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The Ancestral Shape Hypothesis: An Evolutionary Explanation for the Occurrence of Intervertebral Disc Herniation in Humans

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015
Abstract: 

Background

Recent studies suggest there is a relationship between intervertebral disc herniation and vertebral shape. The nature of this relationship is unclear, however. Humans are more commonly afflicted with spinal disease than are non-human primates and one suggested explanation for this is the stress placed on the spine by bipedalism. With this in mind, we carried out a study of human, chimpanzee, and orangutan vertebrae to examine the links between vertebral shape, locomotion, and Schmorl’s nodes, which are bony indicators of vertical intervertebral disc herniation. We tested the hypothesis that vertical disc herniation preferentially affects individuals with vertebrae that are towards the ancestral end of the range of shape variation within Homo sapiens and therefore are less well adapted for bipedalism.

Results

The study employed geometric morphometric techniques. Two-dimensional landmarks were used to capture the shapes of the superior aspect of the body and posterior elements of the last thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae of chimpanzees, orangutans, and humans with and without Schmorl’s nodes. These data were subjected to multivariate statistical analyses.

Canonical Variates Analysis indicated that the last thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae of healthy humans, chimpanzees, and orangutans can be distinguished from each other (p<0.028), but vertebrae of pathological humans and chimpanzees cannot (p>0.4590). The Procrustes distance between pathological humans and chimpanzees was found to be smaller than the one between pathological and healthy humans. This was the case for both vertebrae. Pair-wise MANOVAs of Principal Component scores for both the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae found significant differences between all pairs of taxa (p<0.029), except pathological humans vs chimpanzees (p>0.367). Together, these results suggest that human vertebrae with Schmorl’s nodes are closer in shape to chimpanzee vertebrae than are healthy human vertebrae.

Conclusions

The results support the hypothesis that intervertebral disc herniation preferentially affects individuals with vertebrae that are towards the ancestral end of the range of shape variation within H. sapiens and therefore are less well adapted for bipedalism. This finding not only has clinical implications but also illustrates the benefits of bringing the tools of evolutionary biology to bear on problems in medicine and public health.

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Article
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Bayesian Modeling and Chronological Precision for Polynesian Settlement of Tonga

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015
Abstract: 

First settlement of Polynesia, and population expansion throughout the ancestral Polynesian homeland are foundation events for global history. A precise chronology is paramount to informed archaeological interpretation of these events and their consequences. Recently applied chronometric hygiene protocols excluding radiocarbon dates on wood charcoal without species identification all but eliminates this chronology as it has been built for the Kingdom of Tonga, the initial islands to be settled in Polynesia. In this paper we re-examine and redevelop this chronology through application of Bayesian models to the questioned suite of radiocarbon dates, but also incorporating short-lived wood charcoal dates from archived samples and high precision U/Th dates on coral artifacts. These models provide generation level precision allowing us to track population migration from first Lapita occupation on the island of Tongatapu through Tonga’s central and northern island groups. They further illustrate an exceptionally short duration for the initial colonizing Lapita phase and a somewhat abrupt transition to ancestral Polynesian society as it is currently defined.

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Article
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Classic Maya Bloodletting and the Cultural Evolution of Religious Rituals: Quantifying Patterns of Variation in Hieroglyphic Texts

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2014-09-25
Abstract: 

Religious rituals that are painful or highly stressful are hypothesized to be costly signs of commitment essential for the evolution of complex society. Yet few studies have investigated how such extreme ritual practices were culturally transmitted in past societies. Here, we report the first study to analyze temporal and spatial variation in bloodletting rituals recorded in Classic Maya (ca. 250–900 CE) hieroglyphic texts. We also identify the sociopolitical contexts most closely associated with these ancient recorded rituals. Sampling an extensive record of 2,480 hieroglyphic texts, this study identifies every recorded instance of the logographic sign for the word ch’ahb’ that is associated with ritual bloodletting. We show that documented rituals exhibit low frequency whose occurrence cannot be predicted by spatial location. Conversely, network ties better capture the distribution of bloodletting rituals across the southern Maya region. Our results indicate that bloodletting rituals by Maya nobles were not uniformly recorded, but were typically documented in association with antagonistic statements and may have signaled royal commitments among connected polities.

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Article
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Ancient Clam Gardens Increased Shellfish Production: Adaptive Strategies from the Past Can Inform Food Security Today

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2014-03-11
Abstract: 

Maintaining food production while sustaining productive ecosystems is among the central challenges of our time, yet, it has been for millennia. Ancient clam gardens, intertidal rock-walled terraces constructed by humans during the late Holocene, are thought to have improved the growing conditions for clams. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the beach slope, intertidal height, and biomass and density of bivalves at replicate clam garden and non-walled clam beaches in British Columbia, Canada. We also quantified the variation in growth and survival rates of littleneck clams (Leukoma staminea) we experimentally transplanted across these two beach types. We found that clam gardens had significantly shallower slopes than non-walled beaches and greater densities of L. staminea and Saxidomus giganteus, particularly at smaller size classes. Overall, clam gardens contained 4 times as many butter clams and over twice as many littleneck clams relative to non-walled beaches. As predicted, this relationship varied as a function of intertidal height, whereby clam density and biomass tended to be greater in clam gardens compared to non-walled beaches at relatively higher intertidal heights. Transplanted juvenile L. staminea grew 1.7 times faster and smaller size classes were more likely to survive in clam gardens than non-walled beaches, specifically at the top and bottom of beaches. Consequently, we provide strong evidence that ancient clam gardens likely increased clam productivity by altering the slope of soft-sediment beaches, expanding optimal intertidal clam habitat, thereby enhancing growing conditions for clams. These results reveal how ancient shellfish aquaculture practices may have supported food security strategies in the past and provide insight into tools for the conservation, management, and governance of intertidal seascapes today.

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Article
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Basal Metabolic Rate and Maternal Energetic Investment Durations in Mammals

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2014
Abstract: 

Background

The Metabolic Theory of Ecology (MTE) predicts that gestation duration, lactation duration, and their sum, total development time, are constrained by mass-specific basal metabolic rate such that they should scale with body mass with an exponent of 0.25. However, tests of the MTE’s predictions have yielded mixed results. In an effort to resolve this uncertainty, we used phylogenetically-controlled regression to investigate the allometries of gestation duration, lactation duration, and total development time in four well-studied mammalian orders, Artiodactyla, Carnivora, Primates, and Rodentia.

Results

The results we obtained are not consistent with the predictions of the MTE. Gestation duration scaling exponents are below 0.25 in all four orders. The scaling exponent for lactation duration is below 0.25 in Carnivora and Rodentia, indistinguishable from 0.25 in Artiodactyls, and steeper than 0.25 in Primates. Total development time scales with body mass as predicted by the MTE in Primates, but not in artiodactyls, carnivores, and rodents. In the latter three orders, the exponent is 0.15.

Conclusions

Together, these results indicate that the influence of basal metabolic rate on mammalian maternal investment durations must be more complicated than the MTE envisages, and that other factors must play an important role. Future research needs to allow for the possibility that different factors drive gestation duration and lactation duration, and that the drivers of the two durations may differ among orders.

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Article
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Population Size and Cultural Evolution in Nonindustrial Food-Producing Societies

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Modeling work suggests that population size affects cultural evolution such that larger populations can be expected to have richer and more complex cultural repertoires than smaller populations. Empirical tests of this hypothesis, however, have yielded conflicting results. Here, we report a study in which we investigated whether the subsistence toolkits of small-scale food-producers are influenced by population size in the manner the hypothesis predicts. We applied simple linear and standard multiple regression analysis to data from 40 nonindustrial farming and pastoralist groups to test the hypothesis. Results were consistent with predictions of the hypothesis: both the richness and the complexity of the toolkits of the food-producers were positively and significantly influenced by population size in the simple linear regression analyses. The multiple regression analyses demonstrated that these relationships are independent of the effects of risk of resource failure, which is the other main factor that has been found to influence toolkit richness and complexity in nonindustrial groups. Thus, our study strongly suggests that population size influences cultural evolution in nonindustrial food-producing populations.

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Article
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Ancient mtDNA Analysis of Early 16th Century Caribbean Cattle Provides Insight into Founding Populations of New World Creole Cattle Breeds

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

The Columbian Exchange resulted in a widespread movement of humans, plants and animals between the Old and New Worlds. The late 15th to early 16th century transfer of cattle from the Iberian Peninsula and Canary Islands to the Caribbean laid the foundation for the development of American creole cattle (Bos taurus) breeds. Genetic analyses of modern cattle from the Americas reveal a mixed ancestry of European, African and Indian origins. Recent debate in the genetic literature centers on the ‘African’ haplogroup T1 and its subhaplogroups, alternatively tying their origins to the initial Spanish herds, and/or from subsequent movements of taurine cattle through the African slave trade. We examine this problem through ancient DNA analysis of early 16th century cattle bone from Sevilla la Nueva, the first Spanish colony in Jamaica. In spite of poor DNA preservation, both T3 and T1 haplogroups were identified in the cattle remains, confirming the presence of T1 in the earliest Spanish herds. The absence, however, of “African-derived American” haplotypes (AA/T1c1a1) in the Sevilla la Nueva sample, leaves open the origins of this sub-haplogroup in contemporary Caribbean cattle.

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Article
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A Reassessment of Bergmann's Rule in Modern Humans

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

It is widely accepted that modern humans conform to Bergmann's rule, which holds that body size in endothermic species will increase as temperature decreases. However, there are reasons to question the reliability of the findings on which this consensus is based. One of these is that the main studies that have reported that modern humans conform to Bergmann's rule have employed samples that contain a disproportionately large number of warm-climate and northern hemisphere groups. With this in mind, we used latitudinally-stratified and hemisphere-specific samples to re-assess the relationship between modern human body size and temperature. We found that when groups from north and south of the equator were analyzed together, Bergmann's rule was supported. However, when groups were separated by hemisphere, Bergmann's rule was only supported in the northern hemisphere. In the course of exploring these results further, we found that the difference between our northern and southern hemisphere subsamples is due to the limited latitudinal and temperature range in the latter subsample. Thus, our study suggests that modern humans do conform to Bergmann's rule but only when there are major differences in latitude and temperature among groups. Specifically, groups must span more than 50 degrees of latitude and/or more than 30°C for it to hold. This finding has important implications for work on regional variation in human body size and its relationship to temperature.

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Article
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High Potential for Using DNA from Ancient Herring Bones to Inform Modern Fisheries Management and Conservation

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) are an abundant and important component of the coastal ecosystems for the west coast of North America. Current Canadian federal herring management assumes five regional herring populations in British Columbia with a high degree of exchange between units, and few distinct local populations within them. Indigenous traditional knowledge and historic sources, however, suggest that locally adapted, distinct regional herring populations may have been more prevalent in the past. Within the last century, the combined effects of commercial fishing and other anthropogenic factors have resulted in severe declines of herring populations, with contemporary populations potentially reflecting only the remnants of a previously more abundant and genetically diverse metapopulation. Through the analysis of 85 archaeological herring bones, this study attempted to reconstruct the genetic diversity and population structure of ancient herring populations using three different marker systems (mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), microsatellites and SNPs). A high success rate (91%) of DNA recovery was obtained from the extremely small herring bone samples (often <10 mg). The ancient herring mtDNA revealed high haplotype diversity comparable to modern populations, although population discrimination was not possible due to the limited power of the mtDNA marker. Ancient microsatellite diversity was also similar to modern samples, but the data quality was compromised by large allele drop-out and stuttering. In contrast, SNPs were found to have low error rates with no evidence for deviations from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and simulations indicated high power to detect genetic differentiation if loci under selection are used. This study demonstrates that SNPs may be the most effective and feasible approach to survey genetic population structure in ancient remains, and further efforts should be made to screen for high differentiation markers.This study provides the much needed foundation for wider scale studies on temporal genetic variation in herring, with important implications for herring fisheries management, Aboriginal title rights and herring conservation.

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Article
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High Precision U/Th Dating of First Polynesian Settlement

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Previous studies document Nukuleka in the Kingdom of Tonga as a founder colony for first settlement of Polynesia by Lapita peoples. A limited number of radiocarbon dates are one line of evidence supporting this claim, but they cannot precisely establish when this event occurred, nor can they afford a detailed chronology for sequent occupation. High precision U/Th dates of Acropora coral files (abraders) from Nukuleka give unprecedented resolution, identifying the founder event by 2838±8 BP and documenting site development over the ensuing 250 years. The potential for dating error due to post depositional diagenetic alteration of ancient corals at Nukuleka also is addressed through sample preparation protocols and paired dates on spatially separated samples for individual specimens. Acropora coral files are widely distributed in Lapita sites across Oceania. U/Th dating of these artifacts provides unparalleled opportunities for greater precision and insight into the speed and timing of this final chapter in human settlement of the globe.

Document type: 
Article