[lbo-talk] What is Anthropology about ?

Charles Brown cb31450 at gmail.com
Mon Mar 17 14:17:00 PDT 2014

What is Anthropology about ?

_The Essence of Anthropology_ defines Anthropology as the study of human beings in all times and places, systematically and objectively, a very good definition. Studying "all" of something , the whole or holistically, systematically and objectively is scientific study and knowledge. So, to say anthropology is open to evidence of human endeavor from wherever it might be is to declare anthropology has a scientific approach to knowledge. Following the motto of the poet Terrance: Nothing human is alien to anthropology , so to speak. Originally , anthropology specialized among the academic disciplines in studying human beings in times and places remote from the present and the West, traveling far in time and space , expanding the representative quality and quantity of the sample of the social sciences, such as they were , of evidence on human activity. Anthropology aimed in part to expand the sample of data Western academe had on humans in a scientific endeavor to represent more fully the whole of humanity , "all" of the object of study, that is humans in _all_ times and _all_ places. A noble philosophical mission.

One main and unique contribution of anthropology in expanding the sample of human life studied by modern science, including natural history, is the study of early humans and humans' immediate ancestor species in the evolutionary origin of the species _homo sapiens_. This evidence and sample represent at a minimum 40,000 years of human society and as much as 2.5 million years when the whole of the genus _homo_ is considered human society, that the human species originates with _homo habilis_ and _homo erectus_. Or the origin of human society might be considered to be 200,000 years ago if so-called archaic _homo sapiens_ are the start of full human society. Seems reasonable that human society is at least that old since the fossils from that period are considered to have the full species name of _homo sapiens_.

More candidly anthropologists believe that we have a profound understanding of human societies and Individuals biologically, historically and scientifically. There is but one science, the science of history. Anthropology is the life science of human beings; the natural and cultural history of homo sapiens.

"_Sapiens_" means "wise" In Latin. Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man"(sic) ) is the scientific name for the human species. Homo is the human genus, which also includes Neanderthals and many other extinct species of hominid; H. sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo. Modern humans are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, which differentiates them from what has been argued to be their direct ancestor, Homo sapiens idaltu.

What is culture ?

For anthropology, culture is the unique species characteristic of _homo sapiens_. In a sense, "culture" is another word for "wisdom", from the notion that humans are the species _homo wise_. It is humans socially learned practices, customs, language, traditions, beliefs, religion, spirituality that make us "wise" in so many ways, certainly clever and winners _as a species_ ( not just as a few "fit" Individuals) in the struggles and snuggles to survive as a species. Since the advent of civilization, sometimes it's not so clear how wise our culture makes us. Therein lies the central drama of the history of the human species. Nonetheless, clearly in the Stone Age, our having culture was a highly adaptive advantage over species that did not have culture , stone tools made through culture, etc, raising our species fitness. This is evidenced by _homo sapiens_ expanding in population and therefore migrating to an expanded area of living space across the earth , out of what is now Africa to the other continents. Stone Age foraging and kinship organized societies were the mode of life for the vast majority of time of human species ' existence, 85% or more.

The first human societies had an extraordinarily high survival need to be able to rely on each other at levels of solidarity that we cannot even imagine. The intensity of the network of social connections of a band of 25 to 50 people living in the ecological food chain location or close to it as described in the book _Man the Hunted_ ( see review below) would almost constitute a new level of organic organization and integrity above individual bodies; ancient kinship/culture systems as super-organic bodies; the human social group as harmonious multi-individual Body, organism. The Individual human bodies, Some Bodies , were very frail and weak on contrast with the field of predators they were dealing with . The dominance of the food chain that humans ultimately reached even in the Stone Age could only be reached by super-social , super internally-cooperative, super-intra-species harmonious, _frail individual, beings. It is clear to me that natural selection picked hominid groups with policies of "love thy neighbor as thyself " and "charity" over those that might have derived principles of "selfishness and greed", if there were any in the Stone Age before Civilization.

Anthropology demonstrates its holistic and thereby scientific method of study by specialization into sub-disciplines of cultural anthropology, physical or biological anthropology, archaeology and linguistics. Paleoontological anthropology, study of early and proto-humans, is something of a combination of biological anthropology and archaeology. Clearly , the pre-eminent and world changing natural historian Charles Darwin is an initiator of paleontological anthropology with his book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex . By the title to his book, Darwin may have been signaling a correction to the popular distortions of his theory which imply that "survival of the toughest warriors" rather than the "gentlest lovers" are the fittest and selected for naturally. Culture is founded in kinship.

Please critique and challenge the following statement:

In Darwin's theory of natural selection concerning living beings, the "struggle" in the struggle for existence, to live, is not between Individuals of the same species to the point of Individual Some Bodies of the same species killing each other except very rarely. Most of the deaths before passing on genes to the next generation, are due to failures in struggles with some Individual Body of _another_ species., plant and animal, as predator and prey; or struggle against bad weather.

It is easy to see how some people get a misconception of Darwinian natural selection because it _is_ posed in most of it prime formulations with a sort of emphasis on the fact of indirect "competition" in the sense that for the typical bodily form of a species to change under Darwin's theory, some members with genes that change species typical traits must more successfully pass them on than members with species typical traits over successive generations until the new trait is universal and the old typical trait is extinct. But this does not necessarily or even conventionally imply physical conflict between Individuals of the two types in the day-to-day struggle for existence to survive as Individual Bodies.

This is demonstrated by the famous anthropological micro-evolutionary study of sickle cell genes on pages 44 to 46 of _The Essence of Anthropology_. There is no physical competition between the people of the various genotypes with different fitnesses in the different environments in the study.

It is not an Individual , but a species, a group of the same type who "evolve", "adapt" or "survive". Individuals must live their individual life long enough to reproduce for the species to survive. However, every individual eventually dies. "Survival" of the individual means living long enough to pass on genes or a geno-type to the future generations. If mutated genes, changed geno-type, are passed on, there is a potential unit of evolution between the parent and the offspring. That is evolution occurs between Individuals not in one. If the mutated genotype results in a phenol-typical trait that is adaptive in some significant way, it may become an evolutionary change by the species through several individuals.

An Individual organism, Some Body, has an instinct for self-preservation. This is said to be the first law of nature. This is an instinct to live as long as possible before the inevitable end, as all animals are mortal. Every Individual Some Body has a lifetime or ontogeny in which it is born, develops, exists and dies. The development of an Individual overtime is not evolution , but ontogeny.

Significantly, the institution of war which arises in human history with civilization 6,000 years ago involves human Individuals violating their natural instinct of self-preservation. Going into battle is to risk one's individual life for a social value of some type, nationalism or religion, not the exercise of a non-existent "instinct of aggression". Humans do not even eat those they kill in war ( smiles) , another unnatural aspect. No animal species kills without the motive of getting food. See the following exchange:

Retort ! : what crap- most physical Anthropologist will say that the reason the cranium, and resulted in brain-evolution was exactly because early species of Homo- were meat eaters and scavagers.

Reply //// I doubt most. There is a shift in the profession. More scavenging earlier in australopithecine. And certainly not killing and eating your own kind. That would be sub-natural. _Most_ species do not eat their own kind ! Why would proto humans do something lions don't even do ? Except in the rarest, rarest crises ? The last ones australopithecines would be killing would be other australopithecines, i.e. your own species. War is sub-natural in that regard. No other species does wholesale slaughter of their own kind. And especially to kill them and not eat them. Why kill them if not for food would have been the question all the carnivore species of all times would like to ask humans about war ? So, no making war is not part of human nature. It is not part of human nature that humans share with all other _natural_ species, carnivores in particular. War is unnatural in the biological sense of "natural". It is against nature.

'Man the Hunter' theory is debunked in new book

February 18, 2006

By Neil Schoenherr

Robert W. Sussman presented on the theory of Man the Hunted during "The Origin and Nature of Human Sociality" at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 19 as part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Annual Meeting Feb. 16-20 in St. Louis, MO.


You wouldn't know it by current world events, but humans actually evolved to be peaceful, cooperative and social animals.

In his latest book, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis goes against the prevailing view and argues that primates, including early humans, evolved not as hunters but as prey of many predators, including wild dogs and cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles.

Despite popular theories posed in research papers and popular literature, early man was not an aggressive killer, argues Robert W. Sussman, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences.

Sussman's book, "Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution," poses a new theory, based on the fossil record and living primate species, that primates have been prey for millions of years, a fact that greatly influenced the evolution of early man.

He co-authored the book with Donna L. Hart, Ph.D., a member of the faculty of Pierre Laclede Honors College and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The book is scheduled to be released in late February.

Our intelligence, cooperation and many other features we have as modern humans developed from our attempts to out-smart the predator, says Sussman.

Since the 1924 discovery of the first early humans, australopithicenes, which lived from seven million years ago to two million years ago, many scientists theorized that those early human ancestors were hunters and possessed a killer instinct.

Through his research and writing, Sussman has worked for years to debunk that theory. An expert in the ecology and social structure of primates, Sussman does extensive fieldwork in primate behavior and ecology in Costa Rica, Guyana, Madagascar and Mauritius. He is the author and editor of several books, including "The Origins and Nature of Sociality," "Primate Ecology and Social Structure," and "The Biological Basis of Human Behavior: A Critical Review."

The idea of "Man the Hunter" is the generally accepted paradigm of human evolution, says Sussman, who recently served as editor of American Anthropologist. "It developed from a basic Judeo-Christian ideology of man being inherently evil, aggressive and a natural killer. In fact, when you really examine the fossil and living non-human primate evidence, that is just not the case."

Studying the fossil evidence

Robert Sussman

And examine the evidence they did. Sussman and Hart's research is based on studying the fossil evidence dating back nearly seven million years. "Most theories on Man the Hunter fail to incorporate this key fossil evidence," Sussman says. "We wanted evidence, not just theory. We thoroughly examined literature available on the skulls, bones, footprints and on environmental evidence, both of our hominid ancestors and the predators that coexisted with them."

Since the process of human evolution is so long and varied, Sussman and Hart decided to focus their research on one specific species, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between five million and two and a half million years ago and is one of the better known early human species. Most paleontologists agree that Australopithecus afarensis is the common link between fossils that came before and those that came after. It shares dental, cranial and skeletal traits with both. It's also a very well-represented species in the fossil record.

"Australopithecus afarensis was probably quite strong, like a small ape," Sussman says. Adults ranged from around 3 to 5 feet and they weighed 60-100 pounds. They were basically smallish bipedal primates. Their teeth were relatively small, very much like modern humans, and they were fruit and nut eaters.

But what Sussman and Hart discovered is that Australopithecus afarensis was not dentally pre-adapted to eat meat. "It didn't have the sharp shearing blades necessary to retain and cut such foods," Sussman says. "These early humans simply couldn't eat meat. If they couldn't eat meat, why would they hunt?"

It was not possible for early humans to consume a large amount of meat until fire was controlled and cooking was possible. Sussman points out that the first tools didn't appear until two million years ago. And there wasn't good evidence of fire until after 800,000 years ago. "In fact, some archaeologists and paleontologists don't think we had a modern, systematic method of hunting until as recently as 60,000 years ago," he says.

"Furthermore, Australopithecus afarensis was an edge species," adds Sussman. They could live in the trees and on the ground and could take advantage of both. "Primates that are edge species, even today, are basically prey species, not predators," Sussman argues.

The predators living at the same time as Australopithecus afarensis were huge and there were 10 times as many as today. There were hyenas as big as bears, as well as saber-toothed cats and many other mega-sized carnivores, reptiles and raptors. Australopithecus afarensis didn't have tools, didn't have big teeth and was three feet tall. He was using his brain, his agility and his social skills to get away from these predators. "He wasn't hunting them," says Sussman. "He was avoiding them at all costs."

Approximately 6 percent to 10 percent of early humans were preyed upon according to evidence that includes teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls and holes in a fossil cranium into which sabertooth cat fangs fit, says Sussman. The predation rate on savannah antelope and certain ground-living monkeys today is around 6 percent to 10 percent as well.

Sussman and Hart provide evidence that many of our modern human traits, including those of cooperation and socialization, developed as a result of being a prey species and the early human's ability to out-smart the predators. These traits did not result from trying to hunt for prey or kill our competitors, says Sussman.

"One of the main defenses against predators by animals without physical defenses is living in groups," says Sussman. "In fact, all diurnal primates (those active during the day) live in permanent social groups. Most ecologists agree that predation pressure is one of the major adaptive reasons for this group-living. In this way there are more eyes and ears to locate the predators and more individuals to mob them if attacked or to confuse them by scattering. There are a number of reasons that living in groups is beneficial for animals that otherwise would be very prone to being preyed upon."

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