This course has provided interesting field studies of cultures that are drastically different than what I would consider “everyday life. ” Anthropology examines not only who we are as a people, but also, importantly, who we were as a people. The studies of past cultures is a good place to start to answer questions about societies and cultures today, and to bridge together the gap between the past and present, and maybe even predict where we are headed in the future. Anthropology spans millions of generations, examining the physical and cultural characteristics of humankind.
Often the artifacts recovered from a past civilization can tell us a great deal about how those people lived, their level of technology, their patterns of subsistance, and so on. Anthropology uses methods and tools from multiple scientific disciplines, such as the scientific method which allows the testing of falsifiable hypotheses. This approach seems to be a strong basis for many of the different areas of anthropology, namely archeology, ethnology, and linguistics.
I had thought that male dominance and superiority (“man the hunter” model) was a highly conserved cultural characteristic in past societies, and even in many “less developed” areas of the world today. I was surprised by the case studies of the ! Kung San (traditional foraging society, not sedentary), in which females were just as important as males in their culture. !Kung women controlled the food that they gathered, as well as any meat that was obtained through use of an arrow crafted by them.
In a food foraging society, controlling the distribution of food is a definite sign of power. Digs have uncovered many clues about the origin of man, and how we can more accurately trace our lineage back to a common ancestor. I was unaware of the Austrolopithicus species, and thought that Lucy belonged to Homo. It is interesting to examine how the mechanisms of evolution shape the cultures and species over the passage of time, especially natural selection and the law of competitive isolation.
Austrolopithicus began as bipedals with a small brain case and large physical features (strong jaw muscles, large thick-enamaled teeth, great muscle mass) which helped them to survive on the ground for a while while vegetation was lush. As the years past, the climate and surroundings changed into a more savannah-like environment, and Austrolopithicus began to “split” into two different forms of man, one retaining many of the larger, physical characteristics, and another with a larger brain case.
Evolution selected for the larger brained species, but why? It seems that brain over brawn was a key to survival in the changing world, and you had to smart in order to survive. This new species, Homo, was probably better able to predict changes in seasons, as well as devise better means of obtaining plants and meat while not dying in the process. The species able to feed themselves and prevent injury/death increase their reproductive success, which is a possible reason why Austrolopithicus became extinct.