Paleoanthropologist writes 'untold story of our salvation'


August 6, 2010


Inside caves near Mossel Bay, South Africa, a team of explorers have been piecing together an account of survival, ingenuity and endurance — of the species known as Homo sapiens. Team leader Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist with the Institute">http://iho.asu.edu/">Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, writes of their discoveries at Pinnacle Point in the cover story of the August issue of Scientific">http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=interactive-seas-saved-... American


In “When the Sea Saved Humanity,” Marean asks the reader to imagine that Homo sapiens once were an endangered species in Africa, struggling to survive cold, harsh, dry conditions. Yet, during this ancient climate crisis — at some point between 195,000 and 123,000 years ago — humans survived along the southern coast of Africa where shellfish and edible plants were plentiful.  Cover of the August 2010 issue of Scientific American Download Full Image


“With its combination of calorically dense, nutrient-rich protein from the shellfish and low-fiber, energy-laden carbs from the geophytes, the southern coast would have provided an ideal diet for early modern humans during glacial stage 6,” writes Marean in the cover story billed by Scientific American as the “untold story of our salvation.” 


“The discoveries Curtis and his team have made at Pinnacle Point are not only important from a scientific standpoint, but they also tell an incredible story about our origins,” said Kate Wong, the Scientific American editor who asked Marean to write the story. 


“What makes Curtis’ project so compelling is that it weaves together evidence from archaeology, paleoclimatology and genetics to answer the question of how our species eluded extinction during a climate crisis,” Wong said. 


Scientific American is marking its 165-year heritage as the country’s oldest continuously published magazine. “(It) has a long tradition of publishing articles written by leading scientists for a general audience, and in reading the technical papers on the Pinnacle Point finds and listening to talks by project members at professional meetings, I knew Curtis could write a terrific article synthesizing the team’s findings,” Wong said. 


The use of fire by early modern humans to engineer tools, as well as evidence that pigments, especially red ochre, were used in ways believed to be symbolic, are among the discoveries documented by Marean and the SACP4 team (the South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project, funded by the National Science Foundation and Hyde Family Foundation). 


To bring these discoveries to life, Scientific American augments the cover story from its print edition with an exciting multimedia presentation on the Web. The interactive feature includes vibrant photos of the excavation site in South Africa provided by team members, along with video footage and interviews with Marean and other SACP4 researchers. The multimedia feature is found at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=interactive-seas-saved-humanity. ">http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=interactive-seas-saved-...


Marean studies the prehistory of Africa, paleoclimates and paleoenvironments, and animal bones from archaeological sites. He is a professor in the School">http://shesc.asu.edu/">School of Human Evolution and Social Change in ASU’s College">http://clas.asu.edu/">College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Childhood trauma could hurt girls' goals of entrepreneurship


August 6, 2010

Family violence, physical abuse or parents divorcing can play a role in keeping a girl from becoming an entrepreneur later in life. That’s according to new research led by Zhen Zhang, assistant professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. The research shows that without positive intervention negative experiences in adolescence might help discourage a girl from owning a business as an adult.

“Childhood trauma might impede girls’ natural genetic inclination to become entrepreneurs,” Zhang said. “But environmental factors such as peer support, mentor programs, positive internships, and other activities where kids learn about financial independence and being a business owner can help mediate that. In the end, if girls get enough social and environmental support, their chances of becoming entrepreneurs can remain the same.” Download Full Image

Zhang is presenting his latest study at the prestigious annual meeting of the Academy of Management next week in Montreal. He completed the research with colleagues from Michigan State University and the National University of Singapore. They surveyed about 1,400 female pairs of fraternal and identical twins, asking them various questions about their childhoods and work history to help find out whether genetic influences on entrepreneurship are fixed or whether they can be weakened or strengthened by social environment. Statistical analyses showed parental divorce, family violence and physical abuse all significantly weaken the genetic influences on girls becoming entrepreneurs.

“Even though DNA is fixed, it needs human behavior to manifest itself,” Zhang said. “It’s the same thing for someone genetically inclined to be a scientist or an artist – they still need to be nurtured through social and environmental factors. Girls who have a supportive environment during adolescence will be more likely to reach their full genetic potential as entrepreneurs, while those affected by negative, stressful events can have their natural genetic disposition weakened.”

Zhang did earlier research on genetics and entrepreneurship published in the academic journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes last year. It explains that genetic influence has no bearing on whether boys become entrepreneurs, but many social factors, including family influence, do prompt men to own businesses. For girls, genetic factors play a role in determining personality traits such as extroversion and emotional stability, and those traits can help sway whether girls become entrepreneurs. However, this new research adds the wrinkle that childhood trauma can still impede that genetic influence on girls.

Zhang hopes policymakers will use his research to focus on programs that will help shore up the social and environmental factors encouraging teens to become entrepreneurs.

“We want to make society better,” Zhang said. “We want to be clear that genes don’t determine everything, so we can provide training programs and other opportunities to help open up kids’ eyes to the possibility of working for themselves.”