Online primate anatomy lab exercise

I work at a very freshly opened University in Kazakhstan, a school so young that we will not graduate our first class for another year. I came here for the exciting prospects of helping establish an anthropology program, but there are lots of challenges, too. One of the biggest I face as an educator is that infrastructure and other physical materials are still in the process of coming together. Simply put: we don’t got no bones! This is especially troublesome when teaching human evolution, an anatomy-oriented class in which students really can benefit from examining physical bones and casts of fossils first-hand.

So until we get our badass laboratory of anthropological sciences, I’ve put together a lab activity using the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute’s online database of CT scans (blogged about before here and here). The purpose of this activity is to show students ‘virtual’ primate skeletons that they can examine, look inside, and even measure. The KUPRI CT viewers allow students to identify structures, rotate and orient the skeletons, and measure using a handy grid function. While I love this resource, I’ll admit that the program can be a bit unwieldy, and so it takes some time to figure out how to use well.

Measure that gibbon radius!

Measure that gibbon radius!

In this exercise, students will measure cranial width, femur head diameter, and maximum length of the humerus, radius, femur, and tibia. Cranium width is then used to estimate cranial capacity (based on chimps, from Neubauer et al., 2012); femur head diameter allows estimation of body mass (using anthropoid regressions from Ruff, 2003); and the limb dimensions are used to calculate various indices. The class as a whole will look at apes and monkeys, for comparison with published values for other species. Then we’ll gather ’round the campfire to talk about our feelings about it. I’m hoping it will get them familiar with the basic anatomy and names of bones, some experience collecting data, and some understanding of variation between different species.

Best of all, each student will write up their ‘analysis’ on the NU Bioanthro Student blog next week. Stay tuned to see their results!

So, I’m attaching the exercise to this post – feel free to use or modify. If you have any other similar exercises, the rest of the internet and I would be happy to hear about them

Download me: Primate CT lab! [updated 06 Feburary, to fix issues with brain and body size estimation equations in previous version]

A new year of bioanthro student blogging in Kazakhstan

A new year is upon us, our hair is a bit grayer and our telomeres a touch trimmer. Twenty effing fourteen.

It’s been a bit quiet here at Lawnchair, as I’ve been enjoying the holidays, but also writing a few things up for print. If I weren’t so old and wise, I’d make a New Year’s resolution to add to the blog more frequently. But I have a nascent career to attend to! So in the mean time, with the new year and semester, I’m adding two new courses to the Nazarbayev University bioanthro student blog that can hopefully keep you entertained & edumacated.

The wintry curtain rises for 2014 in Astana.

The wintry curtain rises for 2014 in Astana.

The first batch of student-written posts for the class “Bones, stones and genomes: Human Evolution” will go up on Monday. There will be a slight lull for a few weeks until this class, as well as “Monkey business: Primate behavior and ecology,” start posting in February. In addition to what’s already been posted by last year’s classes, the human evolution class will be adding posts focused on specific bones and fossils, while the primatology class will be adding article reviews/summaries.

So stay tuned to in the coming months! (I should also have more fun new things to say here at Lawnchair, too)

Introducing a biological anthropology student blog in Kazakhstan

I’m excited to announce a new blog authored by students in my Introduction to Biological Anthropology course here at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. The goals of this project are manifold, namely: [1] to familiarize students with the blogosphere, and open their eyes to the vast amounts of academic material available – much of it good but lots of it junk – through this and other social media; [2] to help them develop skills in scientific/academic literacy, and more importantly writing and communication; and [3] to show off to the rest of the internet how talented our students are here at NU.

The site is called “Biological Anthropology @,” and can be found at You can follow the class on Twitter, too (@BioAnthNUeduKZ) to stay up to date on students’ posts. Assuming this pilot semester goes well, I hope to continue the blog and twitter feed for future semesters of this, and other, bio anthro courses at NU.

The first set of posts are going up as we speak: students’ first impressions and expectations for the course, sort of a literary ‘before’ half of a ‘before-and-after’ segment. This semester-long series will culminate in a set of abstracts for mini-grant proposals for research projects that students will devise and write themselves. So stay tuned over the next four months, as these incipient anthropologists post their thoughts, reactions and research on a wide range of topics in this highly interdisciplinary field!

I’m planning on doing a similar blogging project with another course this term, too (Critical Issues in the Humanities and Social Sciences). Details to follow…