The Darwinian-Like Evolution of Language From Near Incipient Vernaculars to Modern Idioms

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641025
KEY WORDS: language evolution, universal grammar, Nativism, language change, selective advantage, Darwinian linguistics, cognitive linguistics.

For an important school of thought, language evolution simply denotes the biological process whereby humans acquired the potential for language, a potential seen in the form of a skeletal grammar coded in our genes. The corollary of such a nativ-ist view is that language has remained essentially static and that the changes that history has recorded are peripheral and gratuitous. This paper will point out that the empirical support for the nativist view remains wanting and that languages have proceeded along a definite course, continuously trading off ex-isting linguistic features for alternatives with greater selective advantages. Describing and discussing the changes that have taken place from near incipient vernaculars to today’s modern languages is obviously a daunting task. The focus will be on the evolution of linguistic systems. It will be argued that incipi-ent speakers brought to the task of cobbling a linguistic system their experience from a holistic perception of the outside world. The resulting implements were, in the course of evolution, gradually replaced with alternatives especially conceived by an analytical mind to serve linguistic purposes. The specific cases that will be discussed are the shift from agent and patient to subject and object, from head-last to head-first word order, from aspectual to temporal verbal systems and the development of the sentence embedding technique.


Bichakjian, B.H.
Professor Emeritus,
Radboud University,
The Netherlands. 

Why did Homo sapiens develop a large Brain?

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641024
KEY WORDS: brain size, bipedalism, gravity, blood supply, nutrition.

Bipedalism and a high encephalization quotient are unique characteristics of the human species. It is plausible that these characteristics are connected through the evolutionary process of the homo genus and may have influenced each other’s de-velopment. The connection between bipedalism and a high encephalization quotient may have been conferred through to gravity’s effect on the blood supply to the brain, both in utero and in the first year of life.
The enlarged human brain initiates at birth whereby the neona-tal brain weighs 350-400g compared to P. troclodytes (chimpanzee) neonatal brain weight of 155g. After a progressive reduction in breech presentation throughout pregnancy, more than 97% of human fetuses present cephalically at the end of pregnancy. Adverse outcomes for the fetus are known to occur for breech presentation, prematurity and post-dates delivery. The appropriately adjusted gestational age in the homo genus, possibly under evolutionary pressures, encouraged cephalic presentation. Gravity would have assisted blood supply, nutri-tion and cerebral metabolism of the growing brain. Another ob-stetric surrogate is that both body weight and brain volume in multiple pregnancies are significantly larger in the lower, first born twin, compared to the higher second born twin.
The gravitational effect of brain blood supply persists beyond birth. Human babies only become fully bipedal at the age of 1-1.3 years. During the first year the greatest growth in brain weight is registered when it increases to 900g-1kg. The combi-nation of Obstetric and Paediatric surrogates suggest that grav-ity’s influence, through the evolution of human bipedalism, on blood supply may be responsible for the high encephalization quotient in the Homo sapiens species.


Muscat Baron, Y.
MD FRCOG, FRCPI, PhD Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mater Dei Hospital, University of Malta, Malta.

Height and Weight Norms and Somatotypical Height-Weight Classification for 20-70-Year- Old Estonian Women

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641023
KEY WORDS: Estonian women’s (aged 20-70) height and weight norms, somatotypical height and weight classification.


The aim of the current study was to present height and weight norms of adult Estonian women (aged 20-70 years, n=4587) and to show the possibilities of somatotyping these data by means of a height-weight classification.
With the assistance of 50 family physicians, data on the age, height and weight of 4587 unidentified women aged 20-70 years were collected by random choice from four regions represent-ing the whole of Estonia. This article presents the minimum and maximum values of height and weight, their arithmetic means and standard deviations for all years of age from 20 to 70. On the basis of means and standard deviations, the limits of women’s height were calculated separately for each year of age in a five-class classification of height and weight. This clas-sification, devised by the Centre for Physical Anthropology at the University of Tartu, contained three classes of concordant height and weight (1 – small height, small weight; 2 – medium height, medium weight; 3 – large weight, large height). The remaining two classes represented types of discordant height and weight (4 – pycnomorphs – large weight, small height; 5 – leptomorphs – small weight, large height). Exceptionally, for the purposes of the current study, the classes of pycnomorphs and leptomorphs were additionally divided into subclasses I, II and III.
Large-scale anthropometric measurements conducted by the Centre showed systemic differences between the classes in all length, breadth and depth measurements, circumferences and body proportions. Based on that, we are of the opinion that such a classification can also be used to systematize data on different years of age.
The introduction of such a classification would facilitate the analysis of problems of medicine and health care.

Kaarma, H.
Saluste, L.
Lintsi, M.
Kasmel, J.
Veldre, G.
Tiit, E.-M.
Stamm, R.
Toomsalu, M.
Arend, A.
Centre for Physical Anthropology, Institute of Anatomy,
University of Tartu,
Tartu, Estonia.

Cultural and Physical Characteristics of Near- Arid Savanna Chimpanzees in Mali

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641022
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: West-African chimpanzee; near-arid savanna;  survival strategies; bipedalism; hominin evolution

The absence of encounters between researchers and chimpan-zees (Pan troglodytes verus) in Mali is primarily because of their scarcity and evasiveness, the result of being hunted, as well as the extreme climatic conditions. Here we present the first videotaped evidence of wild chimpanzees (possibly a fam-ily of three) in the near-arid cliff ranges of southwest Mali and describe some of their putative cultural attributes and survival strategies based on indirect observations. Regarding their sleep-ing sites, we identified rock shelters and cliff ledges, as well as a diversity of tree/brush bed-platforms of different heights, shapes, compositions and sizes. Most chimpanzee nests in these cliff ranges were found adjacent to walls and appeared to be re-used. Sticks and stones for extractive foraging were discovered at excavation sites, shattered logs atop large stone anvils, and turned-over rocks in brush fire zones. All of these finds were discovered in the vicinity of either chimpanzee hair/feces (in/under nests), foot/knuckle prints or food remnants. Moreover, we hypothesize that a shortage of resources has driven the evo-lution of a unique “bamboo culture” in these highly adaptive chimpanzees, manifested in the construction of complex bam-boo dome-shaped nest supports, as well as a navigation system containing stationary and mobile components. Furthermore, an unexpected mode of locomotion was observed in three endemic chimpanzees at the National Zoo of Mali, exhibiting a previ-ously thought to be uniquely hominin-type bipedal gait – an observation awaiting corroboration from the wild.

Roffman, I.
Nevo, E.
Institute of Evolution,
University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave.,
Mount Carmel,
Haifa 3498838, Israel.

M. Zoo National du Mali,
Route de Koulouba,
Bamako, Mali.

Ronen, A.
Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave.,
Mount Carmel,
Haifa 3498838, Israel.


Secular trends in physical growth and maturation in 7 to 21 year-old Bengali boys and girls from Kolkata, India, over six decades of time interval

Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: Adolescent growth spurt, standing height, sitting height, subischial leg length, biacromial diameter, bi-iliocristal diameter, secular trends.

In the backdrop of ongoing socioeconomic transition in India, a cross-sectional growth and socioeconomic survey was under-taken in the families of 4194 Bengali children, adolescents and youth of both sexes aged 7.0 to 21.0 years from Kolkata city, India during 1999-2011.The objective of the study was to in-vestigate secular trends phenomena in the measures of physical growth and maturation of three linear and two width measures (standing height, sitting height, subischial leg length, biacromial and bi-iliocristal diameters) through comparisons of results of the present study with two earlier growth studies (1952-66 and 1982-83) carried out in the same population during the pre-transitional period of the country (before 1990s). The possible influences of socioeconomic, demographic and public health related factors have also been investigated. Approximately over six decades of time difference, mean values of anthropometric measures increased in both sexes and that was more evident during ado-lescent years than at maturity. In standing height, the highest increase of mean value was 14.4 cm for boys at 13.0 years and 11.8 cm for girls at 10.0 and 11.0 years of age. In adulthood, averages of four body dimensions (except bi-iliocristal diam-eter) increased in a lesser magnitude than the increase found during adolescent years. Mean of adult standing height in males increased by 3.0 cm of which increase in mean of subischial leg length was greater (1.8 cm) than the increment in mean sit-ting height (1.2 cm). Increased standard deviation values over time indicated early initiation of adolescent growth spurt of the contemporary children. Time of reaching peak of the spurt esti-mated by fitting Preece-Baines model 1, was found to be about two years ahead as recorded in the contemporary population compared to the children of earlier study periods. Finally, mean age at menarche (11.80 years) of the contemporary Kolkata girls was observed to have declined by 1.10 years over about four decades of time span.
Among the probable factors responsible for positive secular trends, came into the discussion, were improvements in sev-eral socioeconomic factors including maternal education level, monthly family expenditure per capita and decline in sibship size of the families. In addition, improvements in several im-portant parameters of public health, namely decline in infant mortality and morbidity rates, increase in life expectancy, child immunization rate and overall Human Development Index of Kolkata population appeared to be the secondary contributing factors for the observed trends.


Das, R.
Biological Anthropology Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India.

Das, S.
Department of Anthropology,
North Bengal University.

Datta Banik,
S. Department of Human Ecology.
Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados (Cinvestav del IPN),
Merida. Yucatan, Mexico.

Saha, R.
Dinabandhu Mahavidyalaya,
Bongaon,West Bengal.

Chakraborty, A.
Haltu High School for Girls, Kolkata.

Dasgupta, P.
Biological Anthropology Unit, Indian Statistical Institute,
Kolkata, India. 203, B.T. Road, Kolkata 700108, India

Differences in the Stature and Status of Two Populations in Medieval Cremona (Lombardy), Italy: Evidence from Human Skeletal Remains from Adjacent Urban Cemeteries

Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: Cremona, Italy, the Medieval Period, status and stature, human skeletons, urban health.

Findings from statures that were calculated from the bones of a 14th century population buried along the Via Gerolamo in Cremona, Italy, have raised a number of new questions. There are two adjacent cemetery areas, representing burial locations serving two different parishes, though perhaps one area served the members of the parish, while the Via Gerolamo burials rep-resent the clergy who served that parish. The Via Gerolamo males represent a shorter population than that found buried in the nearby cemetery associated with the church of San Lorenzo. The evidence suggests that social class and other factors are significant variables that must be considered when evaluating any cemetery population and making inferences.
The extremely tall stature of the people interred (700-1800 CE) within and immediately around the church of San Lorenzo (Becker, 2016) and along the Via Gerolamo also suggests differences between rural and urban populations; the latter, commonly believed to be shorter than their country counter-parts, require closer examination. Why the males from the Via Gerolamo group, from a proximal burial site presumably serv-ing a different population within the same city, are shorter than the San Lorenzo males merits further ethnographic study. Dif-ferences between these two populations also demonstrate the need to evaluate the cemetery populations according to their specific locations and periods of time. One cannot assume that any given skeletal population represents an entire region or country, such as Italy, and an entire period, an inference com-monly made by historians and classical archaeologists.

Becker, M.J.
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology,
West Chester University of Pennsylvania,
West Chester, PA 19383, USA.

Female Circumcision (Infibulation) in Somalia: A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Two Projects Against Such Practices – the Waris Dirie Project and the Mana Abdurahman Project

Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: Somalia, female genital mutilation, infibulation, anti-FGM projects.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in its bloodiest form, is endemic in the Horn of Africa, where infibulation (or phara-onic circumcision) is still practised today. To prevent it, local African populations have worked with projects that have not always proved effective. In this paper, two such projects carried out in Somalia are examined. Both have several characteristics in common: they aim to eradicate the same cultural practice – female circumcision; they were founded by women; and they are managed independently, with no Western intervention. The Somali founders were: Waris Dirie, a supermodel, now working with the United Nations against FGM, who left Somalia when she was still a child, now living and working abroad; and Mana Abdurahman (who died in 1974), the daughter of the sultan of Merka, who dedicated her whole life to her people. We compare how these two women tackled the problem, and examine the ef-fectiveness of their respective projects. Both demonstrate how a full commitment and a profound knowledge of the cultural roots of this practice are required if FGM is to be successfully eradicated.

Grassivaro Gallo, P.
Former Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Department
of Applied Psychology, University of Padua,
Via Venezia 8. Padova 35131, Italy. E-mail:

Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity in the Armenians: A Review

Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: Armenians, Armenian Highland, mtDNA, genetic structure.

Armenians are the indigenous people of the Armenian High-land with strong and distinct ethnocultural charateristics. Being a crossroad linking Europe and Asia, the Armenian Highland has experienced numerous ancient and recent migrations of different tribes and ethnic groups.  To describe the role of the Armenian plateau in these migrations and how the last influ-enced the ethnogenesis of the Armenian population, numerous population genetics studies have been recently performed on the Armenians. However, the matrilineal genetic legacy of the Armenian population, which is characterised by maternally transmitted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is still poorly in-vestigated. Here, we review the current state of genetic studies performed so far on the Armenian matrilineal genetic structure.

Hovhannisyan, H.

Yepiskoposyan, L.
Laboratory of Ethnogenomics,
Institute of Molecular Biology, National Academy of Sciences,
Republic of Armenia, 7, Hasratyan Street, 0014, Yerevan, Armenia.


Leonardo Da Vinci and his Family from the 14th Century until the Present-Day

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631021

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.1-2 – 2016

Key words: Leonardo Da Vinci, Grandfather Antonio, Fruosino di Ser Giovanni, Caterina, Domenico Matteo, genealogy, burials, Orbignano, Bacchereto, San Pantaleo, living descendants, fingerprints, DNA.

This research, still in progress, began in theory in 1969 and in practice in 1973, with a global investigation and the cross-checking of discoveries and heterogeneous interdisciplinary data. The theme is one that is vast and has already been extensively explored, though not sufficiently so, namely, the history of the family of Leonardo Da Vinci, and the places he frequented during his lifetime, including also his origins, his paternal grandmother from Bacchereto, his mother Caterina, and other family members hitherto unknown. During the course of this work, new information has come to light concerning areas beyond Italy and France, as far away as Valencia and Majorca.
Sometimes, discoveries have been kept secret pending advances in research and the right moment for their publication.
Since the 1980s, this investigation also aimed to identify still living direct descendants of Ser Piero, Leonardo’s father. In fact, from 2006 onwards, we have progressively and successfully verified the continuity of descent, in the direct male line, of one of Leonardo’s brothers, Domenico Matteo, right down to our own time, and also identified many 20th-century graves.
As with the attribution of works of art, so too with historical research does Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci proceed with extreme caution and absolute discretion, making known discoveries, trying to resolve as yet unanswered questions and problems, and identifying lines of investigation still to be followed – carefully distinguishing the assumptions and misunderstandings of the media from hypotheses and reasonable certainties. Publications of this nature serve, among other things, to stimulate communication between scholars, or even from the descendants themselves, and to evaluate and safeguard historic sites such as houses and burial places.
While there remain a great many leads to be investigated by historians, for biologists and anthropologists this research yields certain data from which to work, providing the possibility to identify, through DNA analysis, the remains of Leonardo and compare them to DNA samples obtained from living descendants.

Vezzosi, A.
Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci,
Head Office: Via IV Novembre 2,
50059 Vinci (FI), Italy.

A Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey of the Florentine Abbey – the Badia Fiorentina (Italy) – as Part of the Search for the Family Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631020

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.1-2 – 2016

Key words: Ground-penetrating radar (GPR), Badia Fiorentina, geophysical prospection, Da Vinci family tomb.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is one of the most frequently used methods for investigating the first section below ground, and is therefore considered a vital tool for archaeological investigations and studies. The purpose of the GPR survey carried out at the Badia Fiorentina, where historical documents indicate the presence of the family tomb of Leonardo da Vinci, was to identify electromagnetic anomalies indicative of tombs.
GPR data acquisition was carried out in two areas of the abbey: one in correspondence with the central and lateral aisles; and the other inside the chapel of St. Mauro.  A mono-static GPR system, RIS_MF_HiMod (I.D.S. S.p.A), was used with a dual frequency antenna (200-600 MHz). After completing the survey, the data was processed and noise components were effectively removed.
Through our interpretation of the data it transpired that there were several areas with electromagnetic anomalies considered to be of interest for further archaeological investigations – five in the main portion of the abbey and three in the chapel of St Mauro.

Minucci, S.
Centro di GeoTecnologie (CGT),
University of Siena, Via Vetri Vecchi 34,
52027 San Giovanni Valdarno,
Arezzo, Italy.