Monday, September 3, 2007

Scholarship and Revision

The following is something I posted for an open discussion forum within the online Introduction to Anthropology I am currently teaching. It's something that readers of this blog and members of the Peoples and Cultures of the World Class may also find interesting. (The second topic/link is not directly relevant for this course and blog, since it deals with paleoanthropology and primate evolution, but it may be of interest to anyone with a general anthropological interest.)

One quality of good scholarship is a willingness to revise what we thought we understood about the world in light of new discoveries. Good scholarship, whether in the sciences or humanities, involves the production of interpretations and arguments that fit the facts, rather than picking and choosing facts to fit preconceived notions. When new facts are discovered, our interpretations and arguments have to change to incorporate this new information. Inevitably, over the course of our semester together, discoveries will be made that force anthropologists to rethink what we know and to revise our understanding bit by bit. (In other words, scholarship is an ongoing, neverending process.) As this happens, I'll do my best to keep you posted on such new discoveries.

Here, I'd like to draw your attention to two new findings. One area of anthropological research in which many new discoveries are challenging previously held ideas has to do with the archaeological investigation of the origins of urbanization. Here is a link to a blog post discussing recent findings in Mesopotamia from Anthropology.Net:

Another field of study where there have been many recent important discoveries is paleoanthropology, the study of human (and non-human primate) biological evolution through the study of the fossil record. In the past few weeks, there's been much discussion among anthropologists of the fossil species Chororapithecus abyssinicus, an East African ape species from around 10 million years ago and possibly a common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, and hominids. The finding of this species helps to fill an important gap in the fossil record, as there have been few fossil finds of apes from this period up until now. The following is a link to a discussion of this species on another anthropology blog, Hot Cup of Joe:

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