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Implications for Anthropological Theory and Practice

Although humans have engaged in informal ethnographic description and comparison for millennia, it was not until the late nineteenth century that the field of anthropological inquiry in its modern form began to take shape. Anthropological theory and practice can be integrated into research papers on any topic you need that explores culture and identity through anthrological evidence.

It seems more than coincidental that this was roughly the same era during which photography first attained widespread prevalence. By the early decades of the twentieth century, the stirrings of a more value-neutral analytical stance had begun to alter the practice of anthropology, as so-called ‘primitive’ societies began to be recognized as nuanced and complex expressions of humanity in their own right, without disparaging comparisons to Western civilization.

Implications for Anthropological Theory and PracticeThe ability of still photographs to document cultural artifacts objectively mirrored perfectly the aim of this new breed of anthropologists, who sought to describe and classify diverse cultural and social practices in an unbiased context. Even today, when technological advances have greatly expanded the array of media available for cultural documentation, many researchers continue to rely on the still image as the essential form of field documentation, not only within the discipline of anthropology, but in virtually every niche of the social sciences.

To a large extent, the development of anthropology as a field is unimaginable without the parallel advancement of photographic technology. The ability to document cultural artifacts and folkways in a relatively durable manner using portable, user-friendly technology was a galvanizing catalyst that cannot be underestimated in the formation of cultural and social anthropology. Lacking this technology, it is doubtful that these disciplines would have developed to such an extent during the heady formative period of the early twentieth century.

The debate over the origins of man continues to rage on the scientific front. With new genetic tools and DNA mapping, much can be surmised from anthropological evidence on the history and origin of man. According to a recent article in Scientific American, The Modern Human Origins Morass, there are essentially two scientific theories for the origin of man:

  1. The Neanderthal theory - The Neanderthal theory asserts that modern man came from Africa about two million years ago and evolved to Homo sapiens along a single species.
  2. The Out of Africa replacement theory - The Out of Africa theory asserts that Homo sapiens replaced the Neanderthals and other species approximately 15,000 to 200,000 years ago and formed a new species altogether.

However, recent DNA information has brought to light new theories and cast shadows of doubt on the old theories.

The article in Scientific American reports that Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues discovered that Neanderthal DNA did not show any relation to DNA from Europeans who supposedly modern man was supposed to have evolved from, according to the Neanderthal theory. In fact, the article reports that modern DNA was more than three times removed from DNA that is compared between two Modern day humans.

DNA testing has proven problematic, according to the Scientific American article. For example, the history of a single gene cannot reflect the entire genetic make-up in an individual; this would involve recovering nuclear DNA which is difficult with today’s technology. What is clear through DNA testing is that ancient humans shared genes and behavior across the globe and Homo sapiens clearly do not come from one specific group.  Essentially, humans have a history of interbreeding that has shaped our behavior and genetic make-up. Therefore, the debate over the origin of man will not end with the methods of DNA testing that modern day man has established but rather, the future will determine whether we solve the mystery the origins of the human race.  

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