Honors | Human Origins & Prehistory
A105 | 1196 | Jeanne 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.
Sitting on the brink of a new millennium, our goal is to help you
appreciate how a knowledge of the human past is relevant to your own
life, whether as a student at IU today, or as a future parent,
medical patient, or consumer.
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. From time to time you will have
an opportunity to earn extra-credit points during a lecture.
Lectures meet in Chemistry 122, which is well-equipped for the
numerous slide, video, and computer presentations that the
instructor uses regularly.