Blog Review: John Hawks Weblog

John Hawks is an associate professor of Anthropology and has an interesting blog titled ‘John Hawks Weblog. Paleoanthropology, Genetics and Evolution’ here. I’ve been following the blog for a while. Hawks has an encyclopedic knowledge of human evolution in all its complexity. Evolutionary theory forms the basis for an emerging model of psychiatric illness known as evolutionary psychiatry (see review here) which has an overlap with evolutionary psychology (see review here). There is a mission statement for the site here and an About section which explains Hawks approach to this area. Hawks has a perspective which involves dynamic changes in the genetics of populations. Indeed the statistical basis of this type of analysis is further discussed in posts such as this, or the mathematics of selection or this post which focuse on genetic drift maps displayed using Mathematica. However although Hawks has a deep understanding of evolution which is primarily informed by mathematics he avoids risking disengaging his readers by presenting them with the end results of this type of analysis in an accessible style.

In terms of the design of the blog, there are links to books on evolution on the right hand side of the screen. On the left there are links to FAQ’s, recent post, tags and a blogroll amongst other items. The central panel contains the articles which are dated, titled, referenced and tagged although comment disabled. In favour of a chronological index Hawks is able to draw the reader’s attention to posts focusing on specific themes. There is a subtext within the blog of how science is done and as well as discussing some of the politics in science Hawks also develops technical innovations such as this bibliographic database on his blog which makes use of LaTeX.

Hawks has a special interest in Neanderthals (or Neandertals as he prefers in this spelling debate) and he talks about them in this interview as well as in a number of other posts. Indeed the posts in which he discusses Neanderthals are extensive and this list is by no means exhaustive although it will become apparent that there are certain themes. An understanding of Neanderthals has come about through two broad approaches – the study of Neanderthal fossils (with associated tools and fauna) and the study of DNA (including mitochondrial DNA). There are an abundance of interesting posts about the genetic analysis of Neanderthals including the methylation of Neanderthal DNA, the El Sidron specimen mitochondrial DNA extraction , , the Mitochondria Neanderthal story parts 1 and 2 ,  commentary on Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA here and here, mitochondrial DNA adaptations in modern humans, the Neanderthal genome FAQ 2009, Neanderthal genome FAQs, . There are also numerous posts examining the many aspects of analysis of fossilised Neanderthal speciments: A discussion of a recent understanding of the structure of the Neanderthal ribcage, forensic analysis of a Shanidar specimen, dredging of a Neanderthal specimen from the North Sea, discussion of a Neanderthal mandible at an Aurignacian site with the implications,  the Lakonis Greek individual, the Neanderthal vocal tract , protein content of Neanderthal bones, muscle differences between humans, chimpanzees and Neanderthals, the El Sidron Neanderthal’s O group blood type, pigment use and symbolic behaviour, differences between Neanderthal populations, body mass, CBLM volume, the marine diet of Neanderthals, more on Neanderthal mobility, elephant hunting Neanderthals, Gorham’s cave, shellfish, nitrous oxide in Neanderthal sinuses, dental analysis of Croatian specimens and inference of lifespan, Neanderthals and red hair, a 120,000 year old Neanderthal hut, a discussion of the crossing of the Gibraltar strait, dating the Croatian specimens , comparison of human, Neanderthal and other hominid teeth , further discussion of Neanderthal teeth including the development of the Neanderthal teeth , nitrogen isotope dating and Neanderthals , hunting 12 foot camels ,  the mandibular ramus of Neanderthals, radiocarbon dating of Chatelperronnitrogen isotope dating and fish consumption (which can confound dating analysis), neanderthals and mammoths and dating the Mladec site.

There are a number of posts discussing high level concepts which move further from the data but which provide a richer perspective on Neanderthals in terms of behaviour or longer term population effects: Evidence of reduced Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA diversity over time, a discussion of genetic introgression, the 17q21.31 inversion and a discussion of introgression in relation to the Neanderthal genome, a number of other posts on introgression focusing on FOXP2, microcephalin FAQ’s and general issues on Neanderthal introgression (and here), ethical issues, interpretations of Neanderthals on the basis of multiple studies, genetic drift versus natural selection, myths of Neanderthals, Neanderthals and Kuru, Neanderthals and heat loss, gender and Neanderthal hunting and here and here, reconstruction of possible Neanderthal music, more on talking Neanderthals here, discussion of Neanderthal language here, comparing brown bear and Neanderthal colonisation, colonisation of arctic Europe (argument that this was humans), Pleistocene Europe as a population sink, New World founders, the Toba bottleneck, review of bottleneck studies, one interpretation of human and Neanderthal encounters, dental analysis of Qafzeh specimens (possibly not Neanderthal), 50,000 year old bedding material in a Georgian cave discussed here. Neanderthal extinction by competitive exclusion, coexistence with humans, the human revolution, an epic post on human expansion, report on a conference, the opening of the Krapina Neanderthal museum, analogies with Baboons and more on Neanderthal mobility are discussed in these posts.

However Hawks scope in both his work and this blog is much broader and the reader will find a wealth of very interesting material which has a wider expanse than some of the impressive blogs previously reviewed (e.g see here and here). Hawks discusses various aspects of the human genome (as well as genetic associations) and posts include recent selection in the human genome, an inversion on chromosome 17 (see also above), a brief article looks at political developments in personal genomics and a further article here (see also this blog), Viking surnames and Y Chromosomes, he gives an insight into how the number of genes in the human genome have been estimated in this post, Bronze age german human DNA surviving to present day are discussed here while there is more on introgression here (see above also), vocal productions in a FOXP2 transgenic murine model, HACSN1 gene conservation here, 13,000 people on the volunteer waiting list for the Personal Genome Project, the international HAP map, genetic differentiation here, estimation of mutation rates and evolutionary theory while in this post Hawks has some interesting comments about genomes and medicine.

Basic questions about humanity are asked and answers examined in these posts: Discussion of the hypothesis that human evolution has accelerated here, here and here, commentary on continuing human evolution, defining human, producing an evolutionary narrative, discussion of the question did humans face extinction 70,000 years ago? Hawks breadth of knowledge is exemplified by his consideration of the relevance of miocene apes to human evolution, discussions of ardipithecus and detailed analyses of pleistocene pleicestocene hominids as well as everything in between. Hawks examines issues related to primatology in a number of posts including the primate origins of morality, chimp spear hunting here, the hypothesis of independence of ‘theory of mind‘ and episodic memory, a critique of aquatic ape theory, Broca’s area and Chimpanzees here, brain expansion in A Bosei,  analysing reconstruction of ancient hominids is discussed in this post, right handed baboon gestures, as well as comparison of chimpanzee and human FOXP2 genes discussed here. Early hominids are discussed in some detail as in some of these posts: An interview about Ardipithecus here, Olduvai hominids here, analysis of Homo Erectus pelvis reconstruction, use of Oldowan tools, 500,000 year old stone blades, while here Hawks discusses evidence of tool use in Austrolopithecus Afarensis.

Hawks discusses many issues related to evolutionary psychiatry and psychology including a discussion of evolutionary psychology in the context of a book review, the evolution of crying,  interpreting ancient cognition, the end of short term memory?  while evolutionary explanations of depression are discussed briefly in this post. With the later pleistocene hominids however Hawks is in his element discussing fossil findings and extrapolating to culture with a continuous supply of interesting material: Homo Heidelbergensis and height, height of Daminisi hominids here, habitation in Britain 700,000 years ago, ochre mining, the Denisova mitochondrial DNA sequence is mentioned here, looking at genetic variation in pleistocene humans at different time points in this post, Paleolithic culture, this article links to a gallery of photographs of the Lascaux cave paintings, properties of a handaxe, 100,000 year old stone handaxes on the North Sea floor, 15,000 years to finish a painting, discussion of the Hohls Fehl Venus figurine, ivory mammoth as well as shell beads here, late pleistocene shell tools, find associated with Gravettian art here, the origins of seafaring here, Acheulan stone axes here, population bottlenecks, the possible origins of the flute 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, dental analysis of Auragnacian individuals, giant clams and megafaunal exploitation in human evolution here, cooking and humanity here, climate change and human evolution here.

There are a number of miscellaneous articles of interest: The human brain atlas, the independence of cortical thickness and surface area is described in this post, discussion of evidence suggesting that Tubercolosis may be 3-million years old, the legacy of Otzi man as well as an estimate of the age of modern humans.  Hawks is talented at sketching as demonstrated by this impression of the old man of La Chapelle-aux Saints, a very elderly neanderthal who’s pathology was interpreted to mean that Neanderthals walked with a stoop and also this sketch using a lump of barbeque charcoal (impressive). In this post Hawks suggests taking lessons from astronomy to archive human data from the last 10,000 years.

In conclusion this is an extremely interesting blog by Hawks who has an obvious passion for his work and the subject and from which the reader will be able to learn a great deal.

Index: An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

11 thoughts on “Blog Review: John Hawks Weblog

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