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Chapter 8

Textbook Chapter 8 Notes

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Heather Miller

Notes From Reading CHAPTER 8:UNDERSTANDING THE PAST:A RCHAEOLOGICAL AND P ALEOANTHROPOLOGICAL M ETHODS (PGS.173-196) Learning Objectives  Explain, from a biocultural perspective, why scientists need to understand the behavior and anatomy of ancient hominins.  Identify the main objectives of paleoanthropology and archaeology; understand and describe the similarities and differences between these disciplines; and explain why research on human origins requires a multidisciplinary approach  Compare the similarities and differences between relative and chronometric dating and describe example of each type  Explain why archaeologists must assume that the organization and structure of the archaeological record reflects the behavior of humans in the past Introduction  Hominin - a member of the tribe Hominini, the evolutionary groups that includes modern humans and now-extinct bipedal relatives Biocultural Evolution: The Human Capacity for Culture  The most distinctive behavioral features of humans in our extraordinary elaboration of and dependence on culture  For humans, culture is a fundamental adaptive strategy involving cognitive, political, social and economic components, as well as technology  Early hominins made and used tools fabricated from perishable materials such as wood long before the earliest stone tools are found  By the last 5 mya and even by 7 mya, hominins had developed one crucial advantage: they were bipedal and could therefore much more easily carry all manner of objects from place to place  Protohominins – the earliest members of the hominin lineage, as yet only poorly represented in the fossil record: thus, the reconstruction of their structure and behavior is largely hypothetical  They may have carried objects such as naturally sharp stones or stone flakes, parts of carcasses and pieces of wood around their home ranges  As cognitive abilities developed, more efficient means of communication and learning resulted  These mutual dynamic interactions are at the very heart of what we call hominin biocultural evolution Paleoanthropology  Paleoanthropology is defined as the overall study of fossil hominins  Multidisciplinary – pertaining to research that involves the cooperation of experts from several scientific fields (ie. disciplines)  Geologists, usually working with anthropologists, do the initial surveys to locate potential early hominin sites  Fossil beds likely to contain hominin finds are subjected to extensive field surveying  Artifacts – pertaining to research that involves the cooperation of experts from several scientific fields (ie. disciplines)  Crew members search carefully for bones and artifacts eroding out of the soil, take pollen and soil samples for ecological analysis and carefully collect rock samples for use in various dating techniques  Archeologists must clean, sort, label and identify all artifacts and paleoantologists must do the same for all fossil hominin and faunal remains  Taphonomy – the study of how bones and other materials came to be buried in the earth and preserved as fossils. A taphonomist studies the processes of sedimentation, the action of streams, preservation properties of bone, and carnivore disturbance factors  Both biological and cultural aspects of our ancestors contribute to this fundamental understanding of our past, each process developing in relation to each other Notes From Reading CHAPTER 8:U NDERSTANDING THE P AST:ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND P ALEOANTHROPOLOGICAL M ETHODS (PG.173-196) Archaeology  Archaeologists use basically the same methods and techniques to research early hominin sites in the Old World as they do to study the prehistory of modern humans  The archaeological record hold much less material evidence of the lifeway’s of early hominins than of modern humans  The oldest archaeological data are difficult to interpret accurately because early hominins were physically and culturally quite different from modern humans  As we move closer in time to modern humans, the archaeological record becomes more extensive, more diverse and more readily interpreted Goals of Archaeology  The first goal, a very basic one is to reconstruct the chronicle of past human events as they were played out across space and through time o Providing order to the archaeological record, an order that implicitly answers the fundamental “when” and “where” questions  The second goal is to reconstruct pas human lifeways o Using clues from artifacts, archaeological features, sites and context, archaeologists try to understand how people actually created and used those cultural products to interact with each other and their surroundings  Third, archaeologists want to explain how and why the past happened as it did  Interpreting the cognitive and symbolic aspects of past societies o General explanation but are just as important to our understanding of the human past Archaeological Research Projects  Paleoanthropology is a complex undertaking that often draws on the expertise of specialists from many fields  The justification for allocating resources to such research also varies greatly, from cultural resource management (CRM) projects  Designed to meet legal guidelines for conserving historical sites and monuments to public or private agency-sponsored projects designed to answer specific questions about the past  Fieldworkers on foots who look for artifacts and other telltale material evidence on the ground surface probably still discover most sites  As they identify sites in the field, archaeologists record information about the local terrain, including the kinds of artifacts and other cultural debris that may be present on the surface, the area covered by this scatter of debris and other basic facts that become part of the permanent record of the site  Site Survey – the process of discovering the location of archaeological sites; sometimes called site reconnaissance  Excavation will always be a distinctively archaeological activity Piecing Together the Past  Archaeology produces useful information only because we can reasonably assume that the organization and structure of the archaeological record reflects the behavior of humans in the past Artifacts, Features and Contexts  Features – products of human activity that cannot be removed from the archaeological record as a single discrete entity. o Example: hearths, human burials and remains of Paleolithic hut  Ecofacts – natural materials that give environmental information about a site. o Examples: plant and animal remains discarded as food waste and also pollen grains preserved in the soil  Contexts – the spatial and temporal associations of artifacts and features in an archaeological site. Archaeologists distinguish between primary context, which simply Notes From Reading CHAPTER 8:UNDERSTANDING THE PAST :ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND PALEOANTHROPOLOGICAL M ETHODS (PG.173-196) means that it has not been disturbed since it was originally deposited, and secondary context, which has been disturbed and redeposited  The relationships between these categories of remains are most often observed on archaeological sites which are the locations of past human activity,  Artifacts are tangible objects; anything that was made or modified by people in the past qualifies as an artifact  Artifacts differ from archaeological features because they can be removed as a single entity from the archaeological record  Ecofacts are natural materials that are used mostly to reconstruct the local environment of a site and can be found as both artifacts and features  Context describes the spatial and temporal associations existing in the archaeological record among artifacts and features  With artifacts and their context, the limitations of what we can potentially know about the past probably rest more with archaeologists than with the archaeological record Ethnoarchaeology  Ethnoarchaeology – approach used by archaeologists to gain insights into the past by studying contemporary people  It gives archaeologists testable ideas about the interpretation of archaeological patterns in much the same way that paleoanthropologists apply observation studies of modern living primates to their understanding of the behavior and biology of hominins known only from the fossil record  If the predicted evidence and associations are found, then the researcher reasons that the observed modern human behavior can’t be excluded as a possible interpretation of comparable patterning in the archeological record Experimental Archaeology  Another way to gain a closer understanding of our ancestors is by learning how they made
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