Anthropology Department ventures to conference

Cynthia Drake

To us, it was an “anthropology conference,” but in reality, the 2008 Gustavus Nobel Conference hosted a variety of speakers, from mathematicians to theologians. Professor Mark Jenike of the anthropology department and five LU anthropology majors joined UW-Fox Valley and local high school students on a seven-hour ride to attend the two-day conference. Housed by Gustavus Adolphus College of St. Peter, Minn., the conference offered six lecturers focused on the topic of human origins. The main question? “Who were the first humans?”
Paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean, currently a professor at the renowned Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe, was the first presenter, kicking off the first day of lectures on October 7. Utilizing zooarcheology of the coastal regions of South Africa, Dr. Marean, a team of experts and seven years of hard work have found the oldest known evidence of early humans using coastal resources. The early human population, dating back later than 160,000 years ago and residing near what’s now called Mossel Bay, used their coastline for not only food, but materials for tools and symbolic paints. In the midst of climate change, Dr. Marean’s work also has modern relevance in its understanding of human response to terrestrial ecosystem change.
Down the itinerary of speakers was evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar, currently a Fellow at Magdalen College. Dr. Dunbar got his start in science in psychology but expanded his interests to ecology and animal behavior throughout his extensive education. Concurrent with his present interests in the behaviors of non-human primates and humans, Dr. Dunbar presented on his Social Brain Hypothesis, the origin of “Dunbar’s Number”: 150. This number is the rough estimation of how many people comprise one’s social circle. It is a measure of the “number of individuals with whom any one social species can maintain social relationships.”
Dr. Dunbar’s education went well with the overall theme of the conference’s conclusion: multidisciplinary cooperation in research.