Sunday, 3 June 2012

Don't use the term "Bird Brained" as an insult

Two items in this week's NewsScientist caught my eye as being particularly interesting. The first was a study by Bhart-Anjan Dullar of Harvard University which has been comparing the shape and capacity of adult and juvenile dinosaurs with those of extinct and modern birds. He suggests that the bird's skull has features more like juvenile dinosaurs and suggests that by retaining juvenile features longer allows the brain to grow more, for the same reason that human skull development retains juvenile features to allow the brain to continue to grow after birth.  

The other was a review of the book Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff, which comes out early in June. Adrian Bennett ended the review "A challenge to our fully fledged cultural prejudices, Gifts of the Crow provides a new perspective on what is happening inside those sleek, black-feathered skills" and I couldn't stop myself placing a pre-publication order as I love anything which encourages you to think outside the box, especially if it relates to the evolution of the brain. Once the book has arrived I will be back to this blog to post my own assessment of it.

Two other articles caught my eye because of the light they appear to throw on the spread of culture as civilization developed. Having visited a number of Neolithic long barrows the report of Julian Thomas' recent conference paper on recent developments in our understanding of the spread of cultural elements some 6000 years ago was intriguing. The article points out that "the question of whether innovations such as domesticating plants and animals, and making pots, polished stone tools and monuments were introduced from the continent by a migrating population - or adopted b indigenous hunter gathers" has still to be answered.

The magazine article Time flows uphill for the Yupno deals with language of a tribe in Papua New Guinea where there are no roads, and where they have no domestic animals to work the land. "They live with very little contact with the Western World" Perhaps they were living a similar way to the indigenous population of England at the start of the Neolithic period, and we could learn something about how culture spreads by looking at the picture in the magazine. There - slightly out of focus in the background - is an kettle sitting on a iron grid over the fire. But before we jump to any conclusions about how culture spreads there could be a problem. Can we be sure that the picture is a genuine picture of a Yupno tribesman in his own home - or is it just a library picture deemed to fit the bill by the editor!

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