Anthropology | Human Origins and Prehistory
A105 | 0361 | Sept


This course will introduce you to the study of human evolution -
paleoanthropology--a branch of anthropology which seeks to understand
human uniqueness by studying the human past using scientific
methods. The story of our past can be found in clues from a wide range of
sources -- everything from details of DNA to evocative murals in Ice Age
caves. This is why the scientific quest for human origins requires the
curiosity of a philosopher coupled with the skills of a skeptical
detective.

We will begin with an introduction to evolutionary principles.
While people often think of themselves as very different from other
animals, you will discover that we can learn a lot about ourselves
by studying the genes, bodies and behavior of our closest living
relatives, other primates, and apply this knowledge to help interpret
ancient evidence.

During the second half of the class we will dig into the past, to look at
fossils and archaeological sites for the evidence revealing when and where
humans first began to behave like "odd animals."  When did our ancestors
begin to walk upright? Where were tools and art invented? What do we know
about the origins of language and the development of the wide range of
social and cultural practices that we consider so "human"today?

Throughout the semester we will examine examples of how researchers think
about "evidence" and how scientific theories about human evolution have
been built, piece by piece, from a variety of sources. We will look at
examples of contrasting interpretations of scientific evidence for the
human past, and study why some arguments have stood the tests of time, and
are more convincing than others.

Course Work and Grades:

Lectures will introduce students to the major questions we ask about human
evolution, and the various methods scientists can use to search for answers.
Lectures will complement the textbook readings, but not duplicate them. We
will also spend time during class periods discussing how to think
critically about interesting questions that relate to our evolutionary
heritage.  Weekly Discussion Sections will give you the opportunity to get
to know other students in the class, discuss class concepts in a small
group, and also to get "hands on" experience studying important fossils,
artifacts, and other types of evidence. Sections are a required part of
the course, and students will receive 15% course credit for your work in
sections.

Writing assignments will give you the opportunity to apply concepts you
are learning in A105 to a variety of situations outside our classroom. You
will have the chance to write essays on two different topics (~4 typed
pages each; each worth 15% of course grade). Each assignment will focus on
a major theme covered in the textbook and lectures, but will require some
outside work as well. Exams - We will have three in-class exams (worth 5%,
15% and 15% of your grade) and one final, cumulative exam (worth 20% of
your grade). Note that the first mini-exam, worth 5% of your grade, is
scheduled very early in the semester, to help you callibrate your
expectations and study strategies with our expectations and approach to
grading.