August Pieces Of My Mind #2

Registering the bones from this summer's fieldwork at Landsjö.
Registering the bones from this summer’s fieldwork at Landsjö.
  • Getting rid of excess stuff. Azerbaijani dude with a huge beautiful beard showed up on his wife’s orders and collected both bike baby seats, the rolling baby stool, the dinner table lamp and the microwave oven. *happy*
  • My wife’s workout app is giving her orders. It sounds like a very, very strange satnav.
  • User interface fail: our new microwave oven has not only start/stop buttons, but also on/off buttons that control whether the start/stop buttons are responsive or not.
  • Oh great, LinkedIn. You tried to find a job for me and emailed me the results. Ten jobs in fact. All of which had in common that they are in my home town and have nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m skilled at.
  • It always saddens me to see a librarian with shelf-inflicted wounds.
  • I idly comment in an Facebook thread on the issue of how old the cult of the Aesir is likely to be, reporting what I’ve understood of my reading of current academic literature on the history of religion. Dude tells me I’ve lost the argument because I’m just arguing from authority.
  • Is there a quick rule of thumb to tell a stylist from a stylite?
  • The Swedish Geological Survey has quietly doubled the chronological resolution of their shoreline maps! You can get them for every 500 years now instead of every 1000!
  • Cherry Twister sound exactly like Teenage Fanclub.
  • An anonymous German university wants my Bronze Age book. That’s nice and I would be happy to donate a copy. But instead of writing me, they’ve put in an order with a bookseller, who’s written me. Annoyingly inefficient.
  • When I get turned down for teaching jobs, I console myself with the thought that the scholars who influence their fields strongly, and get studied by historians of science afterwards, aren’t the ones who teach full time for years and years. As an archaeology teacher, you mainly get to influence the thinking of future archivists and bus drivers. So if you want me to STFU, just hire me and keep me busy.
  • Should I put in the fieldwork report that while registering the bone bags I was semi-nude, outdoors and listening to extremely druggy music?
  • Would you like me to Roger your Bacon?
  • The Chinese just outweirded me again. They’ve got something called “the Hundred Surnames”, which are exceptionally common. Among these are several true homophones, I just learned. So there’s the Zhang family and the Zhang family: same pinyin transcription, same tone, different characters.
  • Feta cheese in a vacuum pack keeps way way past its use-by date. Nom nom nom.
  • Looking inland from Kalundborg’s West Castle, you see a big fat Bronze Age barrow. This, the locals explained, was probably hard to avoid given how common these barrows are in the area.
  • Mulberries are amazingly good. And amazingly messy.
  • I often get the voice parsing input started by mistake on my phone. Now when I want to try it out I can’t turn it on.
  • Dear colleague. I am truly grateful to you for giving your paper in English. I sadly don’t know your native language. But frankly you are boring us all to tears by reading a manuscript out instead of improvising.
  • I learned on this trip that you can easily see across the Great Belt and Öresund. Medieval Denmark was pretty integrated.
  • Colleague demonstrates his grasp of Schwiizerdütsch with a series of vaguely Danish-sounding gurgles. Claims they mean “Have you already had your Ovomaltine cocoa this morning?”.
  • “Redemption” is such a strange word and concept. In US English you can barely read a movie review without coming across it. Yet in Swedish we hardly ever use its equivalents outside a religious context. And since few Swedes are religious, we rarely use the concept at all. I feel no need for or possibility of redemption.
  • Apollo is “Apollon” in Swedish, which means “monkey’s bell end”.
  • Eight young women in head scarves and Pakistani clothes are playing soccer in the field next to our house.
  • Incredible contrast between the 17th century’s oil paintings and Scandy sculpture. Like two completely separate traditions, the latter grotesque and abstract, divorced from the Classical heritage.
  • Hey, I’d vote for Jeremy Corbyn!
  • Been handy today: bought a doormat, long screws (no) with plugs, an electric plug and a window holder ajarer; used them to mat a door, fix a Pilaster book shelf to a newly painted wall, reenable my reading lamp after my dad installed earthed sockets, and hold a window ajar.
  • Updating my freshman presentations. Since last year, the oldest known stone tools have moved from 2.6 to 3.4 mya, and from Homo habilis to some Australopithecine. The bulk date of the great clearance-cairn areas of Småland has moved from the Early Iron Age to the High Middle Ages.
  • Reading this paper by a Scandy scholar whose English is shaky. They describe the defenders of a besieged castle using “guns, piles and stones”. Ow, me bum…
  • Hawkwind’s most beloved song, “Master of the Universe”, has huge information redundancy. It’s just one riff played in unison by bass and rhythm guitar all the way through, plus aimless quiet noodling on the lead guitar and swishy noises from the keyboards.
  • Movie: Dheepan. War-traumatised Tamil man-woman-child form a fake family to enter France, settle in ghetto shaken by drug gang fighting. Grade: pass with distinction.
  • Oh sure, LinkedIn. I’m definitely the right man to head a pharma research team working on immuno oncology. Thanks for telling me about the job!

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

126 thoughts on “August Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. “Doesn’t dong size just trail the rapid increase in baby head diameter?”

    Why should it? In some cases, such as the mis-named and mis-understood Irish elk, there are such effects, but I fail to see a connection here.


  2. A genetic mutation that is selected for because it confers some obvious reproductive advantage.

    Larger breasts in women confer no such advantage, and there is no evidence that larger breasts have been sexually selected for, otherwise all women would have large breasts, and that is clearly not the case. In fact, if you want to opinionate about breast size, then you need to explain the EDAR gene variant in East Asian women that causes them, inter alia, to have smaller breasts on average than European and Indian sub-continent women, but with a higher density of milk glands. It also causes different density of sweat glands, and more coarse hair texture.


  3. In surveys in America, white males have repeatedly stated that they find East Asian females more attractive than European females, despite the differential in breast sizes. So if there is sexual selection based on breast size, it’s heading in the direction of smaller breasts being more attractive.

    The opinions given for why East Asian females are more attractive to white males is that they look younger.

    So if there is sexual selection going on in America, it is for youthful looks, not breast size.


  4. It’s as good a theory as any I’ve read. People have written whole books on why humans have smaller balls and bigger dongs than other anthropoids, but it’s all theorising – no one actually knows why. And relative lack of sexual dimorphism.

    I’m still laughing picturing Birger sporting a highly coloured crest.


  5. We can take some educated guesses.

    Humans don’t need big testicles because sperm competition doesn’t happen. The % of non-paternity events among humans is actually very low, less than 1%, although a lot of people will try to kid you that it is as high as 10%. No, nowhere close. It might titillate the mumbling masses to think that, but human females are much more faithful creatures than that.

    Relative lack of sexual dimorphism indicates males don’t fight each other to gain access to females (at least, not normally). This suggests that most humans are monogamous, or at least serially monogamous.

    On dong size, another clue might be that humans are the only animals that mate when the female is not in estrus – i.e. when there is no chance of the mating resulting in fertilisation.

    So the theory is that we developed big dongs because we just have sex for fun a lot of the time. But this is just a theory. Worse still, it’s just a psychologists’ theory, and we know how often they turn out to be right – not very often. We are expected to believe that sexual selection happened in humans because females are more attracted to big dongs because they are more fun. It’s not impossible, but there is no proof for it. When surveyed, some women say they are, and some say they are not – there is no consistent clear preference. And even if true, I presume there is an upper limit, beyond which a big dong ceases to be fun and becomes a pain in the arse.

    Martin’s dong size theory seems just as viable.

    Whether Birger becomes more successful with females once he has successfully sprouted highly coloured feathers remains to be tested.


  6. Note that I mentioned permanent breasts, not big breasts. I will refrain from concluding anything from the fact that you read “breast” and immediately thought “big”.


  7. Other primates have permanent breasts, but they are flat. Very clearly visible, but flat, or flattish.

    When you wrote “How do you explain permanent breasts in humans but not in most (all?) other mammals?” my first thought was that you must be blind if you can’t see the clearly visible breasts in other primates. But then I figured by “permanent breasts” you must meant permanently prominent. I don’t wish to get into some semantic argument about whether ‘prominent’ means ‘big’, but that is what I took it to mean.

    You can refrain from concluding from that whatever you like.


  8. BTW Scammers try to sell crap claiming it will affect the vomeronasal organ of women to make men irresistibe, when at most the v.n. organ may syncronize menstruations. There is no short cut, just try to look symmetrical (it implies good health, and is therefore perceived as beauty).
    — —
    Lots of morphology stuff are accidental. Like, why men have tits. Why humans still have an appendix. Why are our nostrils pointed downwards (plathyrrine primates) instead ou sideways (katharrine primates)? And why is the sun up during the day, when it would be of much more use during the night?
    — — — — — —
    ( English-text article this time) ‘Archaeology on steroids’: Huge ritual arena discovered near Stonehenge


  9. Of course they’re visible. The point is that human breasts are only slightly smaller, if at all, when not lactating, than they are when lactating. Is that true of any other mammal?


  10. Cows? OK, perhaps. However, domestic cows have been highly modified by selective breeding for milk production, so it is not inconceivable that a permanently enlarged udder would be a by-product.

    So, any wild mammal?


  11. Anatomically modern humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees about 5 million years ago.

    We must obviously have diverged greatly in appearance from that common ancestor.

    But it is a fair bet that the common ancestor looked more human-like than chimpanzees, and that chimpanzees have also diverged greatly in a different direction towards being more chimpanzee-like.

    At that time there were many other primates which are now extinct, and we can’t know what they looked like because all we have are skeletal remains.

    Is there any reason why anatomically modern humans should look anything like any other animal that is not extinct now?


  12. “Is there any reason why anatomically modern humans should look anything like any other animal that is not extinct now?”

    No, in the sense that of course animals which are not closely related generally look quite different. But the question is whether permanent breasts (of whatever size) are the result of sexual selection in humans (and perhaps milk-optimizing selection in cows). The fact that a) human males are interested in female breasts more than is generally the case in the animal kingdom and b) no other wild mammal has such permanent breasts, then the question arises as to whether sexual selection played a role. It is an obvious explanation and there is no other obvious explanation.


  13. Humans are not wild-type. We haven’t been for a very long time.

    Males might be interested in female breasts just because females have them. All adult females have them, in varying sizes, ranging from dead-flat chested upwards. This is not evidence for sexual selection; it is evidence against sexual selection, otherwise there would be no dead-flat chested adult females anywhere. And around where I live there are lots of them. Lots, almost to the point of being the dominant phenotype.

    Completely flat chested females are still able to attract mates. My wife did. She was as flat as a board, and I wasn’t the only bee buzzing around the honey pot, there were lots of them, and some of them had a lot more financial resources than I did, to the point of being fabulously wealthy – I was just the one who got lucky enough to be chosen.

    Gene function and pleitropic effects can be obscure. Human breasts might need to be the way they are in order to function, or it could be an obscure pleitropic effect. No one knows why the EDAR variant was selected to fixation in East Asians.

    You have no idea, because the new born young of anatomically modern humans are unlike the new born young of any other species.

    So you might think it is an obvious explanation, but the fact remains that you have no evidence to show that it is so. And unless or until you have evidence, you are uninteresting to me.


  14. We are expected to believe that sexual selection happened in humans because females are more attracted to big dongs because they are more fun. It’s not impossible, but there is no proof for it. When surveyed, some women say they are, and some say they are not – there is no consistent clear preference.

    “It’s not the size of the stick, it’s the magic in the wand.” Seriously, it seems that many human females cannot achieve orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone–they have to be touched in other ways. Of course these women will prefer men who understand this, and there is some suspicion that the more well-endowed the male, the less likely he is to understand this.

    Contra Martin’s theory is the observation that human infants are more helpless for a longer period of time than the infants of any other primate species. It is speculated that, because humans are bipedal, it must be possible for the baby to be born while the mother is standing up, so the gestation period is shorter than it otherwise would be. But this would imply that other primates have comparatively larger members, and they don’t.


  15. It is clear that the large brain leads to all kinds of difficulties in birth. The main reason gestation is so short is that the head would be too big otherwise.

    Born while standing up? That usually doesn’t happen, and I can’t see any advantage in it.


  16. Martin, can you alter the settings so the system does not eat a comment if the address / email fields have not been filled?
    Being reminded *after* a truckload of text has gone to the hereafter can ruin the day.

    BTW A new species of biped homimin has been discovered in a cave in South Africa, but the remains have yet to be dated.

    Apparently Chinese scholars dismissed the whole stick-needles-into-people- business long ago.


  17. #72 – That’s the Rising Star Expedition announcing their findings.

    Happy viewing:

    If you live outside America you might need a VPN to watch that.

    A nice sidelight to the Rising Star story is that the only anthropologists they could find who were slim enough to fit through the slot in the rock to get to the fossils were an international team of young women, so they got to do the dangerous work and be the stars of the expedition to recover the fossils. And dangerous work it certainly was.

    I’m surprised they haven’t got a date yet. It’s been a while now; couple of years.


  18. We do, but what we wrote gets eaten 🙂

    So anyway, a new species of Homo, and lots of them, down the bottom of a very deep, inaccessible cave, with only the bones of one owl and no other species present in the same chamber – and all filmed as the discovery was being made. Pretty exciting. Those girls all deserve a medal. For those who can’t access that PBS film or don’t want to spend the time to sit through it:

    This is the brave new world of open science, and I welcome it. This is the opposite of Tim White, who I dearly wish would drop on his pointed head.


  19. Birger & John: Martin’s proposed solution has worked for me in the past. I hit the back button and find that the text in the comment box is still there. But it may be browser- or settings-dependent. I use Safari on MacOS. Perhaps other browsers don’t, or you have a setting that always reloads the page when you use the back button. My experience has generally been that I prefer not to auto-reload the page when I navigate with the back button, and indeed one of my pet peeves is sites that break the back button.

    Martin would know better than I the details of the spam filter, and I think there are some settings under his control. Too many links will get your post flagged as spam. First-time posters (or anybody who looks like a first-time poster; e.g., if you made a typo in your e-mail address) are likely to hit the moderation queue. I don’t think ScienceBlogs does this, but many sites look for certain character strings and moderate any post containing those strings, which creates problems with false positives–this can get amusing on some political sites because the name of at least one significant school of political thought contains the name of a certain prescription medication.


  20. “dude with a huge beautiful beard”
    Sounds like the character played by John Rhys-Jones .
    “The Scandinavian Sci-Fi” con in Uppsala this weekend has invited eighties pop icon Samantha Fox and actor John Rhys-Jones aka Gimli the Dwarf . Swedish-language radio interview:

    “the text in the comment box is still there”. Nope. Browser-inuced problem? But I do not encounter the problem on most other sites.


  21. #80:Comment octagenarian! Also, today I re-measured my weight (intense diet) and found I weigh less than an eight of a ton. My sumo wrestler ambitions are in ruins.
    — —
    Former East Bloc countries (and Britain. And Denmark) in the European Union are having a hissy fit about demands that they accept a fair share of the refugees-mostly Syrians*- that are pouring into Europe.
    Jeez. EU has nearly 400 million people. If they accepted one refugee for every 2000 inhabitants the problem would be solved. And since John Cameron is dragging his feet (only 15000 over five years!) I suggest we send another 100 000 to the posh neighbourhoods in London**
    *The Syrian refugees are mostly well-educated, so they can take up the slack when the 1940s and 1950s demographics retire, leaving a huge gap.
    ** When the guys from the finance sector move away from their new darkie neighbours the property prices in London might finally get normal again. Everybody wins.


  22. They were small. Not just slim, but tiny. I don’t know how tall Lee Berger is, but judging their height against him on the film when they were hugging, they looked child-sized.

    The two male cavers who made the discovery and helped out with safety during the fossil recovery had to be really small skinny guys too.


  23. “Martin, something for chaperoning your daughter’s dates'”

    Does the custom of dating exist in Sweden?

    Does “date” here refer to the appointment or, as it is sometimes used, to a person? (“This is my date.”)


  24. Dating in Sweden is mainly associated with dating web sites and grownup singles. AFAIK most young people here meet their partners through friends and get together without the ritualised movie-dinner-yourplaceormyplace thing. And cars play no big part in the love life of teens. Swedish parents are fine with their kids bringing their sweethearts home and having premarital sex under the family’s roof. Provided that the swetheart is willing to wipe dishes and take out the recycling.


  25. “AFAIK most young people here meet their partners through friends and get together without the ritualised movie-dinner-yourplaceormyplace thing.”

    As I suspected. Your international readers might not be aware of this.

    “And cars play no big part in the love life of teens.”

    Right, no need, despite the Roxette song. (Actually, the old Volvo estate cars (station wagons/combis/caravans/whatever—the long ones) should probably be the vehicle of choice for such activity.)

    “Swedish parents are fine with their kids bringing their sweethearts home and having premarital sex under the family’s roof.”

    Including those of the female Pakistani footballers?


  26. Haha, sloppy wording there. I meant ethnic Swedes, not necessarily all Swedish citizens. But then, I don’t really know what the rules are regarding those scarf-wearers. I must ask Junior to find out for me.


  27. And cars play no big part in the love life of teens.

    My impression of Sweden, from my two visits there (Uppsala and Stockholm), is that Sweden did not suburbanize to the extent, or in the same way, that the US did. Meaning that most Swedes can actually get to things (at least some things) by walking/biking/public transit. There are large parts of the US where this is not possible, hence the historic emphasis here on obtaining a driver license as soon as one is old enough. It’s not just rural areas, either: most of the US housing stock built between 1945 and 2010 has minimal or no access to public transport. There are signs that this trend may finally be reversing, at least for those who can afford a more urban lifestyle. But these are in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, where real estate prices (per square meter if not in absolute terms) are particularly high. Cheap urban housing is available in places like Detroit, but there is a reason that housing is so cheap.

    Assimilation usually takes a generation or two. Those Pakistani footballers (let alone their parents) may not be fine with bringing sweethearts home for premarital sex, but there is a good chance their grandchildren will be. That’s how it has gone with various immigrant groups to the US: by the third generation few cultural differences remain between these groups and other groups who have been here longer. In my family, my grandmother spoke Danish at home and only learned English when she went to school (she was born in the US), but none of my generation know Danish.


  28. “My impression of Sweden, from my two visits there (Uppsala and Stockholm), is that Sweden did not suburbanize to the extent, or in the same way, that the US did. Meaning that most Swedes can actually get to things (at least some things) by walking/biking/public transit”

    Pretty much the same in most of Europe, at least with regard to the big cities. Where Sweden does differ from most of Europe is the lack of traditional farming villages in the countryside. They used to exist, but a few hundred years ago farmers moved onto their land (like in the States), to cut down on the spread of diseases. In the countryside (and Sweden is a big country, for Europe, about the size (and shape) of California, and especially in the north is sparsely populated), although there is public transportation, cars are more important, but usually not for romantic activities.

    “Assimilation usually takes a generation or two. That’s how it has gone with various immigrant groups to the US: by the third generation few cultural differences remain between these groups and other groups who have been here longer.”

    I think the case is different with immigration a) in Europe, b) in the 20th century and c) with people from mainly Muslim countries. Why? For one thing, it is easier to keep contact with the old country, both because it is closer and because of modern technology. Also, most countries in Europe are not predominately Muslim, so for those whose faith is important—and it is for most, at least to some extent—this is an obvious barrier to fitting in, not comparable to Catholic Poles and Irish and Germans in the US. In addition, massive immigration, in the modern sense, is comparatively recent in Europe, whereas the USA and some other countries were essentially founded on it.

    “Sweden, from my two visits there”

    “my grandmother spoke Danish at home and only learned English when she went to school (she was born in the US)”

    And I was thinking Eric Lund must be Swedish. Sounds like a good Swedish name, though it would probably be spelled “Erik”. The city of Lund, by the way, is named after London; Canute (or, in Swedish, Knut) the great was king of both areas.

    One case of rapid integration in Europe, though about a thousand years ago, are the Normans. The term derives from Northmen or Norsemen, of course—Vikings. In 1066, they were already speaking French, though they had arrived in France only a generation or so before.


    1. The reason that Swedish farmers moved onto their land in the 19th century was the Laga skifte land amalgamation reform. Its goal was increased agricultural yield. Prior to the reform, the land of a village’s various inhabitants was interleaved in long thin strips across every field. It was inefficient and it meant that you couldn’t move onto your land. It was feckin everywhere in small allotments. A High Medieval system designed to spread risk and keep tax payers from starvation.


  29. By the way, I’ve been following this blog for a long time, but for some reason, until recently my comments didn’t make it through. Whatever has changed—I don’t know, but nothing on my side—I hope it isn’t changed back!


  30. #92 – Based on actual data, assimilation among South Asians has not happened in the UK. What has continued to happen among Pakistanis is first cousin marriage. The outcomes of this among a relatively small sub-population are that group mean IQ has been dropping as they become progressively more inbred, with commensurately poor educational and economic consequences, and congenital defects resulting from genetic mutations are becoming more common. The contrast group are the Hindus, who likewise have remained endogamous, but who shun first cousin marriage, while still maintaining caste and arranged marriages, and who have continued to do well academically and have become prosperous.

    In America, the biggest mixed-marriage group is European males-East Asian females. South Asian females don’t marry out much.


  31. “feckin everywhere in small allotments” – sounds exactly like agricultural land in HK, except it’s in patches, not long thin strips.


  32. Birger: Last week I saw a large flock of Eastern Great Egrets take to the air and head south – must have been upwards of 30 birds.

    Then right on cue, a few days later the weather pattern changed.

    Singly, Great Egrets are pretty impressive birds. A big flock of them is majestic. Among the HK population, some migrate seasonally and some stay here all year round. No idea why. They are very well adapted to living around humans here, so maybe that’s why some of them stick around for the winter – certain human activities like rowing on the river stir up the sediment and probably make food more available for them to hunt.


  33. Also worth a look among that growing list of abstracts posted by Razib is that by S. Översti, P. Onkamo and J. Palo, esp. if you are Swedish and/or interested in Swedish hunter gatherers.


  34. There is some concern in Sweden about genetic diseae popping up among a small subset of Pakistanis whose parents in the old country practised first-cousin marriage. We also see rare genetic diseases in villages in Västerbotten, where population in the past was so small you got some inbreeding. We have something called “Skellefteå disease” caused by a mutation that happened some time four centuries ago. Nasty incurable stuff.


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