Note: For those of you who are just joining in, the first in this series of articles can be found here: www.examiner.com/article/anth-101-what-is-anthropology
Physical anthropology is the study of humanity from the standpoint that it's- they- er, we are creatures like any other animal on this beautiful planet. It approaches humanity as a species.
Are we animals? Well, yeah, you could say that.
Are we that unique? We're not without some fairly close relatives. Let's take a quick look at our taxonomic makeup to see just how connected to the rest of the animal kingdom were really are:
Starting at the top...
Kingdom: Animalia Our choices are fairly limited here. We're not plants or fungi or bacteria or one-celled creatures, we're animals.
Phylum: Chordata Okay, first of all, biological taxonomic phyla separate animals based on body type. The basic plan of our bodies is how the we narrow things down a little further. So what is the determinate for membership to phylum chordata? Simple. If you have a hollow dorsal nerve chord, so to speak, you're in.
Subphylum: Vertebrata That notochord I mentioned at the phylum level? All nerves. But you don't have to be. Subphylum vertebrata is exactly what it sounds like. Have a spine? Welcome to the subphylum!
Superclass: Tetrapoda We're getting a little more exclusive here. Superclass tetrapoda includes any animal that has four extremities that end in a toe or toes. Is there an animal that has a single toe at the end of each limb? I'll give you a hint. Along with greyhounds, they're one of the few nonhuman competitors to be legitimately considered athletes.
Class: Mammalia Just a quick refresher... Mammals, for the most part, have hair and feed their young via secreted protien- and fat-dense fluid that aids quick growth in infants. To quote Childish Gambino: "Boobies, we got 'em!"
Order: Primates Now this is where things may get a little uncomfortable. Our order is starting to look a little more like just us folks until you think about the fact that lemurs and tree shrews and that cute little tarsier munching on a bug are also primates.
How can you tell if you're face to face with a primate? Get friendly and wave! If whatever waves back as opposable thumbs, chances are, they're family. Sort of. Actual family is coming up.
And here it is!
Family: Hominidae Sometimes referred to as "The Great Apes". Yes, you read that right. At this level, the fam includes four groups: Pongo (orangutans), Pan (chimpanzees and bonobos), Gorilla (gorilla), and Homo (that's us, monkeyboy!)
Tribe: Homini Things are getting cozier now. There are seven animals that, well, who belong to this tribe. Paranthropus, Australopithecus, Sahelantheopus, Orrorin, Ardipithecus, Kenyanthropus, and Homo. Of the seven, we're the only species that is still around. The others are quite extinct.
Were the other members of the tribe recognizably human? There are similarities, but that spark of human genius doesn't appear until we hit the genus!
Genus: Homo This list is a long one. Of the lot of the relatives here, which are widely accepted to be descendants of the australopithicene groups, all are extinct except us. The last remaining relatives at this level, Homo neanderthalensis died out about 24,000 years ago. here's the rest of gang in order of appearance: Homo gautengensis, Homo habilis (aka "Handy Man"), Homo erectus (Stop. Just stop. I know you're being twelve about this.), Homo antecessor, Homo ergaster, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and us, Homo sapien.
Species: Homo sapien sapien or H. sapien for short. We have met homo sapiens sapiens and they are us and we are them. This is our binomial name. It was given to us by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. If that seems to be very old school, here's something to think about: As a species, we've been around for somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand years. The behavioral development that got us to where we are today? That started around 49,000 years ago. When you look at it that way, 1758 seems like last week.
Next time: We'll take a look at some interesting bones of contention.