Random Samples

Science  30 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5855, pp. 1357
  1. HUNTING AND GATHERING DATA

    1967 photo of Agta man.CREDIT: THOMAS HEADLAND

    Anthropologist Thomas Headland and his wife, Janet, have spent most of the past 45 years among the Agta, a hunter-gatherer group in the northern Philippines. This week, the Headlands announced at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, D.C., they put their unique database on the tribe—covering some 4000 people over 100 years—online.

    Today's Agta number only 600. High infant mortality offsets the high birthrate, so life expectancy is only 23 years. “When I first started working with the Agta, they didn't wear clothes; they didn't eat farmed food,” says Headland, now based at SIL International in Dallas, Texas. “Now, some of them use cell phones.”

    The disappearance of groups like the Agta means that such an effort will never be duplicated, he notes. The database, at www.sil.org/silepubs/abstract.asp?id=49227, covers information on births, deaths, marriages, migrations, physical characteristics, genealogies, and cultural and food-gathering practices that will allow anthropologists, archaeologists, economists, and geneticists to test questions about societies before agriculture and metal tools.

  2. GOALS ROCK NATION

    Seismology grad student Garrett Euler of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, was mystified by perplexing squiggles he and colleagues had recorded early in 2006 in the West African nation of Cameroon. As they will report at next month's meeting of the American Geophysical Union, they want to paint an image of Earth's interior by listening for seismic waves sent under a line of local volcanoes by distant earthquakes. But Euler's seismic waves, instead of sweeping across the land, were showing up simultaneously at a score of seismometers around the country.

    Euler's nonseismologist girlfriend solved the mystery with a Google search combining Cameroon and one of the dates of the squiggles. “The first thing that came up was a soccer match,” says Euler. Then the light bulb went on: “Every city we had a seismometer in was going crazy at a goal.” The Cameroon Lions football team scored eight goals in the African Cup of Nations, each of which triggered a countrywide “footquake” as TV-watching fans jumped and stomped for joy. The more crucial the goal, the stronger the footquake.

  3. WHAT THE SKULL TELLS

    CREDIT: IAN DEARY

    Some psychometricians enjoy estimating the IQs of great men in history: Galileo, for example, purportedly would have scored an astronomical 185. Now researchers have for the first time tried doing it from skull measurements.

    Robert the Bruce, 14th century king of Scots, died in Scotland in 1329 at age 55. A highly accurate cast of his skull (above), made when his tomb was rediscovered in 1819, now sits in the anatomy department of the University of Edinburgh.

    Studies have shown that brain, and therefore skull, sizes have modest but significant correlations with IQ. So Edinburgh psychologist Ian Deary and colleagues decided to use the cast to estimate Bruce's intellectual wattage. They compared his skull measurements with those of 48 Scotsmen who took an IQ-like reading test. The men's scores correlated well—at around 0.5—with brain-imaging measurements of their intracranial space. Applying the same relationship to Bruce's high-browed cranium, the researchers report in the November issue of Intelligence that his IQ probably hovered around 128.

    “The results are very interesting,” says psychologist Philip A. Vernon of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Although Bruce's brain volume could not be directly measured, Vernon notes, “the estimated IQ is in the same ballpark as [those of] other leaders and is corroborated by suggestions that [Bruce] spoke several languages and was a master of national and international politics.”

  4. DINO IN THE BASEMENT

    Dino sacrum measures 84 centimeters long.CREDIT: ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM

    Last spring, paleontologist David Evans was scouting for a long-necked sauropod to serve as centerpiece in the dinosaur hall at the newly renovated Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He flew to Wyoming in search of a Barosaurus to excavate and even considered buying a replica.

    But this fall, he found that the real thing was already in the basement. Scattered in various dusty museum drawers, the fossils include vertebrae from the neck, back, and tail; the pelvis; and various limb bones. A now-deceased curator had acquired the 150-million-year-old bones in a 1962 museum trade, but they were never cataloged. Evans was clued in when he spotted a reference in a 2005 journal article.

    Misplaced fossils turn up in museums all the time, but not gigantic sauropods. “The scale of this is what makes this funny,” Evans says. The Barosaurus, with its skull and other missing bones modeled after a close relative, Diplodocus, will measure about 24 meters. The exhibit opens 15 December.