Month: October 2016

Dinner talk was on discovery of new human-like species

Dinner talk was on discovery of new human-like species

Becca Peixotto, one of the archeologists who participated in the ground-breaking discovery of a previously unknown human-like species in 2013, spoke on “Archeology:  The view from the end of the cave” at a Joint ECWG and Circumnavigator’s Club dinner meeting on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.

Lee Berger, FI’13, who led the expedition and is an ECWG member, made headline news in September 2015 when he announced the discovery by the Rising Star Expedition in South Africa of a new early human-like species Homo naledi.

Berger gave ECWG members and their guests a preview of this announcement in his Dec. 7, 2013 talk at an ECWG dinner at the Cosmos Club when he described the discovery of  what would turn out to be the newly described species Homo naledi.

The Rising Star Expedition team included senior scientists, early career researchers and students along with a dedicated group of volunteers.

In his 2013 talk Berger said that exploring the cave required archeologists who were slim enough to crawl through the the cave’s tiny openings. As it turned out the primary excavators who went into the cave were women, including Peixotto.

Nov. 19 ECWG dinner she discussed the fossils, the excitement Homo naledi has generated, and the ways Homo naledi is changing how we think about human evolution, and the importance of exploration.

Becca Peixotto is a PhD candidate and adjunct instructor in the Department of Anthropology at American University.

Her dissertation focuses on historical archaeology and resistance landscapes of the Great Dismal Swamp. She is involved in several projects outside of the Dismal Swamp and the Rising Star Expedition, including the Maryland Historic Trust/Archaeology Society of Maryland Biggs Ford project investigating Middle and Late Woodland villages.

She also actively supports open access and efforts to encourage women and girls in science.  Her dissertation fieldwork is supported by an Explorers Club-Washington Group grant, WINGSWorldQuest, the Archaeological Society of Virginia, and American University.

The Wikipedia article on the discovery has a great deal of background information.


Dinner talk described monkeys’ skilled use of tools

Dinner talk described monkeys’ skilled use of tools

Dorothy M. Fragaszy, spoke to an ECWG dinner on Oct. 15, 2018 on “Hercules with a tail:  Stone tool use in wild bearded capuchin monkeys.”

 She described how wild capuchin monkeys living in Fazenda Boa Vista Piauí, Brazil; a dry forest habitat, routinely use stone hammers to crack open very resistant palm nuts after they place the nuts on stone or log anvils.

She said this is an impressive accomplishment given that the monkeys as adults weigh 1.8 – 4.4 kg, and the stones they use can weigh up to 3 kg.

The speaker’s work shows that these monkeys choose stones, nuts, and anvil sites selectively, and display finely honed skill in cracking the nuts, including precise positioning of the nut on the anvil, precise handling of the stone hammer, precise control of the trajectory of their strikes, and modulation of the force of their strikes in accord with the condition of the nut following the previous strike.

These features of tool use in humans are unexpected in nonhuman primates, let alone small monkeys from South America, according to conventional views. Stone tool use by capuchin monkeys opens up a new reference point for understanding skilled tool use across species and evolutionary time.

Fragaszy is a Professor of Psychology and Chair of the graduate program in Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Georgia.

She is a primatologist and comparative psychologist who has studied nonhuman primates in laboratory and natural settings. She is past president of the American Society of Primatologists and International Primatological Society.

She has documented several ways in which these monkeys use stone hammers skillfully, and how young monkeys acquire this traditional skill over the course of many years.

Lew Toulmin MN’04 returns from Flag Expedition to Vanuatu

Lew Toulmin MN’04 returns from Flag Expedition to Vanuatu

Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S., MN ’04 just returned from a successful Flag Expedition to the Republic of Vanuatu in the SW Pacific, where he and a team of Explorers Club members interviewed, studied and documented the previously unknown “Female Chiefs of Vanuatu.”  For 102 years anthropologists and writers had contended that there were no female chiefs in Vanuatu or the entire region of Melanesia, but the Expedition found a number of female chiefs who had never before been described in the anthropological literature.


According to Lew, “The female chiefs are concentrated on north Pentecost island in Vanuatu, and also exist on Ambae (the “real Bali Hai” – the subject of a previous Flag Expedition), Efate (the capital island), Pele island, and the Shepherd Group of islands, where an ‘Association of Female Chiefs’ actually exists.”  He explained that, “The female chiefs usually have a graded system like the male chiefs, wear chiefly insignia, go through a sacred-pig killing ceremony like the male chiefs, and earn chiefly titles.  On most islands their powers are less than the male chiefs, but on Pele and Efate there are some female chiefs who take on all the powers of the male chiefs, for a period of two to seven years.”

Lew stated that, “The highlight of the Expedition was interviewing Chief Hilda Lini, who had served in Parliament for eleven years, twice held a Ministerial portfolio, won two international peace awards, and holds eleven chiefly titles!  She is likely the highest ranking female chief in Vanuatu.”

Other members of the Flag Expedition included Michael Wyrick of the ECWG Chapter; Daniel Huang, Theresa Menders and Sophie Hollingsworth of the New York Chapter; Dalsie Baniala, the Telecom Regulator of Vanuatu; and Corey Huber, a development consultant and ex-Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu.

Daniel Farber Huang.DFHuang@yahoo.
Daniel Farber Huang.DFHuang@yahoo.

After the Vanuatu Expedition, Lew went on to Thailand to try to find a missing temple cave once searched for by Jim Thompson, the legendary “Silk King of Thailand,” who himself went missing back in 1967.  Lew said that, “In 1962 Jim Thompson found and documented a temple cave in north central Thailand, with beautiful Buddha statuary dating back over 1100 years, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has described as ‘one of the most important in SE Asia.’  But Jim always thought that there was another temple cave nearby – this has never been found.  I haven’t found it yet, but I did get enough clues to now know that there is a second cave, that might, perhaps, be another important temple cave.  Wish me luck!”