Human Origins and Variation [CRN 81185]

Discipline: Anthropology
Instructor: Six
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1700
End: 1820
Field Work: Day 1 | September 27, 2018 | Ghana
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus

There are three things that make humans distinct from every other species on our planet: walking upright; our total dependence on tools; and our ability to speak. This course will introduce students to the scientific study of human evolution providing an overview of the emergence, development and diversification of our species. We will first explore the basic mechanisms that drive all evolution.  Materials will cover the fundamentals of evolutionary theory providing students with a basic understanding of genetic variation as it specifically relates to human evolution.  Through a cursory examination of the behavioral and ecological diversity of living primates (apes and monkeys) students will be provided with a context for our own evolutionary history, human variation, and forms of adaptation.  Lastly, we will examine the hard, scientific evidence supporting the theory of human evolution in the forms of fossil evidence and material culture i.e., “stuff” made and modified by human beings over time.

Field Work

Country: Ghana
Day: 1
Date: September 27, 2018

The Shai Hills Resource Reserve is home to several troops of Olive baboons or Papio anubis.   Found in 25 countries throughout Africa baboons are terrestrial and inhabit savannahs, steppes and forests.  Baboons are Old World monkeys who are part of the subfamily Cercopithecidae and represent some of the largest non-hominoid members of the order primate. The Shai Hills Resource Reserve covers a total area of 51 sq km and is made up of savannah plains surrounded by a ridge of small, round, rock mountains or inselbergs rising up abruptly from a level surrounding plain to an attitude of approximately 1,000 feet - there is also a series of caves used by prehistoric peoples within the reserve. Each of the baboon troops has its own home range and is comprised of a few males, many females, and their offspring. Each baboon has a social ranking somewhere in the group, depending on its dominance. Female dominance is hereditary and adult females form the core of the social system.  Males establish dominance by fighting for access to females. Higher dominance or rank allows for increased access to desirable mates and earlier access to food.  Because of the differential access to resources, a great deal of fighting over dominance occurs. Despite being hierarchical, baboons appear to be "democratic.” When it comes to troop movement individuals are more likely to follow when multiple decision-makers agree on a direction as opposed to simply following dominant individuals.  Olive baboons employ a variety of communication strategies - both vocal and non-vocal – to maintain, and reinforce their complex, hierarchical social structure.

Learning Objectives:

  1. To view Olive baboons in their natural habitat
  2. Examine their complex social structure and natural environment first-hand
  3. Better understand how the baboons maintain their social hierarchy and how it functions with regards to the troops overall reproductive success