Perspectives from Archaeology and Paleoanthropology
Paleoanthropologists have tracked the story of human evolution through over 7 million years, by following the archaeological evidence of human development. The story begins with our large bodied Miocene apes in Africa, traces the origins of bipedalism and cognitive expansion, and then follows human expansion out of Africa and into the rest of the world and beyond. We will cover seven major topics in 2-hour meetings, focusing on major discussions within paleoanthropology. Topics include understanding evolution, early hominids and the origin of bipedalism, cooking and anatomy, early migrations, art and cave paintings, the peopling of the Americas, and recent discoveries that are changing how we understand the development of modern humans.
Week 1: Understanding the Evolutionary Process and Origin of Species
Modern Evolutionary Biology – We will cover the basics of Darwinian evolution, and current research that help us understand how evolutionary forces mold species.
DNA – The second hour will focus on DNA studies that are illuminating paleoanthropology. We will briefly look at theory, methods, and findings from this area of paleoanthropological research.
Week 2: Early Hominids and the Origin of Bipedalism
Ardipithecus Group and Early Hominids – We will examine some of the earliest fossils in the hominin lineage, discuss significant changes in the skeletal anatomy, and discuss what this suggests us about the behavior of each species.
Origins of Bipedalism – The second hour will focus on theories on the origin of our unique form of locomotion. We will look closely at the evidence and potential links between past environmental change and hominin evolution.
Week 3: Cooking, Technology, Modern Human Anatomy
The Cooking Ape – Desmond Morris famously dubbed modern humans “the Naked Ape” and since then, others have employed similar labels. Here we will explore a theory that connects human digestive anatomy to cooking and to increases in cognitive ability.
The Archaeology of Food – In this second hour, we will examine how archaeologists and paleoanthropologists learn about past diets. We will discuss several methods employed in the exploration of past food systems and look at some findings from this research.
Week 4: Early Travelers
The Travels of Homo Erectus – We will look at the expansion of hominins from Africa into the rest of the world and discuss some of the theories and important sites associated with this first migration and expansion.
Expansion of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens – In the second hour, we will look at the expansion of modern humans and Neanderthals in the upper Paleolithic, including the timing and evidence of this migration.
Week 5: Development of Artwork and Cave Paintings
The Upper Paleolithic – In the Upper Paleolithic we see an explosion of new technologies as modern humans move into new ecosystems. We’ll focus on these technological developments and discuss ideas about the interaction between hominin species, as modern humans move into inhabited landscapes.
Cave Paintings, Rock Art, and the Creative Human Mind – In the second hour, we will look more closely at the expansion and development of art in the archaeological record. We will spend time with the famous cave sites, Lascaux and Chauvet Cave, and discuss the importance of the development of art.
Week 6: Expansion into the Americas
Clovis First – The peopling of the Americas is a lively topic in Archaeological research. Learn the history of the research and the development of major theories about the timing, route, and source of the first Americans.
Pre-Clovis Research – In the second hour, we will look at the current research on the peopling of the Americas, discuss major findings and new discoveries, and explore how these findings change our understanding of human expansion into the Americas.
Week 7: Recent Developments in Paleoanthropology
New Species – In this final section, we will discuss new findings that are dramatically changing the way we think about human evolution and explore the new species discovered over the past few years.
Stones, Bones, and Wrap Up – In the second hour, we will continue to talk about recent developments and talk about the implications for future research on the origins of modern humans.