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In this unfortunate era of anti-intellectualism and fake news, it is essential that biological anthropologists engage with each other, the academy, the media, and the public about the nature of humans, how we got here, and how (and why) we vary. One of the strengths of anthropology is that we can be self-reflective. We can re-examine our questions, our theory, our methods, our data, and deal skeptically with all of them. What is a species? How do we identify groups? How do we recognize agency, or identity, or frailty, in the past? The colonial history of western science affects our interpretation of evidence (Roy 2018); now formerly colonized peoples have opportunities to produce knowledge of their own histories, so they can shift the narrative, making what was once a familiar story, strange (Rottenburg 2009; Véran 2012).
As far as I (Sang-Hee) was concerned, the attraction of biological anthropology was in its scientific approach. The lure of hypothesis testing using empirical data where the only bias to worry about was small sample size was such a powerful position for me, who had been on the humanities track until graduate school. During the 1990s in graduate school I was surprised to find out that the very premise of the scientific approach was questioned by my cohort in cultural anthropology. I quickly dismissed it without engaging in further discussion. Questioning the objectivity and the neutrality of research design was unthinkable.
Biological anthropologists interested in population interactions compare biological relationships among living populations, among past populations, and between living and past populations. To do this, we utilize datasets that can be compared equivalently across space and time. One such source of data comes from dental morphological traits, nonmetric characteristics observable on the crown surfaces of teeth. Tooth morphology is largely under genetic control and less affected by environmental factors than many other tissue systems (Hillson 1996; Larsen and Kelley 1991; Scott et al. 2018), and therefore presents an effective dataset with which to trace intrapopulation variation, interpopulation relationships, and microevolution.
Biological anthropology is a diverse field, with countless research methods and techniques in different sub-disciplines. This book takes a critical perspective to the current state of the field, exploring theory and practice in paleoanthropology, bioarchaeology, and ecology. Contributors challenge how evidence is discovered, collected and interpreted, and explain that researchers gain insights by de-familiarizing themselves from well-known methods and taking a different perspective - 'making the familiar strange'. The book covers how researchers' biases and assumptions affect the interpretation of topics such as human evolution and population movements; race, health, and disability; bodies and embodiment; and landscapes and ecology. A final chapter includes a critical assessment of new thinking about technology, in addition to the multilayered and complex nature of both research questions and evidence. This is an insightful text for researchers and graduate students in anthropology, biology, ecology, history and philosophy of science.
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