Anthropology | Human Origins and Prehistory
A105 | 0375 | 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:

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 work in sections.

Grades will be based on a combination of in-class written work and
projects, take-home essay assignments, two in-class exams and a final
exam.