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Book review Human Evolution Trails from the Past.

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Book Reviews
Fairgrieve. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. 2008.
206 pp. ISBN 978-0-8493-9189-7. $ 99.95 (hardcover).
Schmidt and Steven A. Symes, Eds. New York: Academic
Press. 2008. 279 pp. and 31 color plates. ISBN 978-0-12372510-3. $130.00 (hardcover).
To say that biological anthropologists asked to recover,
analyze, and identify human remains burned beyond recognition face unique interpretive challenges would be
considered an understatement by most of us working in
forensic and archeological contexts. Each of the reference
volumes reviewed here was written for the archeologists,
biological and forensic anthropologists, coroners and
medical examiners, crime scene and arson investigators,
and students who take up these challenges.
Forensic Cremation by Dr. Scott Fairgrieve provides
clear information on the chemistry and dynamics of fire,
expected taphonomic changes to cremated bone, the
identification of antemortem trauma, and the critical importance of being able to distinguish ante- from postmortem fire-induced changes in bone and teeth. He also
addresses scene recovery strategies, laboratory analysis,
and the various methods (DNA, radiography, frontal
sinus comparison, dental identification) by which a positive identification may be made. There is also a short
section entitled, ‘‘Mass Disasters and Identification of
Cremains,’’ which details the contribution the anthropologist and forensic dentist can make when human
remains are highly fragmented and/or have been subjected to high temperatures for a prolonged period.
Although his experience in Canadian civil and criminal
contexts may differ slightly from what those of us practicing elsewhere have experienced, his focus on the importance of a team approach to maximize evidence recovery is a critical element not always fully appreciated
within the law enforcement community.
An extensive 17-page bibliography accompanies the
text, and many black-and-white photographs appear
throughout the volume. A handful of photographs (e.g.,
Figure 5.5, p. 101) are of low contrast (often a problem
when photographing charred or burned bone) and the
substitution of a color photo in those instances would
have been preferable. The volume is extremely well
edited and was carefully proofed.
The volume by Drs. Christopher Schmidt and Steve
Symes, The Analysis of Burned Human Remains, assembles a temporally and geographically diverse list of contributors who report on the structural, taphonomic, and
patterned effects of fire on bone and teeth from localities
as far afield as Siberia. The authors have struck a major
coup by including a chapter entitled, ‘‘Fire and Bodies,’’
written by Dr. John DeHaan, a name likely unfamiliar
to physical anthropologists and bioarcheologists who do
not work in forensic contexts or who never have been
involved in the recovery and analysis of fatal fire deaths.
Dr. DeHaan is well known for his work on fire dynamics
using actualistic studies that demonstrate how and why
C 2008
bodies are consumed in fires and why scene context is
critical (a concept not lost on those with archeological
training) to interpret the fatal fire scene.
As in the Fairgrieve volume, many of the authors cite
early descriptive and interpretive work based on classic
studies of cremated remains from archeological contexts,
and focus on more recent trends in the study of burned
or cremated human remains including the importance of
a complete recovery, the examination of signatures of
patterned thermal alteration, taphonomic analysis, and
bone-trauma interpretation (Symes et al.). The thrust of
the early chapters is that investigators can and should,
through systematic recovery and documentation, record
the manner and determine the cause of death based not
only on expected fire-related changes to bone and teeth
(Schmidt) but also on detailed documentation of inconsistent burn patterns that, taken together, may tell an
unexpected story.
Cremated remains are discussed at length (Schultz
et al.), including methods for their analysis and mechanisms by which investigators are able to distinguish
associated artifacts (e.g., medical device parts, jewelry,
and dental restorations) from bone. In contemporary
commercial cremations, where bone is often reduced to
fragments of less than 1 mm, using chemical methods to
decipher elemental composition is a distinct advantage.
Schurr et al. used stable carbon isotopes to evaluate
prehistoric (Late Archaic to Middle Mississippian, 1500
BP–AD 1400) cremations to determine what, if any, are
the diagenetic effects of burning on the results
obtained, and whether or not modern analogs can be
used to estimate not only the prehistoric diet but also
the temperature to which the bone was heated. Devlin
and Herrman, Walker et al., and Beach et al. report on
the documented effects of fire- and heat-related changes
to bone and teeth that include color variation, the concomitant loss of organic content, and the difficulty of
extracting DNA from burned and calcined bone. Also
discussed are some external factors that contribute to
the relative degree of burning, such as oxygen availability and the presence of other organic compounds in and
around the body.
Remaining chapters investigate pre-Roman and
Roman cremations from southwestern Germany (Wahl);
Romano-British cremations and the socioeconomic interpretation of incomplete oxidation in mortuary rites
(McKinley); the general expression of social distinctions
through variable cremation at the site of Khuzhir-Nuge
XIV in Siberia, Russia (Weitzel and McKenzie); the analysis of commingled cremated remains from a prehistoric
ossuary on the northwest coast of British Columbia
(Curtin); a detailed taphonomic laboratory analysis of a
modern serial homicide site at Fox Hollow Farm, Indiana (Bontrager et al.); and mortuary ceremonialism at
the early Archaic Jerger site involving one or more burning episodes (Schmidt et al.). A final chapter entitled,
‘‘Towards an Archaeology of Cremation’’ (Williams), calls
for archeologists to develop theoretical approaches that
address cross-cultural variability in the cremation practices of past societies, including, but not limited to, technology, grave goods, and landscapes.
References appear after each article rather than at
the end of the volume; while this may result in some
citation duplication throughout the book, it is the most
user-friendly way of presenting them to the reader.
Thirty-one color plates (whose images also appear
throughout the text in black-and-white format) follow
the index. While no doubt expensive to produce, they are
a welcome visual addition to this comprehensive volume.
Both volumes are extremely well produced and are
appropriate for the stated audiences. Forensic Cremation
will be most useful to students of anthropology and lawenforcement professionals who respond to fatal fire
scenes. The Analysis of Burned Human Remains will
hold the most interest for archeologists and physical
anthropologists who frequently encounter burned or
cremated bone, forensic anthropologists whose case practice includes fatal fires, and law enforcement professio-
FIELD. By Gillian H. Ice and Gary D. James.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2007.
271 pp. ISBN 0-521-84479-7. $145.00 (hardcover).
Many alleged stressors fail to initiate a response in all
who are exposed. In the foreword to Measuring Stress in
Humans, Geoffrey Harrison explains that this is because
‘‘stress is a phenomenon of the organism not the environment’’ (p xii). Researchers have used multiple tools to
examine stress and stress responses in humans, ranging
from questionnaires to cerebral blood-flow measurements
and from urinary hormone assays to continuous bloodpressure monitoring. This volume, written by working
researchers actively pursuing fieldwork on the ‘‘stress
process’’ worldwide, is ‘‘intended to assist researchers in
designing field-based research on stress’’ (p 13). Its contributors offer clear, well-written reviews of current
methods and techniques for field studies of stress and
stressors, as well as limited historical background on
stress research and its integration within the social and
medical sciences.
Ice, James, and the various authors propose multiple
methods that may aid researchers trying to determine
what a stressor is and to map human physiological
responses to these factors. In this case, the physiology is
better understood than the biocultural context of what
makes a stressor stressful and what initiates the stress
process. All assume that using physiological responses to
measure the ‘‘stressed state’’ provides objective and
appropriate assessments across groups and cultures. The
editors review current and historical ideas on the stress
process, the pioneering work of Hans Selye on the general adaptive syndrome, and research from other disciplines that deal with life events and stress.
There are various ways of looking at stress and stressors. Some define stress as any ‘‘change that is undesirable, unscheduled, non-normative, and uncontrollable’’
or that is harmful (p 9). Human biologists generally view
stressors as anything ‘‘that take[s] the body away from
homeostasis’’ (p 10). Ice and James suggest ‘‘that stress
be defined as a process by which a stimulus elicits an
emotional, behavioral and/or physiological response,
which is conditioned by an individual’s personal, biological, and cultural context’’ (pp 12–13, authors’ italics).
They also suggest that the chain of inference requires
more direct examination. One suggestion is that stress
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
nals (including arson investigators) who wish to learn
more about how others have addressed the often significant challenges involved in interpreting cremated and
burned human remains in forensic and archeological
Division of Historic Preservation-Public History
Wisconsin Historical Society
Madison, Wisconsin
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20938
Published online 15 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience
research be subject to the same standards of causality
that were enumerated by Hill in the mid-20th century
and that guide most epidemiological research today.
All authors emphasize that culture adds dimensions to
stress research not anticipated in laboratory experiments. Nowhere is this clearer then in Dressler’s continuing attempts to understand blood pressure (BP) variability and stress across and within human samples. He
calls for a more restricted and workable definition of culture, suggesting it is the ‘‘knowledge that individuals
must have and share in order to adequately function in
a social system’’ (p 30). This reasonable-person approach
suggests that all local actors are embedded within the
same interconnected system (consensus). The degree to
which any individual fits may be interpreted as reflecting his or her cultural competence, with cultural consonance being the degree to which an individual’s behavior
approximates the consensus model. Methods for determining each are included. Assessment of cultural competency is difficult, as is measurement of emotional
responses. Scales (usually of a Likert nature) for assessing stress and associated affect abound. Ice reviews a variety of these and provides Web sites and/or citations for
the majority. Ice’s main problem with off-the-shelf scales
is that most have only been applied to specific samples
and few have been vetted for cross-cultural research.
Additionally, different scales assess different domains
and subdomains. Ice explains how to develop and test a
culturally specific affective/behavioral scale and use it in
the field. She also provides a materials resource list.
In Chapter 4, Brown addresses catecholamines by
exploring the sympathetic adrenal medullary system
(SAMS), stress response, and the concept of allostasis.
The SAMS influences BP, blood flow, energy mobilization, immune function, and blood fat and sugar levels.
Brown defines stress as a mediating variable connecting
a stimulus to a physiological response. That is, stress
acts in the brain following the perception of a stimulus.
One problem in assessing SAMS activity is the time lag
between a stimulus and the measured response. In the
case of catecholamine release, the hormone appears in
the plasma within minutes or seconds but does not
appear in the urine for hours or days. Additionally, multiple factors (e.g., age, sex, activity) influence measures
and must be controlled statistically in analyses. Pollard
and Ice address the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal
(HPA) axis and the influences of cortisol on physiology,
providing an all too brief review of HPA activation. Cor-
tisol is a multitasking molecule, reining in some aspects
of immediate stress response, augmenting the actions of
catecholamines, and increasing insulin resistance and
immune and inflammatory responses. As with other
measures, cortisol is but one aspect of allostatic
response. Today, cortisol often is assessed from saliva,
but it may also be measured in blood and urine. Levels
vary over the day and season, by age and sex, and with
daily activities. This necessitates multiple samples over
timed intervals to achieve reliable estimates of cortisol
levels. Again, a list of resources needed for fieldwork is
included at chapter’s end. Another way of assessing the
stress process is ambulatory BP measurements. There is
wide variation in BP over the day. These fluctuations
likely reflect stress-related cardiovascular changes that
ultimately may lead to disease and/or death. Ambulatory
BP monitoring allows researchers to see which aspects of
daily life elicit BP spikes and may be deemed stressors.
James presents detailed methods for following natural
experimental designs in 24-hour BP monitoring, along
with a review of related statistical techniques.
Dried blood spots are a minimally invasive procedure
for assessing human immune function in the field.
McDade provides detailed methods for collecting, handling, and analyzing dried blood spots for Epstein-Barr
virus and C-reactive protein (CRP), while emphasizing
that stress alters immune function, possibly directly
influencing disease risks. Transdisciplinary research in
psychoneuroimmunology links stress to human immune
function, and both stress and immune/inflammatory
processes, as assessed from blood cell counts, immunoglobulins, and antibodies, are associated with cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. McDade suggests that soon fieldworkers may be able to assess actual
cytokine activity from blood spots.
There are populations that must be approached with
special consideration; among these are pregnant women,
infants and children, the elderly, and those with cognitive and functional impairments. Nonclinical field settings have multiple constraints, so portability and ease
of processing become issues when selecting techniques.
Williams reviews some practical considerations for
obtaining biological samples in such settings. Additional
data collection constraints, research considerations, and
Cela-Conde and Francisco J. Ayala. New York: Oxford
University Press. 2007. 437 pp. ISBN 0-198-56780-4.
$69.95 (paper).
The blurb for Human Evolution: Trails from the Past
informs us that this textbook aims to be suitable ‘‘for
both senior undergraduate and graduate level students
taking courses on human evolution.’’ Perhaps the most
reasonable means of evaluating it, therefore, is to assess
the degree to which one would be happy to use it as the
key resource text in a senior undergraduate seminar
and/or as a source of teaching material. Cela-Conde and
Ayala’s first success is to use a format that I suspect is
already followed, in somewhat modified forms, by those
who teach such courses, so I believe many will find this
book useful in the classroom.
participant protections are enumerated by James and
Ice in Chapters 9 and 10. Importantly, they point out
that study population biases (limited study groups,
unbalanced designs) may be usefully exploited to refine
study design and provide additional clues to the stress
process. Nonrandomness is an advantage of and a problem with natural experimental study designs in stress
research. Various types of models and model testing and
related statistical techniques, mainly ANOVA/ANCOVA
methods, for addressing these issues are reviewed A
description of how to develop a document for IRB review
(Chapter 10) will be useful to those going through these
procedures for the first time.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this compilation of stress
research methods. It may be useful in an upper division
course on field methods in human biology and/or stress
research, but would need to be supplemented with additional primary resources. The level is appropriate for
advanced undergraduates and graduate students wishing to develop research, as well as seasoned researchers
looking for a compendium of current field methods for
examining individual and group differences in stress
response. Contributions are well written and generally
presented with adequate detail and graphics to illustrate
important concepts. The chapter order follows a logical
progression and topical approach. An additional introductory chapter reviewing all interacting components of
stress responses, along with another specifically addressing allostatic load and related research (mentioned in
over half of the contributions) would have rounded out
the volume. For the foreseeable future, students preparing for fieldwork and candidacy exams in human biology
should have this volume in their bibliographies.
Department of Anthropology
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20939
Published online 2 December 2008 in Wiley InterScience
The book begins with the historical background to
human evolutionary research and highlights the roles
of Darwin, Wallace, and Mendel before briefly discussing the impact of the modern synthesis. Although
clearly striving to be as up to date as possible, the text
also frequently frames human evolution within this historical perspective, using numerous text boxes throughout the book to elaborate on the background of particular issues and controversies. Also covered in Chapter 1
are some of the fundamentals of evolutionary theory,
processes of genetic change, and concepts such as selection, homology, convergence, species, and speciation. As
might be expected given the authors’ respective backgrounds, adequate attention is given to synthesizing
the molecular and genetic evidence for human evolution
with the physical evidence, not only here but also in
the remainder of the book. Further background to
hominin evolution is provided in the second chapter by
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
looking at the evolution of the hominoids. Hominoid
taxonomy, the molecular evidence for the timing of the
chimpanzee-hominin split, and ape apomorphies are
discussed here prior to a brief discussion of the fossil
and morphological evidence for the evolution of Miocene
apes. Although fundamentals are covered, those
instructors who wish to provide a comprehensive survey
of Miocene ape evolution (especially against the wider
backdrop of Old World monkey evolution) will have to
look beyond this text. Chapter 2 also touches upon a
terminological controversy that is something of a
research penchant of the book’s authors: the systematics of the hominin lineage and the genus Homo, controversies that are also discussed in other parts of the
By Chapter 3 the book turns more squarely to its primary focus of evolution within the hominin lineage.
Chapters 3–6 cover topics such as contenders for the
title of earliest hominin, evidence for (and debates concerning) bipedal locomotion in early hominins, the australopithecines, genus Paranthropus, and the earliest
putative members of the genus Homo. Chapter 5 pays
particular attention to the key role that sites in South
Africa have played in unfolding the story of these early
hominin taxa. These chapters also introduce dating techniques and paleoenvironmental issues, topics that tend
to be interspersed in the text rather than placed in dedicated sections.
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the ‘‘erectus grade’’ and
discuss the topic from the geographical basis of African
versus Asian specimens. However, the authors are keen
to note that they personally favor use of the single species H. erectus to refer to all specimens from both continents rather than two taxa based on African (H.
ergaster) versus Asian (H. erectus sensu stricto) provenance. Here, the authors also stick with the long-held
view that it was this ‘‘kind of hominin with a larger
body and greater cranial capacity, which . . . was the first
hominin to colonize territories outside of the African continent’’ (p 194). However, in their discussion of Dmanisi
only a few pages later, they contend that cranial volume
estimates for D2280 and D2282 ‘‘are smaller than would
be expected for H. ergaster, and close to the cranial
capacity of H. habilis’’ (p 218). The precise taxonomic
identity of the first hominins to leave Africa is one of
those hot questions for which many of us look with great
anticipation to future discoveries in Asia. In these chapters, discussions of archaeological evidence become more
integrated with those of the fossil material. This is
potentially somewhat confusing, for it is only in the
chapter, ‘‘Evolutionary Characteristics of the erectus
Grade,’’ that the earliest Plio-Pleistocene archaeological
stone-tool sites are discussed.
The final two chapters, predictably enough, deal with
the rise and fall of the Neanderthals and the controversies over anatomical and behavioral modernity within
the context of the origin of Homo sapiens. Again, useful
coverage is given in these sections to the role of molecular evidence. However, sandwiched between the chapters
on the erectus grade and the Neanderthals, ‘‘Archaic
Homo sapiens’’ make only a rather fleeting appearance.
Chapter 10, ‘‘The Uniqueness of Being Human,’’ has a
more archaeological focus than other chapters and even
pitches into more philosophical debates surrounding
topics such as language origins, morality, and rationality.
Perhaps even more than other sections, the perceived
classroom utility of this chapter will depend upon an
instructor’s particular take on such issues and desire to
incorporate their discussion into a course.
As a textbook, Human Evolution has a somewhat ‘‘traditional’’ feel. There is, for instance, no accompanying
CD of additional illustrations or companion Web site
with study questions or ready-made lecture slides. I will
leave it to readers and users to decide whether the latter
are a necessary part of any modern textbook or simply
marketing ploys. However, it should also be noted that
many of the illustrations used by the authors are available on the Internet, and the authors acknowledge and
reference Web sites for these images.
The book’s extensive bibliography is clearly referenced
throughout the text, making it easier for student and instructor alike to check the primary literature in relation
to specific points. At 19 pages, the index is also thorough
enough that it will be useful for chasing many a
memory-elusive fact, whether during study, teaching, or
research! As one might expect from a publisher of this
pedigree, the black-and-white illustrations (barring a
small number of exceptions) are clear throughout,
although slightly larger versions of certain illustrations
would have lent greater clarity.
Of course, this book will have to be heavily supported in
the classroom by the usual supplemental reading lists,
especially for those research areas that see the heaviest
revisions and advances during the coming months and
years. Nonetheless, Cela-Conde and Ayala have produced a
book that will probably give its current competitors cause to
consider revised editions in the not-too-distant future.
COAST FLORIDA. By Dale L. Hutchinson. Gainesville:
University Press of Florida. 2007. 288 pp. ISBN 0-81303029-3. $59.95 (cloth).
riod when Native Americans and European settlers first
came into contact. It provides us with important data,
clearly described here, that directly correlate with the
written reports of the first Spanish explorers who visited
this region, making it a classic case for multidisciplinary
bioarchaeological study. For this investigation, Hutchinson examined more than 350 burials and the skeletons
interred therein. It is ambitious to attempt to explain the
biological and social decline of the Native American popu-
Tatham Mound, one of the most important archaeological sites in Central Gulf Coast Florida, dates from the peAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
University of Kent
Canterbury, United Kingdom
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20940
Published online 15 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience
lations of Florida using the Tatham Mound findings, but
Hutchinson presents new data and persuasive arguments
that convince me that this decline was caused by multiple
factors. New long-term political, social, economic, and biological factors dramatically changed indigenous living conditions, and new diseases brought on by altered lifeways
or transmitted by the Europeans contributed to the collapse of Florida’s Native populations. I have no doubt that,
within certain limits, the pattern described by Hutchinson
can also be applied to other Native American populations.
The first and largest part of this book (110 p) deals
with the historical background of the Spanish colonization, the tribal ethnohistory, and the current status of the
archaeology of Florida. Here, the author has succeeded in
providing a true-to-life picture. However, I did wonder
why he refers only to Stefan Lorant’s annotated 1965 edition of The New World: The First Picture of America
(1591), when Gereon Sievernich’s 1990 edition reproduces
facsimiles of Theodorus de Bry’s engravings, illustrating
the life of Florida Indians, in full size and color. The
archaeology of Tatham Mound is presented in a very informative way; the interpretations of the archaeological
findings, in particular, are clear. The chapter on the burial archaeology and mortuary practices is notable for its
careful analyses and clear burial maps. Throughout the
whole book, the selection of maps, line drawings, and
photographs is good. Unfortunately, the reproduction
quality of most of the photos could be better.
The second part of this book (61 p), presenting the
paleopathology of the population from Tatham Mound,
deals with diseases due to poor nutrition and lack of
hygiene (e.g., dental caries), nonspecific stress indicators
(enamel hypoplasias, porotic hyperostosis), infectious diseases (osteomyelitis, treponematosis), degenerative joint
disease, and finally trauma. However, this section suffers
because the author frequently does not distinguish
between different bone diseases and mingles their various manifestations by grouping them broadly, e.g., periostitis, neglecting the fact that not only infectious diseases
but also metabolic and neoplastic diseases can create
such periosteal lesions. In these cases, it would be better
to talk about stress indicators rather than ‘‘diseases.’’
Hutchinson’s contention that new diseases brought by
the Europeans (or arising from postcontact social and economic changes) contributed to the collapse of the Native
American populations of Florida would have been
strengthened had he considered a broader range of pathologies. Hutchinson does not report, for instance, on nonspecific stress indicators (e.g., Harris’s lines); the vestiges of
scurvy; inflammatory diseases of the braincase and the
middle ear region (e.g., meningitis, mastoiditis) and face
(sinusitis); or diseases of the vertebral column and extremities. Pre-Columbian populations of the Southwest and
Mexico show relatively little scurvy, as a rule, where envi-
PRACTICE. By Debra A. Komar and Jane E. Buikstra.
New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. 362 pp.
ISBN 978-0-19-530029-1. $72.95 (hardcover).
Interest in the discipline of forensic anthropology has
resulted in numerous publications organized along three
ronments are balanced, with increasing rates observed in
cases of dramatic environmental and social changes. In
early medieval European populations, infections of the
middle ear and paranasal sinuses were poor people’s diseases and potentially life threatening. Thus, ‘‘trivial’’
infections can be important for reconstructing ancient living conditions, and it might be of interest to know from
what other diseases the Tatham Mound people suffered.
To take one example, porotic hyperostosis (p 121),
Hutchinson gives an informative description of the characteristic changes observable with hypertrophy of the red
bone marrow of the calvaria, the diploë, due to anemia.
However, aside from a general reference to ‘‘infectious
diseases,’’ he largely omits other causes of porotic hyperostosis of the cranial vault and orbital roof such as
scurvy, rickets, hypervitaminosis-A, and inflammation of
the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, not to mention
tumors (e.g., meningeoma, cavernous hemangioma) and
Paget’s disease. Unfortunately, the bony changes produced by these diseases are all very similar at the macroscopic level. Similarly, it is well known that treponematosis is not easy to diagnose, but the gross morphology of
the illustrated long-bone fragments, is not convincing,
and microscopic investigations were not carried out.
The following chapter, which deals with the reconstruction of the lives of the interred and the bioarchaeology of degenerative joint disease and trauma, is very
enlightening and well prepared. Particularly, the combination of archaeology and physical anthropology that is
successfully presented in this chapter will stimulate
scholars of these scientific fields in the New and Old
Worlds. This book is a very positive example to understand that archaeological skeletons are bio-historic documents. A short chapter dealing with stable isotopes, the
diet of the Tatham Mound people, and their demographic
situation closes this section.
The third and, unfortunately, very short part of the
book (12 p) dealing with the problem of the depopulation
of Florida summarizes the historical and biological facts
compiled by Hutchinson. A comprehensive appendix and a
very useful bibliography conclude this interesting book. In
summary, this is a worthwhile book, written in the American scientific tradition, that deserves to be read, but a
more complete paleopathological investigation might have
delivered much more relevant and exciting results.
Department of Anatomy
University of Göttingen
Göttingen, Germany
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20941
Published online 24 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience
major themes: explorations of methodology, edited collections of real-world forensic cases, and first-person
accounts targeted to the lay public. Lacking among these
newer offerings are quality introductory textbooks as
well as core references geared toward advanced students
and professional forensic anthropologists.
Forensic Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and
Practice, by Debra A. Komar and Jane E. Buikstra, is
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
not intended as an introductory textbook nor is it suitable as a training manual in forensic osteological techniques. This volume assumes prior knowledge of forensic
anthropological theory and method, and occupies a
distinct niche best summarized by the authors: ‘‘the
book focuses on placing forensic anthropology within
the larger context of medicolegal investigations of
death. . . [and] includes integration of anthropology into
the legal system, relating both to practitioners and to
the theories and methods they employ’’ (p. xi). The
framework of this volume is explicitly situational,
examining forensic anthropology through the broader
lens of actual practice and courtroom experience, especially with reference to federal admissibility guidelines
such the Daubert ruling (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579). This 1993 United States
Supreme Court precedent deals with scientific evidence and expert testimony and allows challenges
under a two-pronged admissibility standard that
includes both the relevance and reliability of the
expert witness and that witness’ testimony. The Daubert ruling is having a growing and cumulative effect
across all forensic/scientific disciplines. The validity
of forensic anthropological methods and the reputations of forensic anthropologists themselves are now
subject to enhanced scrutiny and potential exclusion
from federal proceedings if either is found lacking
under the amplified admissibility standards. Consequently, each of the 10 chapters assesses forensic anthropological praxis with an emphasis on standardization, research design, and overall viability in light
of emerging evidentiary standards and the legal
requirements outlined in Daubert and similar admissibility rulings.
Chapter 1 emphasizes the historical development of
forensic anthropology by tracing its evolution and highlighting the contributions of early practitioners. It concludes by assessing modern trends in training and
employment, professionalization via the American
Board of Forensic Anthropology, forensic anthropology
in international settings, and research design and
As noted by Komar and Buikstra, forensic anthropologists act within three medicolegal spheres. Chapters 2,
3, and 4 present an overview of this triad composed of
the medical examiner, the judiciary, and law enforcement. These chapters familiarize the reader with terminology, process, and procedure in each distinct venue.
The legal responsibilities of each agency are explained,
as are the expectations placed on forensic anthropologists within these settings. These chapters will be beneficial to graduate students moving beyond the role of
classroom learners and transitioning into active case
processing, management, and analysis. Important
themes stressed in these densely packed chapters
include cause and manner of death, expert witnessing
in the courtroom, rules of evidence (i.e., Daubert criteria), legal significance of human remains, and crime
scene procedures.
Chapter 5 turns to the estimation of sex, age, ancestry, and stature of skeletal remains, with specific emphasis on viability of current techniques and
approaches. It emphasizes statistical analysis in
research, especially to satisfy Daubert criteria. Komar
and Buikstra correctly argue that a shift in research
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
design must occur vis-à-vis empirical testing and the
establishment of error rates for existing forensic anthropological methods.
Chapter 6 examines how the forensic anthropologist
can assist legal authorities in their determination of
cause and manner of death via assessment of trauma
and pathology in skeletal remains. As in all other chapters, utilization of proper terminology and descriptive
language is stressed, and a short overview of specific
trauma types including sharp force, blunt force, and
gunshot wounds is presented.
Chapter 7 surveys forensic taphonomy and its use in
estimating time since death and includes a critical evaluation of the descriptive (hence, non-Daubert-appropriate)
nature of most postmortem interval estimations. Decomposition, animal scavenging, element transport, and recovery/sampling bias are reviewed.
Chapter 8 focuses on methods of establishing positive
identification. One of the predominant themes running
throughout this book is concern with evidence admissibility at trial, and this chapter, in particular, underscores this argument. It outlines differing levels of legal
certainty in identity attribution and assesses personal
identification via fingerprints, DNA, odontology, and radiological approaches.
Chapter 9 explores human rights work, mass-disaster
scenarios, and the role of the forensic anthropologist in
establishing positive identification in mass death contexts. A firm understanding of international law and
the underlying politics of war crimes and genocide is
The final chapter explores a subcategory of forensic
anthropological investigation involving the excavation
of historic individuals. While this type of analysis can
have legal ramifications (e.g., identifying Josef Mengele), for the most part it tends to be media driven and
focused on exhuming interesting historical figures with
little or no prosecutorial significance. A cautionary tale
of the attempt to locate Billy the Kid is presented as an
example of the ethical conflicts and violations that can
This unique volume is an excellent addition to the
bookshelf of any forensic anthropologist. It contains
a thorough glossary, the photographs are of good
quality, and the references are extensive. While the
book is too advanced for undergraduates, it is quite
appropriate for students with training in forensic anthropological techniques, and would make an excellent text for a graduate seminar. Professional forensic anthropologists, too, will find in these pages a
wealth of information to guide their research and
investigative practices, especially in this new postDaubert era.
Department of Anthropology
Texas State University-San Marcos
San Marcos, Texas
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20967
Published online 31 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience
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DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20942
Published online 15 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience
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