Recent Gibbs travelling research projects

Recent recipients and their fieldwork projects are listed below.

Dr Fiona Stewart (2014-15)

Chimpanzee behavioural ecology in western Tanzania

This research uses genetic techniques to non-invasively investigate wild chimpanzee populations, in particular how chimpanzees have adapted to living in dry environments in western Tanzania. More than 75% of Tanzania’s chimpanzees live in dry “savanna” or “woodland” environments, thus understanding their behavioural ecology is crucial to implementing effective conservation strategies that will allow the future survival of viable chimpanzee populations. Chimpanzees are our closest living relative, and as such provide a useful comparison and model to understand our own evolution. However, almost all our knowledge of chimpanzee behaviour stems from rich, tropical forest environments. Contrasting behaviour of chimpanzees living in such woodland, mosaic habitats therefore provides an ideal model to study how early human ancestors may have adapted to similar palaeo-environments. The research aims to investigate how chimpanzees living in a dry, mosaic, environment differ from forest-dwelling chimpanzees in their social structure, dispersal, and ranging patterns through an in-depth, longitudinal, genetic study of a single savanna community in comparison to published data from forest-dwelling chimpanzees.

Dr Emma Pomeroy (2013-15)

Patterns of growth trade-offs in response to early life environment: Insights from a human high altitude model

Human growth is sensitive to environmental conditions such as nutrition and high altitude hypoxia (reduced oxygen availability). Environmental factors impact not only height, but also the relative sizes of different parts of the body such as the limbs, trunk, head and organs; and body composition. It is thought that environmental stressors cause the body to trade off growth in some tissues to protect key organs like the brain. Such altered growth patterns are associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases in adulthood (e.g. type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease), but the basis of this association is unclear. Limb proportions might act as markers of environmental stress early in development which also affects the growth of the major organs. Altered organ growth may then compromise function and so raise disease risk in later life.

Understanding the relationship between limb proportions, organ size, body composition and the environment will help to elucidate the nature and evolutionary basis of growth trade-offs in relation to environmental stressors, and the link between body proportions and disease risk. This study will investigate these relationships using a high altitude model by examining the physical characteristics of children living at high and low altitude in India.

Dr Jessica Johnson (2014-15)

Everyday Justice in Malawi’s Magistrates’ Courts

Magistrates’ courts are the coalface of the Malawian legal system, as they are across much of Africa. It is within these basis, tin-roofed structures that the majority of Malawians come into contact with formal law. Here, magistrates adjudicate cases ranging from petty theft to domestic disputes, use of insulting language, to assault. In so doing they draw upon unwritten so-called “customary” law, colonial and post colonial common law, and a progressive constitution with a Bill of Rights at its core. They work alone, with a clerk serving as translator: a single magistrate hears, records and judges without recourse to colleagues or counsellors. What kind of justice is dispensed in these circumstances, and how does it relate to the aspirations for justice of the magisrates themselves, the ordinary Malawians who stand before them, and the various legislative goals of politicians, legal reformers and civil society organisations? At the heart of this project lies an exploration of processes of judgement and deliberation: the ways in which magistrates negotiate their obligations to both administer the law and deliver just and meaningful judgements; to take the lead on the dissemination of human rights standards and to operate in sympathy with local customs and sensibilities.

Dr Hannah Rowland (2013-14)

Environmental effects on genetics and evolution of sensory behaviour in birds

As people spread around the world, they took with them a broad range of bird species. In 1890 Eugene Scheifflen decided he would bring every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to America. He transported 100 European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) from Britain and released them in New York Central Park. These founding individuals faced challenges for which their British homeland had not prepared them: extreme variation in temperature, unfamiliar predators, and potentially poisonous foods. As Darwin realised, the Starling’s sense of taste must have been instrumental to its survival in this new homeland for which it was not, at first, adapted. But this realisation presents a question that has gone untested for over a century, and one which I propose to answer during my Phyllis and Eileen Gibbs Travelling Fellowship: How does the behaviour of American and British starlings differ, and are any differences driven by sensory systems that are tailored to the birds’ American and British environments?

Dr Sian Lazar (2012-13)

Urban Citizenship: Values, Practices and Technologies of the Self in Argentine Public Sector Unions

This research explores cultural understandings and practices of collective citizenship in Argentina. I focus on activists from two unions of state employees, and investigate their experience of political subjectivity and political agency. These civil servants are both the embodiment of the state as state officials, and yet also unionized citizens in a complicated and potentially antagonistic relationship to the state. So their collective organisations are excellent sites for researching understandings of political mobilisation, the state, citizenship and the nature of the public.

Social theory of citizenship has flourished in recent years, and although anthropology has been relatively late to engage with it, its potential contributions are increasingly being recognised. Ethnography enables us to see how citizenship is practiced, beyond making statements about how it should work. It also ensures that political anthropologists engage with concepts that truly mobilise people today, such as the desire for full citizenship, or for citizenship to work normatively, ideas which have been at the heart of political debates in Latin America since the 1990s. Finally, the nature of state employment as a space for union activity is relatively under-studied, even though it has become a significant site of struggle over new understandings of democracy and economic organisation. My research brings an anthropological perspective to the analysis, exploring how kinship relations, values, practices, and subjective, bodily and emotional experiences impact upon political agency among state employees. A significant emergent theme has been the specifically urban nature of this agency, and here I hope to contribute to the development of new understandings of urban activism in the contemporary world.

The material I have gathered during the course of the Gibbs fellowship contributes to a broader book project, which I began in 2009. This year (2012-13) I focussed in particular on two aspects: first, a period of participant observation with a delegation from one of the unions I study, based in the Ministry of Health, and second, a series of in-depth qualitative interviews about family inheritances of political activism, especially Peronism. My earlier period of field research concentrated on the difficult questions of negotiating access and understanding union structures and the political-economic context within which they operate. This fellowship allowed me to deepen my knowledge of some of the more intimate aspects of being a unionist in Argentina today.

Dr Caroline Phillips (2012-13)

Diet-to-faeces stable isotope fractionation values for chimpanzees

Most wild chimpanzee populations are unobservable. To understand their dietary repertoire, researchers depend on the analysis of faecal samples collected opportunistically at each study-site. Stable isotope analysis of faecal samples allows insight into feeding locale and diet variability across seasons for a primate population. However, in order to interpret faecal isotope values, we must determine the ‘change in fractionation’ value. This value is the measured difference between the isotope values obtained from food-items in their diet and values obtained from their faeces. We do not know what the change in fractionation value is for great apes.

In observing and measuring food-intake by six captive chimpanzees at the Mona Foundation in Girona, Spain, systematic dietary data were collected. Faecal samples from each individual were also collected. The fractionation value will now be determined from measuring the difference in stable isotope values of foods eaten by six chimpanzees at Mona, and the stable isotope values of their faeces. This value is to then be applied to faecal samples that have been collected from a wild ape population at Nimba Mountains, Guinea, in order to glean further insight into their diet.

Dr Laura Basell (2011-12)

Human Evolution at the Headwaters of the Nile

Stone Age archaeology in eastern Africa is currently enjoying a revival of interest due to advances in dating methodologies which have allowed far better chronological control than has previously been available. New discoveries and the increasing influence of genetic studies have played a significant role in increasing the prominence of Africa in theories concerning the emergence and spread of Homo sapiens to the rest of the world. These early members of our species are genrally associated with early Middle Stone Age (MSA) stone tool assemblages. Consequently Early Stone Age (ESA) assemblages and “transitional” (ESA-MSA) lithic industries, (such as the “Sangoan” and Lupemban”) are increasingly important in elucidating how these early humans lived, but very few stratified sites exist of this antiquity.

While eastern Africa has played an important role in arguments relating to the spread of Homo sapiens, most sites lie in the eastern branch of the rift valley, while the western branch of the rift has remained largely neglected despite its ecological diversity and suitability for hominin occupation during the Quaternary. A preliminary survey in this area, and specifically the Kagera River, Uganda in 2009 led to the discover of new ESA/MSA sites. The Phyllis and Eileen Gibbs Fellowship permitted the excavation of these new sites callred Rubirizi 1 and 2, palaeoenvironmental and chronological sampling, and wider geoarchaeological survey during 2012. Numerous ESA/MSA lithics were recovered and are now being analysed. Range finder dates and palaeoenvironmental analyses are also in progress. Based on the success of the initial field season, a bigger project incorporating surevey and excavation is now being initiated, aimed at understanding human evolution in its palaeoecological context.

Dr Susana Carvalho (2011-12)

Primate Archaeology: Investigating Chimpanzee Stone Age

The idea that archaeologistscould be missing important archaeological records by having focused solely on studying and analysing the remains of human culture has recently become compelling. Chimpanzee archaeology seeks referential modelling using interdisciplinary approach, combining tool-use field experiments with natural observations, studying different communities of chimpanzee tool-users, but als odelving into hominin archaeological sites in Africa (e.g. Bossou and Diecke, Guinea; Koobi Fora, Kenya). By combining archaeological knowledge (technological analysis, actualistic experimentation, surveying “off-sites” and older deposits than the ones known to have tools) with primatological methods (direct observation of behaviour, field experimentation, comparison of technological communities/populations) these disciplines are working to produce a theoretical framework to help explain better the evolutionary origins of technology.

My travelling fellowship has helped me to further expand knowledge concerning the origins of technology-related behaviour, as this is, by far, the most difficult part of any archaeological reconstruction. Some of the most relevant results coming from this new avenue of research are revealing: 1) regional variations across chimpanzee contemporary assemblages; 2) low density and patterned distribution of artefacts at tool sites (with possible implications for predicting the size of archaeological areas and possible group sizes in hominins); 3) consequences of multiple transportation events for producing chimpanzee or human assemblages; 4) quality/availability of raw materials to be used as tools functioning as an ecological constraint to technological development.