Anthropology | Human Origins and Prehistory
A105 | 7056 | 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
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.
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 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