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Human Biology 75.5 (2003) iii-xiii

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Richard Hugh Ward

Ka to he ra, ka rere he ra. (A sun sets, a day is born.)
Maori Proverb

Richard Hugh Ward died suddenly of cardiac causes on February 14, 2003, at home near Oxford, UK. At the time of his death he was Professor and Head of Biological Anthropology and Head of the School of Anthropology at Oxford University. Over nearly four decades Ryk made fundamental contributions to zoology, anthropology, epidemiology, and human genetics. He was one of a small group who essentially defined and created what we call the field of anthropological genetics. He was an accomplished researcher, he was a good friend for his many colleagues, and he was the center of a lively and loving family.

Born in 1943 in England, he grew up in New Zealand and graduated from the University of Auckland with Bachelor's degrees in Anthropology, Botany, and Genetics in 1966. After a Master's from Auckland in 1967, he went to the University of Michigan's Department of Human Genetics, where he received his doctorate in 1970. As a graduate student he did pioneering fieldwork with James Neel, Napoleon Chagnon, and others among the Yanomama of the Amazon basin. His dissertation was titled "Micro-differentiation and Genetic Relationships of Yanomama Villages."

After his doctorate he held teaching and research positions at the University of Auckland (1970-1972), the University of Washington at Seattle (1974- 1980), the University of British Columbia (1980-1986), the University of Utah (1987-1996), and Oxford University (1996 until his death).

Ryk was a central figure in the flowering of anthropological genetics that began in the 1960s. At this time immunological techniques and electrophoresis made many new marker loci available for population genetic surveys. At the same time people were developing models of population structure applicable to human populations, like the migration matrix models of C.A.B. Smith and of Cavalli-Sforza and Bodmer, the parameterization of isolation by distance developed by Male'cot and used extensively by N.E. Morton and his collaborators, and so on. Anthropologists were also incorporating computerized tree-building techniques from numerical taxonomy. Several groups initiated fieldwork with technologically primitive people, aiming for a comprehensive integrated understanding of biology and culture of these groups. Studies of the Yanomama and other lowland South American Indians groups initiated by James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon were the best known and most productive of these projects. Ryk participated in the Yanomama research from the beginning and produced a rich corpus of papers about the genetic structure of these populations.

An excellent perspective on this early phase of anthropological genetics is given by Ryk's paper in Crawford and Workman's classic edited volume (Ward 1973). This is not only an introduction to the field at that time but one of the best introductions to Ryk's clarity and depth of thought and presentation. He addresses [End Page iii] the issue of rationale: we were all working hard and gathering a lot of data but no one had previously made explicit exactly why we were doing what we were doing.

The first rationale he offers is that by studying "primitive tribes" in intimate contact with nature we would gain understanding of the selective forces that shaped our species. He dismisses this rationale, saying that sample sizes from such groups would always be too small to let us say anything about selection in them. At this time biologists were preoccupied with the "neutralist controversy," and Ryk pointed out that the anthropological populations were too small for them to be of interest to the issue.

The second related rationale is that tribal populations reveal the demographic and social context in which the human genome evolved. Sociobiologists would later phrase this argument as the search for the EEA ("Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness"). He dismisses this rationale by pointing out that "the investigator faces the paradox of constructing models of human evolution, based on populations that, judged from our vantage point at least, have drifted from the mainstream of human progress."

The third rationale...


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