Anthropology | Human Origins and Prehistory
A105 | 14160 | 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, and a
discussion of the nature of scientific reasoning. 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.
The present is a key to the past!
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.
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, consumer, or IT professional.
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 assigned readings and online
study materials, 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, and
periodically we will do small, in-class exercises and surveys using
CLICKERS for participation credit. Weekly Discussion Sections will
give you the opportunity to get to know other students in the class,
analyze videos and discuss class concepts in a small group, and get
"hands on" experience studying important fossils, artifacts, and other
types of evidence. Sections are a required part of the course.
Grades will be based both on participation scores, and on scores for
your exams and several take-home assignments that ask you to apply
what you have learned in class to real evolutionary problems.