In The Field

AAPA: Clothing, skulls, and more genetics

Clothing Origins

A study of the evolution of lice has been used to date the possible origin of human clothing.

Previously, researchers have opined that clothing was developed from 40,000 to 1.2 million years ago. The 40,000 year old time was considered the strongest candidate. But there is little direct evidence for the first clothing.

These estimates took into account the fact humans lost their full-coat body hair about 1.2 million years ago; and hide scrapping – indicating development of leather – has been traced to about 780,000 years ago.

Now the lice study suggests the origin of clothing was 190,000 years ago, Andrew Kitchen of Pennsylvania State University told the AAPA meeting. This would put clothing development in the early days of modern humans and Neanderthals.

Kitchen used a Bayesian coalescent modeling approach to examine mutations in a dataset of human head and clothing lice. His group found that head and clothing lice initially diverged at 190,000 years ago, inferred as the time of the first clothing.

“This suggests that the use of rudimentary clothing likely originated with anatomically modern humans in Africa, even though several species of archaic Homo already occupied northern latitudes at that time,” he says.

Skulls Repatriated

Historically, repatriation of human remains from museums to native groups can be contentious. A recent international repatriation case shows how smoothly a transfer can go.

The remains included a dozen skulls, a skeleton and bloodied artifacts taken by an anthropologist in 1902 from Yaquis in Sonora, Mexico – after federal troops killed at least 125 men, women and children at Sierra Mazatan. In that era, the Yaquis were enslaved for field work and brutalized by the dictatorial Mexican government.

The repatriation by the American Museum of Natural History in New York to Mexico last November is detailed in an AAPA poster by Heidi Bauer-Clapp, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her Amherst co-author Ventura Perez initiated the project after learning the remains and bloody blankets were at the American Museum.

Beginning in 2007, Perez worked with Andrew Darling of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, who put the team in touch with Yaquis near the massacre site east of Hermosillo, Sonora. Yaqui tribal members traveled to New York for a ceremony, and then the bones were returned for internment in Vicam, Sonora.

Early anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka cut off the heads and defleshed them shortly after the massacre. The bones then were stored away at the museum with little scrutiny, noted Bauer-Clapp.

She said the crude collection methods limited the ability to study the living experiences and stresses endured by the victims. Recent tests confirmed the blood was human, but no DNA analysis was conducted.

Genetics Training

Researchers from the American Association for Anthropological Genetics [AAAG], a 70-person organization also meeting with the AAPA, announced it is planning a series of annual educational workshops to provide instruction to anthropologists on rapidly developing genetics and genomics techniques.

AAAG also sponsored a seminar on social/environmental aspects of anthropology research increasingly meshing with genetic techniques on human variation, population structure, phenotype analysis [including race], and disease susceptibility.

Posted on behalf of Rex Dalton


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