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Until very recently physical anthropology has been more or less exclusively concerned with the study of the evolutionary origins of man and with race. During the first half of this century a vast body of literature accumulated describing the physical characteristics of the world's many populations, both past and present, and classifying these populations into races. Innumerable classifications appeared, which not only varied according to their authors' views as to which race a particular population should be ascribed but also, very strikingly, in the number of races that were considered as compounding the human species. Some recognized as few as three or four, others as many as thirty or more. No small effort was spent in searching for methods to ascribe individuals to one race or another and some people were regarded as being more ‘typical’ of a particular race than others.
Urinary cortisol excretion rates were determined from three urine samples given over 2 days, a rest day and a working day, by 51 men and 50 women. Each subject also completed a questionnaire relating to life style factors and to perceived levels of stress, busyness and happiness on each day. In men, an association between raised cortisol and high levels of stress was found. In women, high levels of busyness were associated with low cortisol excretion rates. The subjective experiences measured accounted for around 10–20% of cortisol variation in this naturalistic setting.
Urinary cortisol and adrenaline excretion rates were measured in three Australian Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region in the north-west of the country. The three communities, Derby, Kalumburu and Kupungarri, differ in size and remoteness and some lifestyle parameters. Cortisol excretion rate is associated with age and urine flow rate, but there is no association with smoking or the consumption of alcohol. All three communities show very high cortisol excretion rates compared to a sample of UK (Oxford) residents and there are also differences between the three communities. Adrenaline excretion rate also shows associations with age and urine flow rate, but not with smoking. Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region excrete adrenaline at a slightly higher rate than that found in Oxford, which itself is high by world standards. There are no marked differences between communities in their adrenaline excretion rates. Alcohol drinkers in Derby, where alcohol is freely available, have higher adrenaline output than non-drinkers.
Evolutionary biology became gradually transformed through the twentieth century from what was termed ‘typological thinking’ to ‘population thinking’. This happened from the increasing recognition that differences between individuals were as important as similarities. Variation contains the raw material of evolution and variation can exist only in populations. The transformation harmonised the relationship of evolutionary biology with other population based biologies: genetics, ecology and epidemiology, for example. More significantly, however, in humans it also established potential connections with some of the social sciences and especially sociology, social anthropology, human geography and social psychology, all of which are fundamentally population based areas of knowledge.
Population can thus be seen as a bridge between the ‘two cultures’ of natural sciences and the humanities. This was most effectively recognised by J.W.S. Pringle at Oxford, who was instrumental in establishing there the field of Human Sciences, essentially based on the analysis of human population structures from all perspectives. In the past twenty-five years the field has developed dramatically.
The concept of population is not, however, one without difficulties. Even the definition of a population can be a major problem. Human groups rarely exist as discrete, more or less uniform entities even at any one time, and they have never existed over time. Typically they intergrade, often very gradually. Then while one most frequently thinks of populations in some spatial context, they also exist in vertical dimensions such as social class and caste, and in ecological and economic terms reflecting natural environmental heterogeneity.