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An Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology



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As time swiftly moves forward there is one constant that always remains unchanged, evolution. In order to study this continuing growth we have to examine social behavior and how this climate affects the evolution in hominins (humans and chimpanzees) or primates. This will help us better understand how the correlation between genetic disposition, biological and cultural changes in our past and present day, and how this directly or indirectly has impacted change in our evolutionary progress.

Evolutionary Anthropology is the rudimentary study of this correlation between social behavior and evolution, and uses several other scientific channels to approach the subject without drawing conclusions based on single angle of study. Professionals involved in this subject must be concerned with biological and cultural changes, but it bases theories from information drawn from other anthropology fields such as archeology, behavioral ecology, psychology, primatology, and the vast subject of genetics.

This coming of the minds so to speak is used as an exchange of ideals and theories between other evolution-minded researchers in all sub fields of anthropology, or other scientific disciplines in the field of evolution. Research can range from modern theory, and contemporary theory such as the Darwinian approach, which focuses upon evolution as being that all life is related or has descended from a common ancestor, otherwise; we all have evolved from a specific genetic counterpart through the process of genetic evolution.

Since the subject of evolutionary anthropology is such a wide spread of disciplines used, we at first would have to understand the differing variations of study, and the role they play in the discipline of evolution.

Primatology:

This is the study of primates (apes), which investigates the chronicle of humanity from an interdisciplinary perspective, which employs documented observation of apes in their natural environments. The main focus of this study is to understand cultural differences and mating strategies within a social system, to view cognitive process like cooperative function, problem solving strategies, and communication methods.

An excellent example of typical research used would be the work of primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who has become instrumental in the field of chimpanzee intelligence. His most important anthropological work includes the community of chimpanzees being observed in Bossou, Guinea, where they have been studied for their ability to use a pair of stones as a hammer and anvil to crack open oil-palm nuts. This type of research shows how chimpanzees are evolving to understand how to use tools, without being taught or shown how.

Although his research is fundamental in anthropology evolution he has also shown how chimpanzees have a unique short term memory capability, and in a clinical test environment under the watchful eye of the media, his test subjects; three pairs of mother and baby, went up against a panel of University students, and his baby chimps beat out the adult University students by showing better memory skills.

Despite the fact that this study did not pertain directly to anthropology, it still was a groundbreaking discovery to learn that chimpanzees possess an almost photographic memory, which changes the way we view our closest relatives on the evolutionary scale.

Psychology:

This line of research is not used in the conventional form of study, but is used as tool to evaluate behavior patterns exhibited by both primate and human beings. The focal point of introducing psychology is to evaluate how humans learn cultural and social conventions, as compared to the processes used by primates in a social climate. These studies and several others involving primates are subjective, but used to affirm theories based on basic instincts regarding human evolution.

Linguistics:

The role of language is an integral part of evolutionary anthropology; it demonstrates the monumental impact that communication plays in our evolutionary process. Most anthropologists are determined to understand the origin of language itself, and how all properties of language correspond with one another even though the dialects and delivery differs. Theorist believe that all existing languages somehow stem from one particular ancestral native tongue, and that climate and social systems have mutated this source language to form the many languages that exist today. Even the newly formed languages like Klingon (from Star-Trek fame), are considered areas of interest due to the complexity that compels social groups to learn the non-existent language.

Physical Anthropology or Archeology:

This area of study includes the investigation into fossils recovered from archaeological sites, and even human remains. Several projects currently being conducted include reconstruction of Neolithic biology, and relating behavior and culture to their evolution. Many studies in the past were limited by the available technology, but now paleoanthropologists (combined discipline focus on fossils), have new resources to perform 3D imaging to assess brain development, and accurate analysis of the growth changes throughout human evolution. Specialized fields are employed also to include biochemical analysis to determine dietary adaptations, and migratory changes which can reveal a great wealth of information that was otherwise before unknown. With new data evolutionary anthropologists can now study cultural adaptation of hominins based on their environment, and the way they lived centuries ago.

There is an infinite world of possibilities when we delve into the history of humanity; it almost boggles the mind to contemplate the nature of our existence. How has the human evolution persevered through extreme circumstances, weathering even the most profound events that should have ensured our extinction? Hominins are the most successful species to co-inhabit our planet, and yet we are the only one's that succeeded in adapting to all varying eco-geographical environments, surviving diseases by the means of medical discovery, and even now we are beginning to develop some degree of control over our own genome. How are humans and chimpanzees so alike that even anthropologists consider us nearly identical on many different sociological levels?

These are the questions that drive Evolutionary Anthropology to new levels, and as long as a question can be asked there will be someone to seek the answer, because; hey were only human!

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