All posts by Aaron Jonas Stutz

About Aaron Jonas Stutz

This blog is about how things and people have identities and histories defined by multiple, inextricably intertwined dimensions. And this perspective is certainly reflected in why I am developing this blog project. I am a paleoanthropologist obsessively interested in better understanding in our joint biological and cultural nature. I am a professor with primary interest in undergraduate teaching and students’ liberal arts learning experiences. I am a field archaeologist who thrives on the intricate puzzle-solving challenge of figuring out patterns and associations among widely disparate, interdisciplinary observations and analyses. I am an anthropologist committed to rejuvenating substantial intellectual connections between now-fragmented cultural/humanistic and evolutionary/scientific approaches to understanding our diversity AND our shared biocultural inheritance. And I am an educator who seeks to find new ways toengage in and promote the values of critical thinking, scientific inquiry, thoughtful reflection, mutual respect, constructive communication, and lifelong learning. This is just my professional identity. I currently serve as associate professor of Anthropology at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small residential “liberal-arts-intensive” undergraduate college at Emory. I teach courses on human evolution, human ecology, race and identity, and archaeology. My academic research deals directly with biocultural evolution. I am especially fortunate to be co-leading–with Liv Nilsson Stutz, lecturer of Anthropology at Emory University (she’s also my wife)–a wonderful interdisciplinary research team investigating the Early Upper Paleolithic deposits at Mughr el-Hamamah (Caves of the Doves) in northwestern Jordan. Key research themes that I discuss on this site include: - niche-adaptation co-evolution in the human evolutionary lineage (the hominins) - evolution of the human life history strategy (we grow up slowly and live a really long time) - human sociality (we’re even more social–and socially interdependent–than our very close ape relatives) - intergenerational transfer strategies (our sociality is strongly tied to how material, information, and social resources are transferred from older to younger generations) - long-term demographic and health patterns (sociality and intergeneration resource transfers influence and are influenced by longer-term trends in demography and health) - language, symbolic thought, embodied social practice, and technology (what more can I say?) - the narrative and metaphorical nature of memory and its role in shaping ideologies of power and masking conflicts of interest in our complex social lives (social conflicts of interest are a highly derived hominin phenotype) Many publications will be forthcoming in the next year or two, and I will blog about them along the way. Available publications may be found on my academia.edu site. http://emory.academia.edu/AaronStutz Oxford, Georgia, 8 May 2013

The benefits of crowdfunding science

by Aaron Jonas Stutz

Mughr el-Hamamah 2010 002

My collaborators Liv Nilsson Stutz, Chantel White, and I have recently surpassed our crowdfunding goal on experiment.com for the project “How Did Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers Use Plant Resources in Eurasia?”. We are so grateful to our project backers, who will be receiving exclusive updates and reports while we prepare, carry out, and wind down our fieldwork at the Mughr el-Hamamah site, Jordan, this summer. With 6 days to go in our crowdfunding campaign, we do ask that you consider becoming a backer at any level (thanks to those of you who have given us $1 or $2 dollars!). We want to increase the size of the crowd and encourage broader funding of projects on experiment.com and similar crowdfunding platforms. Crowdfunding is not a replacement for traditional public and private grant sources, but it is a great source of matching funds. Crowdfunding is interactive and encourages more transparent, open-access science that can be shared in real-time with interested non-specialists.

We just posted the following thank you Lab Note on our crowdfunding site, highlighting the benefits of investment in open science, both in general and for our project in particular:

Thanks to all of our generous backers, from family and friends to complete strangers, for helping us get to our funding goal. We’ve now surpassed $7300, with 6 days to go in our crowdfunding campaign. Your contributions will help in all of the following ways:

  • Hybrid funding sources: You are helping the dollars granted by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research to go farther, in helping us carry out our inquiry into our shared hunter-gatherer past.
  • Support the culture heritage management work of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
  • Create educational and training opportunities for our undergraduate volunteers and graduate assistants.
  • Strengthen the connections among the wider network of collaborations that go beyond this particular funding campaign — as we raised our funds, Prof. Rosa Albert of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies obtained funding to visit our excavation in late July to sample the Mughr el-Hamamah archaeological layers for plant phytoliths (microscopic silica crystals that plant cells generate, leaving us with another kind of forensic trace of plant remains). In addition, Dr. Dustin White has received funding from the Leverhulme Trust to visit us in the field, too. He will sample additional bits of sediment to look for volcanic ash grains (tephra) that may have blown into the cave 45-39,000 years ago. His work will help us to connect our reconstruction of the local environment around Mughr el-Hamamah with the wider environmental context of the Mediterranean Basin at this juncture in our shared prehistory.
  • Support the field research infrastructure maintained by the Yarmouk University Faculty of Anthropology and Archaeology. Their research station in the Jordan Valley will provide us with the field lab facilities to make our work proceed as efficiently as possible!
  • Spread the word about experiment.com, crowdfunded science, and the benefits of such funding for encouraging transparent, interactive research processes/sharing of results.

We do have 6 days remaining in our crowdfunding campaign. We’d love for the crowd of backers to grow. Please consider sharing and encouraging interested friends and family to back our project–or any other seeking funding on experiment.com. The $1 and $2 contributions help and get all of the backers-only updates we’ll be sharing with you as the project proceeds through early August. After that, your investments will have yielded a record of the research process–from planned milestones and reports, to updates about unexpected, exciting discoveries–that researchers, students, and the wider public will be able to access openly.

Thank you all for your support.

very best,

Aaron, Chantel, and Liv

Again, you can go to http://experiment.com/paleoplants and back our project, until the end of the day on Friday April 14. By surpassing our funding goal, we can expedite laboratory analyses of some of the artifacts and sediments already sampled and curated from our first excavations in 2010. You would also help us to support directly an additional graduate field assistant, making our work more effective during our limited field season in late June and July of this year. Remember that archaeological research dollars go a long way in documenting, investigating, and conserving cultural and environmental heritage that we can all access, learn from, and discuss, bringing us all closer together.

 

Crowdfunding Fieldwork on the Early Upper Paleolithic

by Aaron Jonas Stutz

Mughr el-Hamamah is a small cave overlooking the Jordan River Valley, opposite the Nablus mountains. It is located in the Jordanian governate of Ajloun. When our first major set of results were published–involving radiocarbon dates on wood charcoal fragments from the Early Upper Paleolithic campfire features we excavated–I reported on our collaborative research. Liv Nilsson Stutz and I work with an extraordinary team, including Chantel White of the University of Pennsylvania. Chantel is an archaeobotanist who specializes in identifying fragments of seeds, nuts and other plant food traces. We are further working with wood charcoal specialist Elenia Asouti (U. Liverpool) and plant phytolith specialists Rosa Albert and Monica Alonso-Eguiluz (U. Barcelona), as Mughr el-Hamamah joins one of a very small handful of Paleolithic sites in the Levant to preserve significant plant remains. Quite conveniently, the other sites come from different time periods. Gesher Benot Ya’akov (Israel) dates to the Lower Paleolithic (ca. 780,00 years ago). Kebara Cave (Israel) dates to the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 60,000 years ago). Ohalo II (Israel) dates to the Late Upper Paleolithic (ca. 23,000 years ago). Kharaneh IV (Jordan) dates mainly to the Early Epipaleolithic, ca. 19,000 years ago. And the Late Epipaleolithic sites of Abu Hureyra and Mureybet (Syria) date to ca. 13,000-12,000 years ago. Mughr el-Hamamah (Jordan) fits in, adding the Early Upper Paleolithic to this seqeuence. Because plant remains–used variously for food, tools, shelter, clothing, and fuel–are so rarely preserved in Paleolithic deposits, all of these sites are important for understanding how the omnivorous and technological dimensions of human environment and adaptive system evolved, over 100s of thousands of years.

I just posted a new labnote on our crowdfunding site to support our 2017 field campaign at Mughr el-Hamamah. The work that Liv, Chantel, and I are planning–with support from Rosa, Monica, and Eleni–will take place in late June and July this summer. Thanks to our collaboration with Chantel, we have tailored our field methods to carefully recover the charred plant remains from the site. You can view the lab note, which explains a bit about the site’s name (Caves of the Doves), here: http://www.experiment.com/u/CeZOVg. You can visit our crowdfunding page here: http://experiment.com/paleoplants. Please consider backing our project and sharing.

How did Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers Use and Consume Plant Resources?

By Aaron Jonas Stutz

We are omnivores. That is our evolutionary heritage. We’re more intensely omnivorous than any other biological species. Through diverse cultural approaches, human societies extract plant and animal resources alike–some wild and terrestrial, many more more wild and aquatic, most terrestrial and domesticated. Human populations do so at a rate that is good H-G eatsterrifying in comparative ecological perspective. Our omnivorous diets have fed our current, still-growing biomass. (A variety of back-of-the-envelope estimates conclude that our biomass, including all 7.4ish billion of us alive today, exceeds what all of the trillions of ants weigh.)

The ecological advantage of omnivory comes into focus when we consider what kinds of plants we eat most. And it’s not so much the whole plant organism, as it is the plant tissues we prefer. Sure, certain leaves and stalks and roots provide fiber, minerals, vitamins, analgesics, or anti-inflammatory components. But we tend to go for those tissues that help the plant grow, because these are much richer in starch or fats, poorer in fiber: seeds, nuts, fruits, and edible roots and tuber bulbs. If we can gather these plant parts, we can pack a lot of calories into a few bites. Kaplan et al. (2010: 31) emphasize that–even before domestication, farming, cities, industrialization or globalization–our omnivorous niche was well-constructed by generations of hunter-gatherers:

Although human foragers have lived in virtually all the world’s terrestrial habitats, they always occupy one extreme feeding niche, eating the highest quality, most nutrient dense, and difficult to acquire plant and animal foods in their environment.

We get these “nutrient dense” animal and plant tissues thanks to an integrated adaptive system that evolved over millions of years. We cooperate to search for and get food, we use tools to leverage the rich tissues from the wider biosphere into our grasp, we transport the food, we prepare it to make it more digestible, and we share it. And we repeat the whole cycle. While we know the big picture pattern–our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos, around 7 million years ago, was a lot less omnivorous than we are today–it’s hardly clear where and when our more recent ancestors in the genus Homo (including H. erectus, Neanderthals, anatomically modern humans) got so omnivorous.

Continue reading How did Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers Use and Consume Plant Resources?

Homo naledi: Handling a Scientific Rorschach Test

by Aaron Jonas Stutz
Lateral view of Dinaledi Hominin 1, the holotype individual for which the new species Homo naledi has been named (Berger et al., 2015).
Lateral view of Dinaledi Hominin 1, the holotype individual for which the new species Homo naledi has been named (Berger et al., 2015).

The recently announced human fossil find site of Dinaledi really–and I mean really–defines the phrase of great scientific importance.

Already, the research team led by Lee Berger has uncovered more than 1500 human bone fragments. There appear to be thousands more–perhaps from dozens of individuals–yet to be excavated. The skeletal remains from the Dinaledi site in South Africa will provide us with so much information about an ancient human population that we are sure to confirm certain hypotheses about human evolution … and–of course–overturn others … and this will be done with a shatteringly unprecedented level of confidence about that population’s biological variability.

It’ll just take some time.

Continue reading Homo naledi: Handling a Scientific Rorschach Test

Read All About It: Oase I Neandertal Admixture Article Published

by Aaron Jonas Stutz
Oase 1 family tree
Can you find the Neandertal great-great-great grandparent? This plausible family tree is based on the paleogenomic analysis of the Oase I (mostly) anatomically modern mandible (Fu et al., 2015).

The Nature publishing group has taken a welcome step toward making the details of scientific research more widely accessible. The flagship cross-disciplinary journal Nature now provides full PDF text views for published articles linked from major media sites. Thus, the article on ancient genetically admixed Neandertal and modern human DNA recovered from the Oase I mandible–work authored by Qiaomei Fu and colleagues–has now been published, and everyone can read the full-text on nature.com. It’s available to everyone via media outlets such as the BBC here. You can click through the hyperlinked text in the BBC story. Now, you can’t download the PDF, but you can view it (apparently only once, as I discovered in trying to verify the BBC link just now) in its entirety in your web browser. It’s not open access, but it’s “opener.”

So what about the full, published version?

Continue reading Read All About It: Oase I Neandertal Admixture Article Published