Back from absence with links on human evolution

I’ve been noticeably silent on Neuroanthropology of late — I didn’t think I could get any busier after January was bad, but it’s been awful around here. I’ve been involved in local politics, if you can believe that, and set up another website (www.berrybypass.com) to try to expose a bit of local corruption and misinformation that was trying to reroute a highway bypass. So I’ve been blogging, just not on Neuroanthropology, putting my knowledge of WordPress to alternative uses.

With the absence, I’ve got a backlog of interesting stuff that I will not be able to write substantial comments on, so I thought I could at least put some links to a couple of pieces:

ABC News has an intriguing short piece on vestigial organs, Five Things Humans No Longer Need, by Laura Spinney. Some of the usual subjects are there (like wisdom teeth and the coccyx), but there’s also some less well-known examples. If I were writing a long piece on this, though, I’m still not persuaded by the notion of ‘vestigial’ organs because it seems to imply that other organs ARE doing what they were selected for, and I doubt that’s the case; too many organs have likely been co-opted into other things over evolutionary time. I worry that the notion of ‘vestigial’ organs singles these out, when in fact the issue is broader, BUT I also love using vesigial organs when I teach.

The other piece I’m not going to get to is Tracing Humanity’s Path, by Michael Balter on ScienceNOW Daily News. The piece is a news story on a longer article available on PLoS Genetics, Inferring Human Colonization History Using a Copying Model, by Garrett Hellenthal, Adam Auton, and Daniel Falush, that uses genome-wide statistical modeling to reconstruct human dispersal patterns that, although not earth-shattering, does produce some interesting wrinkles in the usual account of how humans got all over the globe. And it has cool animated maps linked to it that show the patterns.

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