Staff & Student News

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) attended the 17th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Oslo, Norway, from September 14–19.  With his colleagues Attila Gyucha (Hungarian National Museum) and Paul Duffy (University of Toronto), Bill presented a paper entitled “Prehistoric Tell Communities on the Great Hungarian Plain: A Comparison of Vésztő-Mágor, Szeghalom-Kovácshalom, and Békés-Várdomb” in a session organized by James Johnson (University of Pittsburgh) and Mads Holst (Aarhus University) entitled “Exploring Manifestations of Community in Prehistory and History: ‘Old World’ Perspectives.”  In their invited paper, Bill and his colleagues demonstrated how the rich archaeological record of the Carpathian Basin can be used to create models of how early village societies were organized and evolved to become larger, and more politically and economically complex.

Research & Publications

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (Anthropology) co-authored “Isotopic Evidence for Middle Horizon to Sixteenth Century Camelid Herding in the Osmore Valley, Peru” in The International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.  Ryan joined University of Florida Professors Susan deFrance and John Krigbaum and University of Florida Ph.D. Erin Thornton as authors of the publication.  The paper demonstrates that camelid populations were being herded on the coast and in the altiplano regions of southern Peru in early prehistory, and that the Wari site of Cerro Baul was a center for camelid exchange between coast and highlands from 600–1,000 AD.  Modern camelid populations in Peru are almost never raised on the coast, and the paper documents an economic practice from the past that may be used to increase economic productivity in the present day.

Assistant Curator Leo Smith (Zoology/Fishes) co-authored an article in the September issue of Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution entitled “Monophyly and interrelationships of Snook and Barramundi (Centropomidae sensu Greenwood) and five new markers for fish phylogenetics.”  The snook and barramundi are large predatory fishes that are well known to anglers from Florida, to Australia, to Africa.  The Nile Perch from Lake Tanganyika has been made famous by its environmentally devastating introduction into Lake Victoria and the extreme angler Jeremy Wade's hunting it on Animal Planet’s River Monsters.  This study was designed to explore a longstanding question in fish relationships: did the New World snook and the Old World barramundi evolve from a single common ancestor or did they evolve independently from other perch-like fishes?  This study, which also developed five new genetic markers, refuted recent morphological studies that separated these two groups.  Instead, it showed that the two predatory groups evolved from a single common ancestor.  This was a hypothesis first proposed by Leo’s academic grandfather (his doctoral advisor's doctoral advisor), P. Humphrey Greenwood.  

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Michel Valim and Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (both Zoology/Birds) published a paper in ZooKeys entitled “Two new species of Brueelia Kéler, 1936 (Ischnocera, Philopteridae) parasitic on Neotropical trogons (Aves, Trogoniformes)” on September 9.  The paper describes two new species of chewing lice (Brueelia sueta and Brueelia cicchinoi) that parasitize trogons and quetzals.  Previously there was only a single species of Brueelia known to infect trogons and in the recent literature the legitimacy of this record as a true Brueelia was questioned.  Thus the description of these species confirms that trogons are regular hosts for lice of the genus Brueelia.  One of the newly described species, B. cicchinoi, is found on several species of trogons from Mexico all the way south to Amazonia, which means that its geographic distribution crosses major biogeographic barriers for birds such as the Andes.  The birds are not long distance migrants and do not cross these barriers.  Thus, the parasites are moving across large geographic areas that the hosts are unable to cross.  Genetic data presented in the paper also indicate that this louse is probably capable of moving across these avian biogeographic barriers.  Most likely the widespread geographic distribution of this louse is related to its host specificity.  In this case, B. cicchinoi parasitizes many host species found in different areas and habitats and therefore can use these different hosts as bridges across geographic areas inhospitable to some of the avian host species.

Fieldwork & Collections

In mid-September, Collections and Research Committee Member Terry Boudreaux and fellow meteorite collector Greg Hupé donated a beautifully polished 4.9-gram-slice of a rare, ungrouped achondritic meteorite (NWA 6704) to The Field Museum.  The meteorite fell in the Sahara desert in northwestern Africa and did not experience much weathering.  The interior is a beautiful yellowish green (see photo) and is composed of the mineral plagioclase, pyroxene, olivine, chromite, and of metal, and does not show signs of shock due to the impact.  The meteorite has lost its chondritic texture and is therefore an achondrite.  However, the petrology, the elemental and oxygen isotopic composition share characterisitics of different meteorite groups and does not allow to group it with any known group.  “This unsual and precious meteorite is a wonderful addition to the Museum's meteorite collection,” said Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology), “it will be carefully curated in our state-of-the-art collection space to make sure it is available not only for current studies but also for future generations of scientists.”  The Department of Geology thanks Terry Boudreaux and Greg Hupé for their generous donation.

Public Education & Media Coverage

Assistant Curator Leo Smith (Zoology/Fishes) was featured in WBEZ’s science podcast and blog show Clever Apes.  This show describes itself as a “nano-sized show with a cosmic scope.  It explores the Chicago area’s rich scientific community, its quirky characters and the mind-bending questions they're out to answer.”  In the September 13 podcast “Clever Apes #18: Biological weapons,” WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer interviewed Leo about his research on venomous fishes whose spines are natural biological weapons.  In a followup blog post by Michael De Bonis and Gabriel Spitzer on September 21, “Meet the most venomous fish (and some other cool critters),” Clever Apes’ reporters dug deeper into The Field Museum’s vast fish collection and Leo’s venomous fish research.