Biological beginnings to Human Culture
Anthropology is a bio-cultural science.
Evolution through Physical Adaptation
a series of changes in the genetic make-up of populations adapts organisms to their
environment over very long periods of time.
Natural Selection is the mechanism by which evolution appears to be carried out.
Humans, like all living organisms, are subject to the processes of natural selection.
“Cultural Adaptation” is not the same as physical evolution, but evolution can serve as a
Humans do not only adapt to the environment through physical change;
we shape our environment to suit human needs and desires.
The point of this chapter is to trace the beginnings of human culture by looking for clues
in the ancestral records.
Humans and Other Primates (yes, humans are primates)
Humans are closely related genetically to other species in the Primate Order.
Name the other great apes.
Why do primatologists study primates, especially great apes?
“Because human culture is rooted in our mammalian primate biology.
Primates have a specific set of physical characteristics derived as adaptive to their early
arboreal environment (life in the trees):
progressively generalized dentition (omnivore diet = able to eat anything)
reduction in sense of smell (although new research indicates that as much as 5%
of human DNA is devoted to sense of smell, more than any other physical sense!)
stereoscopic vision for accuracy in judging distance and depth
acute sense of touch (sensitive finger and toe pads protected by nails, not claws)
enlarged cerebral cortex led to developing flexible behavior patterns
flexible, generalized, led to opposable thumb for grasping
and flexible shoulder arrangement for brachiation (ability to swing arms
Primate Behavioral Characteristics:
adaptation through learned behavior
Chimpanzees and Bonobos exhibit many “human” cultural characteristics
found in our genetic common ancestors:
larger groups divided into smaller sub-groups
dominance and status hierarchies,
physical and emotional manipulation
grooming behavior, food-sharing, communal hunting, political alliances
codes of sexual behavior:
sex is not just for procreation.
humans have “hidden estrus” or concealed ovulation, which
contributes to sexual receptivity for social reasons and pleasure.
enormous capacity for learning complex cultural behaviors, including
making and using tools
Note the cultural differences and motivations for hunting practices between the
Gombe chimps (mating) and the Tai National Park chimps (group cohesion and
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