English versions, Uncategorized

Paleobiology of hunter-gatherers in northern Mexico: new collaborations in Biological Anthropology. By: Colleen Young, Bernardo Yáñez, and Juan Manuel-Argüelles.

Even though desolate, Baja California Sur has pearls in its waters. Commonly described as forgotten, and originally thought to be an island by Spanish explorers, the Baja California peninsula contains a rich and well-preserved human history, spanning at least 11,000 years. The southern tip of the peninsula, known by tourists as Cabo San Lucas, was once home to a unique group of hunter-fisher-gatherers, the Pericú.Before these crystal blue waters were invaded by Spanish and American conquistadors, the Pericúes adapted to and exploited this semi-desert xeric shrub ecoregion throughout the Cape Region.

Early descriptions on the ecology and environment of this area are known from at least the 18thcentury, from the accounts of explorers and missionaries. Some of the accounts that standout include: “Notice of California” by Miguel Venegas; “The History of Baja California” by Francisco Javier Clavijero; and, recently uncovered by Miguel León-Portilla, work by Miguel del Barco, “Natural and Chronological History of Ancient California.” According to Mathes, del Barco’s work represents “the most important source published to date on the fascinating era of New Spain expansion.” These historical works are of utmost importance for this research project and is a part of an integral (Boasian) vision of the anthropological approach that we intend to carry out.

The Cape Region is an isolated ecoregion on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortés), and the barren Sonoran Desert to the north. Even the formation of the southern part of the peninsula was in isolation as this region was once a detached island from the rest of the peninsula about 10 million years ago. Due to its distinct geological history, and retention of barriers on all sides, many plants and animals live in endemic isolation. Thus, an island-like environment has been retained, even with subsequent connection to the peninsula, as the harsh Sonoran Desert hinders gene flow to and from the continental mass.

The dry climate and sporadic fresh water in springs throughout the mountains cannot support large-scale agriculture or horticulture infrastructures in this region. Nonetheless, the marine waters in the Gulf of Cortés and the Pacific Ocean are biodiversity hotspots, offering an abundance of pelagic and benthic marine resources. Pair these marine resources with terrestrial plants and fruits such as: pitaya dulce, cardón, prickly pear, and other terrestrial delicacies (such as deer and sheep), living in the southern peninsula can be quite rewarding.

The Pericúes lived in this isolated region with a unique cultural and biological complex. They used atlatls and fishing instruments that are characterized as “stone age” technology. Despite the seemingly simple material culture, they practiced colorful and intricate funerary rituals that included secondary disarticulation and red ochre staining, known as the “Las Palmas” burial tradition. The nickname, “Las Palmas” comes from the fact that these mortuary bundles holding the skeletal remains were found manufactured with palm leaves. Polygamy was one of the unique characteristics of their social organization, as well as having a distinct language. Their language has been compared with the vocalizations of parakeets, which inspired their name, The Pericus. In contrast to the rest of the inhabitants of the peninsula, the Cochimis and Guaycuras, the Pericu have a unique body type as well. The Pericú are characterized by an extremely narrow and long skull (hyperdolicocephaly), and body proportions similar to oceanic islanders (Rivet 1909). These cultural traditions and biological phenotypes were unique to this region and not seen anywhere else in the peninsula.

It is interesting to note that the recovery of these skeletal remains included a series of historical accounts that have made it possible for us to address a variety of questions. The first documented remains were excavated and recovered for study at the end of the 19th century by Leon Diguet, a French naturalist. Subsequently, Paul Rivet, at the beginning of the twentieth century, recovered another set of osteological and archaeological remains belonging to this ethnic group. Some of these objects are housed in the Museum of Man in Paris, which include, in addition to skeletal remains, some utensils and clothing. During the second quarter of the twentieth century, the American archaeologist William Massey excavated several of the caves in the Cape Region. Originally housed at the University of California, these repatriated remains are now located at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico.

The abundance of artifacts and records accumulated from these excavations are complemented by a wave of recent research on the prehistory of the Baja California Peninsula. Research on the prehistory of the Baja California peninsula, prior to this, has been generally neglected. Perhaps it is because many researchers interested in Mexican (pre)-history have ignored this region and have concentrated on the vestiges of the Maya, Aztecs, and other monumental cultures of the area. In doing so, northern Mexico, including the Baja California peninsula, has been relatively left out in the reconstructions of Mexican prehistory. Therefore, the authors of this piece are proposing a continuous and integral project that has not yet been systematized. A fundamental element to celebrate and preserve the prehistory of this remote and deserted region is the realization of academic collaborations. Generating synergies, such as the one we are trying to describe here, can help establish a holistic approach for a better understanding of the prehistory of the peninsula.

This effort involves archaeologists, social/cultural anthropologists, and biological anthropologists from the United States, Mexico, and Japan who, through their various specialties, are trying to generate a comprehensive synthesis of the prehistory of the region. Recently, Harumi Fujita, Lucero Gutiérrez, Carlos Mandujano, and others in the Baja California peninsula have revived research in this region, including funding for and prioritizing of archaeological excavations in the Cape Region. Likewise, Juan Manuel Argüelles with Colleen Young and Bernardo Yáñez have reinitiated the bioanthropological study of these interesting prehistoric inhabitants of the peninsula and the continent. Through our collaboration we are combining our abilities, skills, and resources, with the aim of knowing and unraveling some of the invaluable pearls of this peninsula.

The aims of our current research are on the skeletal analysis of the Pericú and the paleobiology of hunter-gatherer development in northern Mexico. Among other research goals, we are matching information collected from craniometric analyses with post-cranial measurements to better understand the skeletal size, shape, and robusticity of these isolated early Amerindians. Our intention is to understand how these individuals interacted with, and adapted to, an isolated environment in the southern Cape Region of Baja California. In this sense, our project is original and innovative, since it does not privilege the information that the skull gives us over what the rest of the body gives us, or vice versa. We are studying the body and skull of these individuals together, viewing them both as integral systems. Generally, bioanthropological studies tend to isolate or disarticulate the body to study its parts in a more practical, but isolated, way. We believe that the above is not only incorrect, but that it is illogical to continue maintaining the classical methodology of specialization in the face of a more integrated approach. Preliminary results of our research will be presented at the annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Cleveland, OH, this year (2019).

A better understanding on these early, isolated Amerindian individuals is critical for better understanding the peopling of the Americas, and the great diversity of Mexico’s prehistory (primarily of the northern territory). We are grateful for the current support from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico.

English versions, Islands

Adapting to the unexpected.

The reasons organisms migrate to islands… well, I could say it’s because of climate, or evading predators, or natural disasters, or… but most often than not, I suspect, it’s because of pure chance. Evolution, and life so-to-speak, is rather chaotic and unexpected. Organisms on islands are who they are and where they are mostly because of history, chance, and the cleverness and resourcefulness in which they can solve the problems at hand. This can produce some really, really innovative and fascinating evolutionary designs.


The aye-aye is a type of lemur who is just one of the many hundreds (over 200) of species and subspecies of lemuriformes. Lemurs migrated to Madagascar roughly 50-40 million years ago by, what is most recently believed, natural rafts. After their initial arrival they diversified all over the newly available niches of the island. The aye-aye uniquely took over what is known as the woodpecker niche, where they use a type of percussive foraging to scoop out insects from trees with their slender, elongated middle finger.

They didn’t jump on a raft with the intention to evolve into a form that frequents nightmares. They simply arrived on Madagascar by chance and filled an available niche with their available body type. Over time, they succeeded and evolved to specialize in this specific niche. 

I’ve come to realize that much of my success in graduate school has been because of my fortunate background, some chance, and a lot of resourcefulness in the face of adversity.  I’ve heard “no” far more than I’ve heard “yes”, particularly when it comes with studying skeletal collections. And each time, I’ve had to adjust my methods and ideas. Whether it be looking at non-humans on islands, or exploring other regions where my hypotheses can still be tested, I’ve had to learn to not become married to an idea or sample, because nothing is ever static in science and you must be able to adapt and be resourceful.

No one is going to hand me a raft to float onto my doctorate island. And I’ve learned that. I have to identify how to get from point A to point B given the resources I have at my disposal. I have to hear the “no’s” and understand why they said no, and adjust my sample or methods. I have to know what the community (public and scientific) want so that I can get a “yes”.

As I’m finally working on a skeletal collection that has taken roughly four years to access… four years of writing and traveling and taking risks and learning what is needed for a yes… I’m reminded that just five years ago I didn’t even know about this sample. But the data, network, knowledge, and project I’ve accumulated over the years far surpasses my initial hope. This project is my grub, and I’ve slowly evolved my long, slender middle finger to dig it out ;). With each no, it’s reaching a little better and farther for that yes.

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English versions, Islands

Island Environments, Primate Evolution, and Human Origins

“What method then is open to us who wish to conduct a human experiment but who lack the power either to construct the experimental conditions or to find controlled examples of those conditions here and there throughout our own civilisation?”

-(Margaret Mead p. 7, 1928 “Coming of Age in Samoa”)

Pygmy mammoths, giant rats, kiwis, Darwin’s finches, lemurs… surprisingly, all of these animals have a lot in common. They all live (or lived) on islands, and exemplify the different types of evolution that occurs on islands. When animals colonize islands and island-like environments, they commonly undergo changes in body size and shape that scientists explain by the “Island Rule”. Over evolutionary time, large animals become small and small animals become large on islands. Additionally, birds often lose their ability to fly, and few species may diversify into many new ones. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace made initial extensive observations of island effects in the early 19th century. Since then, many scientists have examined the role islands play in animal evolution, and anthropologists recognized the importance of islands for understanding humans. Anthropologists such as Mead, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and Firth conducted research on humans in relative physical isolation on islands. They discovered unique human behaviors that helped lay the foundation for many anthropological and sociological ideas we use today. From the Kula ring to suicide voyaging to aspects of kinship, religion, and personhood, anthropologists studied how humans use culture to survive as individuals and communities on islands.

Various explanations have been proposed for physical transformations islands. A widely cited yet simple hypothesis states that limited food resources on islands result in energetic and reproductive pressures that lead to evolution of smaller body size. Another hypothesis focuses on ecological release accompanying a decrease in species diversity with island size. Decreased species richness results in fewer predators, thus relieving natural selection for increased body size allowing avoidance of predation. Large animals will hence undergo body size reduction on islands. On the other hand, for small-bodied animals on islands less competition frees up more resources than available on the mainland, thus allowing evolution of larger body size. These hypothetical explanations, along with several others, are often presented as mutually independent, but this is certainly unrealistic. For example, adaptive radiation of the finches Darwin observed on the Galapagos was due to a combination of ecological release and exposure to new resources. A better understanding of the suite of factors that influence evolution on islands will allow us to shed light on the “Island Rule” as a whole.

Importantly, and increasingly relevant for today, anthropologists have combined archaeological, cultural, and biological data to better understand how humans impact their environments on islands. Islands serve as excellent laboratories to examine such questions because they are circumscribed ecosystems. (Ecologists suggest that islands are like environmental microscopes for scientists who study evolution and ecology.) Further, with over half of all primate species on earth inhabiting islands, primatologists can use island science (such as island biogeography) to better understand how primate diversity coexists with humans inside their ecosystems. Deeper investigation of primate survival in dwindling island environments is now vitally important: 75% of primate species have declining populations and 60% of primates are threatened with extinction. Indeed, lemurs in Madagascar and tarsiers in the Philippines live on islands and may have adjusted their body size and shape in response to the unique pressures of their island environments. Anthropologists play an important role in exploring the science of climate change and conservation, and it is crucial that we direct more efforts toward understanding how isolation affects evolution. For example, how do humans impact primates through ecological encroachment, either direct (e.g., deforestation) or indirect (e.g., climate change)? How do primates survive with limited resources and adjust their behaviors and biology in the face of change?

Studying the “Island Rule” will allow us to better understand the unique body sizes and shapes we observe in some modern humans and their fossil relatives on islands. For example, Andamanese and other ‘negritos’ have short stature compared to nearby mainland humans. Furthermore, an extensively debated hominin from the island of Flores, Indonesia displays extremely small body and brain size and unique body shape. Influenced by Lord of the Rings scientists understandably nicknamed the initial specimen “The Hobbit”. The fossil remains are dated to 60,000 to 100,000 thousand years ago, but the brain size and stature of the single well-preserved individual are extremely small. In fact, the last known hominins with a brain size as small as the single known skull of The Hobbit were australopithecines, which went extinct almost 3 million years ago. An initial explanation proposed for the tiny brain and body size of the Hobbit was island dwarfing. However, few studies have explored how brain size and body size evolves in animals that reside on islands. Therefore, to understand the unique features of the Hobbit and other hominins that reside(d) on islands, it is necessary to expand our knowledge about the evolution of morphological traits on islands.

Anthropologists need to be mindful of the present state of island studies and how to best model island theory for primates. Indeed, the methods by which we study evolution on islands need to be developed further, with wider, more comprehensive approaches. For example, initial observations of organisms on islands led to the formulation of the Island Rule in ecology, which was at first considered to be a universal phenomenon, with large-bodied organisms evolving smaller body size and small-bodied organisms evolving larger body size on islands. In the last couple of decades, a series of studies have debated the universality of this “rule.” Generally, studies that do not use phylogenetic analyses, i.e. controlling for relatedness between species or subspecies in comparative analyses, confirm this phenomenon as a biological rule amongst vertebrates, whereas studies that control for interspecific or intraspecific relatedness indicate that the “Island Rule” is far from being a consistent rule.

The dilemma of applying phylogenetic analyses to study the “Island Rule” raises another issue. Analyses that explore whether the island phenomenon is universal are often performed by pairing one mainland-living species or subspecies with another from an island and comparing the two. This process can be extrapolated in order to understand the general trend within an entire order or even an entire class of organisms. However, relatedness between the mainland and insular-living organisms is often unclear. Because evolution on islands occurs within species or closely related species, it is crucial to have reliable information regarding the relatedness of the groups compared. Additionally, the process of averaging data to represent a single species or subspecies on the mainland or on an island is inappropriate because of the wide range of variation within groups. Therefore, it is important that we, as scientists, think of improved ways to study and compare morphological characteristics in animals from islands and the mainland.

Follow Dr. Yao and Ms. Young as we tackle these issues and more. We hope to spark a new wave of research within anthropology that appropriately uses and applies an understanding of island evolution to humans.

Best wishes,

Colleen and Lu

English versions

Field supplies

Ever wonder what anthropologists trek around in the field when they’re gone for weeks, months, or even years at a time? How do we navigate airports with research supplies, books, computers, clothes, and toiletries? Skill, advice, experience, and muscle.

This is my eighth research trip, and I’ve gotten pretty good at quickly and efficiently packing. Here’s what I’m packing for this year for my museum tour in Mexico. Importantly, this trip I’ve discovered water-free and package-free products that allow me to easily transport shampoo, lotion, etc. and leave no trace in the field.

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Research supplies:

  • x-ray machine and associated laptop
  • notebook
  • personal computer
  • measuring tape and graph paper
  • headlamp
  • bone glue from Paleobond
  • bone putty for external bone shaft geometric data
  • Garmin go pro for recording the process

Daily supplies

  • Naked shampoo (seanik) and conditioner (jungl from LUSH
  • Solid T’eo deodorant from LUSH
  • Soap from LUSH
  • three metal travel containers for soap, deodorant, and lotion
  • Oxybenzone- and octinoxate-free sunscreen from REI
  • sunglasses from SMITH
  • Hat
  • water bottle
  • reusable cutlery
  • DEET
  • Local maps of the regions I’ll be traveling
  • sleeping mat and sleeping bag
  • mosquito net
  • small tent
  • pocket camp stove
  • Condoms and plan-b emergency contraceptives (you will be in places that may not have access to contraceptives or safe sex materials and these are important to prevent STDs and pregnancies)

Emergency supplies

  • Amoxicillin (or any antibiotics) for emergencies
  • Re-hydration tablets
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Epipen
  • Water purifier


  • a nice outfit for meetings with colleagues and museums
  • clothes and shoes suitable for hiking / working in the sun and field

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English versions, Islands

isolation vs island paradise

The idea of an island is popularized and romanticized with imagery of paradise, beaches, vacation, a break from reality, exotic…

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but in reality it is a form of isolation. In the instance of someone on vacation on an island, it is a chosen withdrawal from a specific reality to a place where an experience is exclusively had by an individual. This is paradise. They aren’t isolated, even though they are on an island. This is a temporary, and chosen, isolation usually from an unpleasant existence (a 9 to 5 desk job).

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However, what about when isolation isn’t necessarily chosen and is long-term? What if you are stuck in paradise, so to speak? Is it still paradise?

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What are the ingredients of an island paradise or isolated struggle?

Islands have been used as laboratories for scientists because they are theoretically separated due to geographic barriers. The main consequence of such is isolation. Isolation from other landmasses, organisms, or cultures produces interesting (sometimes beneficial, sometimes deleterious) adaptations without external pressures. It allows for forms to evolve in ways they couldn’t before, but also presents unique pressures in the form of limited resources and contact.

Islands are not the only form of isolation, and indeed cannot be isolated at all. Some islands, such as Hawaii or Greece, are intricately connected via political borders to nearby landmasses, while others are so far disconnected they are not even on western maps.

Here are several different types of isolation I’d like to review in the hopes of better understanding this idea of an island, its potential applications to different lenses of focus, and the consequences of each.

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Isolation of the individual is defined as the withdrawal or seclusion of an individual so that contact is limited or non-existent between other members of a community. Initially, as an introvert, being secluded would be paradise. However, there are limits to this as the idea of being alone without people is dependent on the ability to be with people. Without the ability to integrate after a self-selected respite, the effects of individual isolation within a community are startling. Starting at a young age, individuals are dependent on socialization for healthy development. Without key linguistic or cultural cues from their peers, the ability for younger individuals who are isolated to integrate with their community later on is difficult if not impossible. Adults are increasingly supported financially and emotionally by their community. Adults who are isolated can struggle with depression and addition. Elderly folks as individuals depend on group homes or family for their survival. When an individual is unable to socialize in any one of these lifetime events, their psychological and physical well-being is compromised.


Isolation of groups is the product of cultural, linguistic, or geographic barriers from other such groups. Groups who are isolated tend to reproduce ideas and genetic traits that may or may not be advantageous for the health of the population or community. Initially, many of these groups reinforce each other’s ideas and live in their our cultural paradise. However, cult groups isolate themselves from other members of a community or region and permeate ideas that can be harmful for their members. Groups who are isolated due to gender, cultural, or linguistic norms suffer in communities when they need assistance, such as a recent report of Bangladeshi women in New York. Lack of genetic diversity and immunity within isolated human populations can also have negative effects on the health of these populations. Deleterious founders or mutations can quickly manifest in populations, while lack of immunity to outside illnesses can be fatal if illnesses are introduced at any time. The Pericú were an isolated group on the tip of the Baja California Peninsula who did not survive the introduction of old world diseases by missionaries and colonizers.

Political / Economic

Political and economic isolation can take the form of barriers in trade or migration across political borders. The economic effects of withdrawing from a larger economy into your own isolated economy is most recently demonstrated by Brexit (or the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU). Seeking greater sovereignty to improve independent growth, the UK sought to remove itself from the governance of the European Union. A stark drop in the pound followed the Brexit vote and the loss of barrier-free access to the Single Market is pressuring UK policymakers to find trade deals. The UK is not only now geographically isolated, but also politically isolating themselves with nearby trade partners, which can be dangerous and catastrophic.

Access to trade and resources is of vital concern for any entity seeking isolation. Numerous examples of islands whose resources dwindled and trade partners collapsed under changes in environmental or political conditions resulted in strains on these populations. Competition amongst isolated groups usually is a consequence when resources are limited or unaccessible amongst neighboring people or groups.

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Isolation in the context of ecology is the separation of a population by a geographic barrier. Populations who are isolated, or separated, from other such populations can be healthy, and at surface value, better than non-isolated populations. We see almost literally a “relaxation” of the morphology of specific island animals as the lack of predators on an isolate space reduce certain pressures. Kiwi birds, pygmy hippos, and pygmy foxes have all evolved body types that are not seen in areas with predatory pressures. Isolation from harmful predators seems like a no-brainer in terms of being a positive thing, it is truly a paradise for animals. However, we know this is not necessarily the case for dealing with changing circumstances.

The introduction of a novel predator (such as humans or rats) or environmental event (such as climate change) later in evolutionary time could prove fatal if the community and populations are not “equipped” for such novel pressures. Being literally stuck on an island, such as the flightless kiwi bird, after invasive rat populations were introduced has dramatically reduced population levels of Kiwi birds to the brink of extinction.

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Whether it be individual, social, political, or economic, isolation into your own “paradise” can be initially fruitful, but later catastrophic under changing environmental and social conditions that the isolated entity is not equipped to handle. Social connections and the ability to integrate when needed is important for any “islander.” Whether it be your ability to have a conversation about a hated political candidate or stance, trading for needed-resources, or dealing with climate change as a population with limited genetic diversity, isolation influences our community health.

Your own mind is not the only existence to be experienced; the ideas and norms within a specific group should be understood within their position to other groups; and removal of or limits to trade and migration barriers will allow countries to benefit from each other’s diversity and resources. As for ecological consequences of isolation of animals — invasive species are disastrous to ill-equipped population and community diversity of isolated species.

English versions

Slactivism and Surfing… riding old waves with modern technology.

Activism and surfing… each of these activities function to serve a purpose in my life. Each of these activities function to serve a purpose in society, too. But as times are rapidly changing, I (we) must learn how to adapt to these changes so that activism and surfing still function accordingly.

The ultimate function of surfing is riding the wave. While surfing also meets other functions (such as: exercise and meditation), ultimately, surfing is about the feeling of riding that wave. Surfboard technology has evolved over the years to allow surfers to ride waves, bigger, faster, and differently than before. Originally, huge longboards (up to twenty feet) would carry surfers on waves like boats. Longboarding became huge in Hawaii and Malibu, as surfers learned how to cruise and walk the plank. But the boards were extremely heavy and rather difficult to use.


Women longboarders of the 50s.

Recent technological improvements in surfboards such as finer carving, smaller size, and carbon fiber material open up a whole new realm of wave-riding possibilities. Further, they have made surfing easier. We are now able to catch new thrills on waves: going faster, carving harder, and dropping steeper on all sorts of wave terrain. But with access to this new wave terrain, we are exposed to new dangers.


Kelly Slater doing a novel trick on his modern surfboard.

What if we are not able to handle the bigger, faster wave? How do we adjust behaviors so that we can use these modern technological boards for bigger waves?

Technology has brought many improvements with time; but has also brought unintended consequences… by-products. Modern surf boards are lighter, smaller, and more buoyant, allowing for greater maneuverability, speed, and paddling efficiency. But, with these rocket surfboards, we can find ourselves in waves we can’t handle – in over our heads. And just as these new boards afford a better thrill and rush on bigger waves, if we mess up and wipeout, the negative impacts on these big waves will be just as huge.


The larger water volume and swell that our better board is able to handle… giving us that awesome ride… could potentially cause a brutal wipeout… giving us a not-so-awesome injury or death. 

Activism ultimately functions within a human cultural structure to improve quality of life for the most entities, usually by increasing inclusion, equality, and diversity. The term can be applied to the cultural and biological environment, and humans and non-humans, which is why I use the broad term “entities”, but is exclusively a human-enacted activity. In doing so, activists try and reduce corruption inherent in human desire, production, and/or accumulation of excess resources. Corruption increases exclusion, inequality, and stratification by means of territoriality, greed, hate, segregation, biases, gluttony, competition, and manipulation. Thus, by ensuring that human desire, production, and/or accumulation of excess resources are not influenced by corrupt means (greed, manipulation, etc.), activism affords inclusion, equality, and diversity to entities in need.


Corrupt means, such as greed and gluttony with excess resources, is a form of corruption in which activism seeks to stop.

To achieve such changes, one must work within and outside various systems and codes of law, using policy, communication, outreach, actions, and organizing to identify and enact progressive change to a structure. My role as an activist has always been to lead actions. Actions are methods used by activists to exemplify, question, and/or disrupt the corrupt means of a system via public demonstration. For instance, a strike is a popular action used by workers to disrupt the greed of a corporation by withholding work so that a corporation acknowledges the demands of the workers (which are usually for improved working conditions). Historically, successful actions have a leader and a critical mass at a critical time… a perfect storm, in a sense, that sinks the corruption’s ship.


Rosa Parks was the an action when she refused to sit in the back of the bus. This action sparked a massive bus boycott action. These actions exposed and disrupted the corruption of segregation and consequently ended legal bus segregation, improving equality and inclusivity.

Since the age of 12, I have lead and participated in various actions, including: petitions, boycotts, walkouts, occupations, strikes, protests, and marches. And most recently, I have been a part of social media discussions, some of which can serve to function as activist actions. Social media discussions or Twitter mobs that function to expose corruption, reduce corrupt means, and/or improve inclusivity, equality, and diversity for entities is a type of action.


Social media actions significantly help activists deliver messages quickly to large amounts of people all over the world. It allows activists to ride bigger waves, faster, and differently than before. New actions afforded to activists by social media technology include: twitter mobs, political discussions, trolling, memes, hashtags, and hacking.


Popularly coined “slacktivism” this type of social media activism has been an excellent ally for many recent impactful movements: Arab Spring, Occupy, NoDAPL… But has also contributed to the rise of a white nationalist and misogynist group, the Alt-Right, and the election of a hateful fascist–Donald Trump.

The larger amount of people reached and engaged via social media can be an excellent platform for activist actions, but can also cause a pretty nasty wipeout (for instance, when we rode that wave wrong  and elected Donald Trump). 

Twitter and Facebook were popularly and overwhelmingly used as political platforms for folks to engage others on candidates of their choices. Consequently, everyone became an activist. Everyone became an “expert” on what is best for the United States. Fake news proliferated and people mobbed after Hillary like a witch. Everyone thought they were right and someone else was wrong. But very few people know about the impacts of our social media activism. Very few people understand how to strategize behind an action. We have leaders of social media groups now, such as Pantsuit Nation, that have a critical mass at their fingertips, but clearly do not know how to effectively lead a critical mass.

Ingredients for successful actions:

A critical mass.

A leader.

Exposes and/or disrupts corrupt behavior.


Perfect timing.

Has a focused, explicit goal. 

If we are going to improve as activists in this new era of technology, and we all can, we need to start engaging more with how to use actions appropriately on social media. We need to make sure that our discussions and actions are actually helping us as activists. Successful actions require a strategy. They need a critical mass. They need a leader. They need a critical time. They need to help activists end corruption.

(For instance, I do not understand the point of the “Donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name” action. I was stoked to see thousands of dollars go to Planned Parenthood, but what good did it do by mentioning Mike Pence? Did it stop Mike Pence’s war on women’s access to reproductive care / reproductive rights? No. It probably just pissed him off more, causing an equal and opposite reaction. The impact did not entirely align with our intent. Donating to Planned Parenthood just in your own name is a better action, imo.)

It’s not just about being right, or snarky, or cute, or whatever… Just like it’s not just about knowing how to catch the wave right or looking the best out in the water. All the variables could be on your side, you could know how to paddle, stand up, and turn on the wave, but if you don’t know how to handle the current wave terrain and conditions, you’re not going to catch that wave.

We have to make sure that the impact of our massive online actions align with the intent (function) of our activism.

Creedence Clearwater Revival — Fortunate Son

English versions

What’s next?

A day after the election, I woke up at around 6 AM and headed to the beach. I needed to go surfing. I needed to think about how this election could impact the people, community, and environment of the United States and World. I needed to understand where we stand. I needed to find peace within my head to weigh out the immediate and ultimate consequences of having a leader of one of the most influential societies who is against POC, immigrant, women, LGBTQIA, and environmental rights.

What do I do next? What do we do next? What does this mean for our society, earth, and world?


As I approached the beach I saw peaks and lines up and down the coast (aka big and well-formed surf). I was a little anxious at the sheer size of the waves, but told myself I had surfed here a bunch before and been fine. I was nervous to go out into the lineup with other locals in the water, so I walked about a 1/2 mile down the beach where I found a solitary A-frame wave with an especially open-faced right. This was my peak.


I paddled out as far as I could beyond the break so I was safe from the outside sets. After about 20 minutes, I realized I was a little too far out, so I paddled in a bit. I noticed an especially nice peak to the right, so I paddled over to this spot. I slowly realized, upon paddling right into this spot, that I had paddled into a riptide. I was stuck. I was too far in to get past the big outside sets, and too far out to ride a wave inside. Instead of paddling back to where I was, I just sat there, in fear. I probably could have escaped this situation if I went back to where I was, but I just let fear take over.


And then a big set came. At least overhead. I couldn’t get over it, and it pummeled me. I was grasping for air and finally got my board only to be hit by another huge wave. I was starting to panic even more now. I tried to grab my board and ride a wave in, but they were so big that I literally got sucked under the wave as I was riding it. Then, my leash snapped. I was out there without any floatation device. Already having been pummeled by about four huge waves, tired, hurting, choking for air, I looked to the empty shore and saw my board float upon the sand. I had to swim about a 1/4 mile back to shore as waves are still crashing on me. I panicked even more and started to scream. I used all the breath I had above water before another wave hit me to scream for help. I screamed like my life depended on it, because it did. I screamed for someone on the shore, anyone, to come. But no one was there.

I’m not exactly sure how I made it in. But the next thing I remember is that my feet hit the sand after another wave held me under. At this moment I realized I was probably going to make it. I tried to stand up but was so physically exhausted I could barely walk the next 200 feet to the dry sand.

I finally reached my board and collapsed. I puked up some saltwater. I laid there. I couldn’t move.

I messed up. I made some decisions that put me into some serious danger.

I should have checked the surf report before going out ; I should have stayed close to other surfers; I should have been in better physical shape; I should have factored in where the riptides are; I shouldn’t have let fear guide my decisions; I shouldn’t have gone out into the water if I didn’t feel comfortable (just because I invited you inside after our date does not mean I’m obligated to sleep with you). 

These are points of information that I know are important for assessing my risk as a surfer. I have been a surfer for 15 years; I’ve learned the important information to make predictions to avoid danger. I should have used my model. 

What is a model?  A model is a mathematical equation that uses scientific information to aid in hypothesis testing and predictions. For instance, meteorologists predict the weather using models based on prior and current information they have of atmospheric composition and ecogeography. To build a model, one must understand the parameters and variables that carry the most pertinent information. Such information is found through sampling, hypothesis testing, data analyses, literature, and scientific intuition (based off the best working model you have, your brain).

Similar to scientific models, a surfer’s model must include information: biological information about the person, environmental and physical information about the wave, so that a surfer can successfully surf and not drown.



Models help us make sense of our world and to predict what’s next. 

Models can vary in scale, from modeling the fluid dynamics of a cell to the size of the universe. I use islands as my scale to model a multitude of issues pertinent to human and non-human evolution and interactions. I hope to extrapolate information under the microscopic lens of an island so I may understand the macroscopic picture of continents and large societies.

The lens you use (intellectual paradigm, hypothesis, theory, etc) will uncover different realities about the world. For instance, Malthus (1798) modeled that human population grows exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…) while food production (specifically agriculture) grew linearly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…). Thus, he predicted that human populations are eventually capped by the amount of food that can be produced. Once humans reach this cap, war, disease, famine, declines in health, etc, will check the population back down. This is true… but…

Ester Boserup (1965) later refined Malthus’ model by contributing information on human’s ability to culturally evolve (that is, increase food via innovations in technology). Boserup added a cultural evolutionary lens so that the model can adjust to these facts she gleaned from human history. The fact that humans have a history of land intensification which can increase the output of food, so that it is not linear. Thus, human population can grow unchecked as long as technological improvements implement food production (Boserup, 1965).


However, these models lack a holistic understanding of ecology and are rather anthropocentric. That is, they do not include the fact that non-human populations also depend on earth’s food, and that there is in fact a carrying capacity that will check one population (whether it be human or non-human). Anthony Barnosky’s lab at UC Berkeley has been addressing this issue, and using this ecological lens.


This chart shows that the number of megafauna species (species weighing over 44 kg) are inversely correlated with human global population growth. Thus, while Malthus and Boserup are both correct, in that, human population increases until it is checked and if societies do not innovate then competition over resources and declines in health may ensue, Barnosky took it one step further to show that our extraction of more resources to support larger human populations has consequences for non-human populations.

Biological evolution happens at a slower rate than cultural evolution; thus morphological innovations in the form of body size alterations to adapt a species to fewer resources cannot happen as fast as humans culturally develop a capacity to extract more resources. Non-human biodiversity is severely threatened, and we are approaching the earth’s sixth mass extinction (Barnosky, et al. 2011).

Adjusting your lens, can uncover additional realities. 

Thus, models are useful to make predictions. But, in today’s age, we must understand that the scope of our models must extend beyond us, our communities, our countries… they must be broad enough and inclusive enough to understand how changes in one thing can have downstream, indirect effects on another. They must be broad enough to keep each other and earth out of danger.

How does my knowledge about humans, in the past and present, help me understand the consequences of a Trump presidency in the USA? What does my anthropological knowledge predict about the future of our society and surrounding environment?

I need to think about my next steps as a community activist, academic, and scientist.


Boserup, Ester. 1965. The conditions of agricultural growth.

Barnosky, Anthony. 2008. Megafauna biomass tradeoff as a driver of Quaternary and future extinctionsPNAS.

Barnosky, et al. 2011. Has the earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?Nature.

MacArthur and Wilson, 1964. Theory of Island Biogeography.

Malthus, Thomas. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population

Schnell, Santiago et al. 2007. Multiscale modeling in BiologyAmerican Scientist.