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Showing posts from 2012

Incredible India

The blog's been a little quiet recently as I spent almost all of November and a bit of December travelling around South India with my mother (who needed a travel companion and generously asked me). I'd always harboured a desire to visit India, and my imagination had vague romantic visions from childhood of tigers lurking in jungles, and crumbling temples covered in vines and monkeys.

 I didn't see any tigers (not from want of trying!), but India really was an incredible experience, far surpassing what I'd hoped in terms of an adventure for all the senses. Having recently bought a new camera (the very capable Sony NEX-5N), I went a little crazy and took about 3000 photographs, along with a lot of video. As we'd planned our route around various cultural and historical sites, I've subsequently got a lot of photos of heritage locales that I'd like to share. On top of this, the experience of travelling through a country so different to my own in many ways was e…

Palaeolithic Collections, Museum of Aquitaine, Bordeaux

After a little break, the blog is back in action.
Here's a post from October I didn't manage to get up before I went to India during November. Lots of lovely photos of Palaeolithic treasures!

Beautiful Bordeaux

I'm pretty busy writing on the days I'm not working to earn money (my salaried postdoc doesn't start until 2013). Although writing and research for academic publications and Dawn Chorus in Eden are priorities right now, I don't want to neglect the blog. So, this week I'm posting some of the photographs from Bordeaux during the ESHE conference last month. Bordeaux is the city where I'll be living and working for the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship starting next year. The old centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and certainly the architecture is fascinating. I hope to get to know it better while I live there!

Review of "Prehistoric Autopsy: Neanderthal", BBC 2

So in lieu of some more research-focused posts I have lined up, here's my reaction to the tv program which aired last night in the UK, "Prehistoric Autopsy", first episode focused on the Neanderthals.

I don't watch a lot of television as it's transmitted, more often online or even more often I'm just playing the xbox. So after managing to get the digi-box to work, I sat down to watch this Neander-fest and tweet it too, using the #PrehistoricAutopsy hashtag.Overall, I enjoyed the program. I think there were some issues, but for a prime time piece focusing on a hominin ancestor that many, many people use as shorthand for nasty thick brutes, it presented a LOT of new data which I hope caused some minds to open up.

Professor Alice Roberts is pretty de rigeur as a presenter for anything vaguely human evolution-related, and as usual she was very capable indeed. Yes, she is not an archaeologist, but this was actually appropriate here because the focus of the progra…

ESHE 2012 Meeting report: general Palaeolithic edition

Here's the next installment of my favourite papers from the European Society for study of Human Evolution meeting held recently in Bordeaux (#ESHE12 on Twitter) a couple of weeks ago. It was a great conference with many very interesting papers and posters!

A stand-out paper early on was the talk by Henry Bunn et al. on the evidence that early hominins at Olduvai Gorge almost 2 million years ago were actively procuring carcasses - i.e. hunting them-, based on the age profiles of the different large animal species at the site. Not surprisingly this seems to have been the big story picked up by the media too. Bunn started by questioning "how formidable would a 1m tall hominin have been?", suggesting we should re-evaluate our conceptions of the hunting ability of these early people. The site in question, FLK-Zinj, was excavated early on by the Leakeys and dates to c. 1.84 Ma. It is now being re-investigated by a large multi-disciplinary landscape project. The talk c…

Time Is Not Made to Flow in vain: Eternity and Apocalypse in Assynt and Mars

Just in time for World Space Week, I've got a new Guest Blog up at Scientific American Blogs, featuring geological musings on our home planet and our beautiful, desolate neighbour. This post resulted from a recent holiday in the Scottish Highlands, where some of the oldest rocks on Earth can be found, with a surprising story to tell. Go check it out!

ESHE 2012 Meeting Report: Neanderthal Edition!

It's taken me a few days to recover from the European Society for study of Human Evolution (ESHE) meeting last week in Bordeaux, France, which was intense as conferences always are, and had some very early mornings. ESHE12 was excellent on the whole, with improvements on last year including joint plenary sessions each morning (held in one room and beamed to the overflow theatre) followed by parallell sessions of papers on either "stones or bones": that is, archaeologically or osteologically-focused topics.

Parallell sessions do mean there was still some dashing between rooms going on, but it wasn't as difficult at last year at Leipzig where the sessions were in separate buildings. Also, I think speakers are generally understanding about people coming in and out of rooms during talks as long as they're quiet- I know it doesn't bother me. There were an awful lot of great papers at ESHE, and obviously blogging about all of them is a bit much. But I do want to …

All about the Avian: Neanderthals, feathers and symbolic practices

Ok so this is too cool not to write about straight away, although I have another post is waiting in the wings.
A new PLOS ONE paper, by a large team headed by Clive Finlayson, on Neanderthal exploitation of birds and feathers is really fascinating, and very convincing. There's been a flurry (or flutter?) of recent research looking at the reality of bird exploitation in the Middle Palaeolithic, and as the PLOS paper nicely summarises in its introduction, this is yet another of those things long held to be just too hard for Neanderthals to manage. Not only had the notion of using birds a food source been regarded as outside their capacities, but the possibility of other, more socially-motivated uses for avian resources was until recently not even considered.


This is despite the knowledge for a long time that bird remains were present at many Middle Palaeolithic sites, and there was even some direct evidence of carcass processing, with a preserved feather barbule on a stone tool at…

What Kanzi Didn't Do...Yet

If Neanderthals are the Uber Cool of hominins, then bonobos surely must be the ape equivalent. A species very closely related to the more famous chimpanzees, Pan paniscus have increasingly taken centre stage in research on primate cognition and technical abilities. This week there's been quite a bit of press coverage of some new behavioural experiments with bonobos making and using stone tools, published in PNAS, . Having read the paper, it doesn't sound like the actual technological skill displayed by the apes in the production of the tools is any more adept than we've seen before, i.e. it doesn't match that seen in even the very earliest artefacts from the archaeological record. If it was, I'd expect this to be far more obviously signposted in the paper. Instead, it seems that the bonobos have, in a much more natural task setting than normal, utilised a more diverse range of their stone products to perform a variety of specific functions. These tool-using action…

Exploring Alien Worlds: Different Dimensions, Same Buzz

In an alternate universe, rather than researching extinct and frankly sometimes quite alien hominin species, I would be working in my other dream career: astronomy. More precisely, I would be on one of the teams currently pushing the bounds of our interplanetary exploration. Being on the Cassini mission would be pretty sweet, downloading endlessly beautiful and oddly abstract photographs of the vastness of Saturn and its rings, probing the haze of Titan (seeing reflections of methane lakes!), or the incredible geysers of Enceladus. But I have to admit there's a research field even more beguiling to me: the staggering fact of having robotic explorers actually on the surface of an alien world.  Hello, Mars.



I've been a massive space geek since I was a kid, and probably the only reason I'm not an astronomer in this universe is that I thought I was rubbish at maths for ages, and stopped trying. I scraped my C-grade at GCSE, but perhaps if someone had pointed out the fundament…