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History of Physical Anthropology Notes

What is Anthropology
Derived from the Greek Anthropas (man or humans) and Logos (logic or science of)
Anthropology is holistic and comparative
Anthropologists study humans through time and space
Comparative Study
Between cultures that are present today (cultural anthropologists)
Between cultures that existed in the past (archaeologists)
Between related species of the hominid family (paleoanthropologists)
Can what we learn from other cultures or related species help us understand our own
culture or species? YES we can the past is not just the past
Holistic Study
The big picture integration of all aspects of a culture
For instance, how does hunting, social organization, marriage, art, religion, and craft
production fit together?
Biocultural perspective = intersection between biology and culture
What are some branches of anthropology?
1. Human Evolution (Paleontology)
2. Genetics
3. Primatology
4. Bioarcheology
5. Forensic anthropology
How are all those branches linked?
Working definition of anthropology for this class the science of human cultural and
biological variation and evolution
Culture = shared learned behavior
The Biocultural approach
Humans must be understood in terms of shared learned behavior and biology
Biocultural approach = studying the interaction between biology and culture in
evolutionary adaptation
Physical anthropology is anchored by
Variation (differences amond individuals or populations)
Evolution (change in living organisms over time)
Adaptation (advantageous changes, The process of successful interaction between a
population and an environment)
Themes in Physical Anthropology
Race (largely discarded after WW2)
Human origins

History of Physical Anthropology
The first physical anthropologists were interested in racial classification and collecting
skulls for comparative study
By the 1890s the scientific community was using physical anthropology to legitimize the
eugenics movement
Eugenics = social phiolosophy advocating improvement of genetic traits through
selective reproduction
Understanding of race was essentialist and
The belief that races existed and could be ranked lead to restrictive immigration policies,
laws against inter-racial marriages, and forced sterilization.
Franz Boas (1852-1942) father of American Anthropology
1. Opposed scientific racism
2. Introduced rise of cultural relativism
3. Cranial shape and size is malleable and dependent on environmental factors
4. Differences in human behavior are due to cultural differences NOT innate
biological dispositions.
Physical Anthropology as a profession
Turn of the 20th century in USA very few physical anthropologists
Oldest anthropology program Harvard (founded 1888)
Only 5 total physical anthropology PhDs in the states until 1925
American Journal of Physical Anthropology (founded 1918)
1951 Sherwood Washburn introduces the new physical anthropology
Move away from racial classification and toward the stude of human evolution and
Later expansion to include primatology, forensics, paleoanthropology,
The new physical anthropology
Focus on primate and human evolution and variation
Return to Darwinian evolutionary theory
Emphasis on genetics
Races studied as populations rather than types
Fewer descriptive studies, more hypothesis testing
Specialization of the field (1960-1990)
Anthropologixal genetics
Using population biology
Child growth and development
Skeletal biology
Forensic anthropology
Focus on hypothesis driven research in smaller sub-fields to answer broader
anthropological questions
Contemporary approaches in physical anthropology
Biocultural/biobehavioral approach capable of solving scientific problems

Theoretical perspective of evolition

View of humans and their biobehavior in deep time and evolutionary perspective
Exploration of human biology and behavior within a population perspective
Application of comparative approaches to human societies, non-human primates, and our
evolutionary asscendents
American Associtaion of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA)
The main professional organization in the field
Journal accessible through MSU
National meetings including Dental Anthropology Association and Paleopathology
Position statements on biological aspects of race scientific creationism, sexual
PROJECT ONE: Write a Bio-Sketch of a Physical Anthropologist
All information on syllabus
Research a physical anthropologist and write a bio-sketch about him/her
Any sub-field such as paleoanthropologist, geneticist, primatologist, forensic
1 page = personal information and research focus
1 page why you chose this person
Please keep in mind that historical roots of physical anthropology and how the growth of
the field potentially affected the anthropologist you choose.