Scientists have recently mapped and published the genetic code of the Bonobo Chimpanzee (Pan paniscus); our closely related primate cousins. Bonobo Chimps, sometimes called pygmy or gracile chimpanzees, share 98.7% of their DNA with human beings (on par with the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes. The two species of chimpanzee share more than 99% of their genetic code, but have clearly distinct social constructions and inherent behaviors.
Common chimpanzees are characterized by not only their intelligence, but their often violent (sometimes inexplicably so) behavior. Whereas their primate “siblings,” Bonobos, are inherently peaceful, egalitarian, and matriarchal (the only group of great apes with a female-focal social construct).
Scientists hope that these new genetic revelations will help us to understand concepts of ‘inherently human’ behavior – specifically concepts of empathy, cooperation, and peaceful negotiation (all behaviors human beings can and do express).
“If you look at bonobos, chimpanzees and humans, what you can see is that there are some specific characteristics that we share with both of them.”
Scientists hope to study the genetic distinctions to help understand what is inherent versus learned social behavior that we may have genetically inherited from our distant, primate ancestors. To learn more about this research, see the articles: “‘Hippie Chimp’ DNA may shed light on our Dark Side” at MSNBC and Bonobo’s Genetic Code Laid Bare at the BBC.
This month’s Scientific American highlights the forensic lab of Dr. Ann Helen Ross, whose lab specializes in identifying the remains, cause of death, or obtaining evidence from murder cases that boggle typical investigations.
Using what, to the lay person, might appear gruesome techniques (including removing soft tissue with harsh chemicals), Dr. Ross and her time help to provide evidence to investigators pertaining to unsolved murder cases (a disturbing number involving children).
To read more about the how forensic anthropology helps solve real life crime, read the short article at Scientific American blog or the longer version in October’s issue (requires a subscription).
Jennifer Barber, a Masters student at the University of Dundee, is reconstructing the face of a young boy that lived in Norway more than 500 years ago. Using forensic arts, she is reconstructing the soft tissue and features of the boy’s face based on the original skeletal features using a series of skull x-rays.
“People are drawn to faces. The Viste Boy will probably attract attention in a future exhibition at the museum, bringing the story of Vistehola, the Viste Boy and the other people who lived there more alive for visitors.”
To learn more about this project, see the article in Science Daily.
Archaeologists at UC San Diego, La Jolla are currently battling for the privilege to study two human skeletons, more than 9,000 years old, recovered during a construction projector at the Chancellor’s home.
The conflict has brought to the head current controversial issues involving NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act), which gives primary consideration to local tribes (regardless of biological or cultural affiliation with remains or artifacts). Handing the skeletons over to local tribes would permanently bar scientists from studying the remains.
“To give them away without study, would be like throwing the genetic crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas in the ocean,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who is among about a half dozen researchers who have unsuccessfully sought in recent months to sample or study the bones. “It would be a major loss for all, including Native Americans.”
Current representations of the 12-Tribes (the powerful tribal council in the region) has demanded repatriation of the bones immediately in accordance with current laws and practice. This case may serve as a turning point for archaeologists and scientists that have long contested the validity of NAGPRA.
Read the full article on Wired.
Archaeologists in Oklahoma are being employed by the state to collect data and evidence in murder cases.
Read about this innovative program in KFOR article.
Today, France has returned the first in a series of Mummified remains to New Zealand. The tatooed, mummified head of an 18th century Maori Warrior is on its way home after a long, drawn-out legal battle with the French Government; a move hailed by most as a step forward in relations with Indigenous Peoples and Archaeological ownership.
“This is a great step forward in a vital ethical debate over our museum collections, and above all over human remains that were at times acquired illegitimately,” said Valerie Fourneyron, Mayor of Rouen.
The head will receive further scientific attention in New Zealand before it is reburied with full Maori honors and traditions. You can read about the story in this Reuters Article.