September 2009 Archives

For the second time, a book written by Penn Staters Alan Walker and Pat Shipman has won a national award. Their book, The Ape in the Tree; A Natural and Intellectual History of Proconsul, was published by Harvard University Press in 2005. The book was awarded the 2009 W.W. Howells Book Award administered by the Biological Anthropology section of the American Anthropological Association.
Written for a general audience, the book offers unique insider's perspective on the unfolding discovery of a crucial link in our evolution: Proconsul, a fossil ape named whimsically after a performing chimpanzee called Consul.

The Ape in the Tree is written in the voice of Alan Walker, whose involvement with Proconsul began when his graduate supervisor analyzed the tree-climbing adaptations in the arm and hand of this extinct creature. Today, Proconsul is the best-known fossil ape in the world.

The history of ideas is set against the vivid adventures of Walker's fossil-hunting expeditions in remote regions of Africa, where the team met with violent thunderstorms, dangerous wildlife, and people isolated from the Western world. Analysis of the thousands of new Proconsul specimens they recovered provides revealing glimpses of the life of this last common ancestor between apes and humans.

The attributes of Proconsul have its profound implications for the very definition of humanness. This book speaks not only of an ape in a tree but also of the ape in our tree.

In 1997, the husband and wife team won the prestigious Rhône-Poulenc Award for The Wisdom of the Bones ( Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)  A Royal Society and MacArthur fellow, Walker is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also an Evan Pugh Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Biology at Penn State. Shipman is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the author of ten books. She is an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Penn State.

The W. W. Howells Book Award has been given annually since 1993 to honor books that achieve the highest standard of scholarship and readability while bringing findings in biological anthropology to a wider audience. 

George Milner will be presenting "Paleodemography: Why we don't know more, what can be done about it, and why should we care" at Friday's Department of Anthropology colloquium.  The colloquium will be held in 107 Carpenter Building and will begin at 3:30 pm.

Everyone is welcome!

Former Graduate Student Holly Dunsworth to guest blog

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Penn State Anthropology PhD Holly Dunsworth will be guest blogging on Ken Weiss and Anne Buchanan's blog, The Mermaid's Tale,, until October 1.

Craniosynostosis, the premature fusion of one or more cranial sutures, is a common malformation in humans.  The skull shape in craniosynostosis can not be explained simply by the premature fusion of sutures, but involves widespread abnormal development of the head.  At least eight of the craniosynostosis disorders including Crouzon, Apert and Pfeiffer syndromes are caused by mutations in fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFR)-1, -2 or -3, genes that play fundamental and widespread roles in development. This award funds additional work concerning  craniosynostosis. In our orignal project, we proposed a unifying study of molecular and morphological research aimed at understanding development of craniosynostosis.  We are testing developmental associations between skull and brain using 3D data from MR and CT images of humans with craniosynostosis, and micro-CT and micro-MR of the mice carrying specific mutations of the Fgfr2 gene that correspond with the human conditions of Apert and Crouzon syndromes.  In this newly funded project we propose to add an additional mouse model for another human craniosynostosis condition.  Our morphological analyses will inform our molecular investigations of how these various mutations on a single gene compare in in the way that they  produce developmental relationships that lead to craniosynostosis phenotypes.

An early view of a new paper by Joan Richtsmeier and former graduate student Cheryl Hill, as well as two co authors from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions has just been released ahead of print in The American Journal of Medical Genetics, Part A.  This study looked at the morphological effects of a single gene, Ets2, in a mouse model for Down syndrome.  The researchers demonstrated that the effect of this gene on craniofacial development is far more complex than previously thought, pointing to the importance of the interaction of genes in the production of craniofacial dysmorphology. The abstract can be viewed at

David Puts's voice research discussed in the Daily Mail

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David Puts's voice research is discussed in the September 23 edition of Mail Online, the website for the British newspaper, the Daily Mail.

The full article can be accessed here:

Jennifer's paper entitled "Just the Facts Ma'am: Removing the Drama from DNA Dragnets" has just been accepted to the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology.  It discusses the implications of DNA ancestry testing and indirect molecular photofitting as applied by law enforcement.
These talks will be given at the 55th meeting of the Brazilian Genetics Society, in Sao Paolo; the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Summer Short Course in Human Genetics, Jackson Laboratories, Bar Harbor, Maine; the Italian Life Sciences Federation; Trento, Italy; and the Genetics group at Pampeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain.

Ken Hirth is colloquium speaker for Friday, September 18

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Ken Hirth will be speaking at this week's colloquium from 3:30 to 4:30 in room 107 Carpenter Building.  The title of his presentation is "Its Reconstructing Obsidian Craft Production in Central Mexico.  Short and "Sharp"   
Dr. Zraly spent the summer in Santa Fe at the School for Advanced Research (SAR) as an Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Scholar. While in residence, she prepared a manuscript and interview guide for her project entitled "Shaping Experiences of Inequality: Resilience and Emotion among Youth Heads of Household in Kigali, Rwanda". At SAR, Zraly also delivered a colloquium on the topic of "Quelling Anguish: A Political Economy of Emotions in the Everyday Life of Youth Heads of Household in Kigali, Rwanda." Zraly is scheduled to present additional findings from this research project, sponsored by the NSF International Research Fellowship Program, at the upcoming 2009 American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in Philadelphia, where she will give a paper entitled "Youth-Led Households in Kigali: The Social and Emotional Worlds of a New African Public".
The session that Jennie Jin proposed to the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ)'s 2010 11th international conference in Paris has been accepted.  The title of the session is: "Contributions of Archaeozoology in the Study of Human Societies in South, Southeast, and East Asia from the Paleolithic to the Premodern Era."  She is the chair/organizer and her co-organizers are Richard Meadow (Harvard), Jing Yuan (Institute of Archaeology, China), and Ajita Patel (Harvard).
Tim Ryan recently published a paper with former Anthropology undergraduates Kelli Welker and Joseph Orkin in the Journal of Anatomy entitled "Analysis of intraindividual and intraspecific variation in semicircular canal dimensions using high-resolution x-ray computed tomography."  Using a sample of short-tailed shrews together with high-resolution CT imaging, the study suggests that intraspecific variation in canal size is limited and that using a small number of individuals to generate species means can reasonably characterize semicircular canal morphology in mammal species. The paper can be accessed at:
In August, David Puts was appointed to the editorial board of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior is the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research.
The speaker for this Friday's colloquium is Kirk French. The title of his presentation is "Water Management at Palenque."  Colloquium is scheduled from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in 107 Carpenter Building.

Nina Jablonski gives Distinguished Lecture at Duke

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Nina Jablonski delivered a Distinguished Lecture in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University on Friday 11 September entitled "Darwin's Birthday Suit: The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color".
Our first colloquium for the fall 2009 semester, will be held on September 4th,
2009 from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm in room 107 Carpenter Building. The speaker will be Kaye Reed from Arizona State University. The title of her presentation is "The Life and Times of Australopithecus: Ecology, Biogeography, and Monkeys."