CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 73 of 73 defined words for "Exploring the Origins of Today's Humans". To see all CARTA defined words, please view the complete glossary.

Word Definition Related Vocabulary
"Archaic" Homo sapiens

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

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.

Admixture

Breeding between isolated populations.

Allele

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

Anatomically "Modern" Humans

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

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.

Archaic Admixture

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

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.

Behavior

The way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others.

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.

Birch Tar (or pitch)

A material produced through the dry distillation of birch bark and used as an adhesive for hafting. Neanderthals produced birch tar as early as 200 kya. Compare with Bitumen.

Bitumen (asphaltum or tar)

A form of petroleum, a naturally- occurring organic by-product of decomposed plants, that is waterproof and flammable. Prehistoric humans used bitumen as an adhesive for hafting points to spears and for many other tasks and tools. Compare with Birch Tar.

Chromatin

A complex of DNA and proteins (histone and adaptor proteins) forming chromosomes.

Chromosomes

Discrete strands of tightly packaged chromatin.

Continuity (aka Phyletic Gradualism)

An evolutionary model in which change occurs gradually over time. Compare with Punctuated Equilibrium.

Culture

Behavior and norms that are shared, learned, and socially transmitted.

de Novo

A Latin adverb meaning “from the new.” A new genetic variant that is the result of a mutation in a germ cell (egg or sperm) of one of the parents, or a variant that arises in the fertilized egg during embryogenesis. (See Novel)

Denisovans

An extinct hominin population contemporary with Neanderthals that hybridized with ancient humans and Neanderthals. Knowledge of Denisovan morphology is limited to two small fossils found in Siberia and a jaw in Tibet.

Diploid

Organisms with two sets of each chromosome except for XY sex chromosomes in male mammals.

Divergence

Change in genetic content or phenotype between isolated populations or species.

DNA

Deoxyribonucleic acid. The molecule of inheritance, which consists of sequences of the four nucleotide bases: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine.

DNA Sequence

The specific order of the nucleotide bases Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine.

Fitness (Darwinian)

The relative likelihood that an allele will be represented in future generations (relative to other alleles in the same population). Compare with Reproductive Success.

Foraging

Searching for wild food or provisions as opposed to cultivating food crops or breeding livestock.

Gene

DNA sequence which encodes a specific function.

Gene Flow

Movement of alleles between populations as is achieved by mating.

Gene-Culture Co-Evolution Theory

A branch of theoretical population genetics that models the transmission of genes and cultural traits from one generation to the next, exploring how they interact. Also known as “biocultural evolution” or “biological enculturation” (feedback between culture and biology).

Genetic Drift

Change in allele frequencies, including fixation and loss, by chance.

Genome

All DNA in a cell. Also refers to the DNA sequence that typifies an individual or species.

Genomics

The study of genome structure/function.

Genotype

The two alleles at one or more diploid loci.

Genus

A taxonomic rank used in biological classification of living and fossil organisms to group closely related species. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name plus species name forms the binomial species name (e.g. Homo sapiens).

Great Apes

A taxonomic family denoting the extant chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

Handaxe

A prehistoric stone tool with two faces and is usually made from flint, basalt, sandstone, quartzite, or chert.

Haplogroup

A set of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor.

Haplotype

A set of alleles along neighboring positions on a chromosome that are inherited together.

Hominid

A classification comprising all living and extinct “Great Apes” and humans.

Hominin

A classification of species comprising humans and our extinct relatives following the split with the common ancestor with chimpanzees.

Homo

The genus that comprises the species Homo sapiens, as well as several extinct species classified as ancestral to, or closely related to, humans.

Homo erectus

An extinct hominin species with fossil evidence from at least 1.9 million years to 70 thousand years ago and found from Africa to Indonesia. May have been the first hominin to leave Africa. H. erectus DNA may be retrievable from other species due to archaic admixture.

Homo naledi

An extinct hominin species whose fossil evidence dates to 335-236 kya. An assemblage of 15 H. naledi skeletons were first found in the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in 2013 (since then, a second chamber has been found with H. naledi skeletons). The fossils possess a mix of “archaic” traits similar to genus Australopithecus (e.g. cranial and pelvic morphology) and “modern” traits characteristic of genus Homo (e.g. hand morphology). H. naledi lived contemporaneously with anatomically modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans but is not likely a direct ancestors of humans living today.

Homo sapiens

The hominin species comprising all living humans. Meaning “wise man” in Latin, the name was introduced by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The earliest fossil evidence of Homo sapiens appears in Africa around 300 kya (see Jebel Irhoud Hominins).

Howiesons Poort

A lithic technology cultural period in the Middle Stone Age in Africa named after the Howieson’s Poort Shelter archeological site near Grahamstown, South Africa. Dates range from ~65.8 kya to 59.5 kya. Examples include composite weapons hafted with ochre and gum compound glue and microlith blades, bone arrows, and needles.

Hunter-Gatherer

A human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging (collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animals), in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

Hybridization

Breeding among recognized species.

Introgression

Transfer of alleles between species.

Jebel Irhoud Hominins

The oldest known “early” human fossils discovered, dating to roughly 300 kya from an archaeological site in Morocco. The location of this discovery suggests a “pan-African” origin of humans, with a dispersed interbreeding population, likely aided by climactic factors.

Levallois Technique (prepared core)

A method of creating stone tools by first striking flakes off the stone, or core, along the edges to create the prepared core and then striking the prepared core in such a way that the intended tool is flaked off with all of its edges pre-sharpened.

Lomekwian Technology

The oldest known stone tools consisting of 150 artifacts found in Lomekwi, Kenya, close to Lake Turkana. ~3.3 mya.

Microlithic (Mode 5)

A stone tool type consisting of small blades or points, called microliths, that were typically used in composite tools, such as an arrow point fastened to a haft. ~35 - 3 kya.

Mitochondrial DNA

Maternally inherited DNA found only in the mitochondria, the energy producing organelles of eukaryotic cells. Mitochondria are thought to descend from symbiotic bacteria that have become part of eukaryotic cells.

Morphology (Biology)

Shape or form (outward appearance) of an organism. The branch of biology interested in the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features.

Mousterian (Mode 3)

A stone tool type characterized by hand- axes, scrapers, triangle points, and denticulates (a stone tool with edges of multiple notched shapes, or teeth) produced using a prepared core (i.e. Levallois Technique) and is most associated with Neanderthals. ~315 - 30 kya.

Mutation

Change in a DNA or RNA sequence.

Neanderthals

An extinct Eurasian hominin species that existed from 500-30 kya and interbred with ancient humans and Denisovans.

Obligate Tool User

Tool use is a necessity for survival. Tool use is an essential part of being human and we are the only known obligate tool users.

Oldowan (Mode 1)

A stone tool type characterized by simple “choppers” for pounding, breaking, and bashing. ~2.6 - 1.7 mya.

Out of Africa

A hypothesis proposing the geographic origins of the genus Homo in Africa and migration of anatomically modern humans. These anatomically modern humans would have completely replaced the archaic human populations (Neanderthals, Denisovans, etc.) that had previously left Africa. This hypothesis emphasizes the African origin of our species but allows for the possibility of minor local contributions from archaic populations.

Paleolithic

A broad prehistoric period during which stone was used to make tools and weapons and is synonymous with Stone Age. Subdivisions:

  • Lower Paleolithic: ~3.4 mya - 300 kya.
  • Middle Paleolithic: Consists of use of prepared cores (i.e. Levallois Technique) and hafted tools and weapons. ~300 - 30 kya.
  • Upper Paleolithic: Coincides with behavioral modernity and predates the advent of agriculture. Artifacts include finely crafted stone blades and bone and antler tools, such as harpoons and needles. ~50 - 10 kya.
Phenotype

Observable traits of an organism that result from interactions between genes and environment during development.

Phylogenetic Tree

A branching diagram showing the evolutionary relationships among biological species, or other entities, based on their physical or genetic characteristics.

Pleistocene

A geological epoch from ~2.5 mya to 11.7 kya characterized by a period of repeated glaciations. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archeology. Subdivisions:

  • Early (Lower) Pleistocene: ~2.58 mya - 781 kya.
  • Middle Pleistocene: Emergence of Homo sapiens. 781 - 126 kya.
  • Late (Upper) Pleistocene: 126 - 11.7 kya.
Polygenic

Relating to a trait determined by two or more genes. Most traits of organisms are polygenic.

Punctuated Equilibrium

An evolutionary model in which pronounced change takes place in short bursts followed by periods of evolutionary continuity. Compare with Continuity.

Reproductive Success

An individual’s production of offspring per breeding event or lifetime (also includes the reproductive success of the offspring). Compare with Fitness (Darwninian).

Rising Star Cave System

A system of caves in the Malmani dolomites of South Africa (and a part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site) where fossils of a previously unknown, extinct species of hominin, Homo naledi, were first discovered in 2013.

Saltation (Leap)

Discontinuous evolution marked by a sudden mutational change from one generation to the next, and may result in a single-step speciation event.

San People

Members of various Khoisan-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa, and whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. mtDNA and Y chromosome studies show that the San carry some of the most divergent (oldest) human haplogroups.

Scavengers

Organisms that search for and feed on carrion, dead plant material, or refuse.

Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs)

Single nucleotide differences (e.g. Adenine, Thymine).

Species

A biological population whose individuals can mate with one another to produce viable and fertile offspring. This is a debated definition and the concept is problematic for extinct fossil organisms for which DNA is not available.

Stone Age

The prehistoric period during which stone was used to make tools and weapons and is synonymous with the paleolithic. ~3.4 mya - 10 kya. In African archaeology, stone age chronology is divided into Early Stone Age (ESA): ~2.6 mya to ~300 kya; Middle Stone Age (MSA): ~300 kya to ~50 kya; and Later Stone Age (LSA): ~ 50 kya to ~39 kya.

  • Early Stone Age is characterized by the development of the first African stone tools, such as the Oldowan technology used by Australopithecines, and the later Acheulean technology, used by Homo erectus.
  • Middle Stone Age is characterized by a transition from Acheulean to Levallois technology and the earliest known modern human behavior.
  • Later Stone Age is characterized by microlithic industries and punch-struck blades, revealing fully modern human behavior.
Y-chromosome DNA

In mammals, paternally inherited DNA. The Y-chromosome is one of two sex chromosomes (allosomes), and is the sex-determining chromosome. It is one of the fastest-evolving parts of the human genome.