What Is Human? (Controversies in Anthropology)
If you browse the news websites, you’ll read articles about recent discoveries in anthropology. Often these articles talk about when “humans” emerged on the planet. But the term “human” gets tossed about in a rather cavalier manner, sometimes referring to Homo sapiens and sometimes not. You see, since science presumes humans evolved from ancient hominids, those ancient hominid species can be referred to as “human” too. Yet most of us humans think of the term as meaning Homo sapiens.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a human as “a bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens)” or more broadly as a “hominid.” Hominids include both us and presumed ancestors of humans. The definitions lead us in a circle, and for good reason. Paleoanthropology centers around the assumption that modern humans descended from ancient, apelike creatures which became slightly less apelike with each new species until—voila!—our species popped up looking only superficially like the ancient hominids.
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