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RE: [SACC-L] NYTimes Anthropology of skin

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  • Monica Bellas
    I ve read Jablonski s book over winter break and found it fascinating, especially with respect to the evolution of skin color. I m including her conclusions
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 9, 2007
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      I've read Jablonski's book over winter break and found it fascinating,
      especially with respect to the evolution of skin color. I'm including her
      conclusions on UVA/UVB rays and the production of Vitamin D, in addition to
      melanin's ability to protect folates -- which affects cell division -- in my
      lectures this semester.

      Monica Bellas, PhD
      Cerritos College
      Norwalk, CA



      "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved
      body,
      but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting...
      "HOLY SHIT...WHAT A RIDE!"





      >From: "Popplestone, Ann" <ann.popplestone@...>
      >Reply-To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
      >To: <sacc-l@yahoogroups.com>
      >Subject: [SACC-L] NYTimes Anthropology of skin
      >Date: Tue, 9 Jan 2007 09:51:28 -0500
      >
      >January 9, 2007
      >
      >A Conversation With Nina G. Jablonski
      >
      >
      >Always Revealing, Human Skin Is an Anthropologist's Map
      >
      >
      >By CLAUDIA DREIFUS
      ><http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/claudia_dreifus/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
      >
      >In an era of academic hyper-specialization, Dr. Nina G. Jablonski has an
      >amazingly broad r�sum�. At 53, she heads the anthropology department at
      >Pennsylvania State University
      ><http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/p/pennsylvania_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
      >. She's also a primatologist, an evolutionary biologist and a
      >paleontologist.
      >
      >Last year, Dr. Jablonski led an expedition to China, where she dug for
      >human fossils in an attempt to learn how early man coped with climate
      >change
      ><http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/globalwarming/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>
      >. This month, she's in Kenya, where she and Meave Leakey are putting
      >together a study on prehistoric monkeys.
      >
      >For more than a decade, Dr. Jablonski has been trying to get her arms
      >around a ubiquitous and yet mysterious topic: the biology, evolution and
      >social function of human skin. The results of her studies have been
      >published by the University of California Press
      ><http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/university_of_california/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
      > as "Skin: A Natural History."
      >
      >"Skin has been studied to absolute death by dermatologists," Dr. Jablonski
      >said jokingly during a recent visit to New York City. "They know it inside
      >and out from the point of view of diseases that afflict it. What we wanted
      >to learn was how human skin came to be as it is and what that meant for
      >humanity."
      >
      >Q. What set you off on writing a natural history of human skin?
      >
      >A. I had an insight in 1981, when I was teaching gross anatomy to medical
      >students at the University of Hong Kong. The students had been presented
      >with a cadaver to dissect, and they were tremendously frightened of it.
      >However, their attitude changed the very moment they cut through the skin.
      >With the skin gone, they began seeing it as a mere body devoid of a
      >personal history, and they could get on with their work.
      >
      >That moment showed me how much of what we consider our humanity is imbued
      >in our skin. It stayed with me for a long time. Then about 15 years ago, I
      >joined a project studying the natural history of skin color. The topic was
      >so engrossing that I began looking into the larger question of what our
      >skin does and is.
      >
      >Q. And what have you found?
      >
      >A. That skin is the most underappreciated of our organs. Unless we're
      >having the sort of problem that brings us to a dermatologist, we take our
      >skin for granted. We never think of it as working very hard for our body or
      >doing valuable things for us socially.
      >
      >But when you really start thinking about it, it's a factory that produces
      >vitamin D, sweat, hormones
      ><http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/diseasesconditionsandhealthtopics/hormones/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>
      >, oils, wax, pigments - substances we need. Skin is a raincoat in that it
      >protects us from water, bugs and noxious chemicals. It's also a billboard
      >which we adorn with powder, tattoos, piercing and scars to give off instant
      >messages about our history, health, values and availability for mating.
      >
      >On an evolutionary level, there are three remarkable facts about skin. It
      >comes in colors, of course. Compared to other mammals, our skin is
      >relatively hairless. And it's sweaty. In the last few million years, humans
      >became the sweatiest of mammals.
      >
      >Q. Is that important?
      >
      >A. Absolutely. It's often said that our large brains are what made it
      >possible for us to evolve from ape to human. But those big brains could
      >never have developed if we didn't have exceptionally sweaty skin.
      >
      >It happened this way. There was a tremendous takeoff in human evolution
      >about two million years ago when primates who could no longer be called
      >apes appeared in the savannahs of East Africa. These early humans ran long
      >distances in open areas. In order to survive in the equatorial sun, they
      >needed to cool their brains. Early humans evolved an increased number of
      >sweat glands for that purpose, which in turn permitted their brain size to
      >expand. As soon as we developed larger brains, our planning capacity
      >increased, and this allowed people to disperse out of Africa. There's
      >fossil evidence of humans appearing in Central Asia around this time.
      >
      >Q. In a nutshell, what has your research shown about why humans have
      >varying skin colors?
      >
      >A. That it's not about race - it's about sun and about how close our
      >ancestors lived to the Equator. Skin color is what regulates our body's
      >reaction to the sun and its rays. Dark skin evolved to protect the body
      >from excessive sun rays. Light skin evolved when people migrated away from
      >the Equator and needed to make vitamin D in their skin. To do that, they
      >had to lose pigment. Repeatedly over history, many people moved dark to
      >light and light to dark. That shows that color is not a permanent trait.
      >
      >Q. Did early humans decorate their skin?
      >
      >A. We don't know. There's no human skin in the fossil record. The oldest
      >preserved skin we have is that of �tzi, the Neolithic iceman whose
      >mummified body was found in the Alps in 1991. �tzi lived about 5,000 years
      >ago. Interestingly, he has tattoos. But we can only guess what they mean.
      >
      >Modern humans, we love to alter our skin. You'll find very few people
      >walking around today with unadorned skin. They might make permanent changes
      >- piercing, scarring, tattooing - to memorialize events and announce their
      >identity. Or they might use cosmetics for temporary alterations to announce
      >their attractiveness, mood or sexual availability. The bottom line: humans
      >are the self-decorating ape.
      >
      >Q. I get the feeling that you think cosmetic use is some kind of ancient
      >evolutionary behavior. Are we reading you correctly?
      >
      >A. Evolution is all about attracting a mate and getting a chance to
      >reproduce, so yes, makeup helps with that. When a woman uses eyeliner to
      >make her eyes appear larger, she's giving off a message: "I want you to see
      >me as attractive." Large eyes in a woman are almost universally seen as
      >appealing. This is not just a girl thing. Male body paint in East Africa
      >emphasizes forbidding facial expressions. They announce a man's prowess as
      >a warrior and as a mate.
      >
      >Q. How do you feel about your own skin?
      >
      >A. I like it. It is my unwritten biography. My skin reminds me that I'm a
      >53-year-old woman who has smiled and furrowed her brow and, on occasion,
      >worked in the desert sun too long. I enjoy watching my skin change because
      >it's one of the few parts of my body that I can watch. We can't view our
      >livers or heart, but this we can. And yes, I use cosmetics. Like other
      >humans, I have a penchant for changing my appearance easily and quickly. It
      >also helps me feel more confident. That may seem silly, but I still do it.
      >
      >Q. You made news in 2004 when you discovered the world's oldest chimpanzee
      >fossil. These were chimp teeth about a half-million years old. Where did
      >you find them?
      >
      >A. In a drawer at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. I was rummaging
      >through this bag labeled "fossil monkeys" and I saw it. "This doesn't look
      >like monkey," I thought. It turned out they were from an early chimp. That
      >find proved important because there had been no chimpanzee this old in the
      >fossil record. By analyzing it, we've learned that chimpanzees in their
      >current form have probably existed for longer than previously thought.
      >(Laughs) Since my find, people have been rummaging through dusty museum
      >drawers everywhere!
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA
      >
      >CCC Metro TLC
      >
      >
      >
      >216-987-3584
      >
      >FAX:707-924-2471
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >

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