What is biological anthropology?
As the name suggests, it is a subject that studies humans from a biological perspective. It is quite a diverse field, so you may come across biological anthropologists who look at human evolution by studying fossils, or genetics, but there are also those who look at non-human primates to understand humans as a biological species.
As a biological anthropologist, you can also consider living human diversity, which is what I am interested in. Looking at human diversity, you can ask such questions as: “Why are some people able to live at high altitudes?”, “Why are some people resistant to malaria?” or “Why do people vary in the shape and colour of their hair?” - which is what this study is essentially about.
I’m Caribbean. Can I participate?
Of course! Participation is open to anyone of African descent. The title of the study merely reflects that this study regards peoples who were “recently” African (~500 years).
How much hair do you need?
Very little! Around 100mg to be exact, which may not mean much to you, but it looks like this:
Left: 120mg of my own hair in a plastic bag.
Centre: a teabag (Nettle tea, in case you were wondering)
Right: approx. 150-200mg of my own hair, freshly snipped for this photo-op.
Now, just to be clear, I need to cut the hair from the root! At the end of the day, know that I am your friend, I do not want you to suffer (aesthetically) as a result of helping me with my project, so, I make sure I get the hair from the back of your head, from a place it won’t be noticed.Also, it will grow back. I promise.
Here is photographic evidence that you won’t even notice it’s missing:
(You can’t even see what’s been cut!)
Do you have ethical approval for this?
Yes, I do. Here is a link to the letter of approval.
Are you going to clone me?/Are you going to use my DNA for “…”?
No, I am not. Currently, I am severely lacking in cloning-skills. But more importantly, hair that is cut, as opposed to hair that is plucked, is extremely unlikely to yield usable DNA (which is why agenices who do DNA-testing, for whatever reason, usually require plucked samples with the root still on). Also, my ethical approval does not include permission for genetic work.
I have locs. Can I participate?
The easy answer is yes, you can. However, as I’ve mentioned above, the hair needs to be cut from the root, so you would be missing an entire loc. Depending on how big your locs are, that might be quite noticeable. Furthermore, I would have to unpick the entire loc to get at the individual strands, and I am not quite sure how this may affect the structure of the hair. I am very willing to try, but I doubt I will have enough participants with locs to study this properly.
My hair is braided/twisted/in protective styling. Can I participate?
Yes. The only thing you need to do is make sure you can undo/redo your hair at the moment you’ll be donating hair. A simple puff/ponytail or loose hairstyle is probably your best option on the day of participation.
I have very short hair (1-3 inches). Can I participate?
Yes! I’ve had quite a few participants who agreed to donate hair on a trip to the barbershop. So, if you are about to get your hair barbed, please let me know! I can snip a bit right before you sit on the barber’s chair, and he’ll fix your do before anyone even notices.
What is a spectrometer?
What the spectrometer does is focus lights of different colours on a small area of skin and measure how much light is reflected (this essentially flashes light at your skin – something you will not even feel). This gives us an objective measure of skin colour. The reason I am taking skin colour measurements, while this study is about hair, is that certain genes are known to affect the pigmentation (colour) throughout your body. By knowing skin reflectance we can consider whether, for example, hair colour varies independently of skin colour in Africans.
Here’s a picture of a participant having a spectrophotometric reading taken: