Tag Archives: blogs

Around the Web – the Archaeology edition

Southeast Asian Prehistory

New DNA evidence overturns population migration theory in Island Southeast Asia

An international research team has discovered new DNA evidence to overturn conventional theories that suggest that the present-day populations of Island Southeast Asia (covering the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo) came from Taiwan 4,000 years ago. The researchers show that population dispersals came earlier, from within the region, and probably resulted from flooding.

So Bellwood might have been wrong… The Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis is such an important part of my Archaeology classes in Uni that we have almost swallowed it. I wonder what Bellwood’s reaction is regarding this particular study. Does he have a rebuttal?

Philippine Archaeology

Shard find in the Philippines show an ancient form of writing

An archaeological team has dug up a pot shard with an inscription around its shoulder, at the San Ignacio archeological site in Intramuros, Philippines, which shows an ancient form of writing.

This is a really cool finding. Evidence of ancient script is very rare in the Philippines. This makes the sherd (edited; shard? what was I thinking? It’s a sherd!!!) an important artifact.

South American Archaeology

500yr Old Inca Mummies Found Drugged

Archaeologists have found three Inca child mummies dating back to 500yrs on the top of the 22,000ft summit of the Mount Llullaillco volcano in Argentina. One of the mummies found is that of a thirteen year old girl, now dubbed as the ‘Llullaillaco Maiden’, the other two mummies are that of a boy and a girl aged around four years old. The mummy of Llullaillaco Maiden is remarkably preserved whereas the remains of the boy and the girl were struck by lightning and so are charred.

Sacrifices are very significant rituals in a lot of cultures around the world. (Note: I just want to give a sneak peak about something similar in the Philippines) In the Philippines, sacrifices of chickens, bulls or pigs are done as proxy for an actual human sacrifice. This is done to appease gods or spirits, to ensure good yield of crops, among others. I remember my Anthropology prof who told us a story about one of his informants. Seeing Manila, he made a comment that the reason why a lot of children die in Metro Manila is because no proper sacrifice and ritual was done for the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

European Archaeology

Archaeology: The milk revolution

The mystery potsherds sat in storage until 2011, when Mélanie Roffet-Salque pulled them out and analysed fatty residues preserved in the clay. Roffet-Salque, a geochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, found signatures of abundant milk fats — evidence that the early farmers had used the pottery as sieves to separate fatty milk solids from liquid whey. That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world1.

Here’s an article about how the consumption of milk evolved in Europe. It also answers how Europeans overcame lactose intolerance through the lactase gene, while other populations in the world did not.

Out-of-Taiwan (On the Spread of Austronesians in Southeast Asia)

The main model taught today in schools (as well as more than a decade ago when I was still in elementary) on constructing the origin of the Filipinos is Beyer’s Wave Migration TheoryH. Otley Beyer is one of the “big boss” in Philippine Anthropology. In fact, he taught the first Anthropology class in the Philippines and established the first Anthropology Department in University of the Philippines Diliman. You can say that he is well-respected and he did a lot of contributions to Philippine Archaeology. (Oh and he was the mentor of one of the best Filipino anthropologists, F. Landa Jocano).However, his wave-migration theory is considered outdated among the community of scholars. It’s primarily because he had no specific and tangible data to back up his theory.There are currently two opposing studies on the peopling of Southeast Asia — which of course, includes the Philippines. The Out-of-Taiwan theory of Peter Bellwood and Robert Blust, and the Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network by Wilhelm Solheim II. What I’m gonna discuss here (briefly) is the Out-of-Taiwan theory.In Peter Bellwood’s “The Origins and Dispersals of Agricultural Communities in Southeast Asia” , he says that individual islands from Southeast Asia did not develop agriculture within their boundaries. However, the dispersal of agriculture coincides with the migration of the Austronesians from Taiwan 5,000 years ago to the Philippines and Indonesia, then to the west reaching as far as Madagascar and then to the east populating much of Oceania. Peter Bellwood drew theories and data on Archaeology, Comparative Ethnography, Genetics and Linguistics – specifically from Robert Blust‘s model of the dispersal of the Austronesian language.

(image via www.smallislandnotesan.blogspot.com)

Taiwan, being the host of Austronesian language-diversity could’ve been the origin, as linguists would argue. Austronesian languages also have a lot of similarities that when reconstructed would trace back to Taiwan. Peter Bellwood also has evidenced of carbon dating of materials used by the Austronesians — pottery, adzes, spindle whorl, etc. — and it shows that there is indeed an emerging pattern. The oldest ones are from Taiwan, next is in the Philippines and Indonesia, and the youngest ones are in Oceania. And also evidently, there are close similarities in the cultures of people from Madagascar in the west to Easter Island in the east. There are however problems with using genetic evidences since there had been mixes among the Southern Mongoloid Austronesian speaking people and the Australo-Melanesians, which had inhabited some islands such as Philippines but never really conquered vast areas or islands.

Now all that remains is the question, why? Why did the Austronesians migrated and conquered a vast area. Peter Bellwood also answers this question.

Bellwood says that there is demographic advantage in maritime traveling among Austronesians as they were near a chain of islands. Hence, they were able to enhance and develop their maritime skills. Their agricultural skills also gave them an advantage in conquering other islands, since they could practically live anywhere. Being able to cultivate means that they would have stable supply of food once they move to another island. Also, there is a prestige factor in colonizing a different land. He called it the “founder-focused ideology”. However, the main thing – according to Bellwood – that pushed the migration of the Austronesians could have been the rising population densities of agriculturalists from China (the pre-Austronesians were said to be from Southern China) pushing these Austronesians to get in their boats and move out. But of course, this “moving out” isn’t like the exodus from Egypt. There might’ve been separate sailings from groups followed by another and another. Later on, there might’ve been also backward routes.

Bellwood says that the dispersal of the Austronesians is one of the most amazing feats in the world as they covered half of the world. In fact, Austronesian languages have the most number of speakers. However, as was said, the Out-of-Taiwan theory is still not accepted by all scholars. Wilhelm Solheim proposes a different theory — which I’ll try to discuss later.


Bellwood, P.(2004) “The Origins and Dispersals of Agricultural Communities in Southeast Asia” in P. Bellwood, I. Glover (eds) Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History, pp.21-40, Routledge

More stuff on the Out-Of-Taiwan theory:

Gut Bacteria, Language Analysis Solve Pacific Migration Mystery by Brandon Keim (Wired Science)

Out of Formosa (David from Formosa)

Dead Hand of the Comparative Method – 1
Dead Hand of the Comparative Theory – 2 – Out-of-Taiwan? (Austronesian Numbers Project)

Taiwan’s Gift to the World
 by Jared Diamond

Science: DNA goes missing in Polynesian triangle by Michael Brooke
Bugs and tongues reveal human march across Pacific by Ewen Callaway (NewScientist)

Around the Web


Drugs by Bryan Lewis Saunders

Bryan Lewis Saunders takes different sorts of drugs and expresses his experiences through art.


100 mg Seroquel

I’m surprised he can still draw after taking Seroquel. I used to take 10mg of it for my manic depression and it always made me feel dizzy, lethargic and all around crappy. Nevertheless, props for this man for being so brave in trying those drugs and chronicling his experiences. I wonder how far should a man go in the name of art?


The Internet is a surveillance state by Bruce Schneier

Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.

Bruce Schneier writes about how panopticons are now everywhere through the internet and it’s almost an impossibility to stop them. George Orwell would be surprised how efficiently his work of fiction has come to life. After I publish this, companies and government agencies are probably analyzing what I have written in this post. Unwanted collection of personal data really is creepy and rather scary.


Essentialism Revisited by John Wilkins

In fact it is my opinion that essentialism in biology postdates Darwin, and was in fact due to the revival of Thomism among German and French speaking Catholic biologists who were reacting to the metaphysical views of people like Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel.

John Wilkins talks about how essentialism in evolution is most probably not what we think it is. For one, he’s of the opinion that essentialism was not the norm in the pre-Darwinian era as most people believe and as stated by Ernst Mayr. In fact, it may be more of a post-Darwinian thing and even so, only a few people held it to be true.

If that’s the case, we have to change a whole bunch of textbooks. It would also give us a different perspective of the history of evolution. I wonder, if not essentialism, then what was the general paradigm before Darwin’s evolution? And was it really a backward paradigm compared to the Darwinian thinking?


Banned and Challenged Comics Revealed! by Betsy Gomez

Click on the link to see the list of banned and challenged comic books in the US. In all honesty I believe comic books are more than just a piece of entertainment. It is a reflection of life and reality so I don’t see the point of removing it from shelves. It may actually teach people a thing or two.


Around the Web

Gender and the Academe

Commanding positions by Jessica Shepherd

Shepherd reports on how some UK universities have opened doors for women to acquire administrative positions. Universities such as Oxford Brookes University and University of Winchester are one step ahead the gender equality ladder as they admit female chancellors, vice chancellors and other administrative offices. Shepherd also points out that women usually put off applying for an administrative office until they get better accomplishments. On the other hand, men are more of risk-takers when it comes to applying for a position.

In 2006, 42% of senior management posts in UK universities were held by women, while in 2003, 28% were, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. It might not be by much, but the percentage of professors who are female has also nudged ahead from 15% in 2003 to 17.5% in 2006. And it is the new universities, in particular the post-92s such as Oxford Brookes, that are leading the change.

Science, Technology and Society

Moral Machines by Gary Marcus

Driver-less cars may be what we see in the streets soon enough. But given a difficult situation, will this machine do the “right” thing?

Building machines with a conscience is a big job, and one that will require the coordinated efforts of philosophers, computer scientists, legislators, and lawyers. And, as Colin Allen, a pioneer in machine ethics put it, “We don’t want to get to the point where we should have had this discussion twenty years ago.” As machines become faster, more intelligent, and more powerful, the need to endow them with a sense of morality becomes more and more urgent.

Science (Or Pseudo-science?)

Piltdown Man and other phantom species by Rebekah Higgitt

Higgitt lists down the hoaxes that once entered the intellectual bank of human evolution.

Although the specimens were forgeries, the fact that they were named, illustrated, published and discussed meant that the species nevertheless achieved some sort of existence, at least for several decades. It feels a little as if there should be some sort of limbo, perhaps similar to the place that ballpoint pens and odd socks go, reserved for these phantom species.

Anthropology and the Academe

Maverick anthropologist’s memoir sparks fresh row over ancient Yanomami tribe by Paul Harris

(Image via The Guardian)

Controversy erupts (again) as the legendary Napoleon Chagnon publishes his book, Noble Savages. If you’re not familiar with Chagnon, refer to one of our previous posts here

Around the Web

Forgive the absence of your humble moderator. I’ve been busy and sick since last week. “Busy” and “sick” don’t go well together.

As an opening for my return, we’ll start off with another issue of Around the Web.


MIND in Pictures: Music to Your Brain

Here’s a fun illustration from Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham about how music affects the brain.

(Image via Scientific American Mind)


Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes

Design ethnographer An Xiao Mina writes about how social media, particularly tumblr and instagram, can be used in ethnography. This way, interaction among people around the world regarding a set of issues is faster and easier:

” In my mind, the benefit of live fieldnotes is the conversations that they spark.  Inevitably, someone on my Tumblr or Instagram feed makes a comment or asks a question that helps me clarify my thinking.  Even a simple “like” from a number of people indicates a general curiosity about something I posted.”

Human Evolution

Genetic Keys to Human Intelligence Revealed?

Dr. Schahram Akbarian along with the team from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that humans have certain neurons, differently regulated from the neurons of primates, that might be the reason for our “unique cognitive abilities”. The regulation of the DNA sequence of these neurons are different from our primate cousins but similar to our closest hominin relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. This may also give an explanation to the neurological diseases that only occur among humans.

“The key to the present study, led by Dr Schahram Akbarian of the University of Massachusetts and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was not to focus on the “letters” of the DNA code, but rather on what might be called its “font” or “typeface”. DNA strands of the genome are wrapped in protein to make achromatin fiber, and the way in which they are wrapped, the “chromatin state”, in turn reflects the regulatory state of that region of the genome (e.g. whether a given gene is turned on or off). This is the field that biologists call “epigenetics”—the study of the “epigenome”.”


Lastly, an argument for gay marriage from Foamy the Squirrel. (Full disclosure: I completely agree with this squirrel)