Open Thread: Announcement

341ea6e08a49012ee3c400163e41dd5bI’m starting some new IRL projects (that have nothing to do with the blog and won’t be discussed here.) It’s a big time commitment and if all goes well, I’m going to be really busy for the foreseeable future.

Right now I have no idea how this will affect the blog, whether I’ll be figure out how to balance my time and keep up my regular schedule or will need to cut back. I’ll let you know when I find out.

(Update: hooo boy has life been kicking my butt.)

m3-agenesis-carter-worthington-2015In the meanwhile, here’s a graph of the incidence of people who never develop their permanent third molars, broken down by continent (I assume N. and S. America are sampled from Native American populations.)

This is not the same as not getting your wisdom teeth, though I’d wager a graph of that would look similar.

(“agenesis”= does not begin; “m3″= third molar.)

male-heights-from-skeletons-in-europe-1-2000-clark-645x403And a simple graph of heights in the US, Europe and Sweden over the past … 2000 years.

I propose that the recent increase in heights isn’t just because of better nutrition/more food/more milk and protein in the diet, but also because fewer women die giving birth to large babies now that we have c-sections, and large babies likely grow into large adults.

hybridThis is just a joke. It has no deeper meaning.

In interesting news:

Lethal aggression in Pan [chimpanzees] is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts:

Observations of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) provide valuable comparative data for understanding the significance of conspecific killing. … Lethal violence is sometimes concluded to be the result of adaptive strategies, such that killers ultimately gain fitness benefits by increasing their access to resources such as food or mates. Alternatively, it could be a non-adaptive result of human impacts, such as habitat change or food provisioning. To discriminate between these hypotheses we compiled information from 18 chimpanzee communities and 4 bonobo communities studied over five decades. Our data include 152 killings (n = 58 observed, 41 inferred, and 53 suspected killings) by chimpanzees in 15 communities and one suspected killing by bonobos. We found that males were the most frequent attackers (92% of participants) and victims (73%); most killings (66%) involved intercommunity attacks; and attackers greatly outnumbered their victims (median 8:1 ratio). Variation in killing rates was unrelated to measures of human impacts. Our results are compatible with previously proposed adaptive explanations for killing by chimpanzees, whereas the human impact hypothesis is not supported.

Behind the Murky World of Albanian Blood Feuds:

…He produces a list of recent killings he contends are the result of feuding families – not just random acts of violence in a country awash with guns, but the result of continued adherence to an ancient Albanian code of justice known as the “kanun”, or canon.

There is a farmer who was killed after cutting down his neighbour’s tree, a lover who shot both his girlfriend’s brothers after being denied her hand in marriage, and a returning migrant worker gunned down after he went back to his village, reigniting a decades-old feud.

Such are the rules of the “kanun”, a tribal code of 1,262 rules laid down by the 15th-century Albanian nobleman Lekë Dukagjini, which ordains that “spilled blood must be met with spilled blood”.

But while the Kanun stories remain part of Albania’s cultural and historical DNA, they are also a source of growing concern for Britain’s asylum tribunals. Since 2012 tens of thousands of Albanians have migrated to Europe, many seeking asylum on the basis that they are afraid for their lives as a result of “blood feuds”. …

Darwinian Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Languages:

Herodotus, writing in the Histories, Book II.53 around 450 BCE, remarked that Homer “lived, as I believe, not more than 400 years ago.” Many modern classicists and historians prefer a more recent, mid-8th century date for the Iliad. We (Altschuler, Calude, Meade, & Pagel, 2013) decided to try to estimate a date for the Iliad by investigating patterns of cognacy among the 200 words of Swadesh’s (1952) fundamental vocabulary in three languages: Modern Greek, Homeric Greek from Homer’s Iliad, and Hittite, a language distantly related to both modern and Homeric Greek.

We first recorded whether each word in the Swadesh list was cognate or not between pairs of the three languages. Then, we solved for the date in history that was the most likely for the Iliad, given our knowledge of the rates of change of the words and the patterns of cognacy we observed. Our calculation suggested that the original text of the Iliad was released in approximately 762 BCE. This date is in close agreement with classicists’ and historians’ beliefs arrived at independently by studying historical references and the nature of Homeric Greek as expressed in the Iliad.

Staffordshire Strikes Gold with Iron Age Find:

An archaeological find on Staffordshire farmland is believed to include the earliest examples of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.

The collection, which has been named the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, was discovered by two metal detectorists just before Christmas.

Unveiling the torcs today (February 28), experts said the unique find could date back as far as 400BC and was of huge international importance.

For Comment of the Week, I’ve been enjoying the conversation between multiple commentators about Fishing and Fish Sauce over on What Mental Traits does the Arctic Select For?

E: … I know in terms of iodine deficiency, pre-modern-transport and storage, distance from the sea makes a big difference. And probably in a well-ordered place with relatively good transport like the Roman Empire at its height, fish sauce must have been the easiest way to get the benefits to the most people, regardless of distance from the ocean. (I wonder if there would be any way to test iodine deficiency in bodies in the Alps before, during, and after the Roman Empire…)

Someone get on testing bodies for iodine deficiency!


So, what are you thinking about?

11 thoughts on “Open Thread: Announcement

  1. I recently read Burgess’s _The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle_, which argues that the Homeric poems were composed in the 7th century, or perhaps even in the early 6th! I wasn’t convinced, but the arguments were fascinating. Apparently there are no visual depictions that are clearly Homeric (as opposed to generic depictions of the Trojan War myth) until the 6th century. The first literary reference that is definitely Homeric comes from Stesichorus (late 7th, early 6th C), etc.


    • And one more thing: the issue of transmission. We know from contemporary experiments using oral poets that oral transmission is extremely lossy, primarily because the poets do not actually memorize each line. The Iliad does not display marks of such losses. So people instead have turned to the “transcription” theory: “Homer” sang, and someone wrote it down. The written text was then transmitted.

      One big issue with this is that in 762, writing was very, VERY new in Greece. The earliest bits of writing we have from the Greeks are from ~770, and they short and crude (as you’d expect from a people who only just became literate). The Iliad is very long, very complex. How was it written down?


      • Were the Minoans literate? Wasn’t 762ish about the time that things started to recover from the Bronze Dark Age, or are my dates way off?


      • The Minoans were literate, but didn’t speak Greek (Linear A – we haven’t deciphered it, but it looks like they composed at least some poetry with it). The Mycenaeans adopted their script after they conquered them, and they did speak Greek (this is Linear B, which was only used for accounting purposes). Literacy was then lost around 1200 during the Bronze Age Collapse. Recovery actually started during the 9th century, so by 762 they were well into it.

        One very interesting aspect to the Iliad is that writing appears in it, but the poet doesn’t seem to understand what it is. One possible explanation for this is that the myth comes from the pre-collapse literate times and survived for half a millenium in the oral tradition. Book 6, Lattimore translation:

        “Would you be killed, o Proitos? Then murder Bellerophontes who tried to lie with me in love, though I was unwilling.”
        So she spoke, and anger took hold of the king at her story.
        He shrank from killing him, since his heart was awed by such action,
        but sent him away to Lykia, and handed him murderous symbols,
        which he inscribed in a folding tablet, enough to destroy life,
        and told him to show it to his wife’s father, that he might perish.


      • This is a reply to the next comment of yours, since my phone won’t let me add there.

        That translation is pretty incredible. It reads exactly as you describe.


  2. Going off of the limited information you’ve given, and based on my guesses about your demographic profile, I’m going to blindly assume that your new projects are living things, human or otherwise. Full disclosure, my next projects are likely a new dog and a new human, though not necessarily in that order, so I may be projecting much.


  3. So, I do a bit of genealogy now and then, and one thing I’ve wondered is, what is longest documented number of generations of only children before the line either dies out or one of them ultimately has two or more children? (I suppose for this purpose, it doesn’t have to be strictly only children, but perhaps a single, legitimate child surviving to adulthood?)

    I suppose related to this is wondering what traits, either genetic or cultural, lead to the most grandchildren. I realize I’m not supposed to think in such stark, pragmatically Darwinian ways… After all, Pocahontas had one child, who (I think) only had one, and now there are thousands of descendants, while Ma and PA Ingalls had five children, only one grandchild, and no great-grandchildren. (And J.S.Bach, who had 20 children, may or may not have any living descendants now, depending which article you read…)

    I mean, I suppose in the long run we’re all dead, and all that…


      • It’s kind of interesting, on one side of my family, every cousin of mine over about age 27 has at least one child, and most are young enough that additional kids are entirely possible. On the other side, I’m the youngest cousin with any children, I’m nearly 40, and the younger ones are all over 30, and mostly married.

        In the cases where I know my second cousins, the ones with more conservative parents (and I’m not talking Bible thumping or anything, just, like, not overusing the term “Nazi” for anyone right-of-center.) have kids, and the others don’t so much… Of course, I have cousins who are very liberal with liberal parents who have kids, but they’re from the Northeast. (And, come to think of it, they’re firmly Gen-X, not Millennials… But even Millennials are starting to get on in age as far as having kids goes…)


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