On Thursday 15 July, Daniel Peart, Chelsea Hunter, Ian Hamilton, and Mark Moritz led a workshop on agent-based modeling using NetLogo for the 2021 Data Science for Women Summer Camp organized by the Translational Data Analytics Institute at the Ohio State University . In two-and-half hours, high-school students learned about complex systems and agent-based modeling, developed their own infectious diseases model in NetLogo, and ran experiments to see what happens when the disease characteristics change or agents move less.

Pictures with activities from the 2019 camp (before COVID).

Landscape History of Hadramawt: The Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia (RASA Project 1998-2008)

The Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia (RASA) team (1998 – 2008) led by editors Joy McCorriston (PI) and Michael Harrower (Field Manager), has published a monograph summarizing the research findings of the ten-year-long AIYS and NSF-funded project based in the Wadi Sana region of southeastern Yemen. The monograph presents the field data, archival photographs and analysis results (such as the Bayesian analysis of the geomorphological and settlement chronology of the wadi) collected by the team. The research was focused on documenting the initiation and development of pastoral societies in the region, primarily over the Early – Middle Holocene (10kya – 7kya BP).

Katie Horisk secures funding for hyrax midden leaf wax isotope analysis

Katie is a PhD student in the Department of Geosciences at Penn State, and she has been working with the ASOM team for the past year. She has been conducting pollen analysis on rock hyrax middens, in order to reconstruct past vegetation communities and changes in their composition through the mid-Holocene to present.

Katie has just been awarded three research grants to support further paleoclimatic analysis of the leaf wax isotopes from the hyrax middens to better understand changes in rainfall in the past. She has received two departmental grants; The Michael Loudin Family Graduate Scholarship (1000 USD), and The R.J. Cuffey Fund for Paleontology (4000 USD), and the Elsevier Research Scholarship, co-sponsored by the journal Organic Geochemistry and the European Association of Organic Geochemists (3000 Euro).

Congratulations Katie!

New publication: Contemporary pastoralism in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman

A collaboration between ASOM team members Lawrence and Mark, and colleagues in the UK and Oman, has led to a publication in Human Ecology. Abstract: In the Dhofar Mountains of Oman stakeholders are concerned about the social and ecological sustainability of pastoralism. In this study we used interviews with pastoralists to examine the prevailing drivers of pastoralism and how they are changing. We find that people are committed to pastoralism for sociocultural reasons but also that this commitment is under pressure because of husbandry costs and changing values. We find that capital investment in feedstuff enables pastoralists to overcome the density- dependent regulation of livestock populations. However, high production costs deter investment in marketing and commercialization, and there is little off take of local livestock. Our study reveals how pastoral values, passed down within households, motivate pastoralists in the face of high husbandry costs, modernization and social change.

The publication is available here – open access thanks to awesome ASOM!

ASOM research features in ‘Impact: The Magazine of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’, Penn State

‘High on the craggy cliffs of Oman’s rocky desert landscape, Sarah Ivory squeezed into narrow, dark caves in search of a different kind of goldmine. Shaded away from the desert sun, Ivory tapped a dusty, gray rock with her hammer and heard the dull, hollow sound she’d been waiting for. She found a special kind of fossil that, when cut open, would reveal smooth golden-brown layers that can help scientists see deep into the past.

This was a fossil of a midden, a communal toilet used by generation after generation of a small, desert-dwelling animal. The same middens are sometimes used for tens of thousands of years. Ivory recently journeyed to Oman, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, to find middens tucked in these caves, dig them out and ship them back to her laboratory at Penn State for analyses. It’s a dirty job. But in one of the driest places in the world, middens may be the best evidence to understand how the climate changed in the past, and how plants, animals and even humans, responded.’

excerpt from; Digging Into the Past – Using hyrax middens to study the past is helping to understand future climate, IMPACT

…continue reading here

Livestock browsing affects the species composition and structure of cloud forest in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman

A recently published study by ASOM postdoc researcher Lawrence Ball and his PhD supervisor Joseph Tzanopoulos, has identified several impacts of livestock browsing on the Anogeissus cloud forest in western Dhofar. By measuring 3600 adult and 3600 juvenile woody plants across thirty sites with different stocking histories, the abiotic and livestock factors affecting species distributions were examined. The results found fog density, topographic position and long‐term stocking rates to be important factors affecting woody species composition. Lower species diversity and plant density, and higher frequencies of unpalatable species, occurred under higher stocking rates. Juveniles showed a stronger response to stocking rates than adults, and several common species exhibited stunted morphology under high stocking rates.

The results show that browsing by large‐bodied livestock, such as camels and cattle, can substantially alter the species composition, structure, and phytomorphology of woody vegetation in semi‐arid woodlands and forests. Juveniles are particularly susceptible to browsing which alters woody vegetation demography and inhibits regeneration potential. The results support previous suggestions of overstocking in Dhofar and highlight the importance of swift measures to reduce livestock browsing pressure in the Anogeissus cloud forests.

Access the article at https://doi.org/10.1111/avsc.12493


Recognitions for Graduating Senior Annalee Sekulic

Annalee Sekulic keeps on winning! As the Spring Semester and her Senior Year at OSU draws to a close, Annalee participated in the now highly selective Denman Forum, where she won a Third Place. She successfully defended her undergraduate thesis “Identifying Human and Climatic Influences on Ancient Plant Communities in Dhofar, Oman,” which can be found in the OSU Libraries Knowledge Bank . Annalee also has been selected as the recipient of  OSU Department of Anthropology 2020 “Best Undergraduate” award. Her nomination noted that “she is a student whose achievements showcase the potential of anthropology to transform individuals and society…[one] who has overcome significant challenges, embraced the opportunities afforded her, excelled academically, dedicated herself to service, and achieved every mark of distinction.” Here is Annalee in her “zoom” defense with her thesis committee.

ASOM team member Katie Horisk reflects on her 2020 field season in Dhofar


Hi everyone! My name is Katie Horisk, and I recently joined the ASOM team! I am a PhD student working with Dr. Sarah Ivory at Penn State. I am currently conducting pollen analysis on the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) middens, in order to reconstruct past vegetation communities and changes in their composition through the mid-Holocene to present.

I had the opportunity to join the most recent field season in Oman, which was my first trip to the country.  It was an incredible experience. In Muscat, Sarah and I paid a visit to the Oman Botanic Garden, where I got to meet some of the plants responsible for the pollen I see under the microscope. We also met with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in both Muscat and Salalah, where we updated our collaborators on the goals for that trip. After three weeks in the field in Dhofar, we managed to collect 63 more middens! This was a well-earned reward for long days surveying the hot desert wadis. The landscape looks barren from a distance, but there are so many small plants and flowers that thrive on the weathered slopes. There had been a long rainy season, which meant we got to enjoy a more verdant February than usual. Immersing myself in the unique environment of Dhofar helped to contextualize my work enormously.

In addition to toiling under the desert sun, we took long lunch breaks in shady caves. Who knew eating canned hummus could become one of the best parts of the day? Our ministry representative, Aly Al-Mehri, would make tea over an open fire, then use the coals to burn Frankincense! On the weekends we took trips to beautiful beaches, explored the Souq, and got to see archaeological sites excavated by the team as well as the site of Sumhuram (the ancient port city and center of the Frankincense trade).  I enjoyed getting to know our Omani colleagues and learning from them in the field. One day we worked with Ali Alkathiry, and I brought him a large Gastropod fossil I had found. He explained how his ancestors would seek out these stones when they had a stomachache, boil them in water, and then drink the water. Sarah and I shared that the fossils were calcium carbonate, a mineral used in medicines like Tums! He got a kick out of that. This small anecdote demonstrates the extensive knowledge the people of Dhofar have about the landscape. I feel grateful to have gotten to learn even a little about the ways in which they interact with their environment, and I hope to carry what I learned about the people and the place throughout my research. Inshallah we will meet again soon!