Friday, August 27, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 4

Around the web this week: new aggregators and a few groups you may have missed, a biological look at why we like spicy foods, excitement over blubber concrete, dolphin snot can be useful, and flour helps us understand Paleoindian social life.

First, there are some great tools and services available for science readers. Last Thursday, a science blog aggregator to end all science blog aggregators burst onto the scene. was built by Anton Zuiker, Bora Zivkovic, and Dave Munger, and pulls in RSS feeds from many science blogging networks, group blogs, and services. Currently, it does not include independent blogs but Anton, Bora, and Dave have indicated that they would like to do so in the future, and have invited suggestions on form and functionality.

Some other science groups and sites that may be of interest are LabSpaces and Science Park. Social science fans may be interested in Sympoze, which I learned about from Neuroanthropology's Wednesday Round Up. And there are lots of others. If you're partial to one, please share it in the comments below.

Okay, on to the business at hand. After you've investigated the networks above, stop by Thomas' Plant Related Blog for a biological discussion on why some like it hot. Last month, I presented a socio-historical look at this same question using Rozin's (1997) Why We Eat What We Eat, And Why We Worry About it. Thomas discusses a paper that suggests people use spices for their antiseptic properties. Thomas doesn't agree with the suggested study fully:
The ‘secondary compounds’ which give spices their various, powerful flavours, are probably part of the plants’ defences against pests and diseases, so it’s not a great surprise that they’d work against other bacteria.
He does a fair job of discussing the paper and making suggestions for future research. And it's included here to add an alternative perspective to my earlier writing.

Next, Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology has a very excited colleague who has found blubber concrete. I had never heard of blubber concrete before this post, but the excitement in the email Martin received is hard to overlook:
Does anyone remember the burnt bubbly lumps we found under the hut floor at the 85 m a.s.l. site in Tyresta? Now Sven Isaksson of the Archaeological Research Lab has done a chemical analysis, and the results are awesome: there are remains of marine fat in the lumps! It's di-hydroxi fatty acids and isoprenoid fatty acids among other things. The latter fats are made by plankton and then wander up the food chain. Alkyl-phenyl fatty acids are there as well, and they're a decompositional product of marine fatty acids. Holy shit!
And in case you're wondering, blubber concrete results from boiling blubber for oil. Oil that is spilled, or in this case fat that is burned in the hearth, mixes with debris and hardens over time to make, you got it, blubber concrete. (I'm sure there is someone out there who can explain this better than I did—you are certainly welcome to chime in!)

We'll stick to marine animals for a moment and listen while Brian Switek tells us about the usefulness of dolphin snot:
(T)he air expelled through dolphin blowholes – simply called “blow” – contains lung surfactant (a mix of proteins and lipids), respiratory fluid, lung cells, and other biological materials. A previous study carried out by C.J. Hogg showed that the presence of reproductive hormones could be detected by analyzing dolphin blow, and subsequent studies have used blow to examine disease in these marine mammals.
Brian takes the reader through a study investigating whether this material might be useful for genetic tests. Prior to this discovery, tissue samples were obtained via biopsies and there were concerns about injuring the dolphins. It seems like this method may be a good alternative—now it's a matter of getting wild dolphins to blow.

And finally, Julien of A Very Remote Period Indeed discusses a few studies about flour and the diversity of Paleoindian diets. Excavations in Utah show that seeds were being milled to produce flour, which adds to our understanding of social life for these groups:
This means that plant material could be preserved and stored for much longer periods of time, which effectively can provide carbs during seasons such as winter during which they are normally difficult if not impossible to obtain. Also, it provides a subsistence items that serves as a buffer against the fluctuating availability of other types of subsistence resources, such as animal tissue. Lastly, because flour is easily ingested and digested, it also provides a foodstuff that both very young and very old members of a group can consume - and maybe even produce while adults are off procuring other things.
Well, that's all for this time.  Remember readers, you're also invited to send me interesting reads that may be featured here. You can message me on Twitter @anthinpractice or send me an email during the week if you come across something you'd like to share.

Also, let me know what you think of The Anthro Reader! We're in week four of this new link sharing venture and I'd like to know your thoughts on this collection. Let me know if you'd like me to do something differently and/or if this is of value to you.

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