Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
© Royal Anthropological Institute
Edited By: Matei Candea
Impact Factor: 1.184
ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2014: 30/83 (Anthropology)
Online ISSN: 1467-9655
Associated Title(s): Anthropology Today
Virtual Issues from Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Biological Anthropology: then and now
Edited by Dr Simon Underdown, Vice President of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Human Origins and Palaeoenvironments Research Group
Oxford Brookes University
The papers selected for this special virtual issue are drawn from the realm of biological anthropology (née physical) and represent not only how views of human evolution have changed over nearly 120 years, but also reflect the evolution of biological anthropology as discipline. In compiling this special virtual issue a broadly historical approach was adopted, selecting a key paper from each decade starting at the beginning of the 20th Century through to the end of the last decade. Naturally, this created some difficult decisions and it’s unlikely that any two anthropologists would ever agree on a selection (but such is the privilege of the editor). Many happy hours have been spent trawling through the archives of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Journals and one is left with the inescapable impression of an endlessly diverse discipline. But this issue is more than just a demonstration of diversity: it shows a subject that has always been self-critical and ever ready to embrace new science, to dismiss discredited ideas, and, above all, to evolve.
We begin with Duckworth’s paper from 1902 that provides a classic example of the anatomical descriptions that characterised attempts to catalogue and order human variation at the start of the 20th Century. It is interesting to reflect that such work at this time had more in common with the descriptive methods of Linnaeus than the explanatory ones of Darwin. The 1910 report of the first systematic excavations at La Cotte St. Brelade on Jersey gives us a beautifully written window into Edwardian archaeological practice (with its clear jargon-free prose it perhaps offers a model of how to engage a wider audience today). The site could easily have been forgotten but comes to later prominence by providing importance evidence for the sophistication of Neanderthal hunting behaviours that still inform current models. Andrew’s 1921 paper giving us a description of ‘The Cornish Fisherman type’ offers a fascinating insight into interwar science that also somewhat foreshadows ideas about European population movement that have resurfaced with genetic analysis (as Ecclesiastes puts it ‘there is no new thing under the sun’). Haldane’s review of what biology can offer anthropology from September 1934 wrestles with the eternal anthropological question of biological versus cultural variation. The fact that it does so from a broadly Galtonian and mostly pre-genetic viewpoint once again makes the reader pause to reflect upon how much the modern biological anthropologist has changed from their pre-war colleagues.
The Second World War acted as a natural break with the Victorian and Edwardian roots of physical anthropology. Although the term biological anthropology would not gain traction for several more decades it is in the papers of the immediate post-war period that we can start to see the impact of the modern synthesis and at the very least begin to recognise a shared scientific language. Le Gros Clark’s 1946 paper “Immediate Problems of Human Palaeontology’ is nothing short of a manifesto for modern human evolutionary research. The questions he poses are to a large extent still relevant today and in many cases we are no closer to the answers. His call for a campaign of popular engagement with the public have sadly been generally ignored but remain as relevant today as they were in 1946.
1956 was the centenary of the discovery of Homo neanderthalensis and a two-part paper is included from this year by Bernard Campbell. It gives an overview of contemporary thinking about the Neanderthals and provides a fascinating and engaging narrative of the discovery of the original fossil material and the academic machinations that surrounded its analysis. This sort of context is not only important from an historical viewpoint, it also gives vivid life to the personalities involved, many of whom can be found augustly preserved in gold letters on the walls of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1965 Rouse’s ‘The Place of ‘Peoples’ in Prehistoric Research’ makes a compelling argument for the need to not treat data in isolation from the wider archaeological context. While Rouse’s four unifying questions strike the modern reader as rather broad they do illustrate the continuing development and self-reflection that helped biological anthropology regain its sense of post-war purpose and establish new directions for research.
Milford Wolpoff’s 1971 ‘Single Species Hypothesis’ paper is a great example of the danger of making definitive statements about a dynamic and fast changing subject. Whether Aristotle or Pliny the Elder first said ‘there is always something new coming out of Africa’ it remains the unofficial motto of human evolution. Just as Wolpoff was eloquently building his case for unilinear human evolution based upon the principal of competitive exclusion Richard Leakey was finding evidence for the contemporary existence of multiple hominin species. This important turning point helped establish the basis for thinking about human evolution as a part of, rather than separate from, other evolutionary processes. Robert Foley, a student of David Clarke (author of Analytical Archaeology), has continued to develop and greatly expand this line of thinking. His 1985 paper ‘Optimality Theory in Anthropology’ explores how an ecological model can be used to understand human evolution and considers the issues that the unique aspects of human adaption can pose.
At the start of the 1990s Sally McBreaty’s paper ‘The Origin of Modern Humans’ marks an important juncture in the development of our understanding of the evolution of Homo sapiens. The late 1980s saw the beginning of the integration of genetic data into models of human evolution. Her paper frames the questions that shaped the next 20 years of research, and in the case of behavioural modernity sowed the seeds for the destruction of the ‘Upper Palaeolithic Revolution’ model. It has been replaced with a more nuanced and evidence based approach that shows the depth and breadth of ‘modern behaviours’ over the last 500,000 years. Kennedy’s 2003 paper expands on the ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’ (why human females survive well beyond reproductive age when almost all other mammals don’t) and its role in human evolution from Homo erectus 2 million years ago onwards. It is a classic example of biological anthropology drawing its data from a wide range of sources, in this case, skeletal, fossil, ethnographic and medical. But it is more than just an example of great anthropology - it is also a reflection of the wider content of human evolution. The ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’ is illustrative of our ever-developing understanding of what it means to be human and how the label can no longer be restricted to just Homo sapiens.
Many branches of science can be said to be ‘doing’ biological anthropology today (even if they don’t use or recognise the word). While this might seem to be a recent phenomenon, the huge range of biological anthropology found in the pages of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s journals testify that is has ever been thus and long may it continue to evolve.
Note on the Skull of an Andaman Islander
W. L. H. Duckworth
Man: Vol. 2 (1902)
Report on the Exploration of the Palaeolithic Cave-Dwelling Known as La Cotte, St. Brelade, Jersey
E. T. Nicolle, J. Sinel
Man: Vol. 10 (1910)
The "Cornish Fisherman Type."
T. H. Andrew
Man: Volume 21 (1921)
Anthropology and Human Biology
J. B. S. Haldane
Man: Volume 34 (1934)
Immediate Problems of Human Palaeontology
W. E. Le Gros Clark
Man: Volume 46 (1946)
The Place of 'Peoples' in Prehistoric Research
Volume 95, No. 1 (1965)
Competitive Exclusion Among Lower Pleistocene Hominids: The Single Species Hypothesis
Milford H. Wolpoff
Man: New Series, Volume 6, No. 4 (1971)
Optimality Theory in Anthropology
Man: New Series, Volume 20, No. 2 (1985)
The Origin of Modern Humans
Man: New Series, Volume 25, No. 1 (1990)
Palaeolithic Grandmothers? Life History Theory and Early "Homo"
G. E. Kennedy
Volume 9, No. 3 (2003)
The Anthropology of Knowledges
Accountability and the academy: producing knowledge about the human dimensions of climate change
Elizabeth F. Hall and Todd Sanders
Doubt, faith and knowledge: the reconfiguration of the intellectual field in post-Nasserist Cairo
Hatsuki Aishima & Armando Salvatore
A community of critics? Thoughts on new knowledge
Property as Legal Knowledge: Means and Ends
Evolution and devolution of knowledge: a tale of two biologies
Scott Atran, Douglas Medin & Norbert Ross
The Anthropology of Art and Aesthetics
Art and the Re-Presentation of the Past
Christopher Tilley, Sue Hamilton, Barbara Bender
Comment: Art and re-presentation of the past
Yannis Hamilakis, Lionel Sims, Christopher Tilley, Susan Hamilton, Barbara Bender
Art and Agency: A Reassessment
Contemporary art and archaeology: reflections on a relationship
Ethnography, Art and Death
Three modes of experimentation with art and ethnography
Anthropology of the Gift
A free gift makes no friends
How Giving Sanctifies: The Birthday of Thamanya Hsayadaw in Burma
The Christianity of Anthropology
On heterochrony: birthday gifts to Stalin, 1949
The charismatic gift
When gifts become commodities: pawnshops, valuables and shame in Tonga and the Tongan diaspora
Niko Besnier, Ping-Ann Addo