. &quot;Well, because you&#39;re learning the song, you&#39;ll sing &#39;Ree! Ree! Ree!&#39; &quot;</p></div></div></div><p>Since bird species living in rain forests tend to sing songs with fewer consonant-like sounds, Maddieson thought maybe the same would apply to human languages. Over time, people living in different climates would adapt their speech to communicate more efficiently.</p><p>In a&nbsp;<a href="https://asa2015fall.abstractcentral.com/s/u/Se1Hr1xy6XQ">presentation</a>&nbsp;on Wednesday at the Acoustical Society of America fall meeting, Maddieson showed that consonant-thick languages like Georgian are more likely to develop in open, temperate environments. Meanwhile, consonant-light languages like Hawaiian are more likely to be found in lush, hot ecologies.</p><div id="res454997029"><div><div data-flash-url="anon.npr-mp3/npr/specials/2015/11/20151106_specials_hawaiiangreeting.mp3" data-html5-url="http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/specials/2015/11/20151106_specials_hawaiiangreeting.mp3" data-id="454997029" data-pause-metric-action="Pause Audio" data-pause-metric-category="Secondary Audio" data-play-metric-action="Play Audio" data-play-metric-category="Secondary Audio"><div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><h3><iframe frameborder="0" height="290" scrolling="no" src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/454853229/454997029" title="NPR embedded audio player" width="100%"></iframe></h3></div></div></div></div></div><div id="res454997955" previewtitle="A vowel sound like &quot;e&quot; can still sound clear through the dense vegetation in Hawaii."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="A vowel sound like &quot;e&quot; can still sound clear through the dense vegetation in Hawaii." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/11/06/hawaii_wide-a13dfd35d319530c2792c3276cddf3a5adfa6ee1-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="A vowel sound like &quot;e&quot; can still sound clear through the dense vegetation in Hawaii. (Daniel Ramirez/Flickr)" /></div><div><div><p>Fitch says it&#39;s a tantalizing hypothesis, but still unproven. People who live nearby are usually related, so their languages could be too. Hawaiian and Maori are light on consonants and developed in hot, tropical climates, but they also both came from an ancestor Eastern Polynesian language. That could confound the results of Maddieson&#39;s study. Until that&#39;s sorted out, Fitch says, it&#39;s hard to know how strong the data are.</p></div></div></div><p>And the environmental effect only accounts for some of the variation in birdsongs. That&#39;s probably true for our tongues too. &quot;There are many reasons why some languages have more vowels or more consonants, and this is just one of them,&quot; Fitch says.</p><p>Other researchers say this is just the beginning of a line of research into how nature rules our speech. &quot;This is the first of its kind, and there are several others coming now. It&#39;s becoming increasingly clear that the way we speak is shaped by external forces,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mpi.nl/people/roberts-sean">Sean Roberts</a>, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands who was not involved in the study.</p><p>In his own work, Roberts found that arid, desertlike places are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/5/1322.abstract">less likely to have tonal languages</a>&nbsp;like Mandarin or Vietnamese. And he once analyzed a decades&#39; worth of Larry King transcripts. &quot;I carried the proportion of consonants to vowels that he was using and matched that to the actual humidity on the day he recorded those things,&quot; Roberts says. The longtime TV pundit used a few more consonants on dry days.</p><p>And the language you&#39;re reading now evolved in a cold, gloomy climate prone to light mist and drizzle. Fitch says: &quot;English is quite a consonant-heavy language, and of course it didn&#39;t develop in a rain forest.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/06/454853229/did-the-language-you-speak-evolve-because-of-the-heat" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 15:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/did-language-you-speak-evolve-because-heat-113687 Up late? Looks like our paleo ancestors didn't sleep much either http://www.wbez.org/news/science/late-looks-our-paleo-ancestors-didnt-sleep-much-either-113367 <p><div style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Oivind%20HovlandGetty%20ImagesIkon%20Images.jpg" style="height: 461px; width: 620px;" title="Oivind Hovland/Getty Images/Ikon Images" /></div><div><p>In America, it seems only unicorns get seven or eight hours of sleep a night, and the rest of us suffer. And no wonder; we bask in the night with screens and lights that could be cutting rest unnaturally short. But people may be meant to sleep as little as 6 1/2 hours nightly and were doing so long before the advent of electricity and smartphones, researchers say.</p><p>To find that out, they consulted with some of the few people on the planet who live roughly the same lifestyle humans did in the Paleolithic.</p><p>Psychiatrist and sleep researcher&nbsp;<a href="http://www.semel.ucla.edu/profile/jerome-siegel">Jerome Siegel</a>&nbsp;at UCLA started studying three different hunter-gatherer groups in Africa and South America. &quot;All three don&#39;t have any electricity, don&#39;t have any of the sort of modern electronic developments that many think have reduced our sleep,&quot; he says.</p><p>Those hunter-gatherers spent about seven or eight hours a night in bed, but they slept for just five to seven of those hours, according to the study, published Thursday in<em> Current Biology</em>. &quot;It&#39;s clear that the amount of sleep that all of these groups get is at the low end of what we&#39;d see in the United States today,&quot; Siegel says. Sleeping that little has been linked to everything from shorter life span to stomach problems and weight gain in industrial societies.</p><p>But unlike many people in the United States or Europe who sleep less than seven hours a night, members of the Hadza in Tanzania, San in Namibia, and Tsimane in Bolivia tend to be very healthy. There&#39;s virtually no obesity, many have very long lives, and nearly everyone in these societies does not have trouble sleeping. &quot;Approximately 20 percent of our population complains of chronic insomnia at some point,&quot; Siegel says. &quot;The two groups we quizzed on this don&#39;t have a word for insomnia.&quot;</p><p>That raises a lot of questions about why we think we need eight hours of shuteye. &quot;That classic teaching that adults need seven or eight hours of sleep has to do with population-based evidence,&quot; says Dr.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.med.upenn.edu/apps/faculty/index.php/g362/p15640">Indira Gurubhagavatula</a>, a sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who was not involved with the study. &quot;This paper questions, is that data flawed? And if so, how or why? Or it could be that the sleep we&#39;re getting is lower quality, and we need more of it to feel restored?&quot;</p><p>Siegel thinks that might be because we evolved in the environment&#39;s natural 24-hour pattern of light and temperature, but we&#39;re cut off from that rhythm now. By contrast, these hunter-gatherers go to sleep a few hours after sunset, when the night gets chilly. They wake up when the day begins warming from the sunrise.</p><p>Following Earth&#39;s natural tempo in this way could improve the quality of their sleep, says&nbsp;<a href="https://newfaculty.uchicago.edu/page/kristen-knutson">Kristen Knutson</a>, a sleep researcher and biomedical anthropologist at the University of Chicago. Our bodies&#39; core temperature also cycles this way, regardless of air conditioning or heating. &quot;If their sleep is following the environment&#39;s temperature rhythm more closely and naturally, then their sleep quality may indeed be better than what is happening in the United States,&quot; she says.</p><p>Researchers already know that light and temperature play an important role in sleep. Light can reverse jet lag and help set internal clocks, and people fall asleep more easily when their core body temperature falls. This all could contribute to why hunter-gatherers&#39; sleep less than we do on average, Gurubhagavatula says.</p><p>And it could also mean that many non-hunter-gatherers may not need to sleep eight or more hours a night. &quot;I think the beauty of this current study is that maybe we shouldn&#39;t be ramming this requirement down [every person&#39;s] throat so to speak,&quot; she says.</p><p>That&#39;s not to say that there aren&#39;t lots of people who are incredibly sleep-deprived, Gurubhagavatula says. Light and temperature aren&#39;t the only things dictating how much we sleep. &quot;It&#39;s our activity and diet and stress level. I see patients who are single parents and have three jobs, and they&#39;ll be lucky to have five hours of sleep and are tired all the time.&quot; Those people need more sleep.</p><p>There are other habitual short sleepers in our society &mdash; truck drivers, graduate students, and idiot reporters who should know better &mdash; with lifestyles vastly different from a hunter-gatherer. &quot;[They&#39;re] not the same as someone in our society who only sleeps 6 1/2 hours,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="https://sleep.med.harvard.edu/people/faculty/225/Elizabeth+B+Klerman+MD+PhD">Dr. Elizabeth Klerman</a>, a sleep researcher at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women&#39;s Hospital in Boston.</p><p>What&#39;s natural for a hunter-gatherer might not be natural for everyone, Siegel agrees. &quot;I don&#39;t think we could just fling someone back into an equatorial lifestyle, and that&#39;ll be entirely beneficial,&quot; he says. But he&#39;s excited about other possibilities. If hunter-gatherers are sleeping better because they&#39;re more in tune with the daily temperature cycle, maybe we can do the same by programming thermostats to echo conditions outside. &quot;That&#39;s a specific aim of my next grant,&quot; he says.</p><p><em><a href="http://angusrchen.com/">Angus Rohan Chen</a><a href="http://angusrchen.com/">&nbsp;</a>is a reporter and radio producer living in New York City. He has a dry wit and no hobbies. Please be his friend on Twitter @angRchen.</em></p></div><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/10/15/448932273/up-late-looks-like-our-paleo-ancestors-didnt-sleep-much-either?ft=nprml&amp;f=448932273" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/late-looks-our-paleo-ancestors-didnt-sleep-much-either-113367 Items left at U.S.-Mexican border reveal hidden history of migration http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-03/items-left-us-mexican-border-reveal-hidden-history-migration-96094 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2012-February/2012-02-03/migrant_station.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Millions have crossed the dangerous, high-security border between Mexico and the U.S. But we rarely hear about the actual, visceral experience of crossing. What do migrants bring? What do they eat and drink? How do they survive in the middle of the desert?</p><p>This curiosity is what led <a href="http://www.lsa.umich.edu/anthro/people/faculty/ci.deleonjason_ci.detail" target="_blank">Jason De Leon</a> to the border. Jason’s a professor at the University of Michigan and a trained archeologist. He collects the items migrants leave behind while crossing the border into the U.S.</p><p><a href="http://jasonpatrickdeleon.com/research/" target="_blank">His collection</a> is now the largest body of migrant artifacts in the country, including everything from shoes to backpacks, water bottles, prayer books, love letters – you name it. Jason joins <em>Worldview</em> to discuss the unusual project.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 03 Feb 2012 17:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-03/items-left-us-mexican-border-reveal-hidden-history-migration-96094 Chicago scientist dates artifacts that may rewrite ancient history http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-24/P1000205.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Archaeologists have hard evidence that humans lived in North America much earlier than previously thought, and a Chicago researcher played a key role in nailing down the dates.</p><p>The earliest North Americans were long thought to be the Clovis people, who lived about 12,000-13,000 years ago. Now archaeologists have dug up stone tools and debris from underneath a Clovis site in central Texas.</p><p>Steven Forman brought samples back to his lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He used a technique called optical dating to determine when the sediment around the objects was last exposed to sunlight. The artifacts turn out to be about 15,000&nbsp; years old, from millennia before the Clovis people. And they appear to provide a missing link in understanding how some Clovis technology developed.</p><p>It&rsquo;s not the first evidence of cultures older than Clovis, but Forman said it may be the strongest.</p><p>&ldquo;It appears to be that this might be kind of watershed piece of science in which people say, yes, there is really compelling evidence for pre-Clovis occupation in North America,&rdquo; said Forman, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at UIC. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s no longer a red herring.&rdquo;</p><p>The new find will likely overturn the history of ancient humans in North America. The results are out today in the journal, Science.</p></p> Thu, 24 Mar 2011 15:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190 Evolving Culture: Where Do We Go From Here? http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/evolving-culture-where-do-we-go-here <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr/images/30-10-2010/muskox.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For billions of years, the environment and how it affected organisms' genes was the key to evolution. But in the past 10,000 years, for humans at least, genetic evolution has been nudged aside by something more powerful.</p><p>&quot;What we are able to do which other animals aren't able to do is to rapidly adapt to completely new environments,&quot; says Robert Boyd, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. &quot;Most animals -- all animals except humans -- would have to adapt to that by changing genetically.&quot;</p><p><strong>Humans Adapt With Their Wits</strong></p><p>Think about it. Let's say you want to live in Fairbanks, Alaska. If you're a musk ox, you can't build a shelter or buy insulations, so you make your own.</p><p>&quot;They have a very, very superfine sort of wool that's underneath a long skirt of hair,&quot; says biologist Perry Barboza, director of the Large Animal Research Station, a part of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. &quot;That provides an enormous amount of insulation. And on top of that, or beneath that, they have about 2 inches fat as well.&quot;</p><p>But musk ox can only survive in one kind of environment. Transport them to the desert, and they die within days because they don't have the physiology to get rid of excess heat.</p><p>Humans can live anywhere they like: in Fairbanks, where the winters get to 40 below zero, or Dubai, where the summers are routinely 100 and above. The reason is we don't have to make genetic adaptations to our environments in order to survive.</p><p>&quot;You could say that one of the most important tools for [humans] surviving in the north is the needle,&quot; says Aron Crowell, who is <a href="http://www.anchoragemuseum.org/expansion/smithsonian.aspx">Alaska Director of the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center</a>. The earliest humans used those needles to sew warm, waterproof clothing: fur jackets, sealskin boots and waterproof parkas.</p><p>Eskimos don't have a gene that tells them how to make a parka. That ability comes from cultural knowledge passed from generation to generation. Sure, we needed to evolve a brain that could conceive of the idea of using seal intestines to make a waterproof parka, but Boyd says having a big brain is just the start.</p><p>&quot;It's easy to see that it's not individual intelligence that makes us so good at adapting,&quot; he says. &quot;It's an important component, but we also need the ability to accumulate knowledge gradually over a whole population of people over hundreds or maybe even thousands of years.&quot;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9dwodDdvjk">Franklin Expedition</a> in the mid-1800s exemplifies this concept well, Boyd says. On May 19, 1845, two ships set out from England in search of the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. Neither returned. Almost 15 years later, a search party <a href="http://visionsnorth.blogspot.com/2009/04/it-is-perhaps-most-evocative-document.html">found a single sheet of paper</a> left in a tin can covered by stones on King William Island in the Canadian Arctic.</p><p>28 of May 1847 &hellip; Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island &hellip; after having ascended Wellington Channel and returned by the West side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the Expedition. All well.</p><p>But scribbled in the margins of the paper was a more ominous note.</p><p>Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the Expedition has been to this date 9 officers &amp; 15 men.</p><p>In the end, all perished, but not before the starving crew apparently resorted to cannibalism. Boyd says the irony is that there were Canadian Eskimos living near where the ships became frozen in the ice, and the Eskimos survived the harsh winter just fine.</p><p>&quot;The difference was the English sailors didn't have the knowledge to live in the Arctic, and they couldn't figure it out on their own,&quot; he says.</p><p><strong>Sharing Knowledge</strong></p><p>For the past 10,000 years, it's been cultural changes that have shaped how humans have evolved and coped with their environments -- not genetic changes.</p><p>And just as geneticists have been looking at ancient DNA to see how new genes emerged and spread, anthropologists and archaeologists are trying to do the same for the emergence and transmission of new skills.</p><p>Archaeologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, spends a lot of time visiting ancient sites of human habitation throughout the state. He says you can think of them like a laboratory to understand how humans coped &quot;when they're pushed to their limit, or when they are approaching an environment that they're not equipped for biologically.&quot;</p><p>Ten-thousand years ago, the latest development in arrowheads or stone microblades would be passed from parent to child or tribe to tribe. Now, the way cultural information is transmitted has changed dramatically. UCLA's Boyd says that today there are institutions whose whole function is to be engaged in cultural transmission.</p><p>&quot;Schools, religious institutions and other kinds of associations -- and then there are things like NPR who transmit to zillions of people,&quot; he says.</p><p>There's a torrent of cultural knowledge flowing over us all the time, and we get to decide how to use that knowledge to shape our future.</p><p>&quot;Where it's going to go? Your guess is as good as mine,&quot; he says.</p><p>Wherever it goes, if we don't like the outcome, we'll have only ourselves to blame.</p><p><em>This story was produced by Jane Greenhalgh.</em> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486717?&amp;gn=Evolving+Culture%3A+Where+Do+We+Go+From+Here%3F&amp;ev=event2&amp;ch=128245649&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Animals,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=129604791&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100906&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c31=128245649&amp;v31=D%3Dc31&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486718?&amp;gn=Evolving+Culture%3A+Where+Do+We+Go+From+Here%3F&amp;ev=event2&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Animals,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=129604791&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100906&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /></p></p> Sun, 05 Sep 2010 23:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/evolving-culture-where-do-we-go-here Fast Feet: A Springy Step Helps Humans Walk http://www.wbez.org/story/home-page-top-stories/fast-feet-springy-step-helps-humans-walk <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr/images/30-10-2010/footscan.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It took a few million years for human ancestors to evolve into the walking, talking, texting and blogging creatures we've become. Along the way, the human body and brain have changed a lot. And we couldn't have done it without our feet.</p><p>Our ape-like ancestors had a foot built for grasping branches and climbing trees. But our foot is stiff, taut and springy, built for walking and running.</p><p>Brian Richmond, an anthropologist, runner and kids soccer coach, is trying to find out how our unique appendage evolved.</p><p>At his office at George Washington University, Richmond has some tantalizing clues to how the change took place.</p><p>&quot;These are the earliest footprints of early humans,&quot; he says, showing me an image of a track in what looks like dried mud. They were left in the African mud by one of our ancestors -- 1.5 million years ago. It's about a size 9.</p><p>And there's more than one; there's a whole trackway. The prints look like the diagrams of feet that dance instructors use to show how to do the salsa or the tango.</p><p>These Kenyan prints are the kind of discovery that makes a scientific career. For me, and I suspect for Richmond, they're even more exciting to behold than a bone or even a skull that old, because they represent an ancient <em>action </em>-- a <em>living </em>moment -- captured.</p><p>&quot;A fossilized footprint is basically fossilized behavior,&quot; Richmond says. &quot;It shows you what that individual did 1.5 million years ago that instant in time.&quot;</p><p><strong>Marvelous Feet</strong></p><p>And what do those prints tell Richmond? &quot;Sure enough, they were walking with a long stride, they had an arch in the foot the way we have.&quot;</p><p>Long legs and an arch in our foot. Our primate cousins -- gorillas, chimps, bonobos -- are flat-footed with no arch. The arch is actually the manifestation of a very complex apparatus <em>inside </em>our foot -- an apparatus for walking like no other in the world.</p><p>Richmond is trying to determine when humans developed these marvelous feet. He's doing it by working backwards, comparing our feet now to the climbing and grasping feet of apes and the feet of our early ancestors.</p><p>Blue-gloved and white-coated, Richmond leads the way into a brightly lit room at the GWU medical school. Metal gurneys are lined up in neat rows, each covered with a steel lid.</p><p>&quot;I look at the human body and see how it's put together from a functional perspective and an evolutionary perspective,&quot; he explains. &quot;I look at how it is different from other primates.&quot;</p><p>Richmond lifts a steel cover. Underneath, a cadaver lies pale and heavy, the head shrouded in gauze. In death, these donated bodies are instruments of learning. Richmond lifts a flap of skin -- the sole of the foot -- with a metal probe.</p><p>&quot;So here I've just pulled the skin back, and here you can see one of those characteristics that's really uniquely human, and that is the long tendon that runs from the heel, underneath the skin, forward, all the way to the base of the toes.&quot; It's called the plantar aponeurosis. It's a flat, broad tendon, whitish and taut. Along with spring ligaments, it gives the foot its arch and its stiffness.</p><p>Imagine a thick rubber band stretching from your toes to your heel. Step down and the rubber band stretches and absorbs energy. As you roll forward, it transfers weight to your toes. And when the tendon snaps back, it even returns some of the energy in each step back up your leg.</p><p>We also have short toes, and a big toe that's in line with the other toes -- also for better walking and running.</p><p>So, when did this elegant appendage evolve? The Kenyan prints <em>seem </em>to show an arched foot. And that was 1.5 million years ago -- so sometime before that.</p><p><strong>Seat-Of-The-Pants Science</strong></p><p>But footprints also reveal a lot about <em>how </em>a person walks: their posture, their stride, even the angle of their leg bones. So Richmond is filming people walking in sand and comparing their footprints to the Kenyan ones. &quot;So that when we have a footprint,&quot; he says, &quot;we can work backward and reconstruct what the steps were like in that individual, even at 1.5 million years ago.&quot;</p><p>If they're similar, then those ancestors probably were built -- and walked -- much like we do. If they're not, Richmond may learn how they were different.</p><p>This is where graduate student Kallista Bernal comes in.</p><p>&quot;I'm standing here while they're trying to put these reflective markers on my joints,&quot; Bernal explains.</p><p>We're in a windowless laboratory at GWU. There's a 4-by-8-foot sandbox in the middle of the floor. Bernal is dressed in tights and a T-shirt, getting ready to walk the walk. &quot;Can I wear a toe ring?&quot; she asks.</p><p>No toe rings, but more than a dozen reflective markers are stuck to her hips, legs and her bare feet. She will walk through the sandbox as cameras focused on those markers produce a sort of stick-figure computer animation of her gait -- the turn of her ankles, the angle of her thighs, even the curl of her toes.</p><p>&quot;Each footprint that I make, we're going to do 3-D scans, and try and figure out, based upon how I move and in what type of sediment I step in, how my footprints change,&quot; she says.</p><p>She gets the go-ahead and strolls through the sand as casually as she can under the watchful eyes of several researchers and a row of cameras. She leaves a nice set of prints in the sand. Richmond measures them with a laser and photographs them.</p><p>It's seat-of-the-pants science -- there's no precedent for it. And Richmond isn't sure what he'll find out. He needs to analyze hundreds of prints to make good comparisons between us -- that is, Kallista Bernal -- and the Kenyan ancestor.</p><p><strong>Evolving Into Us</strong></p><p>That ancestor was probably <em>Homo erectus</em>, which emerged about 1.8 million years ago. They made tools, hunted, used fire and were taller and had a bigger brain than their predecessors.</p><p>&quot;They were starting to change their way of life,&quot; Richmond says. &quot;They would go much farther. And a lot of people think it's mainly in terms of finding meat, and meat became a new and important part of the diet. That also led eventually to us populating the world more.&quot;</p><p>Eventually, <em>Homo erectus</em> evolved into us, modern humans. And we can thank them for inventing that spring in our step that gave us -- literally -- the get-up-and-go to hunt, to populate Africa and eventually to walk ourselves all over the world. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486717?&amp;gn=Fast+Feet%3A+A+Springy+Step+Helps+Humans+Walk&amp;ev=event2&amp;ch=128245649&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Science+Headlines+E-Mail+Newsletter,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=128575033&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100719&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c31=128245649,122101520&amp;v31=D%3Dc31&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486734?&amp;gn=Fast+Feet%3A+A+Springy+Step+Helps+Humans+Walk&amp;ev=event2&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Science+Headlines+E-Mail+Newsletter,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=128575033&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100719&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /></p></p> Mon, 19 Jul 2010 10:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/home-page-top-stories/fast-feet-springy-step-helps-humans-walk