Australopithecus boisei bites

I always wondered what our extinct relative, Australopithecus boisei tasted like, until I moved to Kazakhstan.

2015-03-11 21.38.26

Mini calotte, or manti?

Here, dumplings with various fillings are called “manti” and usually have a distinct crimping running across the top. Along with their broad flaring bases and dome-like shapes, this gives manti the appearance of miniature A. boisei brain cases replete with sagittal crests:

They all look so delicious!

They all look so delicious! Fillings from left to right: lamb, pumpkin+lamb, mushrooms ewwwww.

In case you had trouble discerning braincase from блюдо, calotte from закуски in the pic, check out and see if their handy, free 3D scans of fossils OH 5 and ER 406 help you figure it out.

Summer cooking science: Gazpacho

Summer is a trying time for me. Many people take the time to relax, do things they couldn’t during the academic year. I do that, but I also get really restless. I try to do all that relaxing or different stuff at the same time, which just overwhelms me. I even have a hard time focusing on working on the dissertation (australopithecine growth and development; more on that in future post, promise). The academic year forces upon me a self-discipline whose bonds I break to become a directionless, scatterbrain piece of crap once summer begins. Although, I have been running a ton.

But sometimes I can force myself to focus on a small task for just long enough to be “productive.” The other day it was kitchen science. I’m not much of a cook (“add butter” that’s my meal-time motto), but thought I’d (re)try my hand at making gazpacho, a summery soup. But as part of my summer attention issues alluded to above, I didn’t have the patience to follow a recipe. I decided to exercise my human ability to do things my own way even though I don’t know what I’m doing and others before me have already successfully invented the wheel, as it were. I’d made some gazpacho last year based on a recipe, so I figured I’d just try to recall what I did then. I used fancy orange tomatoes last year, and although delicious to eat, it looked something like this (not what it’s s’posta look like). This year, my gazpacho debacle would be scientific because I’m testing the null hypothesis that my cavalier approach to cooking will turn out no different than real recipes.
So first we gather up some ingredients: some exotic looking (but bland) peppers (Hungarian or cubanelle), a more banal looking but better tasting orange pepper, tomatos, onion, cucumber, and an avocado for its beloved fat. Rye pale ale is not mixed in with the veggies, but drunk until everything sounds like a good idea. Next, go Lizzie Borden on the veggies until they’re all diced up. Puree about half the abomination in a blender and pour the puree into a bowl or pitcher. Dump into the blended glop those diced veggies whom you’ve spared a cuisinartistic demise. Maybe throw in some spices or something. Then let sit in the fridge for hours. HOURS! Who could wait that long?
The results (to the left) show a few things (the milk on the right is not mine, I only drink half-and-half). First, I reject my null hypothesis, that that my version of gazpacho would be identical (in color and texture) to Ina Garten’s. Second, and more interestingly, the mixture looks fairly similar to last year’s recipe (which did look like barf), even though I used slightly different sets of ingredients. It is also delicious in spite of its appearance (what’s that they say, about judging covers and burning books)? And as a friend once told me, “hey, it all looks the same on the inside [of your stomach].”
I think this second attempt at gazpacho, and my first summer edible experiment, ultimately demonstrates that I should never be allowed to cook for anyone ever again.
If you have any killer summer recipes, feel free to share!


Some fun new things in anthropology of late. For starters, friend and colleague Adam Van Arsdale co-authored a paper recently released in Journal of Human Evolution about variation in the Dmanisi mandibles <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE Rightmire19819817Rightmire, G. PhilipVan Arsdale, Adam P.Lordkipanidze, DavidVariation in the mandibles from Dmanisi, GeorgiaJournal of Human EvolutionJournal of Human EvolutionIn Press, Corrected ProofSystematicsRandom resamplingDimorphismPeriodontal diseaseSpeciesHomo erectus <![endif]–>(Rightmire et al.)<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. Dmanisi, in the Republic of Georgia and dating to about 1.77 mya, is interesting because the human fossils (Homo erectus) there represent the earliest definite excursions of hominins outside of Africa. Also interesting is the fact that the assemblage very likely represents a “paleodeme,” i.e. an actual living population. It was recently reported <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE de Lumley200815015017de Lumley, Marie-AntoinetteBardintzeff, Jacques-MarieBienvenu, PhilippeBilcot, Jean-BaptisteFlamenbaum, GuyGuy, ChristopheJullien, Michelde Lumley, HenryNabot, Jean-PhilippePerrenoud, ChristianProvitina, OlivierTourasse, MartineImpact probable du volcanisme sur le décès des Hominidés de DmanissiComptes Rendus PalevolComptes Rendus Palevol61-7971DmanissiGéorgieHomo georgicusÉruption volcaniqueTéphrasÉtiologie des décèsVictimes du volcanismeDmanisiGeorgiaHomo georgicusVolcanic eruptionTephrasDeath aetiologyVictims of volcanism2008 <![endif]–>(de Lumley et al. 2008)<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> that the Dmanisi hominins were probably a single group that was trapped quickly in a volcanic catastrophe—bad for them, good for paleontologists. So, Philip Rightmire, our friend Adam and David Lordkipandize have written a paper in response to an earlier paper suggesting that the size variation in the Dmanisi mandibles was so great that it represents more than one taxon. Rightmire and colleagues demonstrated, I think convincingly, that much of this ‘dimorphism’ is likely the result of taphonomic (the D2100 mandible is broken inferiorly), pathological and ontogenetic factors (the D2600 mandible is huge, possibly due to its advanced age and “pathology associated with dental wear”). So Dmanisi is pretty sweet: very early Homo all the way out in Georgia at least 1.7 mya, and we have a good collection of what probably represents not just a single, dimorphic species, but an actual (sub)population. Kudos, Adam!

What else…Oh yes! Another recent study suggests that vertical climbing costs the same energy per unit of body-weight in primates <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE Hanna200820420417Hanna, Jandy B.Schmitt, DanielGriffin, Timothy M.The Energetic Cost of Climbing in PrimatesScienceScienceScience898-32058782008May 16, 2008 10.1126/science.1155504<![endif]–>(Hanna et al. 2008)<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. Jandy Hanna (no—apparently it’s not a pseudonym) and team MacGyvered a vertical climbing treadmill that also recorded energy expenditure (they had more than just a coat hanger, hock of Silly Putty and a tube sock), and subjected some small-bodied primates to some bouts of vertical climbing (man, anthropology can be sweet). They somehow also included humans in this study, but I’m not exactly clear on how yet, maybe I’ll consult their Supporting Material and get back to you on that. Anyway, they found that across the body sizes (from .17 kg to 1.4 kg) vertical climbing efficiency is more or less equal; humans fall within the confidence limits. Which is cool because as primates increase in body size they become more efficient at walking. This is because increased body size is associated with longer legs, requiring less muscle activity to keep moving. What does this mean? This suggests to the authors that the very earliest primates (Back to the Eocene) were probably very, very small-bodied, and this small size allowed them to move into a vertical-climbing niche with little to no energetic cost. It would be really interesting to see this study performed on more primate taxa, especially larger body sizes, maybe comparing monkeys to apes.

Finally, apparently the verdict is in: “Great Apes prefer cooked food” <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE Wobber20320317Wobber, VictoriaHare, BrianWrangham, RichardGreat apes prefer cooked foodJournal of Human EvolutionJournal of Human EvolutionIn Press, Corrected ProofCookingDietHominid evolutionTubersMeat <![endif]–>(Wobber et al.)<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. I could have told you that, I mean think: a delicious medium steak vs. crappy, uncooked, parasite-teeming jungle fruit? The point was to test the hypothesis that food preparation in the form of cooking probably occurred and was widely accepted quickly after hominins garnered control of fire. Richard Wrangham (3rd author on the paper) has been into the idea that cooked food was superlatively important in the course of human evolution (see “Out of the Pan and into the fire” in Tree of Origin, edited by Franz de Waal (2001)), and I suppose here he set out to examine the issue scientifically. I’m not terribly informed about or interested in this issue, though it is a bit neat. Basically they went to the Yerkes primate research facility in Hottlanta and the Leipzig Zoo and gave chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans free-will choices between raw and cooked tubers processed various ways. Most of the time the cooked tuber (or apples or beef, in some cases) was selected, and eureka there’s proof that early hominins had this inherent preference for something about cooked food, appeasing the Chef Boyardee inside them. They end with, “Overall, our findings conform to evidence that wild chimpanzees choose seeds that have been heated by wild fires (Brewer, 1978), demonstrating that great apes possess a preference for cooked items” (Wobber et al., in press). Well, maybe. I think cooked seeds are a bit different from cooked tubers and meat. Plus, these tests were all conducted on captive apes, many of whom had eaten cooked food before, sometimes regularly. I know it’s less feasible, but it would be more convincing if somehow wild apes could have been tested with foods they’d be most likely to encounter in the wild.

What the paper didn’t address, and which I think is much more interesting, is how (and when) exactly these early hominins would have cooked food. Bear with me. So you’re a hominin with fire—did you make it or did you find it naturally somehow?—and you know that it’s super effing hot, it can harden sticks, it scares away some predators, and that generally when things go into it they don’t come out of it. Why the hell would you throw your hard-earned food into it? Perhaps the earliest chefs noticed that wild-fire heated foods (cf. the chimps, above) were preferable to raw ones, for whatever reason, and maybe they started trying it with multiple foods. Ok, but how did they cook? In Wobber et al.’s experiment the tubers were oven-baked, but I don’t think they had Kenmore ovens in the Pleistocene. I don’t know, maybe I’m over-thinking this (I usually do), but I think what’s much more interesting, and admittedly more difficult to find out and test, is how the earliest cooking would have been done. Honestly I thought this paper was a bit silly. I mean if you want to go to the zoo, you don’t have to come up with an experiment. The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is free—and they have a one-armed gibbon that is super sweet.

Anyway, that’s the news hereabouts. Oh, Jerry De Silva just successfully defended his PhD dissertation, and his talk was really cool and informative (it was about climbing and feet, and you know how I love climbing). This Wednesday Robin Nelson will be defending her dissertation, and although I’m no psychic, no Johnny Carson, I’m pretty confident that her talk will be interesting and that she will defend successfully. So congratulations to Jerry and (prematurely) to Robin! Oh, and Kristen got a job and her research grant, so Kudos to her, too. And I’m gonna run my first half-marathon in a week and a half. Sweet.


<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.REFLIST <![endif]–>de Lumley M-A, Bardintzeff J-M, Bienvenu P, Bilcot J-B, Flamenbaum G, Guy C, Jullien M, de Lumley H, Nabot J-P, Perrenoud C, Provitina O, Tourasse M (2008) Impact probable du volcanisme sur le décès des Hominidés de Dmanissi. Comptes Rendus Palevol 7(1):61-79

Hanna JB, Schmitt D, Griffin TM (2008) The Energetic Cost of Climbing in Primates. Science 320(5878):898-

Rightmire GP, Van Arsdale AP, Lordkipanidze D Variation in the mandibles from Dmanisi, Georgia. Journal of Human Evolution In Press, Corrected Proof

Wobber V, Hare B, Wrangham R Great apes prefer cooked food. Journal of Human Evolution In Press, Corrected Proof<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>