Blog One – Paleoanthropology

Upon exploration of the website of the Paleoanthropology Society, it became clear how multifaceted the approach to paleoanthropology is. The society was founded in 1992, and their main goal is to bring together the experts necessary to truly drive their field forward. This field combines the knowledge of “anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists” and many others. This broad spectrum of expertise all combined into a single filed presents a broad and informed assessment of the development of mankind. The Society holds an annual conference, from which many papers are published and presented. They also publish a fully peer-reviewed journal, called PaleoAnthropology, which includes “articles, book reviews, and the abstracts of the annual meetings of the Society, commentaries on articles, and summaries of current work in the various fields of paleoanthropology.”

To truly cover the broad range of consideration required when assessing mankind’s development,  these many, differing specialties are needed to form an accurate picture and timeline of the progression of man. Archaeologists to identify and unearth fossils, anthropologists to consider the cultural ramifications of objects found at dig sites, geologists to date the discoveries utilizing the material in which they are found. Each specialty could be listed and their contributions covered, but the most integral aspect is the combination of all these views, and the knowledge informing them.

The massively overarching considerations required, and given, by paleoanthropology through organizations such as the Paleoanthropology Society, provide a widening understanding upon which other fields of anthropology can build and expand. Through  adding massively to the body of knowledge which anthropologists have at their disposal, it allows greater connections to be made between, and through, the past and the present. Physical anthropologists can see the biological changes in a population over a sequence of time, and this and other information garnered from paleoanthropology, allows a much greater understanding of the present condition of a people, and their cultural effect on their biology over time. Shifts in culture can be examined to identify corresponding physical changes, and these can then related to the changes experienced in other populations. This capacity for comparison and correlation on such a broad scale in integral to the coherent and concrete understanding sought through the anthropological endeavor.

Through the publications and meetings, the individual pursuits of those in the field can add great coherency to the whole of anthropology. The ever increasing use and reliance on genetic data is an example of the utilization and integration of emerging and growing fields and databases. Through DNA sequencing and storage, a much clearer picture of migrations and ancestry was provided to, and ultimate by, paleoanthropology. This massive step forward in confirmation of migration and descendancy theories helped explain many aspects of populations in other specializations. Disease rates, genetic disorders, food intolerances, and other such related data came together to form much more clear and concise pictures of the reasons for differences in populations.

As stated by the Paleoanthropology Society, its purpose, and truly that of paleoanthropology itself, it to bring together such broad viewpoints as to allow the most informed and realistic interpretations of data found on the many aspects of human change over time. Then through their discoveries and conclusions, bring much greater clarity and cohesion to the filed of anthropology as a whole.


2 thoughts on “Blog One – Paleoanthropology

  1. Yes, the field of paleoanthropology is very multifaceted. I never really knew what paleoanthropology was but I am surprised that the field combines the knowledge of anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, and geologists! To put it more simply, this field is concerned with fossil hominids. It often referred to as Human Paleontology. Paleoanthropologists assess fossils using the techniques of physical anthropology, comparative anatomy, and the theory of evolution. Artifacts like bone and stone tools are identified. These artifacts and their significance in relation to the physical and mental development of early humans are interpreted by the techniques of archaeology and ethnology. Many paleoanthropologists became well recognized by finding fossils said to be an intermediate species such as Donald Johanson who discovered the 3.2 million year old Australopithecine fossil ” Lucy.”

  2. Paleoanthropology is really what I thought of when I thought about Physical Anthropology when we first began the class. It’s interesting that it is but one aspect of Physical Anthropology, but at the same time also a combination of many ifferent fields. The combination of knowledge needed in practicing paleoanthropology makes the definition very broad. How do you separate the anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, and geologists from the paleanthropologists? What sets them apart? Do you need to be all of them at the same time?

    I also wonder how paleoanthropology affects us today? Is learning about our past in this way simply a study that can sit in books or can it be applied in everyday life? The obvious example is the Paleo diet. It is thought by reverting to the diet of our ancestors modern man can live healthier lives free from modern illness such as obesity and diabetes. What seemed to happen is some people used paleoanthropologic findings and ideas to come to this conclusion, but were quickly debunked by actual paleanthropologists and nutritionists. Are there examples paleoanthropologic findings improving our lives?

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