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9.9: Key Terms

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    • Kerryn Warren, Lindsay Hunter, Navashni Naidoo, & Silindokuhle Mavuso

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    Arboreal: Related to trees or woodland.

    Aridification: Becoming increasingly arid or dry, as related to the climate or environment.

    Aridity Hypothesis: The hypothesis that long-term aridification and expansion of savannah biomes were drivers in diversification in early hominin evolution.

    Assemblage: A collection demonstrating a pattern. Often pertaining to a site or region.

    Bipedalism: The locomotor ability to walk on two legs.

    Breccia: Hard, calcareous sedimentary rock.

    Canines: The pointy teeth just next to the incisors, in the front of the mouth.

    Cheek teeth: Or hind dentition (molars and premolars).

    Chronospecies: Species that are said to evolve into another species, in a linear fashion, over time.

    Clade: A group of species or taxa with a shared common ancestor.

    Cladistics: The field of grouping organisms into those with shared ancestry.

    Context: As pertaining to palaeoanthropology, this term refers to the place where an artifact or fossil is found.

    Cores: The remains of a rock that has been flaked or knapped.

    Cusps: The ridges or “bumps” on the teeth.

    Dental formula: A technique to describe the number of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars in each quadrant of the mouth.

    Derived traits: Newly evolved traits that differ from those seen in the ancestor.

    Diastema: A tooth gap between the incisors and canines.

    Early Stone Age (ESA): The earliest-described archaeological period in which we start seeing stone-tool technology.

    East African Rift System (EARS): This term is often used to refer to the Rift Valley, expanding from Malawi to Ethiopia. This active geological structure is responsible for much of the visibility of the paleoanthropological record in East Africa.

    Enamel: The highly mineralized outer layer of the tooth.

    Encephalization: Expansion of the brain.

    Extant: Currently living—i.e., not extinct.

    Fallback foods: Foods that may not be preferred by an animal (e.g., foods that are not nutritionally dense) but that are essential for survival in times of stress or scarcity.

    Fauna: The animals of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

    Faunal assemblages: Collections of fossils of the animals found at a site.

    Faunal turnover: The rate at which species go extinct and are replaced with new species.

    Flake: The piece knocked off of a stone core during the manufacture of a tool, which may be used as a stone tool.

    Flora: The plants of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

    Folivorous: Foliage-eating.

    Foramen magnum: The large hole (foramen) at the base of the cranium, through which the spinal cord enters the skull.

    Fossil: The remains or impression of an organism from the past.

    Frugivorous: Fruit-eating.

    Generalist: A species that can thrive in a wide variety of habitats and can have a varied diet.

    Glacial: Colder, drier periods during an ice age when there is more ice trapped at the poles.

    Gracile: Slender, less rugged, or pronounced features.

    Hallux: The big toe.

    Holotype: A single specimen from which a species or taxon is described or named.

    Hominin: A primate category that includes humans and our fossil relatives since our divergence from extant great apes.

    Honing P3: The mandibular premolar alongside the canine (in primates, the P3), which is angled to give space for (and sharpen) the upper canines.

    Hyper-robust: Even more robust than considered normal in the Paranthropus genus.

    Hypodigm: A sample (here, fossil) from which researchers extrapolate features of a population.

    Incisiform: An adjective referring to a canine that appears more incisor-like in morphology.

    Incisors: The teeth in the front of the mouth, used to bite off food.

    Interglacial: A period of milder climate in between two glacial periods.

    Isotopes: Two or more forms of the same element that contain equal numbers of protons but different numbers of neutrons, giving them the same chemical properties but different atomic masses.

    Knappers: The people who fractured rocks in order to manufacture tools.

    Knapping: The fracturing of rocks for the manufacture of tools.

    Large Cutting Tool (LCT): A tool that is shaped to have functional edges.

    Last Common Ancestor (LCA): The hypothetical final ancestor (or ancestral population) of two or more taxa before their divergence.

    Lithic: Relating to stone (here to stone tools).

    Lumbar lordosis: The inward curving of the lower (lumbar) parts of the spine. The lower curve in the human S-shaped spine.

    Lumpers: Researchers who prefer to lump variable specimens into a single species or taxon and who feel high levels of variation is biologically real.

    Megadont: An organism with extremely large dentition compared with body size.

    Metacarpals: The long bones of the hand that connect to the phalanges (finger bones).

    Molars: The largest, most posterior of the hind dentition.

    Monophyletic: A taxon or group of taxa descended from a common ancestor that is not shared with another taxon or group.

    Morphology: The study of the form or size and shape of things; in this case, skeletal parts.

    Mosaic evolution: The concept that evolutionary change does not occur homogeneously throughout the body in organisms.

    Obligate bipedalism: Where the primary form of locomotion for an organism is bipedal.

    Occlude: When the teeth from the maxilla come into contact with the teeth in the mandible.

    Oldowan: Lower Paleolithic, the earliest stone tool culture.

    Orthognathic: The face below the eyes is relatively flat and does not jut out anteriorly.

    Paleoanthropologists: Researchers that study human evolution.

    Paleoenvironment: An environment from a period in the Earth’s geological past.

    Parabolic: Like a parabola (parabola-shaped).

    Phalanges: Long bones in the hand and fingers.

    Phylogenetics: The study of phylogeny.

    Phylogeny: The study of the evolutionary relationships between groups of organisms.

    Pliocene: A geological epoch between the Miocene and Pleistocene.

    Polytypic: In reference to taxonomy, having two or more group variants capable of interacting and breeding biologically but having morphological population differences.

    Postcranium: The skeleton below the cranium (head).

    Premolars: The smallest of the hind teeth, behind the canines.

    Procumbent: In reference to incisors, tilting forward.

    Prognathic: In reference to the face, the area below the eyes juts anteriorly.

    Quaternary Ice Age: The most recent geological time period, which includes the Pleistocene and Holocene Epochs and which is defined by the cyclicity of increasing and decreasing ice sheets at the poles.

    Relative dating: Dating techniques that refer to a temporal sequence (i.e., older or younger than others in the reference) and do not estimate actual or absolute dates.

    Robust: Rugged or exaggerated features.

    Site: A place in which evidence of past societies/species/activities may be observed through archaeological or paleontological practice.

    Specialist: A specialist species can thrive only in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet.

    Splitters: Researchers who prefer to split a highly variable taxon into multiple groups or species.

    Taxa: Plural of taxon, a taxonomic group such as species, genus, or family.

    Taxonomy: The science of grouping and classifying organisms.

    Techno-complex: A term encompassing multiple assemblages that share similar traits in terms of artifact production and morphology.

    Thermoregulation: Maintaining body temperature through physiologically cooling or warming the body.

    Ungulates: Hoofed mammals—e.g., cows and kudu.

    Volcanic tufts: Rock made from ash from volcanic eruptions in the past.

    Valgus knee: The angle of the knee between the femur and tibia, which allows for weight distribution to be angled closer to the point above the center of gravity (i.e., between the feet) in bipeds.

    This page titled 9.9: Key Terms is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kerryn Warren, Lindsay Hunter, Navashni Naidoo, Silindokuhle Mavuso, & Silindokuhle Mavuso (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.