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6: Paleoanthropology

  • Page ID
    5040
  • [ "article:topic-guide", "Paleoanthropology", "authorname:aschoenberg" ]

    In previous sections, we compared ourselves to living creatures that you can see running around in their natural habitat, but in the paleoanthropology section, most of our knowledge is based on data gathered through archaeology, and we focus on hominid fossils, and how to interpret them.

    • 6.0: Introduction to Paleoanthropology
      Paleoanthropology deals with hominids (bipedal hominoids). In previous sections, we compared ourselves to living creatures that you can see running around in their natural habitat, but in the paleoanthropology section, most of our knowledge is based on data gathered through archaeology, and we focus on hominid fossils, and how to interpret them.
    • 6.1: Trends
      It's convenient for us to summarize the evolution of our species into a few broad trends that fit on the back of flash-cards: two feet, smaller teeth, big brains, culture, tools, language, large body size, wide geographic range... This is how evolution made us different from our closest living relatives bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas. But at the same time it's important to remember that evolution is not directional. Life doesn't progress towards an ultimate goal.
    • 6.2: Methods
      The methods of paleoanthropology are basically the same as paleontology: find a fossil or a gene, and then compare and contrast it to every other fossil, bone, or gene currently known. It is very detail oriented work on all fronts, with surprisingly few "aha!" moments, and many of the debates often come down to the interpretation of statistics.
    • 6.3: Pre-australopithecines
      For lack of a better name, we can define this group as primate fossils that date before the known group of australopiths, that show evidence of bipedalism, or dentition similar to later hominins who show bipedalism. One of the major frustrations of paleoanthropology is that this represents a huge time period, and we're trying to answer some of the most important questions of hominid evolution centering around our coming down from the trees with just a handful of fossils.
    • 6.4: Australopithecines
      Australopithecines currently come in two flavors, gracile and robust.
    • 6.5: Early Genus Homo
      We originally defined the genus Homo because of two interrelated factors: the first evidence for stone tools and significantly bigger brains.
    • 6.6: Homo erectus
      Homo erectus is significant for many reasons, but one of the most important is because unlike so many contested hominid paleospecies, we have found so many Homo erectus that almost all paleoanthropologists agree that there was such a thing. Homo erectus was important for its longevity, more than any other hominid so far,it will take us another million years to beat their record.
    • 6.7: Around Homo erectus
      Almost all paleoanthropologists acknowledge Homo erectus as a category of hominin in between Australopithecines and anatomically modern Homo sapiens. The transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens is less clear. extreme lumpers consider Homo erectus a
    • 6.8: Neandertals
      A famous paleoanthropologist said that if a Homo erectus sat down next to you on a bus you might want to change seats, but if it were a Neandertal (also called a European Middle Pleistocene hominid) you just might stare a little. We'll continue this kind of "us" or "them" debate into the next section. Some of the most fascinating recent research are the advances in decoding the Neandertal genome, especially that some were redheads and had an allele (FOXP2) involved with language.
    • 6.9: Denisovians
      The Denisovians were another group of hominids that most group with Homo sapiens, but they have slightly different DNA. They have a combination of big teeth, which we usually associated with older hominids, but some complex tools and symbolic behavior that we associate with anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
    • 6.10: The Cerutti Mastodon
      Evidence that 130,000 years ago, someone cracked open the bones of mastodons with hammerstones.
    • 6.11: Homo floresiensis
      Homo floresiensis is a hominid found on Flores island in Indonesia that lived around 50,000 years ago. It is unusual for its overall small size and small brain size, but its very recent dates. Because of its small size it has been nicknamed the "hobbit".
    • 6.12: Homo naledi
      Homo naledi is an amazingly large number of hominid fossils found in a cave in South Africa. The dates haven't been determined but the morphology shows fairly small brains compared to the development of their lower bodies. Also amazing is the difficult of getting bodies to the location, which implies the cultural practice of burial.
    • 6.13: Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens
      The phrase "anatomically modern Homo sapiens" is the scientific consensus for the group of hominid skeletons that everyone agrees to call "us".