Four Stone Hearth XVII

Many thanks to Jason over at Hominin Dental Anthropology for hosting what I’m pretty sure is issue number 17. It’s a busy time of year for many, so we don’t have a huge number of submissions this time round, though as I mentioned yesterday, this probably wasn’t helped by my very late call for contributions at this site.

Besides a couple of posts from myself, Yann Klimentidis has an entry discussing the impact of cooked meat in the diet, and how consumption of cooked versus raw food uses up considerably less energy, substantially aids growth, partly by freeing up the individual to redirect the energy savings into weight gain, and it is claimed, to brain growth as well. This in turn has been extrapolated to suggest that what we consider to be our greatly enhanced cognitive abilities, may have kicked in at the same time as our archaic ancestors tucked into their first cooked meals. It’s a compelling idea, though I’m not sure whether it’s physical brain size alone, or the way in which the brain is ‘wired up’, which allows for increased cognition.

On a related note, there’s an interesting article by Paul Krugman , titled America Comes Up Short, from which the following is a brief excerpt:

The data show that Americans, who in the words of a recent paper by the economic historian John Komlos and Benjamin Lauderdale in Social Science Quarterly, were “tallest in the world between colonial times and the middle of the 20th century,” have now “become shorter (and fatter) than Western and Northern Europeans. In fact, the U.S. population is currently at the bottom end of the height distribution in advanced industrial countries.”

This is not a trivial matter. As the paper says, “height is indicative of how well the human organism thrives in its socio-economic environment.” There’s a whole discipline of “anthropometric history” that uses evidence on heights to assess changes in social conditions.

Very puzzling – apparently the problem also exists in Britain, which like America, works very long hours, and isn’t shy when it comes to crossing the threshold of the nearest ‘burger or kebab shop; indeed it will come as little surprise to many that the high rate of fast food consumption is viewed as a prime suspect in this mystery.

Heading back to Four Stone Hearth, Afarensis regales us with three anthropology lecture clips, which he describes thus…

“The other day I was wandering around the internet and found some video from the Stony Brook Symposium on Human Evolution held in 2005. This is the first of three parts and is about an hour and a half long. Unfortunately, video from the entire five day event is not available. Richard Leakey introduces the symposium. Incidentally, Meave Leakey has one of the more fascinating presentations in this video…”

Once I’ve finished writing this up, I’ll try and catch up on those, though he warns us that they are quite long clips, one lasting for about 2 hours, but they sound worth checking.

And while we’re over at Afarensis, he has another post, “Human Interaction Increases Chimpanzee Cognitive Ability“, culled from Science Daily. Our close relationship with chimpanzees is often highlighted in the media, although from what I understand, we may have more in common with the orang utan – as suggested in this paper by John Grehan, ‘The Orang Utan and the Enigma of Human Evolution‘. This isn’t a field of study with which I’m overly familiar, but makes for some fascinating reading nevertheless.

And that’s it for this edition of 4SH, the next edition of which will be this coming July 4th, over at Alun Salt’s site, ‘Clioaudio‘ – incidentally, Alun has a podcast hosted by himself, available at his site.

Thanks once again to Jason, see you all next time. (TJ)

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