Anthropology: Human Evolution Essay Example

1.      What are the derived anatomical features that distinguish modern humans from other hominins?

Hominins are anatomically different from modern human beings. This difference however is more evident in their features above the neck, since their features below the neck are relatively similar. Some of the differences that are there between the two are: Firstly, hominins had a smaller brain size than that of the modern human being. It is said that their adult brain size was about 1/3 of that of human beings at present. Due to this fact, the author of Analysis of Early Hominins, Dennis O’Neil says that the widest part of the skull for the early hominins was below the brain case. In the case of modern man, this is usually in the temple region. Secondly, early hominins had large faces that were proportional to the size of their brain cases. When viewed from the side, hominins faces were concave and projecting forward at the bottom.  In contrast, modern human beings have smaller faces, which are nearly vertical. Thirdly, early hominins had big teeth, with thick enamel, large jaws and powerful jaw muscles, while in human beings, their jaws are relatively smaller and less powerful, and they have smaller teeth. This is due, to the fact that tools took over the work was  previously done using the teeth and the jaw muscles.

Figure 1: Structural difference between early hominins and modern human being

                                                             Australopithecus boisei                                                   Modern Human being

O’Neil, D. (2010, May 4). Analysis of Early Hominins. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://anthro.palomar.edu/hominid/australo_2.htm

2.      Describe what the archaeological record tells us about the pattern of human behavior 100 kya and 30 kya. What facts are widely accepted? Which are in dispute?

Archeological records report that one theory postulates that until about 40 kya, humans lived almost the same way as Neanderthals. However, after that, human beings produced sophisticated tools, which became homogenous and proficient. Complex tools at this time were made of several parts and an example of this is the bow and arrow. People started to settle at one place and shelter therefore became highly structured. Clothing also became a highlight in this era, as people would dress in animal skins sewn with needles made from bones. Art and religion also came up during these people’s time. In some instances, when people died, they face was painted before they were buried, and other such rituals.  The construction of water vessels was for long distance crossings in large water bodies, which allowed the colonization of the continent of Sahul.

A more recent theory postulates that the change in behavior in 40 kya did not happen suddenly, but that there was archeological evidence in Africa of modern human behavior at earlier times. The researchers point out that in Africa, refined stone tools are found at several Middle Stone Age sites; blades appear early in this period, refined bone, tools are found at several sites during this era and that there is some evidence of artwork during this period in Africa. Other things, which, found in Africa during the Middle Stone Age, are that there is evidence of hearths and shelters and refined bone tools found at several sites in this era. It is said that sometimes people transported raw materials through very great distances.

3.       Describe the main differences between the tools of Upper Paleolithic people and their predecessors.

The tools of the Upper Paleolithic people were very different from those of their earlier counterparts. Most of their tools were amorphous and used to perform a wide array of functions, while in the case of the Upper Paleolithic people, they had a variety of smaller tools and each of them would have a specialized function. During this time, the use of bones as a material for making tools was done for the first time. This is different because their counterparts used stone. Another observation is also that tools begin to be made in a different manner than was the case before. An example of this as illustrated by Quinlan, is the leaf shaped points. Instead of the ‘clunky’ ones that were, used previously, these ones were made to be wafer thin. Archeologists believe that Upper Paleolithic people started paying more attention to the kind of stones they would use in making their tools. This is unlike their predecessors who simply worked with what was available. This is clearly depicted in the way they travel hundreds of kilometers to obtain slightly better quality flint for stone tools. In the Upper Paleolithic period, there is also evidence of bone sewing needles. This shows the beginning of tailored clothing.

                                                               Tools Made from Bones

Upper Paleolithic 11: Art and Architecture. Retrieved May 5, 2010. [PowerPoint Presentation]

4.      What evidence suggests that Upper Paleolithic peoples were better able to cope with their environments?

The Upper Paleolithic people were able to cope with their environment because by this time, people had settled down and started to live in communities. They started hunting and gathering for food, and this is where we first see the division of labor.  They built tent like shelter to shield them from the elements, and this was not only a source of a shelter, but also a source of security from wild animals. During this time also, there was the use of fire to cook food, the proper tools to hunt for food and thus people suffered from fewer diseases, and the rate of injuries decreased.

Other things that made them able to cope better with their environments were that in some historical sites, many living floors had hearths, which is also the place where the flintknapper worked. The fact that Neanderthals and modern people co-existed in the same environment for tens of thousands of years clearly shows that modern people were thus in a better position to cope than their counterparts.

References

Guilaine, J. (1991). Prehistory the World of Early Man. Retrieved May 5, 2010. [Powerpoint Presentation]

O’Neil, D. (2010, May 4). Analysis of Early Hominins. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://anthro.palomar.edu/hominid/australo_2.htm

Owen, B. (2000). Early Homo Sapiens and Upper Paleolithic Technology, Culture, and Art.  Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://bruceowen.com/worldprehist/3250s06.htm

Pyburn, A. (2004, January 20). Middle and Upper Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers: The Emergence of Modern Humans, the Mesolithic. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.indiana.edu/~arch/saa/matrix/ia/ia03_mod_11.html

Quinlan R. Middle to Upper Paleolithic Transition. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.wsu.edu/~rquinlan/mptoup.htm

Upper Paleolithic 11: Art and Architecture. Retrieved May 5, 2010. [Powerpoint Presentation]

Sforza, C.L. ; Fieldman, M. (2003). [Review of The Application of Molecular Genetic Approaches to the Study of Human Evolution].

World History for us All. This Big Era and the Three Essential Questions. Retrieved May  5, 2010, from http://worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu/eras/era2.php

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Anthropology Of Religion

This anthropological paper is an attempt to review the article by Breibert, Rosenfeld, and McClain (2003) which is a research study investigating the effect of spiritual health (or well-being) on “end-of-life despair in terminally- ill cancer patients” (1603).  The authors note at the beginning of the article that the significance of spiritual well-being as a mode of coping with terminal illness has become more recognized. For this reason, the main objective of the researchers was to investigate the relationship between the patients’ well-being, depression and end-of-life despair.

The researchers used a path analysis method by interviewing 160 patients in palliative care hospital and who had a life expectancy below three months.  The interview comprised of standardized instruments.  The instruments included standardized scale for assessment of chronic illness and spiritual well-being, the Beck hopelessness scale and the Hamilton depression rating scale. The researchers reveal that they based suicidal ideation on the responses provided by the interviewed patients on the depression rating scale. Another aspect in the methodology is the use of the schedule of attitudes in determining the patients’ attitudes towards hastened death.

In the findings, the researchers note that the results of their investigation provided sufficient evidence to conclude that there exists a significant correlation between a patient’s well-being and hastened death, hopelessness and suicidal ideation.  The correlation coefficients for the variables were -0.51, -0.68, and -0.41 for hastened death, hopelessness and suicidal ideation respectively. All of the correlation coefficients thus indicate an existence of a negative correlation between each of the variables under investigation and the patient’s well-being. These findings are in agreement with the conclusions made by Romans and Mitchell (2003) in their investigation where they undertook to assess the relevance of spiritual beliefs for patients with bipolar affective disorder. Romans and Mitchell (2003) note that belief in spirituality or equivalent metaphysical concept has a significant relevance to illness management for bipolar affective disorder patients.

Breibert, Rosenfeld, and McClain (2003) applied multiple regression where the results showed that spiritual well-being had the strongest prediction effect (that is, it was the strongest or most intense predictor variable) for all outcome variables. In addition, the researchers add that spiritual well-being gave a unique and considerable contribution that surpassed the contribution made by depression and other relevant covariates.

The article provides addition information indicating that among the variables investigated by the researchers, depression had higher correlation with hastened death in respondents with low spiritual well-being than those exhibiting high spiritual well-being. The researchers note that for the participants who exhibited low spiritual well-being, depression provided a correlation of 0.40 at a p-value less than 0.0001 while those with high level of spiritual well-being had r=0.20 at p-value= 0.06.

In conclusion, the article concludes that spiritual well-being is essential in giving protection to the patients against end-of-life despair. The researchers conclude by offering a recommendation for more controlled research to focus on assessing the impact of spirituality-based interventions, which the authors believe that can help in creating more sense of peace for patients.

Works Cited:

Breitbart W., Rosenfeld, B. & McClain, C. “Effect of spiritual well-being on end-of-life despair in terminally-ill cancer patients” The Lancet, Volume 361, Issue 9369 (2003): 1603-1607

Romans S., & Mitchell L., “Spiritual beliefs in bipolar affective disorder: their relevance for illness management” Journal of affective disorders (2003)

 

“Anthropology Sub-fields”

Anthropology sub-fields:

Why does American Anthropology describe itself as a four-field discipline?

“Anthropology is the scientific study of people, society and culture.”(Collins, 1989)

This is the brief, but profound, all-embracing definition given in the dictionary. Perhaps on account of the sheer vastness of the subject, in the USA, this study is traditionally divided into four sub-fields. The study is all about human adaptation but the sub-divisions facilitate detailed study and analysis of the topics covered in each field. Their combined study provides a powerful apparatus to explain human diversity.

What are the four sub-fields and how do they relate to each other?

The four sub-fields are:

1. Archaeology:   Uses material remains, usually from past cultures, to understand and explain human behavior and adaptive strategies through time.

2. Biological:  Is the study of humans as biological organisms; research areas include human evolution, diversity in modern human populations, medical anthropology.

3. Cultural: Explores patterns of belief and behavior in contemporary and historical cultures around the world.

4. Linguistic: Documents and studies languages in terms of structure, acquisition, and use in the transmission of culture. (Article: The four…)

The above divisions are not absolute. They are done as a matter of convenience for the specialized study. They are not water tight compartments. Each subject is closely interrelated and their study is part of the total study. Just as we have specialists in medical science, for the study and treatment of various parts of the human anatomy, anthropology too is the study of human diversity around the world. Anthropologists go to the root cause of the cross-cultural differences in social institutions, communication methods and cultural traditions. The beliefs and the customs–why they are so and how they shaped thus. They compare and contrast the set of traditions. The job of an anthropologist is just like that of a translator of languages. But it is not that simple, just replace one set of words with another set. The foremost question in the mind of an anthropologist is always, “Why?” How to translate one aspect of the culture of one community with that of the other! The reasons for their behaving differently in similar set of circumstances!

Is it important to have basic understanding of all four sub-disciplines if you want to continue in anthropology? Why?

This question is as good as asking a botanist, why do you wish to have the knowledge of roots, trunk and the branches of a tree? It is adequate if you have the knowledge of the fruits.  It is ridiculous for anyone to tender such an advice to the botanist. As the botanist, he knows that he must have the complete knowledge –from the seed, the sapling and the final fruit! What are the possible diseases the tree has suffered in the process of is growth and what are the treatment modules. Why the fruits are of a particular quality. He is inquisitive to know the reasons for that. Similarly an anthropologist needs to specialize and gather full knowledge of the subjects covered in all the four sub-fields to be an authority on anthropology.

Once the knowledge of various theories is perfectly grasped, and then comes the application of what is gained to practical applications.  Such knowledge is useful in variety of majors, like business, medicine, law and education. Human diversity specialists have many a careers knocking at their doors. With the tremendous technological advancement, the world has shrunk!

However, the socio cultural subfield of anthropology is the most sought after branch in USA. A minority opinion also says that anthropology refers only to socio cultural anthropology. The function of a socio cultural anthropologist is to reach out to various communities, be with them, mingle with them to study and spend long periods of time, occasionally for years, observe them, talk to them and actually participate in their activities. Only by experiencing their activities, he can have the actual feel and convey his ideas to the world around. Statistical analysis done mostly by the government agencies may be important from the political point of view, but what is really important is the qualitative analysis. This approach is also called “ethnography.” That will help the anthropologist to understand why several dynamic changes are taking place at several levels simultaneously.

One should not be under the impression that anthropology is the study of the old. The modern materialistic civilization throws enough situations that are of interest to the anthropologist.

“While it is hard to come up with a clear personality profile for socio cultural anthropologists, quite a number of them do have something in common: they had significant exposure to more than one culture as children. Perhaps they were raised in bicultural/bilingual families. Perhaps their parents had jobs that required their family to move from country to country, for instance in the diplomatic service. Perhaps their families migrated from one country to another.”(Article: What is …)

The aspects that fascinate an anthropologist are many. It could be the DNA molecule of skeleton, supernatural beliefs, how the primitive evolution shaped and reached the present levels. It is the study of the past, the present and some of the findings of anthropologist, can set future goals in many fields. Its study provides insights into fields like economics, psychology, biology, geography, history, political science, medicine and many other disciplines.

                                                               References:

Article: The Four Field Approach.

uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/anthropology/undergraduate/fourfield.html – 3k –Retrieved on May 8, 2007.

Article: What is anthropology?  University of North-Texas, updated on February 2, 2006.

 www.unt.edu/anthropology/whatis.htm – 13k -Retrieved on May 8, 2007

Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, Collins ELT. London, 1989.

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