Human Origins Lab

Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day!  —  A human origins lab


“Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day” is an inquiry-based lab that involves biology students carrying out measurements on 11 skull replicas using customized calipers and protractors, honing in on three variables of hominin evolution: bipedalism (upward gait), encephalization (cranial capacity), and prognathism (size and strength of jaws). The high school student is challenged to him/herself become the paleoanthropologist and deduce evolutionary facts and patterns based on direct observation.


We devised a compact lab utilizing skull replicas designed for the high school level: Our Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day!  lab features an inquiry-based, hands-on  pedagogy that brings to life the central organizing principal in biology – evolution – as it applies to hominins.With calipers and protractors in hand, students are guided in the analysis of the morphological changes in cranial dimensions.  By focusing on three major developments in hominin evolution – upright posture, jaw size, and cranial capacity – a clear picture is painted of the evolution from distant hominid ancestors to modern humans. After measurements are taken and the data is discussed, the dating of the skulls is revealed providing a temporal perspective, known as the hominin cladogram.  The course provides an intelligent and science-based dialogue on the compelling evidence revealed by paleoanthropology.  Any textbook treatment of the data is ultimately inferior to a lab-based course where the actual archaeological evidence is in the hands of the students.

Our Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day! lab allows the complex data of hominin evolution to be clearly articulated.  Skull replicas provide a tangible means to observe the millions of years of evolution that led to Homo sapiens.  By replicating a simplified process that scientists use to analyze the hominid skulls excavated by archaeologists, our lab places the student in the driver’s seat of discovery and knowledge.  The result is an engaging lab which yields a deeper understanding of the subject and ensures better retention.  In sum, we champion inquiry-based learning as the most effective and empowering vehicle for the high school student to first learn about the subject of human evolution.

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