Monday, June 16, 2014

Skull-blogging: Float like a Butterfly Effect, sting like a bee

H/t Alison
When Carrier and Morgan's recent paper on "fisticuffs among robust Australopithecines" crossed our desks at  Riddled Research Laboratory, our first thought was to wonder how much fans of the pugilistic art would be willing to pay, to travel back in time to the Pliocene Era and bet on observe dramatic bouts between the best boxers of that early hominin species. Only to reject that idea as a bad one, for the danger is too great that some tourist would step off the boardwalk and be killed by butterflies or something and change the course of prehistory; this always happens.

It is also possible that Carrier and Morgan are mistaken, and instead of Australopithecines trading punches in strict accordance with Marquess-of-Queensberry Rules, they preferred the humble headbutt, accompanied by Glaswegian-accented hooting. This would seriously disappoint the paying customers.
Below: Homo erectus, no fan of hand-to-hand

Our second thought was that Carriers & Morgan's central thesis -- that hominin facial architecture evolved as an adaptation to the selective pressures of fist-fighting, with more bone and muscle than can otherwise be explained -- lends itself to an empirical test... i.e. inveigling a gullible test subject Greenish Hugh into the Evolvamat and recapitulating human evolution, to see how the skull would have evolved in the absence of those pressures.
Of course we had forgotten the basic principle of architecture (as depicted in any number of horror movies)... Upon encountering a massively over-constructed defensive bunker or citadel, the key question is always not "What were they trying to keep out?", but "What were they trying to keep in?" ¹

But we have finished cleaning up the mess and now would be a good time to draw a discrete veil over the whole proceedings.

Carrier and Morgan argue roughly as follows:
(1). People hit each other a lot and often break their features in consequence.
(2). Robust Australopith species had more muscle and bone in their faces than diet alone could explain, leaving only the 'padding against fists' Just-So story.
(3). Other species of Australopithecus were more gracile, without the extra muscle and bone; this also proves the pugilism account.
(4). "Gracile" is a lovely word for which everyday life provides too few opportunities to use.
(5). Modern Homo sapiens have quite fragile faces, easily fractured; this is an evolutionary response to the reduced rate of fisticuffs in the Homo lineage, contradicting explaining the high rate of fighting and facial trauma cited in (1).

"Perhaps," Another Kiwi vouchsafed, "at some point our ancestors lost access to their supply of Tree-of-Life, depriving us of the virus DNA which we need to complete the transformation to the better-designed physiognomy of Protector status."

"Somehow the authors have neglected the corollary," said tigris, "that the human buttocks are as upholstered as they are with muscle and fat as an adaptation to the selective pressure of people sneaking up behind us and kicking our butts." ²

I did not answer, for I was beating my head against the desk by this point. Fortunately the architecture of the human face is an adaptation to the evolutionary pressure of being beaten against desks, and no lasting damage was inflicted.

One further possibility must be mentioned; which is that early hominins played games of chess as their preferred arena for contests of social dominance. Here Bookstein illustrates how biorthogonal-transformation chessboards can map the game-play favoured by ProconsulHomo erectus and Australopithecus onto more contemporary strategy. Or they're an extension of D'Arcy Thompson's approach to allometry, from 1977 because that is we roll.

1 Left-hand art swiped from Joachim Boaz's site, which you should be visiting, if you are not already doing so.
2 Evolution leaves no stern untoned.


H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

Burns: "Say good night, Gracile"
Allen: "Good night, Gracile"

There- I used it.

tigris said...

a discrete veil

The continuous veil would have covered more.

I also think butts are built-in personal floatation devices.

Yastreblyansky said...

And speaking of flotation devices I fear you can't get "stern" to mean "forehead":

1830 F. Marryat King's Own II. vi. 88 When it was a kitten, they had cut off his tail close to his starn.
1836 F. Marryat Mr. Midshipman Easy II. iii. 62, I am obliged to come up the side without my trousers, and show my bare stern to the whole ship's company.
1913 Eng. Rev. May 201 [The ducks] point their sterns into the air, and stick their heads under water.

OBS said...

Clearly, my lack of cranial hair is an evolutionary adaptation against hair pulling. I mean, duh!

I can haz jurnal R-tickle nao?

Smut Clyde said...

Discrete veil for tigris.

tigris said...

That will be useful for playing peek-a-booty.