Sunday, May 31, 2009

Echoes of the Pleistocene: Defining what it means to be human.

Our department's resident Physical Anthropologist gave a wonderful lecture this past spring about his research and experience in anthropology.  Thanks, Anthrophiliacs, for helping to put this together!

From Professor Adam Van Arsdale's abstract:

"As a biological anthropologist, my interests are in exploring the pattern of and explanation for human biological variability. My own research focuses on examining how evolution has shaped the fossil, archaeological and genetic record of humans over the past two million years. Exploring our evolutionary past, however, also requires us to further examination our present. What do the biological processes in contemporary human society tell us about our evolutionary past? How can we use humans and other living species to develop models for interpreting the fossil record?

In this presentation, I will outline some of my own ongoing research, paying special attention to the ways in which understanding our evolutionary past impacts our understanding of what it means to be human today. In my research I argue that while we stopped being an ape about 5 million years ago (when our lineage diverged from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos), in many ways we only started becoming human during the Pleistocene, a period stretching from about 1.8 million years ago until about 20,000 years ago. The evolutionary processes from that time period remain as vibrant echoes today both in how biological variation is patterned and in how we understand biological variation in humans."

- Posted By Emily Saras, '10

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