I’m very busy Holy Daying, which means I’m writing less. But I’m thinking more to make up for it! I’m looking forward to a new year of subverting conventional wisdom and pointing out the archaeological howlers as they come down the pike. In that vein, I’ve some New Year’s resolutions. They’ll take concerted research to bootstrap myself in a couple of empirical domains with which I’m unfamiliar. Sometimes I feel like Toad in The Wind in the Willows. You know, out for a drive in his roadster, drunk with power and careering off every fence post, cenotaph, and mail box in the countryside. Didn’t Toad end up in gaol?
But I digress. Back to the future.
I think there’s something not right about the record of fire in the Middle Palaeolithic. But I’m neither a chemist nor a geologist, so wish me luck with that! I’m not sure, but we could be dealing with spontaneous combustion. Not the little old lady out shopping, X-files kind of spontaneous combustion! I mean the kind that happens in compost heaps and manure piles. I’m gonna need all the help I can get with that one!
I’d also like to find someone–anyone–with data on the Neanderthal cribriform plate. I believe that knowing the dimensions of that structure will reveal much about the H. neanderthalensis olfactory sensitivity in comparison to that of modern humans. Iain Davidson put me on to an article published in the December 13, 2011 issue of Nature Communications, in which the authors make the claim that their
[t]hree-dimensional geometric morphometric analyses of endobasicranial shape reveal previously undocumented details of evolutionary changes in Homo sapiens. Larger olfactory bulbs…appear unique to modern humans.
The paper is ‘Evolution of the base of the brain in highly encephalized human species,’ by M. Bastir, A. Rosas, P. Gunz, A. Peña-Melian, G. Manzi, K. Harvati, R. Kruszynski, C. Stringer & J.-J. Hublin.
That’s a formidable cadré, and I’m probably in over my head, statistically speaking, having mastered everything up to, but not including multi-variate analyses in all their variety. However, the sense that I get from Bastir et al. is that they first ‘normed’ the data to avoid monitoring allometry, and then compared the derived metrics across hominid species. If so, it’s probable that the absolute measurements would reveal a Neanderthal cribriform plate that’s larger than ours. And, given the existence of research claiming that it is the absolute size of the cribriform plate that determines olfactory sensitivity in mammals, it might yet be possible to discover if the Neanderthals had a sniffer superior to yours and mine.
I’ve written to the corresponding author, hoping to persuade him to pass along any hard numbers they might have acquired. Unfortunately I used my work email and the uni is closed until the 3rd of January.
So, stick around. 2012 is gonna be interesting! [For me, if for no one else!]