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ANTH 235, THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF PEOPLE: INDIVIDUALS IN PREHISTORY By and large, the archaeological record is maddeningly anonymous! For example, exactly who made this 500,000 year-old hand-axe? This general problem is increasingly the subject of archaeological investigation. See, for example: Gamble, C. and M. Porr, editors. (2005). The Hominid Individual in Context: Archaeological Investigations of Lower and Middle Paleolithic Landscapes, Locales, and Artefacts. London: Routledge. It is the specialist biological anthropologist – especially the human osteologist – rather than the archaeologist who initially analyzes the relevant evidence. Archaeology draws on the skills of a great variety of scientists, from radiocarbon physicists to botanists, so the role of the modern archaeologist is to learn how best to use and interpret all this information. biological archaeology (bioarchaeology): has developed as a formal interface between biological anthropology (including human osteology) and archaeology. Today, anthropologists have de-emphasized earlier studies of human remains as a clue to racial distinctions to focus instead on other explanations for the individual and population variability observable within the human species. The main thrusts of the work today are to use human remains to: determine age & sex of the deceased examine state of health during life examine evidence of sickness (morbidity) and death (mortality) understand the significance of the variability discernible within populations, without resorting to preconceived notions of “race” THE NATURE OF THE EVIDENCE: mostly osteology – the study of bones and teeth limited evidence also from preserved soft tissues – intentional and natural mummies, frozen bodies, “Bog People,” etc. the near future holds promise for molecular approaches in biochemistry and genetics IDENTIFYING AND INTERPRETING PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: which sex? (soft tissues, bone, artistic depictions) how long did they live? – mortality (teeth; epiphyseal fusion of bones) what was their height and weight? what did they look like? (forensic reconstruction) how were they related? (similarity in physical morphology of skull and hair; immunological studies of blood) F.Y.I.: the oldest known human blood has been recovered from stone tools at Barda Balka, Iraq and is almost certainly Neandertal, 100,000 years old. Also, DNA has been extracted from a preserved human brain recovered from Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County, Florida – more than 7,000 years old… ASSESSING HUMAN ABILITIES: Three principal parameters for investigation: walking or bipedalism (probably at least 3.18 million years old – “Lucy” from Ethiopia – Australopithecus afarensis; evidence comes from shape and proportions of bones; slightly older Pliocene-age fossil footprints from Laetoli, Tanzania also suggest bipedal locomotion, in fact they are impressions of feet very little different from our own) 3.6-3.75 million year-old footprints of the fossil human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, being uncovered at Laetoli, Tanzania in 1975 handedness (90% of modern human population is right handed). Neandertals at La Chapelle aux Saints, France (70-35,000 BP) – left hemisphere of brain case slightly enlarged, perhaps indicating right handedness. when did speech develop? Anatomical reconstruction of the vocal tract suggests that even archaic Homo sapiens, including Neandertals, lacked a modern pharynx and could, therefore, make only a narrow range of vowel sounds, not articulated speech. Brain endocasts hint at an earlier morphology, associated with earliest African members of the genus Homo, capable of producing speech. But, recent biomolecular evidence indicates modern humans and Neandertals shared the FOXP2 gene which is associated with speech and language in modern humans; so this is all still very controversial! See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7886477.stm Paleopathology: the study of ancient disease, deformity, and death. Anterior view of left arm of a young Ohio individual who died in the early 20th century. Softening and bending of the humerus (upper arm bone) is prominent in this individual with hyperparathyroidism. Ultimately, archaeologists hope to answer questions like: What was people’s quality of life? What was their state of health? Did they have any genetically inherited variations? We may know how long our ancestors lived, but how did they die? TYPES OF EVIDENCE AVAILABLE: soft tissues skeletal evidence teeth parasites and viruses POPULATION STUDIES (DEMOGRAPHY): Demographic archaeology: concerned with estimates from archaeological data of various aspects of populations such as size, density, and rates of growth. It is also concerned with the role of population in culture change. Seeks to understand links among population, resources, technology, and society, mostly by developing simulation models. Paleodemography (not synonymous with demographic archaeology): mostly concerned with the study of human skeletal remains to estimate population parameters such as fertility and mortality rates, life expectancy, and population structure. Fundamental question: How can one estimate population size and density from archaeological evidence? Two basic approaches: 1. Derive figures from settlement data based on relationship between group size and total site area, roofed area, number of dwellings, number of hearths, etc. EXAMPLE: “population = one sixth of total floor area in square meters” 2. Try to assess the richness of a particular environment in terms of resources available for each season (“carrying capacity”) and derive the number of people that environment might have supported at a certain technological level. HUMAN POPULATIONS AND EVOLUTION: Ultimately, the problem for archaeologists is to use complementary evidence from human biology and the record of material culture to yield a reconstruction of past life-ways that takes into account both the cultural and biological aspects of the human experience. For further reading, see: Blau, S. and D. Ubelaker. (2009). Handbook of Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.