Archaeology is the Pretty Boy of Anthropology

Let’s face it as far as Anthropology goes Archaeology is the sexy one.


Everybody loves a good dig where you are discovering artifacts from ancient cultures.  Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Troy, Machu Picchu, Angkor and others in an endless list of fascinating sites not to mention the local historical sites in every area of the world where man has lived. Gold! Yes, there is still tons of ancient gold artifacts out there to be discovered.  All the old foundations from structures long gone and the weapons of war and artifacts of body adornment just lying under the surface waiting to be found.  Who can resist that. 

The history of ancient cultures is constantly being made into movies and shows on the large and small screen alike and for good reason the stuff is compelling to watch.  Who doesn’t love a good ancient Roman story?  How many times have you seen Gladiator? A lot of History is collaborated by Archaeology and the accuracy of the representations of different time periods relies heavily on archaeological discoveries. 

The written language goes back as far as 5,500 years ago.  Before that the rich tapestry of human culture is only understood through our archaeological discoveries. 

I am not saying that Archaeology doesn’t deserve to be the sexy one but come on, what about the rest of us? We need some love too.

There are four main areas of study in Anthropology and they are, Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology and Biological or Physical Anthropology. 

I have to honest, I have no idea of what a Linguistic Anthropologist does.  I imagine them like monks, walking around candle lit stone towers in long robes carrying huge leather-bound tomes studying whatever it is they study.

Linguistic Anthropology

It might actually be like an urban myth for Anthropology as in yeah, there’s this whole discipline called Linguistic Anthropology but nobody has ever actually seen one.

I know exactly what a Cultural Anthropologist does because every time I think of them I hear Lionel Richie’s song “All Night Long” playing in my head. 

Well, my friends, the time has come
To raise the roof and have some fun
Throw away the work to be done
Let the music play on (play on, play on)
Everybody sing, everybody dance
Lose yourself in wild romance

We’re going to party, karamu
Fiesta, forever
Come on and sing along!
We’re going to party, karamu
Fiesta, forever…

You get the idea.

Archaeology we love and why not?  How can you top this?…


Interestingly while Archaeology is considered one of the disciplines of Anthropology in the United States it is seen as a separate discipline in Europe and more closely aligned with History.

Now we come to us and by us I mean if you are here on this website you have an interest in Paleoanthropology.  Paleoanthropology is a division of Physical Anthropology, I am not sure what the others are so no sense in asking (something about forensics in there I am sure).  Paleoanthropology is the study of the human legacy back to the last common ancestor of the human-chimpanzee divergence based on the fossil and DNA evidence, roughly 7-8 million years ago.  This might be debatable but Paleoanthropology is probably the greatest discipline in all of science.   

Unfortunately, most people do not really take an interest in Paleoanthropology and I know why.  Putting aside the fact the Archaeology will always be the sexy one there is still a huge crying need to bring the study of hominin fossil remains into the main stream of life.  Therefore, I have accepted the position of marketing the field of Paleoanthropology to the masses.  It is not something I sought out but now that I am here I will do my best.

To adequately market something and create a lifelong interest you need to start at an early age.  Once you are into adulthood it’s a much harder sell after certain opinions have been formed.  Kids grow up seeing archaeology all around them with the introduction in school of Rome, Egypt, Greece, the English Knights and Kings and Queens and all that.  Yeah, I know that’s history but the artifacts are from archaeology and they get that at an early age.  So, I am thinking long term marketing and the need to introduce Paleoanthropology in primary education.  Career day is a good place to start.

Let's Be Friendly

First off, it’s pretty obvious we need a name change.  Paleoanthropology isn’t going to cut it.  Most people can’t spell anthropology and put paleo on there, well…  the kids have no idea of what you are taking about and will get antsy right away when you start using the word paleoanthropology.

We desperately need to change the name paleoanthropologist to something more marketable. Something the kids can remember.  Maybe Old Guys. I study Old Guys, but that’s not really a name.  How about I am an Old Guyer.  Probably not.  Something to do with skulls.  Skulls are a major fossil clue to a species so how about Skuller.  I am a Skuller.  Doesn’t work for me and it would scare the little ones.  Bones.  Yes, that’s it.  Bones are what it is all about anyway.  I mean it starts and ends with bone and bone fragments.  So, a ‘Boner’.  Perfect.  I am a Boner.   People will ask you what you do and you can say I am a Boner.  Wait, I just thought of something.  Boner might not work out.  How about Old Boner?  That might have similar issues as Boner. 

This is actually a little more difficult than I thought.  I do like the word bone however.  So how about Bone Hunter?  Bone Hunter is good and it’s kinda sexy.  I hunt bones.  Actually, I just realized that Paleontologists might have an issue with that as they hunt bone too.  How about ancient human bone hunter, that’s getting good but too long.  For marketing it needs to be short and memorable.  So, we just need to cut out some letters and combine and we have “Anbo”.  I like it.  What do you do?  I’m an Anbo.  What’s an Anbo?  I hunt ancient human bones.  It’s good, a little scary, a little sexy and the first two letters are A and N just like in anthropology.  See how it all ties together. 

ANBO - Ancient Human Bone Hunter

Now we are getting somewhere.  At least we have a start with a bona fide name we can all remember and spell.  So, you are an Anbo, an Ancient Human Bone Hunter, if that’s not a conversation starter I don’t know what is. 

Here is the logo…  (pretty sure the t shirts will be flying off the shelves)

Career Day

It’s career day and you have been invited to talk to an elementary school class.  The teacher introduces you to the class and tells them you are an ANBO, blank faces all the way around.  So, you point to your t shirt and tell them ANBO stands for Ancient human bone hunter.  Nice.  They get that and seems like you have their attention.  You tell them an Anbo studies the human family tree and it starts 7 million years ago.  Then you turn your back on them and write on the chalkboard or dry eraser board or whatever they have at the front of the class, you write these 5 species.

Graecopithecus freybergi,
Sahelanthropus tchadensis,
Orrorin tugenensis,
Ardipithecus kadabba,
Ardipithecus ramidus

Then you turn back around and see that half the class has bolted out the door and the other half is sitting there tearing up and the teacher is on the phone to security.

We can’t go on like this.  The taxonomy is killing us.  I mean Carl Linnaeus is a great man and I love him to death but no, just no.  Clearly, we have a huge, huge problem with the taxonomy of hominins.

This is the way I see it.  Hominins are divided into basically 3 time periods.  The first is the aforementioned five species, the second is Australopiths and the third is the Homos.

So, this is what I am doing as marketing director for Anbos.  I am changing the first five species’ names to Aunt and Uncle.  I think it would be good to use both genders, just like they do with hurricanes where one year they use female names and the next male.

So instead of Graecopithecus freybergi, I am going to change that to Aunt gracie.  Of course, I’ll stay with the accepted form for binomial nomenclature having the first name capitalized and the second not. 

Instead of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, I think Uncle saul is good.  See how it is going. After I write those names on the board and turn around the class is still intact and attentive.  Who wouldn’t like Aunt gracie or Uncle saul?

For the australopiths I am using ‘Lucy’ of course.  The most famous australopith and possibly the most famous hominin.  Instead of using the Lucy from the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds whom Lucy was named after, I am going to use another famous Lucy.

So, for the species Australopithecus anamensis, I am changing that to ‘Lucy I’m Home amen’.  See how it works.  It would take 5 years for the kids to learn how to spell Australopithecus.  As far as anamensis goes, this fascination with ‘ensis’ has to go.  Lucy I’m Home amen, very easy to remember and friendly. 

I am changing all the Australopiths to ‘Lucy I’m Home’ and then a play on a nickname from each particular species as in;
Lucy I’m Home little foot
Lucy I’m Home ari
Lucy I’m Home ples
and so on.  Very memorable, the kids will love it.

And then we come to the Homos. 

In the interest of trying to win over the kids I am changing homo to ‘House Of’ as in ‘The House Of neander’.  Again, we don’t need the ‘ensis’ business at all.  Simple and clean, ‘The House Of heidelberg’ and so on.

Everyone will love that, it’s very Game of Thrones.  Who doesn’t like Game of Thrones?  No one, we all love it, it’s the most popular show ever. 

For another example, Homo naledi I am changing that to The House Of the rising star, a home run for sure. 

For Homo sapiens though I had to think long and hard but finally came up with the perfect name, ‘The House Of bob’.  Everybody will remember that and it’s easy to spell too.

I know what you are thinking right now but that’s not it, it has to do with the term ‘endear’.  

My smartphone dictionary for ‘endear’ says
- verb (used with object)
1. To make dear, esteemed, or beloved.  He endeared himself to his friends with his gentle ways.

Wow, that’s what I am talking about.  We need to endear ourselves to the kids if we want them to grow up with an interest in paleoanthropology, I mean Anbo.  Let’s face it head on.  You stand in front a classroom of students from grade 1 to 12 and write Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus anamensis, and Homo floresiensis and you have lost them half way through Sahelanthropus. On the other hand you write Uncle saul, Lucy I’m Home amen and The House Of hobbit, now you have something.  Five years after your talk they will remember most the names you’ve told them about unless you use the current taxonomy in which case they won’t remember any of the species you mention the next day.

A revision of the binomial nomenclature for hominin species is a great beginning to the awesome job of marketing Paleoanthropology.  Essential I would say.  But how did we find ourselves in this mess in the first place?

A little Taxonomic History

We have a lot of species on earth, about 8.7 million plant and animal species is the latest estimate.  Some think if you add in things such as lichens, mushrooms and bacteria the total number of all living things would be closer to 11.3 million species.  In scientific terms, ‘a heck of a lot’.

How do we keep all this organized in a way we can better understand and study the diversity of life? This is where taxonomy comes in.  Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, is regarded as the father of taxonomy.  Carl developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy in which organisms could be categorized.  He also developed the scientific binomial nomenclature for naming organisms using Latin which we still use today. Why Latin? Using Latin was clever because people from different countries using different languages can communicate accurately as to a specific species without confusion.

Carl LinnaeusCarl Linnaeus

In 1735 Linnaeus published Systema Naturae, the tenth edition of this book published in 1758 is considered the starting point of International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Now here is the interesting thing about Carl’s taxonomy, it’s frozen in time, there is no before and there is no after. Carl recognized the need to have a systematic method of classification for plant and animal life so we can be organized about it all and kudos to him for coming up with his system.  At the time he assumed species did not evolve so there was no need to show lineage. He explicitly recognized the hierarchical nature of species relationships, but still viewed species as fixed according to a divine plan.

The expansion of Linnaeus’s taxonomy system to include lineage became necessary once Paleontologists and Paleoanthropologists (though not called that at the time) started to discover fossils like dinosaurs.  Then suddenly it dawned on people, hey evolution.

Erasmus DarwinErasmus Darwin

A lot of people think that Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution but several individuals were postulating the idea before him even going back to ancient Greece and pre-Socratic times. In 1794 Erasmus Darwin, a renowned English physician and Charles Darwin’s grandfather, penned a work titled ‘Zoonomia’.  In it he theorizes and describes one of the first modern theories on animal evolution.  However, Charles Darwin did bring the concept of evolution and its processes to the masses with his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species”.

Charles DarwinCharles Darwin with an apropos quote.

With the acceptance of evolution as a scientific fact the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.

Oh My

Typically, in secondary education this is what you get for the taxonomy of Modern Man. 

Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Primates
Family – Hominidae
Genus – Homo
Species – sapiens

The following is the full monty.

  1. Kingdom - Animalia

  2. Subkingdom - Eumetazoa

  3. Clade - Bilateria

  4. Clade - Nephrozoa

  5. Superphylum - Deuterostomia

  6. Phylum - Chordata

  7. Clade - Craniata

  8. Subphylum - Vertebrata

  9. Infraphylum - Gnathostomata

  10. Clade - Eugnathostomata

  11. Clade - Teleostomi

  12. Superclass - Tetrapoda

  13. Clade - Reptiliomorpha

  14. Clade - Amiota

  15. Clade - Synapsida

  16. Clade - Mammaliaformes

  17. Class - Mammalia

  18. Clade - Eutheria

  19. Infraclass - Placentalia

  20. Clade - Exafroplacentalia

  21. Magnorder- Boreoeutheria

  22. Superorder - Euarchontoglires

  23. Grandorder - Euarchonta

  24. Miorder - Primatomorpha

  25. Order - Primates

  26. Suborder - Haplorhini

  27. Infraorder - Simiformes

  28. Pavorder - Catarrhini

  29. Superfamily - Hominoidea

  30. Family - Hominidae

  31. Subfamily - Homininae

  32. Tribe – Hominini

  33. Sub Tribe - Homininia

  34. Genus - Homo

  35. Species - sapiens

  36. Subspecies - sapiens sapiens

Don't worry I am not going to test you on this.  However, I think it's great that you read thru the classification levels for modern man once and by once, I mean once in a lifetime.


 All we are concerned about here as Anbos starts at the Tribal level.  The Tribe ‘Hominini’ starts with the first species in our human lineage after the split with our last common ancestor the chimpanzee.  Every species in the human legacy is a hominin.

So, let’s recap.  Archaeology sexy…






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