Anthropology 1026F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Nicolas Steno, James Ussher

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2016-01-14
Anthropology
1. Goals?
2. Object of study? (data or facts of interest)
Variation in:
a) Physical appearance
b) “customs and beliefs”
Pursuit of 16th to 18th Century intellectuals to:
1. Document human variability
2. Show how human variability developed through time
3. Why does variability exist and why did it develop?
Later recognized widespread similarities among humans despite variation:
e.g. incest taboo, nuclear family as basic social unit, independent development of political
societies (states) in various areas of the globe, etc.
Modern Goals:
- Description and explanation/understanding of differences and similarities among human
groups and how these developed over time.
- Ultimately requires “comparative” study of human groups
- Goal is to find out about humanity in general through comparisons; not just about specific
groups of people.
- Cannot assume any one group of people is representative of all humanity
- Also, cannot understand what means to be human unless do comparison with other
species focus on biological primate order
Sources of Variation/Similarities
1. Physical or biological
2. Non-biological such as customs and beliefs.
- Non-biological/genetic source called “Culture” by anthropologists.
- 100s of definitions but core of agreement on culture:
- 1. Is learned or acquired during one’s lifespan
- 2. More or less shared by members of a group (participated)
- 3. Dependent on language (symbol)
- 4. Main survival or adaptive mechanism of humans used to deal physical/natural and
social aspects of world or one’s environment.
- 5. Constantly changing
“Culture” can be used in two senses:
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1. General = Culture (all of us have a culture)
2. Specific = culture (e.g. Bantu culture, Mohawk culture, Aztec culture, Blackfoot culture,
etc.)
- Culture does not equal opera, ballet, etc. All human beings have Culture (a learned
tradition)
- Culture is neither good nor bad, just different and question is why? ethnocentric (we
tend to think our way of life is better than everyone else. A built in bias.)
Summary:
Human Variation:
a) Biological
b) Cultural
Anthropology Sub-Disciplines
1. Biological/Physical Anthropology
- Biological aspect
2. Anthropological Linguistics
- Cultural aspect: language
- Living peoples and written records
3. Cultural Anthropology (Ethnography/Ethnology)
- Cultural aspect: economics, religion, social systems, technology, etc.
- Living peoples and written records
- Ethnography = description of cultures
- Ethnology = theorizing about reasons for cultural similarities and differences
4. Anthropological Archaeology
- Cultural aspect: economics, religions, social systems, technology, etc.
- Largely extinct cultures via material means
- Biological and archaeology often taught together as both can and do focus on how human
beings originated and changed or “evolved”
- Often referred to as “paleoanthropology”
- Paleo = “old”
- Anthropo = “humans”
- Ology = “study of”
- But both also study living human groups or times for which written records exist
- “historic” archaeologists
- “prehistoric” archaeologists
- “prehistory” = time before written records (99%+ of human existence)
Biological Change & Evolution: Historical Background
- History intertwined with idea of “cultural evolution” as both rely on insights and
principles derived from geology.
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- Also, early investigators were not always clear on the distinction between biologically
(genetic) derived change and culturally (non-genetic) change; some seem to imply
customs were inherited genetically.
- Nonetheless, focus on biological/physical change and history here
- Discovery of new and different peoples where from?
- Classical literature and Bible provided no answers.
- Major roadblock: earth is young! (So people are young?)
- Archbishop Ussher (A.D. 1650): created in 4004 B.C. or about 6000 years ago
- Geology began to question such estimates.
Insight #1
- Earth preserved record of past into which one could “breathe history” (time depth)
- Nicolas Steno = Steno’s law or the “law of superposition” = deeper layers/strata are older
than overlying ones; e.g.
-
Youngest Layer (strata) 1 Shallowest
Layer 2
Layer 3
Oldest Layer 4 Deepest
Insight #2
- “Law of uniformitarianism”
- James Hutton and Charles Lyell
- Forces forming earth same today as in past
- Slow process = earth very old!
Living Things:
- Georges Cuvier (French Naturalist)
- He and others showed:
a) Were many extinct forms of animals
b) Each layer contained a different set of species indicating change over time.
- Cuvier believed in “immutability” of species (no change)
- “catastrophism”: life destroyed by series of catastrophes of which biblical flood was only
one and life was created anew
- New theories of “transmutation”: species changed through time
- Charles Darwin (1859) “On the Origin of Species” = natural selection
- Slow process: fit with geological data and insights
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Document Summary

Anthropology: goals, object of study? (data or facts of interest) Variation in: physical appearance, customs and beliefs . Later recognized widespread similarities among humans despite variation: e. g. incest taboo, nuclear family as basic social unit, independent development of political societies (states) in various areas of the globe, etc. Description and explanation/understanding of differences and similarities among human groups and how these developed over time. Ultimately requires comparative study of human groups. Goal is to find out about humanity in general through comparisons; not just about specific groups of people. Cannot assume any one group of people is representative of all humanity. Also, cannot understand what means to be human unless do comparison with other species focus on biological primate order. Sources of variation/similarities: physical or biological, non-biological such as customs and beliefs. 100s of definitions but core of agreement on culture: More or less shared by members of a group (participated)

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