Research: Prehistoric humans formed sophisticated social networks to minimize inbreeding

Artist's impression of an Upper Paleothic burial from Sunghir, Russia, issued by Cambridge University, credit Libor Balak, Anthropark

A paleolithic burial site in Russia has provided evidence that prehistoric humans formed complex mating networks to avoid inbreeding.

A new study examined genetic information from the remains of modern humans who lived during the early part of the Upper Palaeolithic, a period when modern humans from Africa first colonized western Eurasia, eventually displacing the Neanderthals who lived there before.

The humans buried at the site in Sunghir, Russia were no more closely related than first cousins. The findings suggest that they deliberately sought partners beyond their immediate family, and that they were probably connected to a wider network of groups from within which mates were chosen.

The work was carried out a research team led by the University of Cambridge (U.K.) and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and including SMU archaeologist David J. Meltzer, whose expertise includes the First People in the Americas. Their findings are reported in “Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers,” published in the Oct. 5, 2017 issue of Science.

The researchers’ work demonstrate that by at least 34,000 years ago, human hunter-gatherer groups had developed sophisticated social and mating networks that minimized inbreeding. The authors also hint that the early development of more complex mating systems may at least partly explain why modern humans proved successful while other, rival species, such as Neanderthals, did not. More ancient genomic information from both early humans and Neanderthals is needed to test this idea.

The human fossils buried at Sunghir are a unique source of information about early modern human societies of western Eurasia. Sunghir preserves two contemporaneous burials – that of an adult man, and that of two children buried together and which includes the symbolically modified remains of another adult.

To the researchers’ surprise, however, these individuals were not closely related in genetic terms; at the very most, they were second cousins. This is true even for the two children who were buried head-to-head in the same grave.

“What this means is that people in the Upper Palaeolithic, who were living in tiny groups, understood the importance of avoiding inbreeding,” said Eske Willerslev, a professor at St. John’s College and the University of Copenhagen, who was senior author on the study. “The data that we have suggest that it was being purposely avoided. This means that they must have developed a system for this purpose. If the small hunter and gathering bands were mixing at random, we would see much greater evidence of inbreeding than we have here.”

— University of Cambridge, SMU

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

Leading First Amendment lawyer Bruce Sanford to discuss “Trusting the Media in the Age of Trump” at SMU

Bruce SanfordSMU’s 2017 Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture in Media Ethics features one of the nation’s most influential media lawyers in a discussion of the state of the First Amendment, news, and fairness in today’s politically charged news environment.

Bruce Sanford, a partner in BakerHostetler in Washington, D.C., will speak on “Trusting the Media in the Age of Trump” at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 in Caruth Auditorium, Owen Arts Center. The event is free, and tickets are not required.

Mentioned in The National Law Journal’s list of the 100 most influential lawyers in America (1991), and described by American Journalism Review as one of the most accomplished press lawyers in the nation, Sanford maintains a national practice as a partner in the law firm BakerHostetler, Washington, D.C. His work focuses on representing high-profile clients in cutting-edge and complex matters, frequently with high-stakes public affairs considerations.

Sanford represented President Clinton in the negotiation of a book contract, and first lady Barbara Bush and author John Grisham in libel and copyright cases, respectively. He also serves as general counsel to the Society of Professional Journalists, the largest and oldest organization of journalists in the United States, on Capitol Hill and in Washington.

He is the author of a leading treatise on libel and privacy law, Libel and Privacy (2nd edition 2004), as well as the 2000 best-seller Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How Our Growing Hatred of the Media Threatens Free Speech for All of Us.

The Sammons Lecture Series is presented by the Division of Journalism in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.

> Read more from SMU News

SMU’s 2018 Open Enrollment period takes place Oct. 11-31, 2017

Benefits U logoUniversity faculty and staff members are now able to make benefits changes for 2018. This year’s SMU Open Enrollment period is set for Wednesday, Oct. 11 to Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

> Review SMU’s 2018 Benefits Guide online

Benefits-eligible employees have the opportunity to choose a new plan at the $2,000, $2,700 or $5,000 deductible levels, or simply remain in their current plan. The deductible for the $2,600 High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) will increase to $2,700 to meet the Internal Revenue Service’s minimum annual deductible requirement for HDHPs. There is no need to re-elect this plan if you wish to continue the plan into 2018.

Medical premiums will increase by two percent for 2018, significantly less than the 8% national average.  There will be no increase in Dental or Vision premiums.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, SMU’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) plans will include MDLIVE Virtual Visits. The service provides 24/7/365 access to board-certified physicians for non-emergency medical care through phone or video consultation.

SMU employees on University health plans also have access to SurgeryPlus, as announced in August. This supplemental benefit provides negotiated costs and management for hundreds of non-emergent procedures.

Also effective Jan. 1, 2018, parents may enroll their unmarried dependent children in the Dental Plan through age 25, regardless of student status. BCBSTX will no longer request student certification for these enrollees.

Get your flu shot for free during SMU’s Fall 2017 clinics

The open-enrollment period is the only opportunity for SMU employees to make changes to benefits elections for the coming year, unless you have a qualified life event such as marriage or the birth of a child.

For 2018 Open Enrollment, you must take action if:

  • You want to make changes to your current coverage, including adding or dropping dependents (eligible dependents include legal spouses and children).
  • You want to participate in one or both of the Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or the Health Savings Account (HSA) in 2018. You must re-enroll in the FSAs or the HSA even if you participated in 2017.

In order to comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a Social Security number (SSN) is required for every individual enrolled in the SMU Medical Plan. If you have a spouse or dependent child enrolled in the plan, it is important that you enter a SSN for each.

> Find more information in SMU’s 2018 Open Enrollment homepage

SMU uses a secure online open-enrollment application available through My.SMU.edu. To make your benefits elections for 2018:

  • Log in to My.SMU.edu as you normally would to review your pay statement.
  • Click or tap Employee Self Service from the dropdown menu in the top navigation bar, then click or tap the Benefits box
  • Choose Benefits Enrollment from the left sidebar to access your personalized Open Enrollment record.
  • Be sure to read all instructions carefully before making elections for 2018.

You will receive a confirmation statement summarizing your 2018 benefits elections in early December 2017.

> Learn more from the SMU Human Resources homepage: smu.edu/hr

By | 2017-10-11T13:27:56+00:00 October 11, 2017|Categories: News, Save the Date|

Caroline Brettell inducted with class of 2017 into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Caroline Brettell, 2017 induction, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MASMU anthropologist Caroline Brettell celebrated her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences during a ceremony at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

The 228 new fellows and foreign honorary members — representing the sciences, the humanities and the arts, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector — were announced in April as members of one of the world’s most prestigious honorary societies. In addition to Brettell, the class of 2017 includes actress Carol Burnett, musician John Legend, playwright Lynn Nottage, immunologist James Allison and many others.

> SMU Forum: Caroline Brettell elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

An SMU faculty member since 1988, Brettell has held the Dedman Family Distinguished Professorship and served as chair in the Department of Anthropology and as director of Women’s Studies in Dedman College. She served as president of the Faculty Senate and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees in 2001-02, and was dean ad interim of Dedman College from 2006-08. Brettell is a member of the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, the Society for Applied Anthropology, the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, and the Society for Urban, National and Transnational Anthropology, among others.

Brettell is the fourth SMU faculty member to be elected to the Academy. She joins David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in Dedman College (class of 2013), Scurlock University Professor of Human Values Charles Curran (class of 2010), and the late David J. Weber, founding director of the University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies (class of 2007).

> See the full list of American Academy of Arts and Sciences members

University honors award winners, 25-year staff members at 2017 Staff Celebration and Convocation

25-year SMU staff members, 2017 Staff Celebration and Convocation, SMU

SMU honored staff members celebrating 25 years or more of service during its 2017 Staff Celebration and Convocation.

President R. Gerald Turner and University Registrar John Hall ’71, ’73, ’79 helped to honor 12 staff members who are celebrating their 25th year at the University at the 2017 Staff Celebration and Convocation Thursday, Oct. 5. The ceremony also recognized staff members honored in the annual President’s Award and Loretta O’Reilly Hawkins Award programs.

It has taken every SMU staff member to achieve the milestones the University has marked in recent years, Turner told the crowd. From rising admissions standards and record fund-raising numbers, to the installation of the ManeFrame II supercomputer and the service and management of four home football games in September, “there’s no way in the world that happens without all of you – and I thank you.”

Deanie Kepler ’70, director of parent and family programs, received the 2017 Loretta O’Reilly Hawkins Award, established to recognize and reward outstanding performance among University employees. Anna Marzillo, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services, was finalist.

The SMU Staff Association announced the winners of the 2017 President’s Awards:

  • Shannon Lunt, Gretchen C. Voight New Employee Excellence Award
  • Mary Tays, Continuing Excellence Award
  • Lisa Tran, Outstanding Leadership Award

The event also honored the following staff members who have celebrated 25th SMU anniversaries:

  • Sherry Aikman (30-year staff member)
  • Joe Arnold (celebrated anniversary in 2016)
  • Ronny Jepsen (celebrated anniversary in 2016)
  • Yvette Castilla
  • Nazario Del Rio
  • Tammy Dyer
  • Lorinda Lamb
  • Pamela Morgan
  • Susan Strobel Hogan
  • Alan Pushin
  • Gloria Watson
  • Carolyn Yates

Mark your calendar: SMU’s 2018 Open Enrollment takes place Oct. 11-31, 2017

Benefits U logoSave a date to review your healthcare plan: SMU’s 2018 Open Enrollment will take place Wednesday, Oct. 11 to Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. University faculty and staff members will be able to make benefits changes for 2018 during this period.

SMU Human Resources (HR) will send out open enrollment information during the coming days. Faculty and staff members are encouraged to become familiar with the University’s health plans and review their options carefully to choose the plan best for them and their families.

> Visit SMU Human Resources online: smu.edu/hr

By | 2017-10-05T15:10:05+00:00 October 5, 2017|Categories: News, Save the Date|

Mary Vernon Painting Prize honors longtime art professor, helps launch young artists’ careers

Nicolas Gonzalez and Mary Vernon

Nicolás González and Mary Vernon

Mary Vernon plans to retire in May 2018, and Meadows School of the Arts wanted to create a fitting honor for the longtime art and art history professor. In 2016, along with a group of donors, the School established the Mary Vernon Painting Prize to help launch the careers of top art students.

Now, Meadows seeks to endow the prize fund in perpetuity, so that it can continue to help students establish their careers in the art world.

The School has set a goal of $100,000 or more to endow the annual award – presented to an undergraduate painter with the best body of work in the year, as judged by faculty. When fully vested, the endowment fund will generate $5,000 annually to be awarded to one or more promising art students.

To date, more than $60,000 has been secured toward the goal. An anonymous donor has offered to match dollar-for-dollar the next $20,000 in new gifts to help achieve or surpass the funding goal.

“In spring 2016, Mary told me it was time to transcend from an art student into an emerging artist,” says Nicolás González ’17, the prize’s first recipient. “She told me to invest my passion and time with painting materials that are rich in pigment and surfaces that are delicate to the touch. She said, ‘Let the world know that you are a painter, a serious painter, who knows how to paint.’”

The Mary Vernon Painting Prize has enabled González to purchase higher-quality painting supplies such as oils, Yupo paper, linen fabric and  brush script liners, he says. “Through these specific materials, my abilities as a painter have greatly expanded. They have allowed me to have a better understanding that the quality of the painting surface and the type of paint are very important.”

Vernon, says González, taught him to be brave and to persevere. “She encouraged me to never give up within the world of the arts,” he says. “There were times when I just wanted to throw in the towel, but every time, Mary seemed to always appear as a glowing light within the shadows of my fear. She would always encourage me to be better, to always do my best, and tell me that doors would always open as long as I turned the key. She said, ‘You already possess the key. It’s in your heart and soul, it speaks through your work. As long as you keep trying, doors will always open.’

“Mary Vernon is someone very special to this world and a true master of the arts and its history. Her love for the arts and her students is equal to none. I am so grateful to have Mary Vernon as my mentor, professor and true friend whom I hold close to my heart.”

— Written by Mary Guthrie

> Read the full story from the SMU Meadows homepage

Tune In: Fighting cancer with Minecraft

What if you could help fight cancer by playing a video game? Thanks to a partnership between SMU Guildhall and a team of scientists from the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, you can.

Gary Brubaker, director of the Guildhall, Corey Clark, Guildhall deputy director for research, and John Wise, associate professor of biological sciences, gathered in Plano for a special Facebook Live event on Sept. 28, 2017. Watch their discussion of how their partnership has turned the popular game Minecraft into a vehicle for cancer research – and effectively doubled the computing power available for this work.

> Learn more from the SMU Guildhall homepage

Reminder: Staff Celebration and Convocation, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017

President R. Gerald Turner has invited the entire SMU community to the University’s relaunched staff recognition day on Thursday, Oct. 5. 2017.

The new Staff Celebration and Convocation, created by the SMU Staff Association (SMUSA) in collaboration with the Office of Operational Excellence, will take place at 10:30 a.m. in McFarlin Auditorium. A reception with light refreshments will precede the ceremony at 10 a.m.

> RSVP for the Staff Celebration and Convocation at smu.edu/SMUSA

The event is for all staff members, and President Turner will give his traditional State of SMU address as the keynote. University Registrar John Hall, SMU’s longest-serving staff member, is the featured speaker.

Staff members who have achieved 25 years of service to SMU will be honored, as well as the 2017 President’s Award and Loretta O’Reilly Hawkins Award recipients. The ceremony with also recognize staff members who have continued their SMU service beyond 25 years, and previous President’s and Loretta Hawkins Award recipients.

> Visit the SMU Staff Association online

Simmons School researchers receive $2.5 million NSF grant to develop math-skills assessment system

Lindsey Perry and Leanne Ketterlin Geller

Lindsey Perry and Leanne Ketterlin Geller

SMU researchers have received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to target the ongoing struggle of U.S. elementary and high school students with math.

The new four-year grant, to the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, is led by SMU K-12 math education experts Leanne Ketterlin Geller and Lindsey Perry. They will conduct research and develop an assessment system comprised of two universal screening tools to measure mathematical reasoning skills for grades K–2.

When it comes to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, research shows that U.S. students continue at a disadvantage all the way through high school and entering college. The NSF grant provides “an opportunity to develop an assessment system that can help teachers support students at the earliest, and arguably one of the most critical, phases of a child’s mathematical development,” said Ketterlin Geller, a professor in the Simmons School and principal investigator for the grant developing the “Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills” system.

Teachers and schools will use the assessment system to screen students and determine who is at risk for difficulty in early mathematics, including students with disabilities. The measures also will help provide important information about the intensity of support needed for a given student.

Few assessments are currently available to measure the critical math concepts taught during those early school years, Ketterlin Geller says. “Providing teachers with data to understand how a child processes these concepts can have a long-term impact on students’ success not only in advanced math like algebra, but also success in STEM fields, such as chemistry, biology, geology and engineering.”

— Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

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