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The ecology and cultural evolution of ancient populations in the southern hemisphere


Okumura (University of São Paulo [USP]) and Cochrane (University of Auckland [UA]) are allied researchers in bio-anthropology and archaeology specialising in evolutionary-ecological theory and related quantitative methods used to study the human past. Their research programmes examine past populations focusing on demography, population interaction, and technological variation related to social learning and adaptation within changing environments. Cochrane currently researches the development of agriculture and complex chiefdoms in the Pacific islands, the migration and demography of Pacific populations, and ceramic and stone tool technology. His research is relevant to our understanding of the origins of hierarchical society (including modern populations) and how populations adapt to changing environments. Okumura currently researches the biocultural evolution of prehistoric populations in Southern São Paulo state (Ribeira Valley) through the analysis of ancient DNA and traditional biodistance methods (metric measurements) applied to human remains, as well as, shape analyses or morphometric geometrics (GMM) applied to stone tools. Her research is relevant to our understanding of biological and cultural evolution, both in biology and culture, including the mechanisms behind change through time (or the lack of it). The Ribeira Valley was chosen because it is one of the very few Brazilian regions where a complete archaeological record from the last 11,000 years exists, allowing the making of a time transect in a single region. This research is funded by a current FAPESP grant to Okumura titled "Change and continuity in prehistoric human groups from Ribeira de Iguape Valley (São Paulo and Paraná states): applying Evolutionary Theory to bioarchaeological and material culture studies". Cochrane will contribute to this research by collaborating in the analysis of ancient ceramic styles from a regional transect that includes the Ribeira Valley to determine the social boundaries of past human groups. As the funding by FAPESP given to Okumura includes scholarships related to ceramic analysis from that region, Cochrane will also advise current PG students on the project. Moreover, she is currently supervising a postdoctoral researcher on a project including the chronological analysis of pottery from Ribeira Valley, as well as other nearby regions from São Paulo state. As Cochrane is a specialist in this topic, he would be a great asset to such postdoctoral project. One of Cochrane's current projects focuses on stone tool variation across 3,000 years in the Pacific islands. His goal is to explain how technological change is both a response to and cause of environmental change, a form of human niche construction. A preliminary descriptive analysis of the tools has been completed. Okumura will contribute by applying quantitative shape analyses to the stone tools, using equipment, consumables, and space provided by the UA. Through this Cochrane and Okumura will be able to track both changing tool use and the environments in which these tools are used. Research results will indicate past populations' technological response to global environmental change and how these responses also influenced local environments. (AU)

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