Biography: Bruce Latimer

Dr. Bruce Latimer is a paleoanthropologist at Case Western Reserve University. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Arizona at Tuscon, his MA in Anthropology from Case Western Reserve University and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Kent State University in 1988. Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy was his advisor. Dr. Latimer is currently Professor of Anthropology, Anatomy, and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University, and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Origins at Case Western Reserve University. He has also been the Director of the Biological Program in the Department of Anatomy at Case Western Reserve University, the Curator of Physical Anthropology and the Executive Director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Cleveland State University, Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Kent State University, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medical Illustration at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Dr. Latimer is an expert on the evolution of human locomotion. His dissertation was entitled Functional analysis of the Pliocene hominid ankle and pedal bones recovered from the Hadar formation, Ethiopia : 1874-1977 collections  and has written extensively on the physiological trade-offs associated with bipediality He was also a member of the international teams that discovered and described new species Australopithecus garhi (1999), Ardipithecus kadabba (2004), and Ardipithecus ramidus (2009). He works closely with Drs. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Scott Simpson, and Linda Spurlock, Tim White, and C. Owen Lovejoy. He has also analyzed the Lucy fossils, and has argued that Australophithecus afarensis was an unequivocal habitual biped.

Dr. Latimer has been associated with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History since 1976 as a graduate student, and went on to become the Executive Director of the museum from 2001-2008. He is credited with doubling the working budget and expanding the museum’s infrastructure. He also worked to collaborate with the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Holden Arboretum.

Dr. Latimer’s current research and fieldwork is on the human specimens discovered in the Manot Cave in West Galilee in Israel, part of a ten-year partnership with Israel Herskovitz at Tel Aviv University and the Ofer Marder at Ben-Gurion University of Negev. Located at the only land bridge connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia, the Manot Cave provides a unique look into the migration of early humans. He invites undergraduate and graduate students to excavations to gain fieldwork experience.

Does Race Exist? Not Like You May Think. A Response to Gill (2000).

For class this week one of the required readings was “Does Race Exist” by George W. Gill, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming. As a physical and forensic anthropologist, he attempts to deconstruct the “reality of race” debate, and identifies himself as a proponent of the reality of biological race. However, I’ve found many of his arguments problematic, and I’m devoting this post to their analysis.

In the first section of his argument, Gill makes the argument that “the “reality of race” therefore depends more on the definition of reality than on the definition of race [emphasis added].” And truly his entire argument rests on this assumption. However, it’s inherently problematic—because as any philosopher or debater worth his salt will tell you—until all terms are defined and agreed upon, no argument is valid. To argue for the existence and utility of the race concept while dismissing his responsibility to define it invalidates his argument from the outset. Race is the crux of his argument.

Further, while the definition of reality may, in fact, be problematic, I’ve always approached reality with the definition of “phenomena which can be empirically proven to exist, and which, in general, would exist in the universe even without human cognition there to analyze it.” For example, in the history of humanity and obviously farther back, bacteria have “always” existed. That they were only detectable as discrete entities since the invention of the microscope and then shown to cause disease through later experimentation does not mean that they did not exist before then. Bacteria were always a reality, even while humans ascribed disease to magic. The reality of the attribution of disease to magic and the reality of the stress caused by fear of magical attack/social taboos against interacting with the cursed/etc. leading to illness does not equate to, prove, or even support the notion of reality of magic as a causative entity or force in disease/illness acquisition.
Compare this analysis of “reality of magic” to the sentence that immediately follows:

If we choose to accept the system of racial taxonomy that [American*] physical anthropologists have traditionally established—major races: black, white, etc.—then one can classify human skeletons within it just as well as one can living human beings.

In 1955, Malinowski argued that the Trobriand islanders’ understanding of magic was entirely rational and logical within its own set of premises; that we from the Western scientific perspective reject at least one of these premises (namely that supernatural forces affect our lives)—combined with our Western superiority complex—we therefore see their magical system as illogical and primitive. To the Trobriand islanders, magic works, or, rather, seems to work, and is therefore a valid enough system. Gill is basically invoking the same argument: because the American physical anthropologist’s racial taxonomy repertoire works, or, rather, seems to work, it’s therefore a valid enough system. But in the absence of a falsifiable definition of race as a biological reality, we are justified in withholding belief in it.

And following that, he says “…the skeleton reflects race, whether “real” or not, just as well if not better than superficial soft tissue does. The idea that race is “only skin deep” is simply not true…” The latter sentence is just a dishonest attempt to be cute, while the former sentence, if you look at it, is entirely meaningless. What he seems to mean is that the skeleton reflects some degree of observable, measurable, and generalizable diversity which he decides to call “race” whether or not it is an actually valid concept, which we can’t know because he never defines “race” (because there is no valid definition of “race”). Gill writes that tests for individual traits are over 80% accurate in assigning a skeleton to its race (Klepinger (2006) reported one test as being 88.1% accurate). My question is this: what if a skeleton falls outside of its race (into that 20%/11.9% that are misassigned)? Is it then essentially not of that race? He notes that “multiple criteria” are the key to success, but without it being 100% accurate, is it a good way to assess the essentialist category of race?

Gill then clarifies his position on race: he’s a believer in the biological concept of race based on the morphological “evidence,” while blood factor analysis suggest “clines” instead of “races.” He says that while racialists don’t deny the existence of clines, clinalists deny the racial evidence from skeletal biology, and decries it as politically motivated and unscientific. Granted, I’m reading this 15 years later with an abundance of new evidence that discredits race as a biological category (See Juliann Friel’s excellent analysis of the biological nonreality of race). Maybe the evidence was more sparse or at least less definitive in his time. It makes me wonder if he’s changed his mind in light of 15 years of new evidence.

Toward the end of his paper, Gill asks an important question: “Does discussing human variation in a framework of racial biology promote or reduce racism?” He brings up a valid concern that a colleague mentioned: that if we stop talking about race, it will promote racism. We see this presently in the context of #BlackLivesMatter and the “white” response of #AllLivesMatter, which really can be traced back to the erasure caused by people trying to be PC regarding race over the last couple decades. The noble ideal of everyone being equal and colorblindness has really just given people endowed with white privilege a way to deny that structural racism exists. I don’t think that people who say #AllLivesMatter are malintentioned; on a philosophical level they are not wrong. But coming from the flawed framework of a so-called post-racial society (or, as my parents like to put it, a society that people should just be happy isn’t as bad as it was during their parents’ childhoods), they don’t recognize the otherwise invisible inequalities alive and well in society today. “If we’re all equal, why do blacks deserve special treatment? I don’t get special treatment. In fact, as a white person, the fact that I’m not afforded special treatment is discrimination against me!” In a post-racial society, #BlackLivesMatter means #BlackLivesMatterAndOthersDon’t or #BlackLivesMatterMore. Those of use who are socially aware enough to recognize the nonexistence of a true post-racial society, as well as disenfranchised minorities who have to live in that society, see #BlackLivesMatter as meaning #BlackLivesMatterToo. And in this context saying #AllLivesMatter is akin to attending a breast cancer research fundraiser with a sign saying “THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO” – uncouth, unnecessary, and belying a lack of understanding of the purpose of the movement.

But the difference lies herein: talking about race from a social science perspective (social, political, cultural, economic, psychological) is helpful in combating racism, because these are the frameworks in which race exists in reality, in that people are arbitrarily categorized, and these categories accurately predict individuals’ experience within these frameworks, while recognizing the diversity in certain experiences and similarities in others. For example, a dark skinned person is more likely to be pulled over by a policeman, is less likely to be hired for a job when compared to a white person with the same credentials, is less likely to get good healthcare regardless of economic status, and is more likely to be assumed to be unintelligent and/or violent based solely on appearance, just to name a few. This is opposed to the promotion of biological race, which does nothing but further instill notions of inherent difference between people separated by an arbitrary and imprecise visual assessment of skin color and bone measurement. Atwood Gaines does an excellent and convincing job of dismantling the idea of scientific race in his chapter, “Race: Local Biology and Culture in Mind” and is definitely worth the read for people who may be on the fence.

Ultimately, Gill’s position is untenable. Without a definition of race, he doesn’t have a position to begin with. It’s an ideology with no basis. He just likes the word race, but it’s such a politically laden term that it’s no longer useful. Even if he could come up with a good definition, he should really just come up with a different word. Race needs to be retired from biology just as retarded, idiot, moron, and imbecile have been retired from psychological lexicon.

*See Gaines (2005).


Gaines, A. D. (2005). “Race: Local Biology and Culture in Mind.” In A Companion to Psychological Anthropology: Modernity and Psychocultural Change, C. Casey and R. B. Edgerton, Eds.

Gill, G. W. (2000). “Does Race Exist? A Proponent’s Perspective.” Nova Online.

Klepinger, L. L. (2006). “Deciphering Ancestral Background.” Fundamentals of Forensic Anthropology. John Wiley and Sons.

Malinowski, B. (1955). “Rational Mastery by Man of His Surroundings.” Magic, Science and Religion, New York: Doubleday. 25-35.

Is Homo gautengensis a valid species?

Homo gautengensis is a hominin species whose remains were discovered in the South African paleocaves of Sterkfontain, Drimolen, Kromdraai, and Gondolin. First described by Curnoe in 2010, it was suggested to have lived 2.00-0.82 million years ago (based on multi-method chronological seriation) in South, and possibly East, Africa. Bivariate analysis comparing cranial and mandibular measurements between cases Stw 53 and SK 847 and means and ranges of cranial, mandibular, and dental measurements from H. habilis and H. erectus suggest that Stw 53 is significantly different from H. habilis and H. erectus, may represent a novel species. According to Curnoe (2010), size of remains and timeline together suggest that Stw 53 represents H. gautengensis, a novel hominin species that pre-dates H. habilis, making it the earliest recognized species of Homo at the time of publication.

A Web of Science search of articles citing Curnoe (2010) turned up fifteen sources, none of which dispute or support H. gautengensis as a novel species. Further, only two articles published since Curnoe (2010) re-analyze Stw 53. Williams, Schoreder, and Ackermann (2012) refers to an historical debate on whether Stw 53 is Australopithecus or Homo, and ultimately concludes that Stw 53 and SK 847 “tend to resemble those East African Homo specimens that are the most australopith-like in the manifestation of midfacial traits” (Williams, Schroeder, and Ackermann 2012: 255); however, they make no mention of H. gautengensis as a separate species from H. habilis. Moreover, Braga et al. (2013) omitted Stw 53 and SK 847 from calculations of group means in their analysis because “[t]he specimens were considered as unknown” (450). Finally, Schroeder, Roseman, Cheverud, Ackermann (2014) analyze Stw 53 and SK 847 as undifferentiated early Homo. It seems that, in general, there is neither enough information to support nor dismiss H. gautengensis as a novel species, and more research needs to be done in order to form a conclusion.


Braga, J., Thackeray, J. F., Dumoncel, J., Descouens, D., Bruxelles, L., Loubes, J.-M., . . . Spoor, F. (2013). A new partial temporal bone of a juvenile hominin from the site of Kromdraai B (South Africa). Journal of Human Evolution, 65(4), 447-456.

Curnoe, D. (2010). A review of early Homo in southern Africa focusing on cranial, mandibular and dental remains, with the description of a new species (Homo gautengensis sp nov.). Homo-Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 61(3), 151-177.

Schroeder, L., Roseman, C. C., Cheverud, J. M., & Ackermann, R. R. (2014). Characterizing the Evolutionary Path(s) to Early Homo. Plos One, 9(12).

Williams, F. L. E., Schroeder, L., & Ackermann, R. R. (2012). The mid-face of lower Pleistocene hominins and its bearing on the attribution of SK 847 and StW 53. Homo-Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 63(4), 245-257.

Biography: Cynthia Beall


Dr. Cynthia Beall began her education with a B.A. in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970. As an undergraduate she was interested in evolution and ecology. In a 2004 interview with the National Academy of Sciences, she indicated that she became interested in human adaptation during her senior year while taking Physiological Adaptability in the Department of Anthropology as a distribution requirement, saying she’d “found [her] calling” by happenstance. In 1972 she completed her M.A. and in 1976 her Ph.D. in Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University under Paul Baker, one of the founders of the field of Human Adaptability. Her dissertation was entitled “The Effects of High Altitude on Growth, Morbidity and Mortality of Peruvian Infants.”

In 1976 she began teaching at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and has remained there ever since. In 1982 she was promoted to Associate Professor, and became full Professor in 1987.  In 1994 she became the S. Idell Pyle Professor of Anthropology, and in 2010 she became the Distinguished University Professor. She also has secondary appointments as Professor of Anatomy and Professor of Global Health and Diseases at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, as Research Associate in Physical Anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and as Adjunct Staff in the Department of Pathobiology at the Lerner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

She has trained one student, John Blangero.

Her research has focused on human adaptation to high altitude. Over the course of her career, she has studied Andean, East African, and Asian high altitude populations, living above 10,000 feet above sea level. Her studies seek to determine the varied genetic and developmental adaptations these indigenous populations may have evolved in order to combat the stresses associated with living in hypoxic high altitude environments.

Early studies up to the 1970s of human adaptation to high altitude hypoxia focused entirely on Andean Aymara, whose adaptations to high altitude include increased hemoglobin concentration, large barrel chests, and large lungs. At the end of the 1970s she was able to begin studying Tibetans living in Nepal, and she found that the high altitude native Tibetans did not share the same traits as the Andeans. Rather, they had adapted physiologically differently. Tibetans seem to have increased respiration, have a brisk hypoxic ventilatory response, and very high levels of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that increases blood flow to combat low environmental oxygen concentration. Later studies by Beall and colleagues have suggested that Ethiopian high altitude natives have developed a third pattern of adaptation to high altitude hypoxia because, unlike the other two populations, Ethiopians do not appear to be hypoxic.

She was elected as Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 and served as chair in 2011, as Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1997, as Member in the American Philosophical Society in 2001, and as Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. In 2009 she received the Franz Boas Distinguished Achievement Award, and in 2011 received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She holds professional membership in the American Anthropological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Association for Anthropology and Gerontology, Human Biology Association, International Mountain Medicine Society, Sigma Xi, and the Society for the Study of Human Biology. She was also the co-founding editor of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology.



Sociobiology and Anorexia

As an aspirant anthropologist of a biocultural bent, I often analyze behaviors from an evolutionary framework; so when we started ANT 670 with an introduction to the concepts of cultural primatology and ethnoprimatology, it was right up my alley. One of my interests is the relationship between biological realities and social capital. Smuts (1987) wrote about baboons’ evolutionary fitness in relation to their social network; Blaffer Hrdy (1988) wrote about the potential adaptability of skewed sex-ratios among mammals; and Small (1989) wrote about a female Barbary macaque’s dramatic rise in power in her troupe through the formation of alliances. The three articles suggest that, among social animals, one’s social rank is tied to one’s biological fitness, and vice versa.

I have many interests in anthropology that are not entirely disparate, yet their interrelatedness is not obvious: autism, sexuality, and body image are my broad topics of interest.  However, for this post, I will just stick to body image.

Estimates place the rates of Anorexia nervosa at about 1 in 100 women and 1 in 1,000 men (Delinsky and St. Germain 2012). I take the perspective of Nesse and Williams (1996), that many diseases, or in some cases our vulnerability toward them, are the result of a trait that was at one point (or possibly still is) adaptive in some cases. Sickle Cell is an obvious example—the heterozygote is protected against malaria (and may have some issues with cell-sickling at altitude), while the sickle-cell homozygote is bound to lead a short, pained existence without proper treatment. Other examples include anemia as a strategy to defend against bacterial infection (bacteria feed on iron), and fever as a tool, rather than the result, of the immune system.

In the case of Anorexia nervosa, evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized about the possible utility of Anorexia-like behaviors in early humans that didn’t carry over into our modern world, a sort of biotemporal mismatch. Some consider anorexia to be an indirect consequence of an adaptation for reproductive suppression that is triggered in developing societies by a desire to be thin (Wasser and Barash 1983, Surbey 1987, Voland and Voland 1989). Others have seen it as sexual selection through intrasexual competition gone haywire (Abed 1998, Mealey 2000, Lozano 2008). Still others view it as adaptive in that some of the behaviors associated with Anorexia nervosa would be adaptive in settings of famine (Guisinger 2003). Noting that none of the hypotheses are successful in considering the entirety of Anorexia from an evolutionary perspective, I do find that a combination of the evolutionary mismatch Guisinger (2003) suggests mixed with a less ethnocentric interpretation of Abed (1998) to be compelling.

In keeping with this biocultural, Darwinian medicine perspective, it is important to recognize that one can be said to have a Bordeauean “body capital,” meaning that the way one’s body presents sends messages to the people around who then make judgments about your health, socioeconomic status, mate value, etc., based on a cursory look at your physique. In the U.S., in which a thin body is idealized among women, thinness is associated both with beauty and with social status. It can be inferred that someone who has the body shape near what we are taught to see as “ideal” (thin, fit, etc.) is that way because they have a.) good genes, b.) the socioeconomic resources to eat well and exercise. In many developing countries that are bombarded with U.S. media, thin bodies are, if not attractive in their own right (some may see a more robust body as attractive), seen as a tool to access power and prestige (Kanaaneh 2002, Becker 2004). Similar behaviors are also seen among, for example, Asian women who receive double eyelid surgery: a form of Foucauldian discipline that allows them to take a more active role within “white” hegemony (Kaw 1993).

The aforementioned primate studies demonstrated the role of social networks in evolutionary fitness. It shows how important one’s social relations are to health, and how this is not just a cross-cultural thing but a cross-species one as well. I’ve extended the overarching concept to the case of Anorexia nervosa, in which one’s biological body cannot be divorced from the social role it fulfills, creating a feedback loop of ill health. In all cases, power equals mate value equals survival of one’s genes, making behaviors that would increase this power (by achieving thinness) seemingly evolutionarily strategic. The evolutionary necessity of forming social networks as a strategy for success is a double-edged sword.


Abed, R. T. (1998). “The sexual competition hypothesis for eating disorders.” British Journal of Medical Psychology 71(4): 525-547.

Becker, A. E. (2004). “Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: Negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 28(4): 533-559.

Blaffer Hrdy, S. (1988). Daughters or Sons. The Primate Anthology: Essays on Primate Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation from Natural History. R. L. Ciochon and R. A. Nisbett. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall: 44-55.

Delinsky, S. and S. St. Germain (2012). Anorexia nervosa. Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. T. F. Cash. Waltham, MA, Academic Press. 1: 8-14.

Guisinger, S. (2003). “Adapted to flee famine: Adding an evolutionary perspective on anorexia nervosa.” Psychological Review 110(4): 745.

Kanaaneh, R. A. (2002). Birthing the nation: Strategies of Palestinian women in Israel, Univ of California Press.

Kaw, E. (1993). “Steven Polgar Prize Essay (1991). Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Women and Cosmetic Surgery.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 7(1): 74-89.

Lozano, G. A. (2008). “Obesity and sexually selected anorexia nervosa.” Medical hypotheses 71(6): 933-940.

Mealey, L. (2000). “Anorexia: A “losing” strategy?” Human Nature 11(1): 105-116.

Nesse, R. M. and G. C. Williams (1996). Why we get sick: The new science of Darwinian medicine, Vintage.

Small, M. F. (1989). Ms. Monkey. The Primate Anthology: Essays on Primate Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation from Natural History. R. L. Ciochon and R. A. Nisbett. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall: 56-59.

Smuts, B. (1987). What Are Friends For? The Primate Anthology: Essays on Primate Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation from Natural History. R. L. Ciochon and R. A. Nisbett. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall: 36-43.

Surbey, M. K. (1987). “Anorexia nervosa, amenorrhea, and adaptation.” Ethology and Sociobiology 8: 47-61.

Voland, E. and R. Voland (1989). “Evolutionary biology and psychiatry: The case of anorexia nervosa.” Ethology and Sociobiology 10(4): 223-240.

Wasser, S. K. and D. P. Barash (1983). “Reproductive suppression among female mammals: implications for biomedicine and sexual selection theory.” Quarterly Review of Biology: 513-538.