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Unfamiliar word or phrase? Look it up in our glossary. Click on the word and a definition will appear.
- Search for "Adaptation" on the site.
An adaptation is a feature produced by natural selection for its current function.
- Search for "Australopith" on the site.
Member of a species in the genus Australopithecus
- Search for "Catalogue number" on the site.
Sometimes also called a field number, this is the number given a fossil by the researcher during the time of discovery. Catalogue numbers usually consist of a location abbreviation (i.e. 'OH' standing for 'Olduvai Hominid') followed by a number assigned to the fossil, normally in the order that it was found. So OH5 is the fifth hominid that was found at Olduvai Gorge.
- Search for "Cerebral cortex" on the site.
Outermost layer of the cerebrum, typically consisting of "grey matter"
- Search for "Cerebrum" on the site.
Largest part of the brain, including the frontal, occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes
- Search for "Chromosome" on the site.
Organized package of DNA and proteins found in a cell nucleus
- Search for "Contemporaneous" on the site.
‘Contemporaneous’ means occurring or happening at the same time. In paleoanthropology this term is often used to describe two or more early human species living during the same period as one another.
- Search for "Core" on the site.
In stone tool terminology, a source stone reduced in size by the intentional removal of flakes
- Search for "Cranial" on the site.
Refers to a bone of the cranium, which is part of the skull (but does not include the mandible).
- Search for "Cytoplasm" on the site.
Thick, jelly-like substance that fills a cell
- Search for "Dental microwear" on the site.
Dental microwear is the study of the microscopic wear on a tooth's surface that occured as a direct result of use (chewing). Dental microwear studies look for tooth scratches and pits that occur on teeth predominantely through chewing, and can orovide evidence of what an individual ate in the past.
- Search for "Diastema" on the site.
A diastema is space between two teeth. In paleoanthropology, scientists look at the space between the lower canine teeth and first premolars where the upper canine fits as a common characteristic of apes, who have larger canines than humans.
- Search for "Domestication" on the site.
Human-induced artificial selection, taming, or breeding of plants or animals
- Search for "Endocast" on the site.
An endocast is a cast that shows the brain's impression on the inside of the skull. Endocasts can be artificially made by spreading a mold into an empty skull to represent the skull's brain. The artificial brain is then removed to show the brain's impression, or lines and ridges on its outside surface, that formed against the skull's inside. Endocasts can also form naturally by sediments filling up the inside of an empty skull and fossilizing.
Environmental variability hypothesis
- Search for "Environmental variability hypothesis" on the site.
Environmental variability hypothesis:
The hypothesis that adaptation to a variable environment, rather than a static environment or directional change, has characterized human evolution
- Search for "Field number" on the site.
Sometimes also called a catalogue number, this is the number given a fossil by the researcher during the time of discovery. Field numbers usually consist of a location abbreviation (i.e. 'OH' standing for 'Olduvai Hominid') followed by a number assigned to the fossil, normally in the order that it was found. So OH5 is the fifth hominid that was found at Olduvai Gorge.
- Search for "Flake" on the site.
A sharp piece of stone intentionally removed from a core
- Search for "Foramen magnum" on the site.
The foramen magnum is the hole at the base of the skull through which the spinal cord enters into the skull and connects to the brain. This hole is one of the key ways scientists can tell the difference between a bipedal human skull and the skull of a quadrupedal great ape. In humans, the foramen magnum is underneath the skull, allowing humans to hold their head upright and look forward. In a great ape, where the ape’s head rests in front of the neck instead of on top, the foramen magnum is positioned at the rear of the head so its eyes face forward, and not down, as it moves.
- Search for "Foraminifera" on the site.
Single-celled microorganisms with calcareous shells
- Search for "Fossil" on the site.
A preserved trace of a once-living organism. A fossilized bone occurs when the living (organic) cells and tissue have become replaced with external minerals while buried in the ground. Virtually all early human fossils are bones in which this process of mineral replacement has taken place. However, footprints can also be considered ‘fossils’, and archeological remains (such as stone tools, the remains of hearths, and butchery marks on animal bones) are sometimes called ‘fossilized behavior’.
- Search for "Frontal lobe" on the site.
Most forward part of the cerebrum
- Search for "Gene" on the site.
The unit of heredity; a region of DNA with a particular observable effect
- Search for "Genera" on the site.
Plural of genus, the rank above species in Linnean classification
- Search for "Greenhouse gases" on the site.
Atmospheric gases that trap heat, warming the earth's surface
- Search for "Hammerstone" on the site.
Cobble used to strike flakes from a stone core
- Search for "Holotype" on the site.
Similar to a ‘type specimen,’ for fossil species, the ‘holotype’ of a species is the fossil specimen used when the species is formally described.
- Search for "Hominid" on the site.
Refers to the evolutionary group of great apes, including living Asian great apes (orangutans), living African great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas), and humans. This word comes from Hominidae, a formal biological term that is more specific than Hominoidea (= all apes – the great apes and the lesser apes, which include gibbons and siamangs). Some researchers still use the word hominid to refer to the human evolutionary group alone (what we call hominin). This usage goes back to the tradition when humans (hominids) were considered completely divided from all great apes (pongids).
- Search for "Hominin" on the site.
Refers to the human evolutionary group of species, including fossil and modern. This word comes from Hominini, a formal biological term in between the level of genus (e.g., Homo, Australopithecus, etc.) and the level of family (Hominidae).
- Search for "Humerofemoral index" on the site.
The humerofemoral index is measure comparing arm length to leg length. The index is defined by the arm length divided by the leg length times 100. Modern apes and chimpanzees have arms and legs that are almost the same size in length, giving them a humerfoemoral index of about 100. Humans, with shorter arms than legs, have a humerofemoral index of about 70.
- Search for "Hypothesis" on the site.
A proposed, testable scientific explanation for a particular set of phenomena
- Search for "In situ" on the site.
The words 'in situ' are Latin meaning 'in the place.' In prehistoric studies, in situ refers to an artifact or fossil that has not been taken out of the original location where it was found. In situ materials are undisturbed, which allows archaeologists to date them and/or give them better context by looking at what artifacts or sediments are found nearby.
- Search for "Megadont" on the site.
Megadont ('megadont' meaning 'having large teeth') species have huge, broad cheek teeth with thick enamel while their incisor teeth stay small. The emphasis for megadont species is on the rear teeth, which are designed to support the stresses of heavy chewing. Combined with the morphology of the other parts of the skull -- large zygomatic arches to allow the passage of large chewing muscles and a large sagittal crest to provide a large area to anchor these muscles to the skull -- megadont early humans showed adaptations to chewing tough, fibrous foods.
- Search for "Metabolism" on the site.
Chemical reactions necessary to maintain life
- Search for "Microcephaly" on the site.
Neurodevelopmental disorder resulting in an abnormally small head and brain
- Search for "Miocene" on the site.
Geologic time period ranging from about 23 million to 5.3 million years ago
- Search for "Mitochondria" on the site.
Parts of a cell that generate most of its chemical energy
- Search for "Molecular" on the site.
Having to do with DNA sequences or the amino acid sequences of proteins
- Search for "Natural selection" on the site.
Differential survival or reproduction in a population leading to change in its genetic makeup
- Search for "Neocortex" on the site.
Outer layer of the cerebral hemispheres of the brain
- Search for "Neolithic" on the site.
Last part of the Stone Age, before the origin of metal tools
- Search for "Pleistocene" on the site.
Geological time period ranging from about 1.8 million years ago - or, for some researchers, 2.6 million years ago - to about 10,000 years ago
- Search for "Pliocene" on the site.
Geologic time period ranging from about 5.3 million to 1.8 million years ago - or, for some researchers, 2.6 million years ago
- Search for "Post-cranial" on the site.
A bone or bone(s) from any part(s) of the skeleton that does not include the skull (cranium and mandible).
- Search for "Primates" on the site.
The biological order of mammals consisting of lemurs, lorises, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes (including humans).
- Search for "Prognathic" on the site.
A fossil skull is called prognathic when the lower face, and sometimes jaw, protrudes forward.
- Search for "Sagittal crest" on the site.
A sagittal crest is the bony ridge on the top of the skull where the jaw muscles of some early humans were anchored allowing powerful chewing (a modern human’s jaw muscles are anchored beside their ears). This ridge runs lengthwise down the middle of the top of the skull.
- Search for "Sagittal keel" on the site.
A thickening (or widening) of bone running along the middle of the top of the skull.
- Search for "Sexual dimorphism" on the site.
Sexual dimorphism is size or shape difference between males and females of the same species. Similarly-sized males and females within a species show less sexual dimorphism, and this phenomenon is generally attributed to monogamous bonding between males and females (like in many modern humans). Greater sexual dimorphism generally means a species is more polygamous.
- Search for "Sexually dimorphic" on the site.
Sexual dimorphism is size or shape difference between males and femals of the same species; a species is said to be sexually dimorphic if these differences exist. Similarly-sized males and females within a species show less sexual dimorphism, and this phenomenon is generally attributed to monogamous bonding between males and females (like in many modern humans). Greater sexual dimorphism generally means a species is more polygamous.
- Search for "Species" on the site.
(singular and plural) All members of a population or set of populations that actually or potentially interbreed over time
- Search for "Stratigraphic layer" on the site.
A stratigraphic layer is a geological layer of rock and/or soil. The law of superposition says that if you were to dig a hole, the layers of earth at the bottom of the hole would be older than the layers of earth at the top. By recognizing these stratigraphic layers, scientists can date fossil or archaeological finds, or other features, and compare their ages to one another.
- Search for "Type specimen" on the site.
In paleontological studies, a species' type specimen is a specific fossil for which the species was first named.
- Search for "Zygomatic arch" on the site.
The zygomatic arch is the bone forming your cheek that rests above the indention you feel in front of your ear, which allows the passage of your chewing muscles through from your jaw to where they connect to your skull. Robust species had larger, or flaring, zygomatic arches, allowing space for more powerful chewing muscles.