Staff & Student News

A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) is cited in the May 11 issue of Science in a news item by Michael Balter entitled “Infants’ Flexible Heads Go Back Millions of Years.”  The item reports on a paper, just published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by Dean Falk and colleagues devoted mainly to the Taung child skull of Australopithecus africanus.  The authors state that traces of a partially closed midline metopic suture (MS) between the two frontal bones and an incompletely closed great fontanelle behind are visible on the natural cast of the Taung child’s brain.  From this, it is concluded that Australopithecus africanus already faced problems with passage of the infant's head through the pelvic canal at birth (the “obstetric dilemma”). 

                  At the end of the news item, Balter notes: “But Robert Martin, an anthropologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, cautions that the age of MS closure is “notoriously variable” in modern humans.  A more reliable indicator of overall skull fusion, he suggests, would be the closure of the anterior fontanelle “soft spot.”

                  The fundamental problem, which Balter does not mention, is that in a human infant the great fontanelle in the skull is usually closed by two years of age.  Yet the age of the Taung child is reliably estimated to be almost four!  So it is hard to understand how a fontanelle could still be present in at such an advanced age in offspring of relatively small-brained Australopithecus africanus.
Above image shows the 3 parts of the Taung child skull of Australopithecus africanus, with the natural brain cast shaded in brown.

Resident Graduate Student Matthew Nelsen (Botany) received the J.S. Karling Award from the Botanical Society of America for his research proposal “Early, on time, or 'fashionably' late?  The comparative dating of lichen symbionts.”  Matthew also received a graduate student research grant from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists for a separate research proposal entitled “Diversification following a transition to mutualism.”  Both projects represent portions of Matthew’s Ph.D. thesis at the University of Chicago.

Associate Registrar Gloria Levitt (Anthropology) was the keynote speaker at the May 1 meeting of the Sociology and Anthropology Club of North Central College, Naperville, IL.  Gloria, a graduate of North Central, spoke about her personal journey from studying Anthropology at North Central, to her internship at The Field Museum, and lastly, to where she is today, 10 years later.  Gloria sponsors the Gloria Levitt Scholarship for Anthropology at the college and has awarded many scholarships to anthropology students in recent years.  The scholarships are combined with internships at The Field Museum where recipients learn real world anthropology skills.   She took this opportunity to present her 2012 Scholarship to North Central student Jessica Pantel.  Jessica interned at the Museum this past winter term working in the Anthropology Collections learning the accession process.

Research & Publications

In early May, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals), co-authored a paper in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution entitled “Biogeography of Old World emballonurine bats (Chiroptera: Emballonuridae) inferred with mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.”  The paper was co-authored with colleagues from The Natural History Museum of Geneva (Manuel Ruedi and Nicole Friedli-Weyeneth) and University College Dublin (Emma Teeling and Sébastian Puechmaille). 

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams, Research Scientist Laure Dussubieux, and Adjunct Curator Donna Nash (all Anthropology) published a paper on “Provenance of Peruvian Wari obsidian: Comparing INAA, LA-ICP-MS, and portable XRF,” in a volume on Volcanic and Ancient Manufactured Glasses published by the University of New Mexico Press and edited by Ioannis Liritzis and Chris Stevenson.  The paper highlights the provisioning of obsidian as an important trade good in the Wari Empire and was originally presented at a workshop in Delphi, Greece in 2008.

From May 3–5, Rowe Family Curator Olivier Rieppel (Geology) attended the “e pluribus unum Cain Conference,” a workshop on biological individuals held at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA.  Olivier presented a talk entitled “Martin Heidenhain’s (1864–1949) Synthesiology, Biological Individuals, and Hitler’s ‘National Community’ (1920–1945).”

Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) gave an invited seminar at a symposium at UC Berkeley on May 5 to honor Dr. Craig Moritz for his service to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley.  The invited symposium speakers were past members of Craig’s lab group including undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.  Corrie spoke about her work on ants and their endosymbiotic bacteria in the Australian Wet Tropics—research she began when she was a postdoc in Craig’s lab. 

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (Anthropology) presented the opening lecture for a symposium on Multi-Ethnic Imperialism in Moquegua, Peru at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in Memphis, TN on April 19.  The session highlighted recent research on imperial colonies and integrative mechanisms on the Wari-Tiwanaku frontier.

On May 5, Regenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Golitko (Anthropology) attended “Learning Together: A Ripon College Archaeometry Working Group on Teaching and Research” at Ripon College  (Ripon, WI), where he presented a paper entitled “Provenance studies of ceramics and obsidian from the Sepik coast, northern Papua New Guinea.”

Fieldwork & Collections

Public Education & Media Coverage

On May 10, Media Producer Federico Pardo’s (C&R) Field Revealed video Turtle Ants was the video feature on NSF’s Science 360The video highlights Assistant CuratorCorrie Moreau’s (Zoology/Insects) research focusing on understanding the life history of turtle ants (Cephalotes varians).  This species of ants is remarkable because of their dish-like heads that act as living doorways.  In other words, large workers of turtle ants can use their heads to block the entrance of their nests and thus preventing intruders from coming in.

Federico’s latest Field Revealed video, Bat calls from Kenya, was released the week of May 7.  The video shows MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Research Associate Paul Webala (Zoology/Moi University, Kenya) working together to get a better understanding of Kenya’s bat diversity.  As part of their study they are recording bat calls, gathering fecal samples and collecting tissues to do genetic studies.  Back at The Field Museum, Paul helps out with the molecular component of the project as he learns new molecular techniques.  Being able to learn these DNA analysis tools at The Field Museum complements Paul’s background in wildlife biology and opens the opportunity for other Kenyan scientists to learn from him.  Bruce and Paul’s research project is only possible with the generous support that enabled them to initiate this collaboration. Special thanks to the Field Museum's Council on Africa, the IDP/FMNH African Training Fund, the Brown Mammal Research Fund, and Bud and Onnolee Trapp.

In early May, students and teachers logged on for “virtual visits” with Negaunee Collections Manager Bill Stanley (Zoology/Mammals).  Participants were treated to a squirrel skinning behind-the-scenes, while learning the importance of every specimen that comes to the Museum collection. Through a combination of a live video feed with narration and real-time question-and-answer, approximately 400 youth were able to “go” to the Mammals Wet Lab in the CRC and learn about science happening right now at The Field.  Via live chat, students asked Bill questions and were able to interact with a scientist—most for the very first time.  The Education Department’s Digital Learning Team is currently sifting through data gathered from post-visit feedback survey and looking at possible program models for the future.