Saturday, September 26, 2009


This is a bit of what my life has been like for the past month as far as academics.It is interesting, because there is a lot more freedom it seems in the British system than in the American. There are also no text books for assigned reading for the most part, only recommended books. A very self discovery based way of learning. Also...all of the assignments are anonymous so there is no professorial bias. I find this fascinating. (NOTE: THE SKILLFUL WORKING IN OF BRAIN THEORY ON MY BEHALF)

An Archaeological Examination:
Encephalization and the Change of Material Culture

Even upon the most novice examination of the archaeological record, stripped of a scientific eye, one thing is universally evident: change. Artifacts, although stagnate entities in it of themselves, are historically in a constant state of flux, ranging from the basic tool construction of early humans, to the complex technology of present day. One of the major questions in archaeology is why this change occurs, both on a local level, such as why a specific site was abandoned, and a global level, such as why suddenly metalwork became a rampant phenomenon. The purpose of this essay is to focus on the global question of why material culture changes over time, in an effort to explain the profound evolution of artifacts seen throughout human history.

To pin point an exact reason why material culture endures change, would be not only irrational, but a theory with great neglect to evidence. Since archaeology is a multifaceted field, there are a plethora of approaches that deal with the concept of material change, each with a different answer to the question. Ranging from climatic shifts, mass migration, inter-tribe dialogue, oceanic changes, forging strategies, and adoption of new religious beliefs, there are many variables involved- each with their own merit. However, from a biological perspective, one alteration seems to have a particularly clear correlation: neurology.
Excavated skeletal remains indicate that the skull of the closest human relative, Australopithecus, originated at about 435 to 650 cc, which expanded through a process called encephalization to the 1350-1400 cc of present day humans (Sternberg 2002). That means, in only a blink of an evolutionary eye, there was a 35% increase of neuronal matter, most of which was concentrated in the frontal lobes of the brain (Haviland 1979). Although it is difficult to ever know exactly to what extent such neural changes had, archeological evidence suggests its influence was vast. Ranging from new behavior, food consumption, religion, language, technology, and most importantly, their underlying material culture, there seems to be an incredibly interwoven relationship between brain size and cognitive complexity. As even Charles Darwin asserted in 1871: "No one, I presume, doubts that the large proportion which the size of man's brain bears to his body, compared to the same proportion in the gorilla or orangutan, is closely connected with his mental powers” (Lovejoy 1981). As Darwin insinuates, this increase in mental power may be one of the major forces in the evolution of material goods unearthed by archeology, as well as the culture that supported them.
This correlation between brain size and material culture can be further bolstered by looking at a particular medium, in this case stone (since organic material usually is not preserved as well in the archaeological record), and how it was used throughout a period of human development. Lithics, typically associated with the Paleolithic, are exemplary of early brain growth and the resultant complexity of tool making. Stone tools are first attested around 2.6 Ma, when Homo habilis in Eastern Africa used so-called pebble tools, choppers made out of round pebbles that had been split by simple strikes (Mortillet 1988). The revolution of stone tools is what many people consider to be the distinguishing breach between man and animal. The word “habilis,” the name given by Raymond Dart, means “handy man,” and is a commentary on their capacity to manufacture stone tools (Leakey 1981).

If one is to examine the brain size between Homo habilis and its closest predecessor, Australopithecus africanus, there is a 330 cc brain increase (Sternberg 2002). Although tool use cannot be entirely attributed to this brain development, there is significant reason to believe the changing neurology enabled them to not only think more long term, but also possess increased dexterity, planning and executive decision making, as is exhibited in their use of stone. The early emergence of lithics demonstrated by Homo habilis is indicative of how neural complexity greatly influenced the material culture of early hominids.

Similarly, when contrasted, the brain size of Homo habilis and Homo erectus skyrocketed from a mere 650 cc to a grand 1225 cc (Sternberg 2002). Coincidently alongside this brain size shift, even more sophisticated lithics emerged, such as Acheulean stone technology. The infamous Acheulean handaxe was created during this time, which was essentially stone chipped on both sides to form a biface of two cutting edges (Mortillet 1988). This technology proved to be so effective, it lingered throughout much of the Paleolithic era and was one of the major reasons for successful human survival in harsher climates. Along with more complex tool construction, complex social structures, ritual, and art also gave way, all of which drastically altered the material culture of the time.

However, when extending this trend beyond Homo erectus and its near relatives, there is a major critique: why, when the human brain has remained about the same size for since the emergence of modern man, material culture seems to still be exponentially evolving? This critique is most certainly not unjustified. It is quite clear that the average human brain leveled off at about 1400 cc, and has not changed a significant amount since (Sternberg 2002).

Upon closer examination, however, it might be possible that the underlying reason for this actually supports the idea of neural influence over material culture, rather than detracts from it. Often times in the discussion of evolution, a purely Darwinian dialogue of “survival of the fittest” and mere biological mutations prove to be unsatisfactory. Many theorists have asserted that biological evolution is simply the first step of evolution in a chain reaction. Following the evolution of the physical body, came emotional, social and economic evolution- all of which are not evident on the corporal level (Suddendorf 2000). So basically, what this theory asserts is that the trend of evolution seems to extend from an inner, biological one, to a more external, abstract one, which is why although there have not been physical changes in the brain, material culture continues to develop. It seems as though the brain has evolved to a point where rather than producing more networks to grapple with increasingly complex information (as was seen in the Stone Age) the brain has now evolved to utilize preexisting networks more effectively.

Either way, the study of prehistoric lithics is only one slice of the evolutionary relationship between materialism and an ever increasing neural complexity. The concept that more neural networks created an increased intricacy of thought, resulting in having more command over the material world, certainly is not void of flaws. But at the very least, as demonstrated by the close correlations of lithics and encephalization of the Paleolithic era, change in material culture and neurology appear to be inexorably linked.

Hello Loved ones!
Again I find myself in the midst of total neglect of blogging. I am so sorry for that. It is difficult to balance all that occurs, with increasing procrastination due to already a considerable amount of homework and the realization I am already faaaaar behind in updating. So, once again, this will be only a pithy brushing over of events (also since I have to be on a plane to Switzerland in a few hours, time is of the essence). :)

Since I last wrote, my archaeology class has swept me up and spat me out all over different sites throughout England. Ranging from a fire at an ancient Iron Age round house farm, to a pear garden of a Roman Palace caked with ancient mosaics, to a Medieval Castle’s dungeon with poisonous spores lining the walls, to the location of the Battle of Hastings and the remains of the holy hermitage of Battle Abbey built by William the Conqueror. It has been a whirlwind of history, up close and personal digging of culture, and me being totally flabbergasted at basically every given moment.
This tends to be the trend here in England: we go somewhere and Kelly becomes flabbergasted. Even walking around Brighton, a city of tiny nooks and crannies and a never ending supply of quirky people, I find myself obnoxiously fulfilled by the going ons. It also happens very frequently when I get tired of the nonstop lifestyle of working hard and going out, and venture alone into the quietude of the South Downs, located approximately 45 seconds away from my dorm room. I love the nature here. The hills are tranquil, the forests pacifying, and the views humbling. I’ve figured out a point where not only a bright purple flower bush grows on top of a hill, but where I can also see the entire University of Sussex campus, the hubbub of the town of Brighton and sweet, silver line of the ocean beyond. It is perfection, in my opinion.

Also, since I last blogged my day of birth (i.e. birthday) has come and past. I thought that it would be somewhat anti-climatic to turn 21 for three reasons 1. in a country I am already legal to drink in, 2. the mere fact alcohol consumption is not very relevant or important to me, and 3. I generally have a massive distaste anything birthday related (if anyone should be celebrated it should be the mother). Despite these facts, however, this birthday has proved to be one the best. I woke up to hot tea, organic honey, a spoon, and a hand drawn card that said “Congratulations to your mother for having a great child” as a product of my birthday ranting in front of my door and several letters from friends and family in my mailbox from home. My friends also made me a bunch of chocolate cupcakes that spelled out “Happy 21st Birthday Kelly!” bought me a big pink flower plant and a bottle of champagne. In order to celebrate we had a pre-birthday party of the cupcakes and champagne before going out. My one rule, however, which might be surprising to some since it was my 21st birthday, was no getting drunk allowed. I don’t like the stereotype you have to get wasted on your 21st, personally I wanted to remember it. Consequently we all went out to the only Mexican restaurant in Brighton, were served some seriously delicious enchiladas, and went out to a cute little pub with Indian décor. Besides being a perfectly chill getting together of friends (with a side of a philosophical discussion of Malawian educational systems) this birthday was also the most multi-cultural one I could even conceive of. We represented all major continents except Australia and sang Happy Birthday in a total of 7 languages. There were people from The United States, Canada, England, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Malawi, most of which had never had Mexican food (which was served by an Iranian man from California). It was classic.

Today I leave for 9 days in Switzerland to visit my friend Silvana’s home in Zurich and then explore the Swiss Alps a bit. I am very excited not only to be travelling with someone else for once (what a novel idea!) but to also see mountains (sigh). It is fortunate too, because Silvana’s grandma owns a series of hotels in the mountains, meaning free accommodation. When we come back school will officially commence. I am beyond excited, in the most geeky way possible. I am taking: The Biopsychology of Learning and Memory, Brain and Behavior, and the Biology and Evolution of Language Lateralization. *nerd snort*
I am so thankful for everything in my life—sometimes I am overwhelmed by how much goodness is out there in the universe. And other times I fear that it will all just dry up someday. But for the time being, I rest in the tenderness of it all with a big bundle of gratitude.
Love you all and see you after the Swiss.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hello long lost loved ones!

Apologies for the lack of blogging. Surprisingly, I am finding being stationary to be much more jam packed than traveling every few days. I don't know why, but most likely it is attributed to the hordes of field trips, new people, and social events associated with familiarizing yourself with a new lifestyle.

And let me say: it is a lifestyle I ADORE! England is amazing. Finding myself totally enthralled by a place and culture I was (to put it mildly) not as excited about as other more stereotypically exotic endeavors, is a welcomed surprise. I love when life throws you off your feet a bit. And that is definitely what has happened. I am absurdly pleased with the quaint Englishness that inundates daily life, and most that is associated with it.

I guess I should start off with the basics, and move on, with far less detail or poetry than I'd like, to some of the things that have taken place. I arrived in Brighton on the 4th, after taking one of the most anxiety filled train rides possible (due to the nerves of being thrown into an uncontrollable circumstance). Brighton itself is far from any place I've lived before. A beach town, speckled with unique characters, tourists, business people, and students, all sandwiched between the South Downs. The South Downs are basically a series of rolling, verdant hills that stretch across the south of England. My first impression was: I am Ireland? Because that is exactly how they appeared to my foreigner eye. The University is situated outside of Brighton, teetering elegantly along the edges of the Downs. In my opinion, it has it all: hike-able nature(a serious requirement for my general happiness), the ocean, and a cultural mecca for nightlife and art.

Currently I am part of the Sussex in September program, which is comprised of about 70 international students from all over the world (unfortunately a few more Americans than is personally palatable). I am enrolled in an Introduction to Archaeology course for this month, and then will begin a slew of brain related courses come October. It is nice to be able to 1. totally immerse myself in one subject area and 2. unveil a new passion. I LOVE OLD THINGS and the people who made them. Hahaha.

This course in particular has been fantastically helpful in allowing me to get familiar with the surrounding Sussex area,in terms of learning about its ancient people, its geology, and (most importantly) getting out and actually seeing them. A major component of the class is to visit archeological digs/ruins and learn about their history. We most recently went to Lewes Castle (where I got to dress up like a princess and sashay around the castle) and a Roman Villa. The Roman Villa was BY FAR the neatest thing that has happened yet in my educational career. It was hands on learning to an extreme! Since the Roman Villa was currently under excavation and not open to the general public, we got an up close and personal tour of how things actually work. We got to step right down into the ancient roman baths, where you could still see black soot from the fires that heated the water and walk around, poking and prodding at 3,000 year old items. It blew my mind. I think I was squealing with joy for about an hour straight. Being given an ancient red tile, where I could still see the finger prints and where someone has dragged a bone across the wet mortar to make lines, pushed me from glee to totally geeky ecstasy.

We then walked, tile in hand and smile still obnoxiously large, to a Roman road that was also under excavation and then the camp site where the archeologist live. Inside a burlap tent were all of the findings that the crew had unearthed, of which we had full freedom to peruse. The table included bins and bins of old pottery, tiles, and stones, as well as a human body and hand made coins. It was like a childish desire of being able to sneak into a museum at night and examine up close the details of the things, fulfilled.

Okay. Now on to an even more (at least in my literary geekhood) exciting trip: There is another group of international students studying in the adjacent house to where all of the Sussex in September program students are, who are taking an English language course right now. Annnnd....being a typically Kelly move, I somehow found myself being (the only one from the Sussex in September group) invited to come along to a fully paid tour around Sussex, including bohemian churches, massive mountain side fertility gods, the Cliffs of Dover, a traditional pub meal and most importantly VIRGINIA WOOLF'S HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!! I know, I know. I am totally a typically irritating fan. But Virginia Woolf is by far (along side Kahlil Gibran) my favorite author in the entire world. Sitting in her rose garden, petting a kitten, I found myself beyond ecstatic. We got to walk around her house, bedroom, and her summer writing room where she wrote many a' famous books. The energy there made me inspired.

Yesterday we went to Stonehenge and Bath. Both of which were jaw dropping. Although I enjoyed the mystic of Stonehenge, I was surprised to find out that Bath was the highlight of the day. The concept of being able to sit aside healing thermal waters worshiped for thousands of years, was magnetic.

Okay...there about nine thousand (to be exact) things I would love to write, but I am afraid it is near impossible to do so. Time is of the essence, and trying to capture it all here would take me years. But just about every minute is soaked with castles, night clubs, dancing, new people, and unique experiences. I certainly will treasure these times.

Also, I am planning on getting up some pictures on facebook from the past few weeks, so please check those out.

LOVE to all and hopefully more updates soon. If I tackles these in smaller chunks of times, it is much easier to encompass everything I want to. :)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hello all. Currently I am huddled in a dark corner of a British hostel whilst Edward Scissor Hands is playing on a tacky old television over head. It feels good to finally be in the country that I’ll be staying in for awhile (and that speaks the same language!). Although transiency is a way of life I not only thrive on, but plan on living as long as feasibly possible with respect to time, money and those I love, but it is time to plant my feet. Some solid dirt sounds utterly appealing after three months or so of not being somewhere longer than three or four days. :) So, cheers (as the British say to basically everything) to temporary residency! *hip hip horay!*

My last day in Spain proved to be a celebratory, culturally rich, amazing way to end the trip (and I use the word ‘end’ loosely). I spent most of the daylight hours perusing ancient archaeological coins, carvings, and pottery in the National Museum of Archeology in the heart of Madrid. I am continually astounded by human nature, and this particular rendezvous only acted as yet another reason why I want to study evolutionary processes in conjunction with brain science. It amazes me the capacity we demonstrated so quickly as a species. I am anxiously awaiting Ghana for that reason. Afterward, I found myself eating lunch with a few Mexican girls I met in the one-the-only-the-wonderful-the-blasphemous McDonlads, which is apparently far hipper in Spain. It was repugnant to say the least, but still an experience. I got a Cona Kit Kat (ice cream with a Kit Kat stick stuck in it) and cold Gazpacho soup. Authentically ironic, if I do say so myself.
That evening, luckily, the three other American girls I had grown to have a general distaste for the past 4 days, finally vacated and four more girls moved in. One from Vietnam (who was fluent in SIX languages), a girl from South Africa, a girl from Canada, and a girl from Holland. We all became immediately chummy and set off to tour the city, discover tapas, and attempt to perfect the “get no sleep” attitude of the Spanish population. To add to our international smorgasbord of personalities, we ended up picking up two New Zealand guys, an Australian, and a dude from Ohio (which he insisted was a different country in it of itself) who had been living in Johannesburg. It was quite the world mix, which proved to result in some seriously satisfying philosophical conversations after some fine cheese, blood sausage, and several things of sangria. We ended up sitting the Plaza Mayor, underneath illuminated ancient buildings, and discussing politics until sunrise, which was appropriately accompanied by chocolate churros and me almost mauling the Australian over a disagreement about animal abuse. But, nevertheless, we ended up exchanging email addresses to be friends down the road. Funny how that works out. :)

The next day proved to be a slightly catastrophic travel experience. It was as if the universe, which mind you had been EXTREMLY kind to me the past few weeks in terms of fluency and ease in travelling, saved all the bad luck for that one night. The metros were messed up, the buses not on time, I thought my plane left 2 hours before it actually did, my flight got delayed, there were outstanding thunderstorms over London as we flew in, I barely missed the last train to central London (30 minutes from the airport), and arrived after a taxi ride through narrow alley ways at 2:00 a.m. not sure if I’d be able to get into the hostel. Luckily, for some reason unknown to me, this particular hostel had a 24 hour desk service, and I was able to check in and assume the last bed in a room full of 12 snoring gentlemen. It was a night to remember, and quite the way to go out. But overall made me even more appreciatory of how fortunate I’d been for the rest of the trip. Really, besides almost missing my flight in Brussels, nothing went wrong. Glory Glory halleluiah!
Today I spent most of my time touring…basically everything in London possible. With a solid 6 ½ hours of bus hopping, I made it to the London Tower, the London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, China town, Sir. Charles Newton’s house, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, a boat ride on the Thames, the Globe Theater, St. Petersburg, the London Eye, as well as snuck on a tour of the National Museum, saw a famous British comedian, went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and visited Margret Thatcher’s current residence. The point being: I AM TIRED! Gosh…so totally pooped. But at the same time, entirely enthralled by a new love. Out of all the cities I’ve been to in my life, London is really the only one that I really could envision myself living in and being totally happy. (Note to self: live in London for awhile). The other strange thing is, and I don’t have any idea why, out of all the monuments and bucket loads of famous sights I’ve been to, Big Ben was the only one that drew tears. HAHAHA. It was exceptional. I don’t know why either! I started laughing at myself so hard, while eating prepackaged meat slices (which is a story in it of itself) on a park bench with tears in my eyes. It was beautiful though.
And that is that.

Tomorrow I take a train to Brighton (EEK!) to start a new chapter to this seemingly epic novel. I have to admit, in total honesty, I am really afraid of the notion of staying in one place for 4 months straight. The freeing thing about moving is that is someone doesn’t like you, you make a bad impression, or are unhappy for whatever reason, it is all temporary. And while this is still a temporary exchange, it is a little bit heavier. I guess there just seems like there is more pressure to make a right impression and all that jazz. But if anything has been extracted from this experience, it is how to deal with people. I feel pretty confident, or at least more confident, in my ability to go out on a limb. So I am hoping that fragment of learning will help me in this potentially intimidating new situation. I guess I just have to go with the flow, something that is yet to let me down, and do my best. Go kindly. Yup. That’s about what it boils down to. :)
Well, since I am on the verge of sleep coma and need to eat my freshly chopped fruit salad and spinach, I must say adieu. But thanks for reading everyone. More to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

So...this is a totally not blog related in any way, shape, or form...but it was a product of my travels and something that I thought I'd at least give a little bit of life by posting it here, since I don't think I'll ever slam it, considering its more old school writing style.

But yeah...this was written late night in Venice after a revelation on a water taxi and a bit of Shakespeare earlier that day.

"Thus hath the candle."

It was then,
As I sat stripped on a Venetian ship
In a place I don’t belong.
Bantering to myself about cliché book titles,
And art pieces unfavorable,
When a temporary silence struck such humming grey matter,
In a way that set cold the clamoring,
chit chat of foreign words and chewed on street signs,
Into a blanket of remembrance.

It was a tragic rejection of Shakespearic proportion
That shook a part of my core I thought to be long ago salved.
It was as if the mere rocking of the weighted ship
Set sail with tumbling tourists in paper caps
Unhinged the broken bottle set to sea caught on wet rocks

And brought it back to me.

Alone and unnerved, the bottle sat heavy on my linen dress
Calling to be uncorked after a year of marine marinated waiting
So, with no one to tell me not, I looked deeply into the crystalline glass
Set opaque by sea salt
To see
Where a quiet creature sat.
White as ash and cast in a humble recline
A little lunar moth.

And in an instant, the placidity of the thrown about boat
Became muddled with wing beats born of a heart marooned
Stringing together a symphony of perfectly papered words
That broke membranes in my inner ear
In an effort to touch the most intimate parts of that forgotten soul
To say:

"Thus hath the candle singd the moath."
As if Shylock was my woes,
And the candle was you.
Something sought like the sunshine of winter days
I realized in the most tragic of ways
I am still bound.
Like a moth to the flame.