CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 100 of 885 defined words
Word Definition Related Vocabulary
"Archaic" Homo sapiens

Earlier forms of Homo sapiens who were anatomically and behaviorally distinct from modern humans.

"Mating Success" Hypothesis

In relation to hunting, a hypothesis that has been documented or proposed for humans, some earlier hominins, and chimpanzees that the tactical sharing of meat develops and maintains social bonds and/or increases mating success. In humans, this success is possibly amplified by an individual’s prowess or reputation.

12C/13C Isotope Ratio

12C/13C Isotope Ratio: Due to their different photosynthetic pathways, C3 and C4 plants have different ratios of 12C and 13C isotopes in their tissues. This ratio difference allows researchers to derive diet information from the fossilized tissue of animals, including human ancestors. Isotope ratios indicative of C3 plants suggest browsing from foliage while C4 isotope ratios suggest grazing.

Please note: this information does not differentiate between a diet of eating C3 and C4 plants, eating the meat of an animal that consumed those plants, or a combination of the two.

7q11.23 Duplication Syndrome A developmental disorder resulting from a duplication of approximately 25 genes on chromosome 7.
ABO blood groups

The blood group system particular to primates that denotes the presence or absence of A,B, and O antigens on erythrocytes (red blood cells). The ABO gene encodes an enzyme responsible for producing A or B antigens, or an inactive enzyme resulting in the presences of O antigens. It is theorized that ABO and other blood groups provide protective diversity within populations to combat microbial invasion and has been maintained for millions of years. In humans, ABO is the major blood group for determining transfusion compatibility.

Academic psychology

A biological and experimental branch of science concerned with the mind, brain and behavior.


Adverse childhood experiences, usually referring to the measure developed by Felitti and others (1998) for the ACE study.

Acheulean (Mode 2)

A stone tool type characterized by oval or pear-shaped bi-faced “hand axes” and are typically associated with Homo erectus. ~1.76 mya - 130 kya.


A protein that forms the internal skeleton of animal cells, including red blood cells (RBCs).

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

A serious type of respiratory failure characterized by rapid onset of widespread fluid buildup in the lungs, which limits oxygen uptake and causes shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and bluish skin coloration.


Evolution of a phenotype by selection because it improved reproduction and/or survival.

Adaptive archaic introgression

The persistence of beneficial DNA variants in the modern human genome that were gained through interbreeding with now-extinct archaic species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.


A nucleoside that modulates many physiological processes.

Adenosine receptor

A membrane protein that signals when bound to adenosine. Caffeine chemically resembles adenosine and is an antagonist of this receptor.


A pharmacological or immunological agent that modifies the effect of other agents. Adjuvants may be added to a vaccine to boost the immune response to produce more antibodies and longer-lasting immunity, thus minimizing the dose of antigen needed.


Challenging experiences that threaten function, development, or survival of an individual or system.

Aedes Mosquitos

A genus of mosquito found on all continents except Antarctica. Species in this genus are vectors for numerous viral infections, including Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, West Nile Fever, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika virus.

Age at maturity

The age at first reproduction. In modern hunter gatherers, this is roughly at 18 years old.

Agent (in narration)

Any kind of creature that can act within a story.

Agglutination (hemagglutination)

The clumping of cells due to the interaction of antibodies (or other proteins) and specific molecules on the surface of cells.

Aggressive scavenging

Seizure of prey from initial predators while the latter are still feeding.

Agonist (pharmacology)

A molecule that activates a receptor rather than blocking or dampening it like an antagonist.

Agricultural nitrogen pollution

Water and air pollution caused by excess nitrogen-based fertilizer use in crops and livestock production.

Agricultural revolution

The transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture starting ~12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The development of and transition to agrarian life ways and technology was piecemeal in different places and at different times instead of a full blown “revolution.”


A subsistence strategy that relies on domesticated species instead of hunting and gathering wild animals and plants.

Alcohol (ethanol)

A primary fermentation product of sugars in over-ripe fruit by yeasts and molds. The earliest alcoholic beverages produced by humans likely included mead and wines obtained from direct fermentation of diluted honey and fruit juices, respectively. This would have required the use of containers. Beer, on the other hand, requires a first step to produce fermentable simple sugars from starch. This can be achieved by malting, sprouting grain to obtain plant enzymes that are then used in mashing, the enzymatic digestion of starch into fermentable simple sugars. Malted grains and starch from tubers, banana, etc., can also be combined to produce alcoholic beverages. The use of symbiotic communities of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY, including Qu or koji) allows for the direct fermentation of grain and tuber starches to ethanol, such as in Chinese rice wine. Finally, distillation, a technology that is only a few thousand years, allows the concentration of alcohol into distilled spirits.

Alcohol dehydrogenase

A family of genes that, in humans, encodes enzymes that facilitate the first step of alcohol metabolism.

Alcoholism (non-clinical definition)

Consumption of alcohol that results in significant mental or physical health problems.

Aldehyde dehydrogenase

A family of genes that, in humans, encodes enzymes that facilitate the second step of alcohol metabolism. Variants of this gene are implicated in adverse reactions to alcohol consumption.


Arranging related sequences by position.


Alternative DNA sequence at the same locus (location on the chromosome)

Allomaternal/alloparental care

Infant care provided by individuals other than the mother/parents.


The investment in young by individuals other than the biological parents.


The process of achieving stability, or homeostasis, through physiological or behavioral change.

Allostatic Load/Overload

The accumulated “wear and tear on the body,” or the physiological consequences of chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine response, due to chronic stress. The term was coined by McEwen and Stellar in 1993.

Allosteric modulators

Molecules that bind to a site on a protein other than the substrate binding site and induce a change in the protein’s shape.


A genus of RNA viruses that affect humans, rodents, fish, birds, and larger animals such as horses, and invertebrates. Transmission occurs via mosquitos. Diseases caused by Alphaviruses are numerous and include Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Chikungunya.

Altered states of consciousness (ASCs)

A change in one’s normal (waking) mental state.

Alu elements

A type of primate-specific transposable element, or “jumping gene,” that is roughly 300 base pairs long and exists in large copy number across all chromosomes of primate genomes (over 1 million copies in the human genome). Alu elements are also called Short Interspersed Elements (SINEs). They lack the ability to copy and paste themselves directly, but are able to “hitchhike” via the activity of Long Interspersed Elements (LINEs) that have retained the ability to copy and paste. Alu elements were considered to be a part of what has been called “junk DNA” because they do not code for the production of proteins, however they may serve some yet unknown function and definitely contribute to genomic plasticity, evolution, and disease.

Alzheimer’s disease

The most common type of dementia in humans. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease marked by memory loss, language problems, disorientation, and behavioral changes.

American Sign Language (ASL)

A natural language that serves as the predominant sign language of Deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada.

Amino acids

Organic compounds that are the building blocks of proteins and participate in a number of processes such as neurotransmitter transport and biosynthesis. Amino acids are encoded by the genome as different three nucleotide codes.


Psychostimulant drugs that alter the signaling by neurons and other cells. E.g., Adderall.


The deliberate and complete removal of a portion of the body (excluding the teeth).


A roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions, including fear.

Anatomically "Modern" Humans

Humans dating to roughly 300 kya that are within range of the skeletal features of modern Homo sapiens.

Ancestral Variant

A genetic variant (e.g.: single-nucleotide polymorphism, SNP, or a larger change) representing the ancestral state and coexisting with more recent variants

Ancient DNA

DNA that is extracted from ancient specimens (skeletons, mummified tissues, frozen specimens, archeological material, archival collections, sediments, and dirt). The current upper age limit for ancient DNA extraction and sequencing is 0.4-1.5 mya.


1. To heat and then cool (as steel or glass) usually for softening and making less brittle; also: to cool slowly, usually in a furnace. 2. To strengthen, toughen.

Anopheles Mosquitos

A genus of mosquito with ~460 species, ~100 of which can transmit malaria to humans.

Antagonist (pharmacology)

A molecule that blocks or dampens a biological response by binding to and blocking a receptor rather than activating it like an agonist.

Antagonistic Pleiotropy

A phenomenon whereby multiple influences of the same gene have opposite effects on the fitness of the organism


The proposed geologic epoch defined by human influence on the Earth. There is yet to be consensus for when the anthropocene began with suggestions ranging from the start of the agricultural revolution to the first atomic explosion.


The study of human origins. A compound of Greek words for humans (anthropo) and origins (geny).


A disease spread from humans to non-human animals.


A glycoprotein formed by immune cells (B-cells) that specifically recognize certain molecules (antigens) to neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. They exist in pentameric form (IgM), dimeric form (IgA) or single form (IgG, IgE, IgD), which consist of Y-shaped units that each have two antigen-binding pockets on one side and a region recognized by immune cells on the opposite. The tips of the “Y” can recognize specific antigens and lead to a successful immune response, while the bottom of the “y” regulates immune cell responses. Also known as immunoglobulin.


A molecule or molecular structure that can trigger an immune response and can be specifically recognized by an antibody.

Antiserum (plural: antisera)

Blood serum that contains antibodies and is used via transfusion to impart immunity.

Approach/Avoidance Model

A theoretical framework for understanding the onset of maternal behavior in species that avoid infants prior to giving birth to their own. The model was developed based on data from rats and posits that care giving behavior occurs when the tendency to approach infants is greater than the tendency to avoid them. Thus, the model indicates that two distinct processes regulate the onset of maternal care. Mother-infant bonding at birth results not only from an increase in attraction to infant cues but also from a reduction of aversion to them.

Arbitrariness (aka Symbolic Reference) A relationship between a sign and the thing it refers to (its “referent”) that is determined purely by mental association rather than by any particular physical parameters (Kluender, 2020).
Archaic admixture

DNA from ancient, divergent, and now extinct populations found in current people.


A basal hominin genus dating between 4.0-4.4 mya. Ardipithecus is distinguished by primitive feet featuring a divergent big toe contrasted against its other bipedal anatomy. The life history of Ardipithecus is thought to have been similar to that of modern chimpanzees with age at first reproduction between 10-12 years, an inter-birth interval of 4-5 years, and a maximum longevity of 50 years. Only two Ardipithecus fossils have been described thus far, Ardipithecus ramidus and Ardipithecus kadabba, both found in Ethiopia.


A human-specific protein coding gene that promotes amplification of basal progenitors in the subventricular zone, producing more neurons during fetal cortical development. It has been implicated in the evolutionary expansion of the human brain neocortex.


“A material intervention in relationships between people and the stories that define those relationships” (Davidson, 2020). The expression of imagination, conceptual and symbolic ideas, and skill.

Art Theory (aka Aesthetics)

The examination of the subjective qualities of beauty and taste.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

A form of intelligence in which a machine system is able to make rational decisions based on perception of its environment.


Advantages or resources associated with positive (desirable) outcomes; predictors of positive outcome; also known as promotive factors.

Association Cortex (Brain)

Extensive territories of gray matter concentrated in the parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes, the territory near the temporal pole, and the forward part of the frontal lobe. Current evidence indicates that expansion of the association cortex was a component of human brain evolution.


An archaeological site in Spain with fossils and stone tools of the earliest known hominins in Western Europe.


Build-up of cholesterol and inflammation in the lining of blood vessels.

Auditory system

The part of the nervous system that processes how we hear and understand sounds.

Aurignacian (Mode 4)

A stone tool type characterized by long, fine blades produced from a prepared core (Levallois Technique). Tools of this mode also include worked bone and antler points. ~43 kya - 28 kya.


A genus of extinct hominins dating ~4 mya to 2 mya, and found primarily in eastern and southern Africa. Homo may have evolved from a late australopithecine. Australopithecine brain size is ~35% of the size of the modern human brain.  Most species were short in stature, although sexual dimorphism was pronounced. Some examples of australopithecines:

A. anamenis:  Kenya and Ethiopia. ~4 mya. 
A. afarensis: Eastern Africa. Most famous example is “Lucy.” ~3.9 mya to 2.9 mya. 
A. bahrelghazali: Central Africa.  ~3.6 mya
A. africanus: Southern Africa. ~3.3 mya to 2.1 mya.
A. garhi: Ethiopia. Possible transitional stage between Australopithecus and Homo. ~2.5 mya. 
A. boisei: East Africa. Robust australopithecine. There is debate as to which genus they belong, Australopithecus or Paranthropus. ~2.4 to 1.4 mya.
A. sediba: South Africa. Possible transitional stage between Australopithecus and Homo. ~2 mya. 


An organism’s aberrant immune response against its own healthy cells and tissues. Low-level autoimmunity is usually harmless and potentially beneficial, high-level autoimmunity can cause a broad range of deleterious illnesses known as autoimmune diseases (e.g. lupus).

Axon (nerve fiber)

In invertebrates, a long, slender projection of a neuron that transmits information (as electrical impulses) to different neurons, muscles, and glands.


A term partly synonymous with Mexica and is used in popular culture to identify the political and cultural group centered on the city of Tenochtitlan.

B-cell receptors (BCRs)

Immunoglobulin molecules that form a receptor protein on the outer surface of B-cells. BCRs allow the B-cell to bind to a specific antigen, against which it will initiate an antibody response. BCRs also control B-cell activation by biochemical signaling and by physical acquisition of antigens from immune synapses with antigen-presenting cells.

B-cells (B lymphocyte)

A type of white blood cell whose function in the adaptive immune system is to secrete antibodies. Additionally, B-cells present antigens and secrete cytokines. In mammals, B-cells mature in the bone marrow. B-cells express B-cell receptors on their cell membrane, which allow the B-cell to bind to a specific antigen, against which it will initiate an antibody response. These cells can create an almost infinite repertoire through recombination and shuffling.


The presence of bacteria in the blood, a normally sterile environment.


A type of prokaryotic microorganism. Unlike eukaryotes, bacterial cells do not contain a nucleus and rarely harbour membrane-bound organelles. Bacteria were among the first life forms to evolve on Earth, and can be found in most every habitat, including soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, the deep biosphere of the earth’s crust, and in and on other living organisms as symbionts and parasites. Bacteria can be beneficial, such as those comprising the gut flora, or pathogenic and cause infectious disease. However, the vast majority of the bacteria in the body are rendered harmless by the protective effects of the immune system.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

A type of vaginal inflammation characterized by the presence of exfoliated epithelial cells with attached bacteria, abnormally thin mucus secretions, a sharp amine odor, vaginal pH, and overgrowth of the coccobacillus, Gardnerella vaginalis. BV seems to be part of the spectrum of normal for many women, and evidence from non-human primates seems to suggest that a diverse vaginal microbiome is the ancestral state. The condition is nevertheless associated with a wide range of reproductive health complications that endanger fertility and limit reproductive success.

Balanced polymorphism

The maintenance of a genetic polymorphism generated by balancing selection. The MHC system and ABO in humans are examples.

Balancing selection

The selection favoring rare variants for a gene preventing fixation of one particular variant.


A class of drugs that act as a central nervous system depressant. E.g., Amytal.

Basal Ganglia (Brain)

Subcortical nuclei in the base of the forebrains of vertebrates, including humans, which are involved with a variety of functions including control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, and routine behaviors or “habits” such as teeth grinding, eye movements, cognition, and emotion.

Basal Progenitor

A cortical neural progenitor cell which undergoes replication and division. Basal progenitor cells are a subset that lie in the subventricular zone and lack contact with the neighboring ventricle—only contacting the outer, basal, surface—and contribute to the expansion of the outer cortex.

Basal Radial Glia

A primary progenitor cell capable of generating neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Basal radial glia and outer radial glia are defined by their position, morphology, and genetic phenotype.


Methods in probability and statistics named after Thomas Bayes (1702-61) in which a quantity is assigned to represent a state of knowledge, or a state of belief.

Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome

An overgrowth disorder caused by an imbalance in sex-specific modification of chromosomes and characterized by higher risk of childhood cancer and certain congenital features.

Before common era (BCE)

A notation for the Gregorian calendar. BCE 1 precedes immediately before 1 CE with no intervening year zero.

Before present (BP)

A time scale used in archaeological dating in which the present is considered the year radiocarbon dating was introduced (1950 CE).

Behaviorally Modern Humans

Current Homo sapiens, a population of hominins who evolved in Africa 200-100 kya, developed a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguished them from other hominins in and outside Africa, which likely allowed them to replace all other related hominins across the planet, with some interbreeding but no surviving hybrid species.


Depressants that act via GABA receptors and produce sedation, induce sleep, relieve anxiety and prevent seizures. Example: Xanax.


Pertaining to both alleles (both alternative forms of a gene).

Bioarchaeology (osteoarchaeology)

The study of human remains in their archaeological context.


The ability to coexist with living organisms without harming them. Compatible with living cells, tissues, organs, or systems, and posing no risk of injury, toxicity, or rejection by the immune system.

Biological enculturation

The ensemble of biological phenomena that supports and makes enculturation possible (e.g., cortical plasticity of the human brain and configuration of motor programs that make culturally invented practices, such as reading and writing, possible).

Biologically available nitrogen

Types of nitrogen (nitrate, nitrite, and ammonium) that are required by all plants except legumes. Legumes are able to utilize atmospheric N2 due to their symbiotic association with rhizobia bacteria in their root nodules.

Biologically evolved preconditions (BEPs)

The necessary conditions for the manifestation of a behavioral or cognitive ability which, although having evolved via natural selection, do not constitute precursors of such abilities (e.g., human balance mechanisms are BEPs for learning how to snowboard, but they are not precursors or proto-forms of it).


The science of movement from a mechanical perspective; how muscles, bones, and other parts of the body work to produce movement or locomotion.