Anthropology 153 Office: 308 Asbury
Human Origins Office Hours: 2:00-4:00 M,T
Dr. La Lone (other times by arrangement)
Introduction to Biological Anthropology: Human Origins
Who, and what, are we? If we are to understand who we are, we must know where we
come from, and we must understand how biology and culture interact in forming what we are and
what we do. In this course, we explore some of the truly fundamental questions about
humanity‟s place in nature, as shown through some of the latest discoveries in anthropology and
archaeology. Biological (or Physical) Anthropology is the natural science discipline that deals
with the evolution of humankind and with contemporary human biological diversity.
Archaeology is a vital part of the anthropological goal of studying all peoples in all times and all
places. Archaeology allows us to reconstruct how people lived from remotest times millions of
years ago right up to the present.
Our goals in this course carry us far beyond simple exposure to the “facts” uncovered
through science. In fact, to do well in this course, you will find that skillful memorizing of
“facts” will not be sufficient. Instead, it will be much more important to develop a sense of how
science actually works. To do this, we‟ll focus on how data and explanations (theory) are related.
We‟ll look at how discovery, inference, and justification work together. We‟ll see that science is
not based on simple true vs. false assertions, but instead on overall patterns of evidence. These
patterns are directly tied to our assumptions, so we need to know what happens when
assumptions change, and how new evidence affects current assumptions and understandings.
Our overall goals include:
1. Developing a sense of science as a process, rather than as a dead collection of
“facts.” You are not expected to come in with this sense, but should develop it
through increasingly sophisticated questions (a good starting point might simply
be to ask why I‟ve consistently put the word “facts” in quotation marks!).
2. Understanding that the procedures and logic that we will be emphasizing can be
applied to any discipline in the sciences. We are talking about the frameworks for
scientific reasoning. Our next task is to build on these frameworks by providing
content, and, obviously, the content in this course will be drawn from research in
biological anthropology and archaeology.
3. Applying concepts from biological anthropology will lead us to explore current
developments in evolutionary biology, basic principles of genetics, living and
fossil primates, the fossil record of early hominids, and how contemporary human
behavior may be understood in evolutionary terms.
Reading carefully is the most important skill for success in the sciences, and in any
field. It is essential to learn to read not simply for “facts,” but for the arguments and
assumptions that are being offered. Our key readings are in these books:
Evolution and Prehistory: The Human Challenge, by William Haviland, Dana Walrath,
Harald Prins, and Bunny McBride, is a current overview of biological anthropology and
archaeology. It is written in a manner that is meant to be readable and to emphasize clear
explanation more than exhaustive detail. Be sure that you thoroughly understand the concepts it
presents and how they apply to the data presented both in the book and in class.
Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins, by Carl Zimmer, is a beautifully
illustrated overview of current research in human origins. Although written for a general
audience, it touches on a number of cutting-edge questions.
Physical Anthropology 07/08 is a collection of recent articles directly relating to issues
we‟ll study this term. All the article titles listed below come from this reader. Each of the essays
will be used in the precis you will submit throughout the term. As with all written work, this
must represent your own work and thought.
Before the Dawn, by Nicholas Wade, is a new book from the leading science writer for
the New York Times. As a science writer, Wade has made an impressive effort to keep up with
all the latest research, and then to synthesize it for an educated general audience. In addition to
good summaries of some of the latest research, it sometimes gets beyond scientific consensus,
and at times it is simply mistaken. It gives us opportunity to see how nonspecialists use our
evidence and arguments, and to see where we might question popularizations.
Videos will be another component of the course. Videos will be directly related to the
issues discussed in class and in your readings. They are not simply a break from class routine,
but an integral part of the materials you will be tested on. They will be well worth extra care and
attentiveness. Be sure to keep notes on what you have seen and raise questions and comments for
Class attendance and partipation
Attendance at every class session will be required for success in the course. One
reason for this is that your texts, no matter how recently written, simply cannot keep pace with
new discoveries and interpretations. Although the materials in the texts will be essential for
understanding, success on exams and papers will often depend on showing your understanding of
the differences between texts and the same topics covered in class. As you will see, even if some
of the same exam questions were to be used from term to term, the answers change even from
day to day!
Your class participation will be an important component of your grade. Participation is
more than mere presence in the classroom. You need to be prepared with your readings so that
you are able to discuss their meanings and to raise questions.
A separate page will give direction both on writing précis and on how your participation
in class will be measured for a significant part of your overall grade.
Attentiveness is essential for your successful class participation as well as your
understanding of the materials. Although many students believe they are skilled at multi-tasking,
a great deal of research material and experience shows that multi-tasking noticeably impairs
quality of thought and work.
For this, and other reasons, you will be expected to keep your laptop closed unless
specifically asked to check information.
Précis will be an important measure of your reading and class participation. Your reading
for each week should be done by Monday of that week so that you will be prepared to understand
and discuss course topics. Whenever articles from the Annual Editions Physical Anthropology
text are assigned, you need to read the articles carefully and to look for common themes in the
articles and how they connect to your text and class. As you read each article, take notes so that
you can then write a succinct summary of the key points. You should also note any questions or
commentary you might have on the article. You should be able to do this in as little as two pages
for each set. Your précis will then be a foundation for your own contributions to class discussion.
Essays and quizzes
Throughout the term, we‟ll have a series of regular quizzes, which will be directly keyed
to class and your readings. In addition to the quizzes, you will write an essay which will
synthesize materials from class and your readings. A final exam will be given on December 14.
[note for new students: for all of your classes, your travel arrangements must not interfere
with your finals schedule. Even if you have already made flight arrangements, you will have to
change them if they conflict with your finals]
This is how the work will contribute to your grade:
Quiz 1 September 17 100 points
Essay on Primatology, October 1 100 points
Quiz 2 October 24 100 points
Quiz 3 November 12 100 points
Final December 14 150 points
Reading précis (4 sets @ 25) 100 points
Participation 150 points
Anthropology in the News
And then there‟s another resource you should be aware of. Anthropology in the News
brings together new stories every day, and I‟m sure you will find them entertaining as well as
informative. You will find it at this address: http://anthropology.tamu.edu/news.htm
The Anthropology in the News site may prove quite helpful for generating contributions
toward class participation and your participation score.
Discussion Topics and Readings
Week 1: What is Anthropology?
We‟ll start with a basic overview of what anthropology is about. From the very start, our
emphasis will be on the fundamental tools of critical thinking (scientific method).
Read: Haviland Chapter 1 (and skim through the other chapters to get a sense of topics
that intrigue you most).
Wade, Chapter 1 (here too look for important topics).
How is biological anthropology different from social science anthropology?
How do the different subdisciplines of anthropology fit together?
Weeks 2 and 3: How Do We Know Things in Science?
Foundations of Evolutionary Biology
We look at some of the basics of how science works. An especially important point to
understand is that science is not about opinions, but rather arguments and explanations warranted
by evidence and reasoning. We get there through data, hypotheses, and theory. How are
theories, hypotheses, and data related? What do we mean by theory? Why does logic require
How is knowledge different from belief?
How does science differ from doctrine?
What does it mean to say that science is not about truth, but “the systematic
reduction of error”?
Why do we say that gravity is a theory and evolution is a fact?
Following a general discussion of reasoning in science, we turn specifically toward
modern evolutionary biology, the foundation of all work in life sciences.
What were some of the Big Ideas before Darwin‟s time? What did Darwin actually say?
What are some of the common misunderstandings about concepts such as”fitness” and “survival
of the fittest”? (Note: pay particularly close attention here and do not use the commonly
misused phrase “survival of the fittest” unintelligently in this class! These are some of the most
important issues underlying our work throughout the term, so pay close attention! Note
also that it may be that what you think you already know about this is wrong!).
Why is “survival of the fittest” a common misunderstanding?
Why do we insist that advantageous traits are not for the benefit of species?
Why do we emphasize that evolution is not about progress?
Read: Haviland, Chapter 2
Zimmer, Chapter 1
Futuyma, “The Growth of Evolutionary Science”
Mayr, “Darwin‟s Influence on Modern Thought”
Dawkins, “The Illusion of Design”
Blumberg, “Designer Thinking”
Weiner, “Evolution in Action”
Reading précis, set 1, Due September 10
Quiz 1, September 17
Weeks 4 and 5: Primates (including us!)
Varieties of living primates. Anatomy, habitat, and behavior. Primate social behavior.
Primate evolution and the fossil record. How we reconstruct structure and behavior from fossil
remains. How and why our ideas change with new data and interpretations. Intelligence and
other capacities of primates. Why we find chimpanzees fascinating. Models for ancestral
Why should we not say “humans and primates’?
Are humans entirely distinct from other animals?
What does primatology contribute to our understanding of being human?
Read: Haviland, Chapter 3
Goodall, “The Mind of the Chimpanzee”
Stanford, “Got Culture?”
Boesch and Boesch-Acherman, “Dim Forest, Bright Chimps”
Van Schaik, “Why Are Some Animals So Smart?”
de Waal, “Are We in Anthropodenial?”
de Waal, “How Animals Do Business”
Anderson, “A Telling Difference”
Reading précis, set 2, due September 24
Essay 1: Primatology, October 1
Weeks 6 and 7: Paleoanthropology, Archaeology, and Hominid Origins
How archaeology and paleoanthropology unearth clues about the past. How are sites
found, excavated, dated, reconstructed, and explained? How did early hominids live? What
were their diets? Were they hunters, or perhaps the hunted? Can we make inferences about such
matters as sexual division of labor and food sharing? Who was Homo erectus, and why did they
migrate out of Africa?
What are we looking for? What is a hominid?
What are the most important markers of hominids?
Is it accurate to describe early hominids as “bipedal apes”?
Why might we say that being an ancestral human doesn’t imply a human
way of life?
Read: Haviland, Chapter 4
Zimmer, Chapters 2 and 3
Dawkins, “The Salamanders Tale”
Gibbons, “African Trailblazers”
Shipman, “Hunting the First Hominid”
Zimmer, “Digital Ancestors Walk Again”
Shipman, “Scavenger Hunt”
Shreeve, “Erectus Rising”
Boaz and Ciochon, “The Scavenging of „Peking Man‟”
Reading précis, set 3, due October 8
Quiz 2, October 24
Weeks 8 through 10: Pre-Modern Humans and the Elaboration of Culture
When and where do fully modern humans first appear? What do we mean by “human”?
How does language fit in? Why do we argue that language is uniquely human?
What do we mean by “human”?
What if there were more than one species of human?
Read: Haviland, Chapter 8
Zimmer, Chapter 5
Trinkaus, “Hard Times Among the Neanderthals”
Alper, “Rethinking Neanderthals”
Heeren, “A Caveful of Clues About Early Humans”
Out of Africa:
Wade, Chapters 2 and 3
Shipman,”We Are All Africans”
Cartmill, “The Gift of Gab”
Wong, “The Littlest Human”
Reading précis, set 4, due October 29
Quiz 3, November 12
Weeks 11 and 12: The Global Expansion of Homo sapiens and Their Technology
Read: Haviland, Chapter 9
Zimmer, Chapters 6 and 7
Wade, Chapters 4 through 6
Weeks 13 and 14: From the Neolithic to the Emergence of Cities and States
Read: Haviland, Chapters 10 and 11
Wade, Chapters 7 and 8
Final Exam, December 14