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Honors Student Profiles


Skylar Brodnan

Major: Evolutionary Anthropology

Thesis: Origins of Human Culture: Individual Variation and Social Influence in Wild Chimpanzee Tool Use

Summary: Prior to the mid-1900s, researchers thought that tool use was unique to humans. However, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) habitually use a variety of tools in the wild and exhibit potential cultural behaviors. To understand the roots of individual variation in tool use, this study examines 25 years of observational data among wild chimpanzees from the Kanyawara community at Kibale National Park, Uganda. I examined the effects of age and sex on six forms of tool use and object manipulation. The results of this study indicate age and sex differences for many forms of tool use. Specifically, females engaged in extractive foraging more than males, and extractive foraging increased for females with age. Females engaged in object play more than males, and the behavior decreased with age, while leaf cleaning and aggressive tool use occurred significantly more in males than females and increased with age. I also tested the effects of age and sex on three metrics of social influence, examining which age and sex class of tool users were more likely to be looked at, approached, or have their tool touched. This analysis showed that older tool users are more likely to influence other group members than younger tool users. Finally, I explored the hypothesis that there are ‘impact tool users’ (in a similar sense to chimpanzee ‘impact hunters’), a topic that has not previously been explored. We found four females whose presence and tool use increased the probability of tool use at drinking events, indicative of proposed ‘impact tool users’ within the community, shedding light on transmission of knowledge in chimpanzees.

Future Plans: I am currently working as a lab manager in the Psychology department at the University of Michigan. I will be applying to Ph.D. programs next fall. 

Caitlin Hoyng

Major: Anthropology

ThesisNight Sweats as Pillow Talk: Community Care for Sex Workers, Queer People, and Noncitizens in 1980s-1990s Berlin, AIDS, and a Little Bit of Context. A Multimodal and Oral History.

Summary: In 1980s East Berlin, many sex workers, queer people, and noncitizens lived an uneasy existence under Stasi surveillance, or between “double lives.” Sex workers, who serviced international clientele and converted currency on the black market, lived in constant danger of exposing themselves and their work to the GDR; though, according to the state, sex workers didn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) exist in East Germany to begin with. Those who did exist sometimes became valuable informants on Western and Eastern clients alike for the Stasi. Queer communities in East Berlin lived with more leeway to move freely throughout normal society, but under one main presumption: Don’t talk about your sexuality if you’d like to keep doing so. Many gay men entered heterosexual marriages for safety—a protective factor once HIV/AIDS entered Germany. Noncitizens were alternatively barred from employment and recruited as guest workers, but without the freedom to bring their family, too. For them, testing positive for HIV constituted deportation. In the West, noncitizens came to a place that deemed itself “not an immigration country” (Stokes 2022), and fought back against human rights violations in political struggles following Reunification.During the epidemic, these communities faced the additional dangers of living at a time when the nature of their stigmatized work and identities put them at higher risk for becoming sick, yet put them further under the spotlight for surveillance or stigma. In the West, infection rates for HIV were much higher, meaning that mutual aid efforts were more pressing. Post-Reunification, former Easterners involved in HIV/AIDS activism sought to incorporate the viewpoints of queer socialists (who felt the GDR “obscured the ultimate wisdom” of their policies with extensive surveillance [Schatz 2020]) into mutual aid efforts—stigma against the East, however, meant that these attempts were not always successful. Using background research on German history, anthropological theory, and ethnographic interviews with Berlin’s elder sex workers, queer communities, and noncitizens, this thesis will create an oral history on how everyday people figure out what care means to them. My analysis focuses on surveillance, mutual aid, art, and memories, and could be described as an exploratory gathering of voices, going back and forth between locations.

Future Plans: I'm currently working as a DEI researcher and student advisor for the Biology department at UMich, where I'm doing an interview project with alumni on post-graduate pathways and barriers to education. I work part-time as a children's art camp counselor, too, and I'm applying to PhD programs this fall.

Krystal Koski

Major: Evolutionary Anthropology & Linguistics

ThesisA New Window into Landscape Heterogeneity via a Combination of Sedimentary Facies Analysis and Isotopic Evidence 

Summary: Landscape heterogeneity has long been proposed as a key factor influencing hominin evolution, but the nature of environmental variation within specific regions is understudied. The Koobi Fora Formation in the Turkana Basin, northern Kenya, encompasses an important period of hominin evolution ca. 2.0-1.4 Ma that is characterized by high hominin diversity and landscape heterogeneity, making it an ideal scenario to study the relationship between landscape heterogeneity and hominin evolution. In addition, the period from 2.0-1.4 Ma has been identified as a period of C4 biomass expansion and heightened aridity, although the timing of these events varied spatially across the basin. To attempt to understand the ways in which these events manifested across the landscape, previously published enamel δ13C and δ18O values of large mammals were compiled and categorized based on their depositional context. Linear models were used to examine the relationship between depositional context and enamel isotope values through time, with the goal of understanding how heterogeneity was represented on the landscape and determining where in space the C4 resource expansion and aridity onset initially began and became distributed. Results here indicate that C4 resources did not proliferate in a single depositional context; rather, heterogeneous vegetation within landscape components (depositional settings) played a crucial role in maintaining diversity in mammalian communities. My findings also suggest the expansion of C4 resources and the aridity onset were not necessarily coupled events, but do support gradual aridification of the region during this interval. These analyses provide a useful framework for generating more robust paleoenvironmental reconstructions that provide unique windows into the nature of habitat heterogeneity characteristic of hominin habitats.

Future Plans: This summer I will be working as a Camp Counselor for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History while I apply to Ph.D. programs.