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Essentials of Biological Anthropology (Fourth Edition)


Author: Clark Spencer Larsen

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company


Publish Date: September 14, 2018

ISBN-10: 039366743X

Pages: Pages

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface


It Is about Engagement

Teaching is about engagement—connecting the student with knowledge, making it real to the student, and having the student come away from the course with an understanding of core concepts. Essentials of Biological Anthropology seeks to engage the student in the learning process. Engaging the student is perhaps more of a challenge in the study of biological anthropology than in the study of other sciences, mainly because the student has likely never heard of the subject. Most students have taken a precollege course in chemistry, physics, or biology. Biological anthropology, though, is rarely mentioned or taught in precollege settings. Commonly, the student first finds out about the subject when an academic advisor explains that biological anthropology is a popular course that fulfills the college’s natural science requirement. Once taking the course, however, that same student usually connects quickly with the subject because so many of the topics are familiar—fossils, evolution, race, genetics, DNA, monkeys, forensic investigations, and origins of speech, to name a few. The student simply had not realized that these separately engaging topics come under the umbrella of one discipline, the subject of which is the study of human evolution and human diversity.

Perhaps drawn to biological anthropology because it focuses on our past and our present as a species, the student quickly sees the fundamental importance of the discipline. In Discover magazine’s 100 top stories of 2009, 18 were from biological anthropology. Three topics from the field were in the top 10, including the remarkable discovery of our earliest human ancestor, Ardipithecus. So important was this discovery that Science, the leading international professional science journal, called it the “Breakthrough of the Year” for 2009. The discussions in this textbook of topics, familiar and unfamiliar, give the student stepping-stones to science and to the centrality of biological anthropology as a window into understanding our world. Whether the students find the material familiar or unfamiliar, they will see that the book relates the discipline to human life: real concerns about human bodies and human identity. They will see themselves from an entirely different point of view and gain new awareness.

In writing this book, I made no assumptions about what the reader knows, except to assume that the reader—the student attending your biological anthropology class—has very little or no background in biological anthropology. As I wrote the book, I constantly reflected on the core concepts of biological anthropology and how to make them understandable. I combined this quest for both accuracy and clarity with my philosophy of teaching; namely, engage the student to help the student learn. Simply, teaching is about engagement. While most students in an introductory biological anthropology class do not intend to become professional biological anthropologists, some of these students become interested enough to take more courses. So this book is written for students who will not continue their study of biological anthropology, those who get “hooked” by this fascinating subject (a common occurrence!), and those who now
or eventually decide to become professionals in the field. The book is unified by the subject of biological anthropology. But equally important is the central theme of science—what it is, how it is done, and how scientists (in our case, anthropologists) learn about the natural world. I wrote the book so as to create a picture of who humans are as organisms, how we got to where we are over the past millions of years of evolution, and where we are going in the future in light of current conditions. In regard to biological anthropology, the student should finish the book understanding human evolution and how it is studied, how the present helps us understand the past, the diversity of organisms living and past, the diversity of human beings, and the nature of biological change over time and across geography. Such knowledge should help the student answer questions about the world. For example, How did primates emerge as unique group of mammals? Why do people look different from place to place around the world? Why is it important to gain exposure to sunlight yet unsafe to prolong that exposure? Why is it unhealthy to be excessively overweight? Throughout their history, what have humans eaten, and why is it important to know?

I have presented such topics so that the student can come to understand the central concepts and build from them a fuller understanding of biological anthropology. Throughout the book, I emphasize hypothesis testing, the core of the scientific method, and focus on that process and the excitement of discovery. The narrative style is personalized. Often I draw on my own experiences and those of scientists I know or am familiar with through their teaching and writing, to show the student how problems are addressed through fieldwork or through laboratory investigations. Scientists do not just collect facts. Rather, they collect data and make observations that help them answer questions about the complex natural world we all inhabit. Reflecting this practice, Essentials of Biological Anthropology is a collection not of facts for the student to learn but of answers to questions that help all of us understand who we are as living organisms and our place in the world. Science is a way of knowing, it is a learning process, and it connects our lives with our world. In these ways, it is liberating.

To the Instructor xix
To the Student xxviii
1. What Is Biological Anthropology? 3
2. Evolution: Constructing a Fundamental Scientific Theory 21
3. Genetics: Reproducing Life and Producing Variation 45
4. Genes and Their Evolution: Population Genetics 73
5. Biology in the Present: Living People 103
6. Biology in the Present: The Other Living Primates 135
7. Primate Sociality, Social Behavior, and Culture 171
8. Fossils and Their Place in Time and Nature 193
9. Primate Origins and Evolution: The First 50 Million Years 227
10. Early Hominin Origins and Evolution: The Roots of Humanity 259
11. The Origins and Evolution of Early Homo 297
12. The Origins, Evolution, and Dispersal of Modern People 327
13. Our Past 10,000 Years: Agriculture, Population, Biology 375

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