Anthropology and Paleontology

By Amber Fehrs

What are anthropology and paleontology?

Anthropology is the study of human culture and societies. They can study almost anywhere on Earth, whether they're in schools, cities, deserts or even under the sea. Even though anthropology is a branch of biology, there are also several smaller branches of anthropology. For example, sociocultural anthropologists study societies and how they function in different parts of the world. Linguistic anthropologists study the evolution and use of languages. Archeologists are anthropologists who study ancient artifacts left by humans from the past.

Paleontology is the study of fossils and prehistoric life. Paleontologists generally do one of two things: they either teach people about their jobs and findings or search and research fossils themselves. As with anthropology, there are also several branches of paleontology. Animal paleontologists study the fossils of animals. Micropaleontologists study fossils too small to be seen easily, like plankton and pollen of extinct plants.

Jane Goodall

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Jane Goodall- Photo credit Stuart Clarke

Jane Goodall- Personal Biography

Jane Goodall was born on April 3, 1934, in London, England. Her parents were Mortimer Herbert Goodall and Margaret Myfanwe Joseph. She was raised in London and Bournemouth, England along with her sister Judy. Jane Goodall was incredibly fascinated with animals from a very young age. When she was a child, Goodall read The Story of Dr. Doolittle, which made her determined to visit Africa. As she grew up, she worked and saved up money so she could take a trip to Africa. Later, in 1956, Clo Mange (a friend of Goodall) invited Goodall to visit her family's farm in South Kinangop, Kenya. Goodall accepted the invitation and traveled to Kenya. Shortly after, she met Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey and his wife Mary Leakey. Dr. Leakey was an anthropologist and paleontologist, as well as curator for the Coryndon Museum. He soon hired her as his assistant and secretary and invited her to an archeological dig in the Olduvai Gorge. Dr. Leakey had a study planned over wild chimpanzees and thought Jane would be perfect for the job because she was resourceful, patient and energetic. In spite of many critics who thought she wasn't suitable (Goodall didn't even have a college education), Jane readily accepted the offer and landed in East Africa in summer 1960. In 1962 Goodall met a photographer named Baron Hugo van Lawick sent to film her at work. They were married in 1964. They later divorced and Goodall remarried to Derek Bryceson in 1973.

Jane Goodall- Scientific Biography

From the very beginning, Goodall was interested in wildlife. As a child, she studied plants and animals often, making sketches and taking detailed notes of what she saw. She never lost her interest in studying animals and went to Africa to further her interest in wildlife. While she was in Africa, she worked extensively with Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey and his wife Mary Leakey. She went on anthropological digs in the Olduvai Gorge. She was also sent to an island on Lake Victoria to study the vervet monkey. Dr Leakey made Goodall his assistant and secretary. Goodall was offered a job studying chimpanzees shortly after. Most studies of chimpanzees up to this point had been very unsuccessful; either there were too many people and the chimpanzees got scared or the studies weren't conducted for long enough to get accurate information. On this trip, Goodall would have to deal with long-term isolation. She set up camp on Lake Tanganyika's shore in the Gombe Stream reserve. Her first attempts at observing the chimpanzees failed because they ran when she got closer than 500 yards. She found a new group of chimps to observe and tried out a different method of observation. She would stand in one place at the same time every day and let the chimpanzees get used to her being there. After a while of this, the chimpanzees weren't frightened by her and even came to her looking for bananas. She used the chimpanzee's trust of her to start what she called the 'banana club' where she fed the chimps every day. With this method she got to know the chimpanzees well and spent her time in almost constant contact with them. She discovered that chimpanzees have simple social statuses and a primitive language with 20 different sounds. Goodall is given credit for being the first person to see chimpanzees use tools and eat meat. She also observed that chimpanzees use weapons, have family bonds and have a caste system ruled by strong male chimpanzees. Goodall found out that chimpanzees aren't vegetarians but observed that they hunt insects and sometimes engaged in cannibalism. Her work led to lots of articles and five books being published. She advocated a lot for African nations to set up tourist programs that are healthy for the environment and habitats of chimps. She published a book called In the Shadow of Man in 1971 about how the chimpanzees interacted. She set her energy towards teaching the public about wildlife and continues to do so.

Jane Goodall- Biology Legacy

Jane Goodall made many important discoveries that led to the public having a greater understanding of the life of primates. She spent all of her energy trying to protect the animals she had studied for years. As a result of Jane Goodall, we all have a much better understanding of where humans most likely received many of their traits and behaviors and where they stand in the evolutionary line. She documented a species that had never been observed as closely as she observed them. Goodall also raised awareness towards unethical treatment of chimpanzees in labs. Although she is retired from researching animals in the field, she continues to educate young scientists around the world through lectures and books such as The Chimpanzee Family Book (1989), Through a Window (1990) and In the Shadow of Man (1971). Without her research and publications, biology's understanding of primates would be almost nonexistent.

Mary Leakey

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Mary Leakey in 1979- photo credit The Leakey Foundation.

Mary Leakey- Personal Biography

Mary was born in London, England on February 6, 1913. Her father, Erskine Nicol, was a landscape painter. Her mother was named Cecilia Frere. As a child, Mary was really good at drawing. She traveled with her family often and was inspired by the things she saw on her trip such as prehistory museums and caves at Pearl Mech in Dordogne. As she grew up, so did her artistic ability. Mary had a special interest in illustrating and often did expert drawings of tools from the Stone Age. At the age of 17, she illustrated at the Hembury Dig in Devon, England. In the 1930's, Louis S.B. Leakey asked her to illustrate for his book Adam's Ancestors (1934). Louis and Mary got along great from the very start. Louis asked her to move to Africa to illustrate Stone Age tools and other things he had found. After Louis divorced his first wife Frida, he and Mary were married. He and Mary lived together in Africa and became one of the most well known husband-wife science teams ever. The Leakeys had three sons: Jonathan in 1940, Richard in 1944, and Philip in 1948. Louis died in 1972. Mary carried on her work into retirement before dying at 83 in 1996.

Mary Leakey- Scientific Biography

Mary is considered one of the world's most well-known fossil hunters. Her scientific career began when she did illustrations at the Hembury Dig in Devon, England. She soon became well known in the scientific community for her scientific illustrations and her expertise of studying flint points. She was asked to illustrate Louis Leakey's book Adam's Ancestors (1934). Shortly after, she moved to Africa to illustrate artifacts Louis had found. Mary found the first major fossil of her career in 1948; part of a Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of humans and apes. The fossil had half the skull, the top and bottom jaws, and all the teeth. The fossil was over 18 million years old and the only of its kind to be found in the Miocene Era. In 1959 Mary reconstructed a hominid skull from hundreds of fragments. The skull turned out to be from an early human ancestor that her husband named Zinjanthropus boisei. It was later renamed Australopithecus boisei. The study of the artifact showed that the species had a tiny brain but really big teeth and muscles so large they were supported on a ridge on the top of its skull. The fossil was dated to 1.75 million years which totally changed the previously accepted timeline of human evolution. This discovery caused the National Geographic Society to give the Leakeys funding. She made another big discovery in 1960 when she found the fossil of Homo habilis which was believed to live between 1.4 to 2.3 million years ago. Her discoveries proved that the species used stone tools, making the Leakeys the earliest known experts in that field. After her husband died in 1972, Mary made the most important discovery of her career. In 1979 she found an 89 foot long trail of early human footprints in Tanzania. Around this time period Mary and her team found fossils of 25 early hominids and 15 new animal species. She wrote down her experiences in her book Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man (1979) and her autobiography Disclosing the Past (1984).

Mary Leakey- Biology Legacy

Mary Leakey was a very well known paleoanthropologist who made many discoveries that were essential to biology's understanding of human and primate evolution. Her dedication to her research and all of her discoveries made her an expert in human origins. Her discovery of Zinjanthropus boisei completely changed how biology and science in general thought of the timeline of human evolution. She found many previously undiscovered animal fossils and discovered a whole new species of human ancestor. Her discovery of footprints in Tanzania was the first to show actual evidence that human ancestors 3.5 million years ago were bipedal-they walked on two feet. She was a skilled scientific illustrator and her discoveries radically influenced the way we see evolution today.

Raymond Dart

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Raymond Dart- source: Smithsonian Institution Archives

Raymond Dart- Personal Biography

Raymond Dart was born February 4, 1893, in Toowong, Australia. He lived on a bush farm and raised cattle with his family. He was the fifth of nine children. His parents were Samuel Dart, a storekeeper, and Eliza Ann. He won a scholarship to attend the University of Queensland in Brisbane. He graduated with first-class honors in biology and won several scholarships to study medicine at the University of Sydney. After he graduated, Dart went to work in a medical corps in WWI. After his service in the war, he became the assistant to Grafton Elliot Smith, a neuroanatomist who worked at the University of Manchester. He also studied under Smith and another anatomist named Arthur Keith. He spent a year in America on a scholarship, primarily in Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. While he was there he married Dora Tyree, who was an anatomy instructor. He divorced in 1934 and remarried in 1936 to Marjorie Gorden Frew, a librarian. They had two children, a son and daughter. A professorship at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa became available and Smith encouraged Dart to take it. Dart moved to South Africa in 1922 and ended up contributing massively to the fields of anthropology and paleontology. The university's conditions were horrible, however, and Dart had to basically make his own anatomy department. He eventually became dean of the school from 1925-1943. He made the discovery of the 'Taung Child' in 1924, the discovery that made him famous. Unfortunately, most people refused to accept his discovery until much later. He mostly gave up on fossil hunting, and spent his time teaching. He died in 1988 at the age of 95.

Raymond Dart- Scientific Biography

Raymond Dart's scientific career was mostly involved with teaching. He moved around, studying under and teaching at various universities, until he settled at the university of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He made his famous discovery of the Taung Child in 1924. He was working with his students in the Taung limestone works and he offered a prize to the student who could find the most interesting fossil or artifact. A cast of a skull was found that Dart first thought was just a primate skull. When he looked closer, he realized it was actually really human looking. This led him to dig the skull out for 43 days. He named it the Taung Child because it was found in the Taung limestone works and was only 3 years old at the age of death. He hypothesized that the species the Taung Child was from used tools made from gazelle and boar antlers based on those bones being found with other fossils. This caused a still continuing controversy over whether the bones were actually tools or leftover from food. The discovery of the Taung Child caused a lot of people to become interested because it was neither ape nor human, but also walked on two feet. Dart also studied remains of Australopithecus and decided that they were meat eaters and killers and used bones as tools. Unfortunately, for over 20 years everyone refused to believe Dart's theories. People argued against his classification of the Taung Child because they thought it was on the wrong continent, lived too recently, and was too young at the time of death to know what it would look like when it grew up. They also believed that the order of evolution was all wrong because the body was more human than the brain. Although his findings were eventually considered entirely correct and were considered the discovery of a lifetime after paleontologist Richard Broom found more Australopithecus fossils, Dart still gave up fossil hunting and became Dean of the University of witwatersrand. He wrote an autobiography called Adventures with the Missing Link (1959).

Raymond Dart- Biology Legacy

Raymond Dart's major contribution to science was his finding of the Taung Child. His findings caused very significant insights into human evolution. His hypothesis of Australopithecus using bones as tools started a whole new branch of science called taphonomy about what happens between an organism's death and when it is found as a fossil. His discovery of the Taung Child was one that totally changed the way we think about evolution. He's responsible entirely for why we think humans came from Africa, the idea that our humanlike body evolved before a larger brain evolved, and that our evolution line could be totally different than how we had ever previously thought of it. In conclusion, Raymond Dart is responsible for a whole new branch of science and a whole new way we think of evolution,


Anthropology and paleontology can often be closely interlinked. They are both branches of biology. Anthropology is the study of humankind, while paleontology is the study of fossils. Jane Goodall's research on chimpanzees, Mary Leakey's discovery of fossils and footprints of our evolutionary ancestors and Raymond Dart's discovery of the Taung Child left major marks on the science of biology as a whole. Thanks to Jane Goodall, we know more about chimpanzee behavior than we ever had before. Mary Leakey left us with a totally new view of our own origins, and Raymond Dart gave us a better understanding of how evolution worked and a whole new branch of science called taphonomy.