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Multidisciplinary approach

Involves combining different academic disciplines or specialisations to create new knowledge and theories.


What are some of the questions biological/physical anthropology seeks to answer?

Based on the principles of evolution, biological/physical anthropologists, formulate and test theories about human beings – past, present and future. Where do we come from? What makes us human? What makes us different from the other animals? Where are we going?



Is concerned with the origin and development of the human species. Paleoanthropologists use fossils and other remains to study the evolution of primates and, specifically, hominids.



Concentrates on the anatomy, social structure and behaviour of non-human primates. Studying our closest living relatives, helps primatologists to determine what makes us human and how human beings differ from other primates.


Medical anthropology

Studies the influence of social, cultural, biological and linguistic factors on human health and wellbeing. To prevent the spread of disease and further treatment of illness, medical anthropologists research disease frequency, distribution and determinants in human populations.


Forensic anthropology

Applies biological/physical anthropology to the legal process. Forensic anthropologists use their knowledge of the human skeleton and activities to assist in the analysis of deceased and mostly unidentified people.



A method of classifying things through organising, grouping, naming and describing them.


Linnaean taxonomy

Based on the assumption that the greater the degree of physical similarity, the closer the biological relationship.


Carolus Linnaeus

18th century Swedish biologist, developed a taxonomy for all “living” organisms. The hierarchical system consisted of seven levels


Carolus Linnaeus seven levels:

1. Kingdom
2. Phylum
3. Class
4. Order
5. Family
6. Genus
7. Species



Traditionally, this was the highest category, in which the original system defined three kingdoms; namely animals, plants and minerals. Modern scientists have expanded it to five kingdoms – animals, plants, fungi, protozoa and bacteria.



Organisms are further divided by their general characteristics. For example, in the animal kingdom, animals with backbones (phylum Chordata) are placed in a separate category than animals without backbones. The chordates are divided into three subphyla. Humans are members of the subphylum Vertebrata.



Organisms in a phylum are divided into classes. In phylum Chordata, for example, birds, mammals and fish are grouped in their own classes. Humans, and most other large animals, are members of the class Mammalia: animals that suckle their young and have body hair.



Each class is divided into smaller groups, known as orders. Within the class Mammalia, there are about 26 orders, such as Primates, Carnivora and Rodentia. The order Primate is divided into two suborders: the so-called, “lower primates” or Prosimii, which includes the lemurs, lorises and tarsiers, and the “higher primates” or Anthropoidea, which includes monkeys, apes and humans.



In every order, there are different families, which have very similar features. Within the order Primates, families include hominidae (humans, including prehistoric human species and possibly chimpanzees), pongidae (old world monkeys such as the orangutan, gorilla and baboon) and hylobatidae (gibbons and lesser apes).



Based on similar features, every family is divided into smaller groups known as genus, for example, humans are categorised within the genus Homo (man).



On the most specific level, species who share unique body structures and characteristics, and are considered to be closely related, are placed together. Genus and species, together make up the scientific name, for example, Homo sapiens (abbreviated H.sapiens).


Human beings' order

Order Primates live in social groups and are active during the day; their behavioural patterns are diverse and flexible. They have an expanded brain capacity, keen vision and rely less on smell. Their young have a relatively long period of growth and development and, hence, take time to learn the behaviours of their group. They have dexterous hands; teeth for a varied diet; the skull and skeleton protect the internal organs.


Human beings' suborder

Suborder Anthropoidea (Anthropoids) are so-called “higher primates”, which includes monkeys, apes and humans. They are characterised by a larger brain, relatively flat face, dry nose, small immobile ears and forward-facing eyes.


Human beings' family

Family Hominidae (Hominids) show a further increase in brain size and complexity, as well as development of bipedalism (walking on two legs) and upright posture – leaving the hands free to carry things and alter the environment. Humans and their ancestors make up this family and some scientists have suggested that African apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, should also be included here, because of their close relationship to humans and that humans should be dis-tinguished from them in a separate subfamily, hominins.


Human beings' genus and species

Homo sapiens (wise) – this is where extant (living) humans and their extinct ancestors belong. In anthropological literature, modern humans are referred to as Homo sapiens sapiens (wise-wise) to indicate that they are genetically or anatomically different from archaic (prehistoric) humans.


Archaic human groups



The immediate ancestors of humans




-Means “southern ape” and was the name originally given for a species found in Taung in the Northern Cape, South Africa.
-Transition between apes and humans
-Originated with Australopithecus afarensis, between 3-4 million years ago, who had a brain that was, in all respects, ape-like.
-Stood fully erect and was able to walk on its two legs (bipedal), but its shoulder and hands were more adapted for tree climbing and swinging.
-Used sticks and stones as tools, but there is no direct evidence found yet.


Australopithecus africanus

-Emerged about a million years later after the Australopithecus
-Similar human – but less ape-like – features. It had a rounder skull, housing a larger brain and smaller teeth.
-Began using simple tools such as sticks and stones to hunt and pebbles to process meat
-Roughly two million years ago, this species began to disappear and four others appear to have replaced it


Homo habilis

-Lived 2.4 million to 1.5 million years ago.
-H.habilis means “handy man”, because this species represents the first maker of stone tools, termed Oldowan tools.


Homo erectus

-Lived from about 1.8 million to 150,000 years ago.
-Their name indicates that this species were able to stand and walk upright (erect)
-They were the first to master the use of fire and are associated with Acheulian tools – highly developed hand-axes.
-While males hunted game, females probably gathered vegetable foods to bring to the common camp.
-H. erectus were the first to migrate from Africa. A relatively complete fossil, found in China, is known as “Peking Man” and one found in Indonesia, is called “Java Man
-Disappeared with the appearance of a new, highly successful species, the archaic Homo sapiens.


Homo neanderthalensis

-Starting around 400,000 years ago, our closest related speciesbegan to appear in archaic form in Europe and Southwest Asia.
-The word s based on the location where the first major specimen was discovered in 1856 – the Neander Valley, in German
-The “true” Neanderthals made remarkable fine flint projectile points – Mousterian tools.
-They were skilled hunters of large animals, gathered plant foods and made clothing, which enabled them to survive the Ice Age.


Homo sapiens sapiens

-Anatomically modern humans
-Began to appear in Africa around 260,000 years ago
-When these humans began to migrate from Africa to Europe and Asia, around 100,000 years ago, they began to gradually displace H.neanderthalensis
-Both species exploited a new ecological niche, that of hunting big-game animals by hurling spears and the capacity to live in cold or warm climates.
-Tool making culminates in Homo sapiens’s truly magnificent Solutrean tools, finely shaped projectile points.
-At some point, Homo sapiens sapiens also developed speech and language.


Human speech

-Depends on our ability to distinguish phonemes (meaningless elementary units of sound) from each other in the speech tractor system and to combine these sounds into morphemes – the smallest meaningful elements or units (words or parts of words) – and combine the morphemes into words, or sentences, according to the rules of grammar
-A set of messages that govern how human systems go about processing matter and energy to maintain themselves and, eventually, their species.