Words To Know

3D Scanner: a machine that scans an object and creates a virtual 3D version in a computer.

Acheulean: a stone tool industry thought to be used mostly by Homo erectus; the defining feature of the stone tool industry are large, teardrop-shaped hand axes. read more >>

Adaptation: a physical or behavioral trait of an organism that evolved by natural selection and helps the organism survive and reproduce. read more >>

Adapted: changed to survive better in a specific environment.

Admixed population: a group of individuals that have mixed ancestry.

Adolescence: a period of physical and psychological development ranging from puberty to adulthood.

Aggressive: eager to fight.

Allomother: an individual that cares for a primate infant, but did not give birth to the infant. Fathers, brothers and sisters, and other females are examples of allomothers.

Altruism: the act of helping an unrelated individual, even at a cost to yourself (such as lost time or energy). read more >>

Ancestor: an organism from which others have evolved. In humans, a relative from whom one is descended, who lived at least several generations ago.

Ancestry: a person’s origin or background; family or ethnic descent.

Ancient: very old.

Ancient DNA: genetic material extracted from ancient specimens, often from the archaeological record.

Anthropoid: the subset of the order primates that includes monkeys (Platyrrhini and Cercopithecidae) and apes (Hominoidea). 

Arboreal: moving through the trees.

Archaeological: having to do with the studies of material culture and materials of humans.

Archaeology: the branch of anthropology that studies the material culture and materials of humans.

Artifact: an object formed by humans. 

Association area: part of the cerebral cortex that connects sensory and motor information.

Atlatl: a handheld lever used to hurl spears faster and farther than when they are thrown normally. read more >>

Australopithecus: an extinct genus of hominins that lived in South and East Africa from 4.2 to 2.0 million years ago.  read more >>

Bachelor: a lone male that does not have a mate.

Bacteria: one-celled, microscopic organisms that grow and multiply everywhere on Earth. They can be either useful or harmful to animals. read more >>

Basin: depression on the land usually created by subsidence, which is the slow downward movement of the ground. They are sometimes called sedimentary basins. 

Behavioral modernity: how our species behaves, in contrast to earlier species. read more >>

Bias: to favor one way over another.

Biological anthropology: the branch of anthropology that studies the biological origins and traits of humans, our ancestors, and other primates. read more >>

Biome: a formation of plants and animals that have common characteristics due to similar climates and can be found over a range of continents.

Bipedalism: the ability to move about on two legs (like a human) instead of four legs (like a dog or a chimpanzee). read more >>

Birth canal: the passageway through the hip bones that a baby must pass through during birth. 

Blade: a stone flake two times longer than it is wide.

Bone marrow: soft fatty tissue that fills some bone cavities; it includes veins, arteries, and nerves. read more >>

Boomerang: a projectile weapon made by indigenous Australians that is made of flat wood curved into a shape that, if thrown correctly, can return to the person who threw it.

Bow and arrow: flexed wood and string used to shoot long and thin projectiles (arrows) at high speeds. read more >>

Brain: the organ that coordinates the senses, intellect, and the activity of your nervous system.

Broca’s area: the region of the cerebral cortex that functions in speech production and comprehension. read more >>

Browser: a species that eats mostly leaves and other parts of woody plants.

Bulb: in flint knapping, a small bump on the inside of a flake made by the force of hitting the flake off the core.

Bushmeat: meat taken from wild animals that have been hunted for food. Killing endangered wild animals is illegal in most countries.

Butcher: the individual who cuts meat from a dead animal.

Butchering: the process of removing meat from an animal or cutting it into smaller pieces.

Caliper: a tool used to measure the distance between two points on an object.

Cancer: a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells within an individual.

Canine tooth: sharp teeth that are very large in carnivores like cats and dogs. read more >>

Carbon: a chemical element important to life on Earth; it is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. read more >>

Carbon isotopes: atoms of carbon that have different numbers of neutrons; isotopes are sometimes used to determine the diet of mammal herbivores by analyzing the carbon in fossilized teeth. read more >>

Caribbean: the region that includes the Caribbean Sea and associated islands. read more >>

Carnivore: an individual or species that mainly or only eats meat. read more >>

Catarrhine: monkeys and apes that have dry noses with downward-facing nostrils. Other than humans, these primates live in the Old Word.

Cerebral cortex: the outer layer of the cerebrum, which makes up the majority of the brain.

Childhood: a period of physical and psychological development ranging from birth to adolescence.

Chromosome: a structure inside of all cells that contains genetic material; consists of proteins and a single molecule of DNA. read more >>

Civilization: the culture of a particular society that has reached an advanced level, such as having government, laws, and written language.

Clay: fine-grained sediment or soil produced by weathering and erosion.   read more >>

Coevolve: the process by which two species can affect each other's evolution; in humans, gene-culture coevolution is when both culture and biology change over time due to their influence on each other.

Cognitive: relating to conscious intellectual activity.

Comparative method: comparing data sets (animals, fossils, etc.) to explain patterns of similarity or difference.

Competitive exclusion: the idea that when two or more species compete for a limited resource, like food, not all species will succeed; some species will lose access to the resource. read more >>

Complexity: how complicated something is to build or use. For example, a 'smart phone' is much more complex than a pencil.

Cooking: applying heat to food.

Cooperation: when two or more individuals work together to a common goal.

Core: in flint knapping, the center of the stone where flakes were taken off.

Cranial cavity: the space where the brain sits; it is enclosed by bones of the skull.

Cubic centimeter: a measure of volume. One cubic centimeter corresponds to a cube that has a height of 1cm, a length of 1cm, and a width of 1 cm. 

Cultural anthropology: the branch of anthropology that studies human culture.

Culture: all the information about living in a society that is shared by people in that society.

Cutmark: a small mark on a bone that is caused from a tool used to cut off meat.

Data: facts or information used to calculate, analyze, or plan something.

Deforestation: removing all the trees from a forested area. This is usually done by cutting trees down and then burning the stumps so no new trees grow back.

Delta: formed by the deposit of sediment at the mouth of a river flowing into a lake, ocean or sea.  read more >>

Denisovan: an extinct hominin species that was closely related to humans; the only know remains were found in Siberia. read more >>

Depositional environment: a specific environment where sediment is deposited by the combination of physical, biological or chemical processes. 

Descendant species: a new species that has appeared from an earlier one; for example, dogs are descendants of wolves. 

Descendants: people that come from a previous generation. You are the descendant of your parents and grandparents, but also the descendant of species that evolved and lived in Africa millions of years ago.

Descent: the origin or background of a person or species.

Dexterity: skill doing tasks that are delicate, usually meaning with the hands.

Diet: the amount and type of food and drink that an animal eats.

Digit: digits are the parts at the very end of the arms or legs of a creature. Our fingers and toes are all digits.

Dikika: an area in Ethiopia where very old bones with cutmarks have been found read more >>

Diurnal: an animal that is mostly active during the day.

DNA: deoxyribose nuleic acid, which carries genetic information; it is composed of nucleotides. read more >>

DNA sequencing: the process by which the order of nucleotides within a DNA molecule is identified. read more >>

Earth's magnetic field: a magnetic pull that is created by the movement of iron within the Earth’s core. Electric currents and magnetic materials create a magnetic field that extends from the Earth’s core to outside our atmosphere where it meets the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from these harmful solar winds.   

Ecology: the study of how organisms interact with one another and their environment. read more >>

Ecosystem: a community of living organisms and non-living things such as the interactions and relationships between animals, plants, the landscape, the sun, rain and air.  

Egalitarian: a society that does not recognize differences in economic or social power between individuals. Instead, the whole community helps make decisions, and resources are shared among individuals.

Endocast: a cast of the internal part of the skull where the brain sits. 

Endothermic: a term that describes animals that are able to produce their own heat (also called “warm-blooded”). Mammals and birds are endothermic, while most reptiles and fishes are ectothermic and regulate body temperature using the environment.

Energy budget: the amount of energy coming in to a body versus the amount being used.

Enzyme: a molecule that changes the energy needed for or increases the speed of chemical reactions.

Epigenetics: the study of gene expression changes that are not due to changes in the DNA sequence. read more >>

Ethical: relating to moral principles or the legality of topics.

Ethiopia: a country in east Africa.

Evolution: the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.

Extract: to draw or pull something out (especially from another material).

Feldspar: a mineral that crystalizes (forms) from magma. This mineral can be used to date rocks because it contains the radioisotope Potassium-40.

Femur: the bone of the thigh.

Fertility: the capability to have children.

Flake: in flint knapping, a razor-sharp piece of stone hit off a core.

Flexible: able to bend easily without breaking.

Flint knapping: the process of breaking flakes off of flint or stone to make stone tools. read more >>

Floodplain: an area next to a river where sediments are deposited when flooding occurs. read more >>

Foraging: searching for food.

Foraminifera: microscopic organisms with shells usually made of calcium carbonate; fossilized shells can often be used to collect paleoclimate data. read more >>

Forensic anthropology: a branch of physical anthropology that is used with law enforcement (i.e., police) to investigate human remains.

Fossil: remains or traces of a living organism that have been preserved in the geological record.

Fossil record: the collection of fossils, which are the remains or traces of a living organism that have been preserved in the geological record.

Free-rider: someone who benefits from group cooperation, but who doesn’t contribute anything.

Frequency: the amount or abundance of something.

Gamete: a reproductive cell in multi-cellular organisms that reproduce sexually.

Gene: a region of DNA that codes for functional RNA or a protein.

Gene expression: the process of a gene producing RNA or proteins; this process is regulated by epigenetic mechanisms. read more >>

Generalist: a species with broad diet and habitat preferences. read more >>

Genetics: the study of genes, heredity, and DNA variation across organisms.

Genome: the complete set of DNA (or genes) in an organism.

Genome sequencing: a process through which scienctists figure out the order of nucleotides (adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine) in all of the DNA of an organism.  read more >>

Genus: a category that groups closely related species.

Geology: the study of the Earth (Earth Science), its history, its materials (rocks), the structure of those materials and the processes acting on those materials.

Glacier: a large body of ice, like those in Antarctica.  read more >>

Grasping hand: a hand with a relatively flexible opposable thumb that helps primates hold on to branches or grab food.

Gravel: unconsolidated rock fragments varying in size: pebble, cobble and boulders. read more >>

Grazer: a species with a diet that is mostly grass.

Great ape: a large ape that is set apart from monkeys by a larger body and brain, longer life span, and higher intelligence. Great apes are also bigger than the other "lesser apes." Great apes include gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and chimpanzees.  read more >>

Grooming: an activity when a primate combs through another’s fur to remove ticks or other objects.

Growth spurt: a sudden increase in body growth.

Habitat: the environment of a species that includes both living and non-living elements.

Hafting: attaching stone to a wooden handle.

Hallux: the big toe.

Hammerstone: in flint knapping, a rock used to strike a core and remove a flake.

Haplorhine: a group of primates that have dry noses and tend to be diurnal. 

Harpoon: a long tool used for spearing fish; often barbed, with backward-facing points to secure the fish. read more >>

High-energy environment: a place that has fast and strong flowing water or wind.

Hominidae: the group also known as great apes; the primate family that includes chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and humans. read more >>

Hominin: humans and all of their extinct relatives. Some of the best known hominin genera include Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and our genus, Homo.  read more >>

Human remains: any skeleton or mummy of a person who lived in the past.

Hunter-gatherer society: a society that relies on wild plants and animals for food, rather than domesticated species.

Hypothesis: an idea that can be tested. 

Ice age: a period of swings between very cold and very warm climates during the Plio-Pleistocene, with the colder climate lasting longer. read more >>

Identical twin: an individual who shares the exact same DNA with another individual; this is made possible when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote that then divides into two separate embryos creating identical twins that are also known as monozygotic twins.

Illness: a disease that affects the body or mind.

Industry: a method of making tools that existed over a big area for a long time. 

Inherited: received from the previous owner; in genetics, received from one's parents or ancestors.

Innate: known from birth.

Inorganic: doesn't include any living matter.

Intelligence: mental ability.

Inverse relationship: when an increase in one value causes a decrease in another value.

Invertebrate: a group of animals that have does not have a braincase or a spinal column.

Isotope: a variation of an element that differs in the number of parts it possesses, more specifically the number of subatomic particles called neutrons.  read more >>

Kin selection: a theory that describes how individuals will help out their relatives, even at a slight cost to themselves. (Note that this is different from altruism, when individuals help non-relatives at a cost to themselves.) read more >>

Levallois: in flint knapping, a method of making very uniform flakes on stone. read more >>

Lineage: a sequence of ancestor and descendant species through time.  read more >>

Linguistic anthropology: the branch of anthropology that studies the language of humans. This branch is often combined with cultural anthropology.

Lobe-finned fish: a group of bony fishes with lobe-finned appendages, that house well-developed bones. The forelimb bones of lobe-finned fishes are the likely precursors of the tetrapod arm. 

Locomotion: movement; way of getting around. 

Lordosis: the inward curvature of the lower spine.

Low-energy environment: a place that has very slow and calm flowing water or wind. 

Magnetic North Pole: the point where the Earth’s magnetic field points vertically downwards; right now this is located near the North Pole. 

Mammal: a major group (class) of vertebrates that includes endothermic, milk-producing species. Three major groups of mammals are recognized: Monotremata (monotremes), Marsupialia (marsupials), and Placentalia (placentals). Most living mammals are placental mammals.

Mammary gland: an organ in female mammals that produces milk for offspring. read more >>

Meiosis: a special type of cellular and nuclear division in which one copy of each homologous chromosome is separated into gamete cells.

Mesowear: a method to determine the diet of mammal herbivores by assessing how sharp or how blunt their tooth cusps are.

Methyl group: a group of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms (CH3; also abbreviated as Me) that can control gene expression.

Microlith: a small stone tool mounted onto a piece of wood or bone to make an arrow or similar tool. read more >>

Microscribe: a tool used to mark points on an object that are recorded on a computer. These points are used to analyze the shape of the object.

Microwear: microscopic scratches on teeth that can be used to determine the diet of mammal herbivores.

Middle Paleolithic: a stone tool industry in Europe used by Neanderthals between 300 thousand and 45 thousand years ago. read more >>

Middle Stone Age: a stone tool industry that originated in Africa from 280,000 years ago. read more >>

Migration: movement of animals from one region to another.

Mixed feeder: a species whose diet consists of both grasses and leaves, more or less in equal quantities.

Model organism: a species that has been widely studied; for example, mice, rats, and fruit flies.

Monogamous: the relationship of animals that live in mating pairs of one male and one female. 

Morphology: the study of the structure and form of an organism.

Motor skills: Anything to do with moving muscles. Here, we are talking about fine motor skills, meaning moving smaller muscles in our body – our hands and fingers – to complete delicate tasks.

Naturalist: an expert in or student of natural history or life sciences. 

Neanderthal: An extinct hominin species that was closely related to humans; Neanderthals occupied regions of Europe and the Middle East and went extinct about 35,000 years ago.

Neocortex: The outer layer of the brain, which handles the processing of sight and hearing information, cognition and thinking, and many more complex brain activities.

Neuron: a cell of the nervous system that transmits information to and from the brain. read more >>

New World: North and South America.

Nocturnal: animals that are mostly active at night.

Nucleotide: the building block of DNA and RNA; consists of a base (adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine, or uracil), sugar molecule, and phosphoric acid molecule. read more >>

Ochre: a soft, colored stone that can be ground into paint. read more >>

Old World: Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Oldowan: one of the oldest stone tool industries. read more >>

Olduvai Gorge: a fossil site for early humans located in Tanzania.

Olfactory lobe: the part of the brain that processes smells.

Opposable thumb: a thumb that can move and bend to touch all of the other fingers, enabling grasping.

Organ: a group of tissues that work together to serve a common function. read more >>

Organic: material composed of carbon and other elements.

Origin: the context and earliest case of a new species, behavior, or biological quality.

Orthograde: upright posture.

Paleoanthropologist: a scientist that specializes in the study of human evolution. 

Paleobotany: the study of ancient plant remains.

Paleoecology: the study of the ecological context of fossil species. read more >>

Paleoindian: Native American peoples who lived in North America during the ice age.

Paleomagnetism: the study of the Earth’s magnetic field recorded by magnetic minerals in rocks.  read more >>

Paleontological: related to the study of fossils.

Paleontologist: a person who studies fossils.

Paleontology: the study of fossils, usually those from before 11,700 years ago. read more >>

Parasite: an organism that lives on or inside another organism and uses it to survive, without providing that organism with a benefit.

Pastoralist: a person who makes a living by raising domestic animals (livestock, like cattle, goats, or sheep). read more >>

Pathogen: a virus, bacterium, fungus, or parasite that infects and harms a living host.

Pelvis: the bony structure you sit on, made of your hip bones, tail bone, and other bones.

Perception: the ability to become aware of something using the senses.

Persistence hunting: a type of hunting that uses long-distance running to tire out prey.  read more >>

Personalized genomics: an area of study focused on the sequencing and analysis of entire genomes from separate individuals.

Phenotype: observable traits of an individual.

Phylogenetic tree: a branching figure used to depict the relationships between animals.

Phylogenetics: the science of interpreting similarities and differences among species in terms of evolutionary history.   read more >>

Platform: in flint knapping, the part of a flake that is directly hit by a hammerstone. 

Platyrrine: monkeys that have dry noses with sideways facing nostrils. These monkeys live in Central and South America.

Predator: an animal that attacks other animals.

Prestige: good reputation or high esteem.

Primate: an order of mammals that includes lemurs and relatives, along with monkeys and apes. 

Primatologist: someone who studies the behavior and biology of living primates.

Primatology: the branch of biological anthropology that studies the behavior and biology of living primates. read more >>

Proboscis: The word "proboscis" refers to anything related to the nose of an animal, especially if it is long and flexible, like the nose of an elephant. In this case, we are talking about the nose of a butterfly, which is long and very mobile, and can suck up nectar from inside a flower.

Projectile technology: a tool or weapon that can be shot at a target from a distance.

Protein: a molecule made up of one or more amino acid chains; an essential type of molecule for all living organisms.

Quadrupedalism: when an animal moves about on four legs (like a dog or chimpanzee).

Radiocarbon dating: a technique that measures the age of an object containing carbon by measuring the decay of the radioactive isotope carbon 14. read more >>

Radioisotope: an isotope that has an unstable nucleus because of its neutron number and decays at a known rate to a more stable form. For example Carbon -14 has 6 protons and 8 neutrons. This makes it unstable and every 5730 years half of those Carbon-14 isotopes have decayed (changed) to Nitrogen-14, a more stable isotope. 

Radiometric dating: a technique that measures the age of material such as rock or carbon, using known rates of decay and the observed amount of radioactive isotopes in the material. read more >>

Raid: a sudden attack.

Rate: change in a quantity with respect to time.

Reciprocity: when two individuals trade services or resources.

Reconstruction: using evidence to recreate something. 

Resin: sticky, glue-like adhesive.

Rifting: when the ground (the upper most layer of the Earth called the crust) is being pulled apart, creating deep basins, like open wounds on the Earth’s surface. They mostly get filled up by sediments and volcanic rocks. 

Ritual: a custom always done in the same away, sometimes for ceremonial purpose.

Sagittal crest: a ridge of bone running along the middle of the top of the skull in some hominin species. This ridge of bone anchored the large chewing muscles of some Australopithecus and Paranthropus species. Sagittal crests are also found in other types of mammals, like spotted hyenas.  read more >>

Sand: unconsolidated granular sediment composed of minerals and rock.Composition varies and depends on local source.  read more >>

Savanna: a mixture of grasslands and open woodlands; tree cover is usually less than 40 percent of the land cover. read more >>

Scavenging: finding and collecting food from discarded waste.

Scientific method: a set of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and adding new knowledge.  read more >>

Sedge: a type of flowering plant found around lakes and rivers; sedges often tend to resemble tall grasses.

Sediment: natural material created through weathering and erosion that sinks to the bottom of a liquid.

Sedimentary rock: a type of rock that is composed of fragments of rock and mineral grains of various size (clay-boulder). Some sediments are made by precipitation of minerals like salt, or from marine skeletal fragments. 

Sexual dimorphism:  a difference, such as size or coat color, between males and females within the same species.    read more >>

Sieve: a sheet of wire mesh with a wooden frame used to sift soil and separate larger materials from smaller ones.

Silica: a hard compound that is sometimes absorbed from the soil by plants like grasses.

Silt: fine-grained sediment with particle size between clay and sand. read more >>

Sinew: animal tendons or ligaments; these tissues were used by humans and their ancestors for sewing or making axes or spears.

Social network: a group of interconnected people that interact socially and have personal relationships.

Solitary: to be or live alone.

South Africa: a country that is located in the southern part of Africa.  read more >>

Specialist: an individual or species with narrow diet or habitat preferences. read more >>

Specialization: when individuals divide up tasks, so that each individual only does one task.

Speciation: the process through which new species form. read more >>

Species: one of the smallest units of biological classification; species may be defined based on a variety of evidence including anatomy, genetics, and behavior. 

Stone tool: any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. 

Strepsirrhine: a group of primates that have wet noses and are typically nocturnal. Both lemurs are lorises belong to this group.

Symbol: an object or pattern used to represent something with a different meaning.

Symbolic language:

Taphonomic bias: the tendency for only certain materials to be preserved well, causing a skewed view of a fossil assemblage; for example, small bones are less common in the fossil record because they break down more easily. 

Taphonomy: the study of the processes that affect an individual from the time of its death until its discovery as a fossil.

Taxonomy: the science of biological classification based on shared features. Common taxonomic units include (from smallest to largest) the species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, and kingdom.

Technology: the methods of making tools and objects to make work easier.

Tephra: fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption. read more >>

Tetrapod: four-limbed vertebrates including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

Thermoregulation: the process that allows the body to maintain its core internal temperature.

Toe off: pushing your foot off the ground during locomotion.

Tool: an object used to achieve a goal.

Trait: any distinguishing factor or quality that can vary in a group. Eye color and height are examples of traits that we can easily see.

Transitional fossil: a fossil that shows features of both its ancestor and descendant species; for example, Tiktaalik shows features of both fishes and tetrapods.

Troop: a primate group. Most primates live in troops. Really big troops (like hundreds of mandrills) are sometimes called hordes. 

Trowel: a small hand-tool with a curved scoop for lifting dirt.

Tuber: a large, tough underground part of a plant, like a potato. read more >>

Underground storage organ: a part of a plant that grows underground and can be eaten.

Upper Paleolithic: a stone tool industry in Europe used by humans from 45 thousand years ago to about 10 thousand years ago. read more >>

Use-wear: scientific study of what stone tools were used for.

Variability: the quality of being subject to change.

Vertebrate: a major group (phylum) of animals that includes fishes and tetrapods. Vertebrates share many features in common, relating to a well-developed head with sensory organs and a bony or cartilaginous internal skeleton.  read more >>

Virus: a small infectious agent that relies on the cells of a host organism in order to replicate.

Wernicke’s area: a region of the cerebral cortex necessary for the processing of words. read more >>

How did changes in the Earth’s climate affect our human ancestors?
Answer »

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