Anthropology | Human Origins and Prehistory
A105 | 5093 | Schoenemann


This course will introduce you to the study of human evolution.  The
focus will be on behavior: What do we know about how our ancestors
lived their lives, and how did their behavior change over time?  We
will also emphasize how we come to know what we think we know about
our origins and prehistory.  This knowledge derives essentially from
scientific detective work, in which clues are uncovered from many
different sources.  Fossils of our ancestors are one such source, but
we have also learned a great deal by studying the tools they made and
the marks these tools have left behind, the remains of other life
forms that were alive at the same times as our ancestors, the geologic
deposits all these clues are found in, our DNA and the DNA of closely
related species, the behavior of modern primates and modern
hunter-gatherers.

The course will start with a review of the basics of how evolution
works.  We will then discuss primates and find out where humans fit
within this interesting group of species.  The fossil record of our
evolutionary history will be reviewed, as well as the archaeological
remains of our ancestors - from the earliest stone tools to the
introduction of agriculture and the emergence of cities and states.
Some specific topics we will discuss include the origins of upright
walking, when our brains got big (and why), the origins of language,
when and where the first people like ourselves appeared, when the
earliest evidence of art, the role of diet in human evolution, and why
there is so much variation among humans living today.  Ultimately we
will show that an evolutionary perspective is critical to
understanding who we are today.

The course format will include illustrated lectures, discussions,
demonstrations, videos, and labs.  Class consists of 2 lectures per
week, plus a lab/discussion section. The lab activities are designed
to give students a richer, hands-on experience with the material
evidence of human evolution, and will include exercises using casts of
human fossils, human and primate skeletons, computer simulations of
evolution, early human stone tool technology, and videos of primate
behavior.  There will also be discussions on such topics as the
origins and importance of modern human variation, evolution of brain,
and the origins of language and culture.