Human Origins and Prehistory

Spring 2017

Monday, Wednesday 1:30-2:45

Cavanaugh 411


Dr. Paul Mullins
Office Hours: Monday 12:00-2:00, Tue 11:00-1:00 and by appt. 
Office: Cavanaugh 413E (274-9847)

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Course Outline

This course introduces anthropological research on material culture and hominid evolution from prehistory to the present, outlines the fundamental findings of archaeological scholarship, and examines how archaeology and physical anthropology illuminate the contemporary social and material world. The course focuses on several major themes: human originations, the emergence of agriculture and social complexity, and the material record of state society and inequality. The class provides a general worldwide survey of anthropological interpretation of the human past and introduces the methodological techniques and philosophical perspectives archaeologists use to analyze evolution, culture, and the material world. We will probe how questions about the past originate, study the relevance of archaeological insight in contemporary society, and contemplate how and why archaeology persistently stirs popular imagination.



Course grading is based on three tests (60% total), five exercises (35% total), and attendance (5%).  Each exam will be worth 20% of your final course grade.  The tests will contain multiple choice questions, true-false, matching, short answer definitions, and map identifications. The final will be cumulative, but it will primarily include major concepts from the first two tests.  It is mathematically possible to actually fail each of the three exams and still pass the course (the exercises and attendance score combined can work this miracle).  However, any student who does not pass at least one exam will automatically fail the course.

Exercise 1 (Drawing an Archaeologist), exercise 2 (Maps as Material Culture), and exercise 3 (Cars as Material Culture) each count for 5% of the total course grade. Exercise 4 (Seriation) and exercise 5 (Garbology) each count for 10% of the final course grade. This is a significant percentage of the course grade (35% total), so do not be tempted to skip an exercise. If you miss an exercise, please contact me for a partial credit makeup.  Late exercises are penalized a point for each class they are late.

Regular attendance and participation are essential to doing well in the course.  The overwhelming majority of the course material will be introduced and discussed in class, so attendance is highly recommended.  You will receive five participation points if you have no more than two unexcused absences.  After that you will lose one participation point for each absence:  for example, if you have three unexcused absences you'll receive four points, four absences receive three points, and so on. Excused absences do not count toward your attendance grade if they are documented illnesses (i.e., a physician's note, not simply sniffles in the next class or sounding really crappy on the phone), holidays recognized by some reasonably well-recognized faith, if you're called to jury duty, or absences that have been cleared with me beforehand or shortly after the missed class. 

Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class meeting on a course roster that circulates through class.  If you come in late, you must ensure that you sign this roster at the end of class; at the end of the semester I will not negotiate over the days you actually attended but forgot to sign the attendance roster. I will not allow students to sign the roster if they arrive halfway through the class meeting; please discuss any delays outside your control with me (e.g., caught in traffic jam, but not an errant alarm clock).  Please do not plan to leave early on a regular basis or I reserve the right to record you as absent.  I will be reasonably forgiving about things over which you have no control, like flat tires and sick children.  I will negotiate these things on a case-by-case basis, but please let me know immediately via email and do not plan to barter over these absences at semester's end.  I will consider excusing absences for other reasons (e.g., K-12 school breaks, etc) on a case-by-case basis, so please contact me about such absences as soon as possible.

The vast volume of course material usually yields a lot of notes, so if you miss class you should secure thorough and reliable notes from another student and consult the course Powerpoints on Canvas.  All class lectures will be posted on Canvas and can be accessed by clicking on the Files tab and then clicking on the Powerpoint lecture you wish to access.  Powerpoints are in relative order and not organized by the date of the lecture, so sometimes a single powerpoint can cover multiple class meetings.  Lectures will be posted as the semester progresses, and usually lectures will be posted at least a few days prior to class.  Let me know if you have any problems accessing the lectures.

 Course Grading Scale


A 92-100
A- 89-91
B+ 86-88
B 82-85
B- 79-81
C+ 76-78
C 70-75
D 60-69
F 0-60

An Example of How the Course Grade is Calculated




Exercise 1 (5%)



Exercise 2 (5%)



Exercise 3 (5%)



Exam 1 (20%)

84 (.20 X 84 = 16.8)


Seriation Exercise (10%)



Exam 2 (20%)

80 (.20 X 80 = 16)


Garbage Analysis Exercise (10%)



Final Exam (20%)

86 (.20 X 86 = 17.2)


Attendance (5%)

missed 5 classes, received 3 points




82 (B)



 Non-Negotiable Realities

If you cannot complete an assignment on time for any reason, you should contact me as soon as possible. I can always be contacted before or after class, you can schedule an appointment, and I check my email virtually every day.  Please contact me via my email address.  Make-up tests will be essay tests.  

Please do NOT wait until after a deadline to talk to me. Do NOT postpone talking to me if you are having any difficulty completing an assignment or if you are having difficulty with the class.  Please do feel free to discuss any problems you are having in class, whether they're related to illnesses, work schedules, problems with your car, or the wide range of real-life things that can happen over a semester, and I will do my very best to help in whatever way I can.  Even if it is embarrassing to acknowledge that you simply forgot an assignment due date or your boss unexpectedly demanded a long shift when you planned to do the assignment, please come see me and I will do my very best to resolve it in some way that doesn't mean you receive no credit at all.

Late exercises will be penalized a point for every class they are late if you do not negotiate an extension with me beforehand or discuss the delay immediately afterward.  Exercises are considered late after 3:00 on the day they are due.  You can email me exercises as attachments, or you can leave assignments in my mailbox in 413 Cavanaugh Hall.  I prefer electronically submitted assignments be in Word.  Be absolutely certain to keep a copy of any emailed assignments you send to me should the email disappear or not arrive at my end, and save every single assignment in two places:  Don't just save it on your laptop or a thumb drive, since they can crash, get lost, or be purloined by somebody who undervalues your commitment to education.  Even if you miss a due date for an exercise, contact me so that you can complete a partial credit makeup: to miss the exercises is, at best, mathematically ill-advised. 

This syllabus includes deadlines for all assignments and test dates: it is your responsibility to know when exercises are due and tests are scheduled. There will not be any extra credit material.  If there are any changes made in the syllabus they will be announced in class.

All work in this course is intended to fulfill the University's Principles of Undergraduate Learning.  The course will require students to develop and demonstrate core communication and quantitative skills; critical thinking; integration of knowledge; intellectual depth, breadth, and adaptiveness; understanding of society and culture; and ability to make informed value and ethical judgements.

This course focuses on PUL 5: The ability of students to recognize their own cultural traditions and to understand and appreciate the diversity of the human experience.  The course's focus on human prehistorical cultural and biological diversity expressly targets the PUL goal to "compare and contrast the range of diversity and universality in human history, societies, and ways of life."  

All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy.  Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking un-cited material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, sneaking a peek at the neighbor's exam, or failing to properly cite other research.  If you are suspected of any form of academic misconduct you will be called in for a meeting at which you will be informed of the accusation and given adequate opportunity to respond.  A report will be submitted to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further disciplinary action.  Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy or me if you have any questions.

The Office of Adaptive Services ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations from the University and their professors.  Students must register with the AES office in order to receive such services.

Portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, pagers, two-ways, and PDA’s, must be turned off before entering the classroom.  You can use a laptop in class for note-taking but should silence it.  I know it is enormously difficult to ignore the steady of stream of emails, ebay auctions, and google news alerts that will pop up on your computer during class, but please do not plan to answer your emails, monitor facebook, and answer texts in class.  Please let me know if you need to carry around a phone for specific reasons (e.g., pregnancy monitoring, disabled family, or contact with kids--not to stay in touch with a significant other who just likes to hear your voice, buddies planning the evening pub crawl, and so on).  Anyone whose clever Family Guy ringtone disturbs class will be given a verbal warning on first offense and will be asked to meet with me after class if you can't remember to turn off your phone before class.

The classroom is a safe speech situation in which it is your responsibility to treat other classmates fairly and with mutual respect, even if they have the audacity to disagree with you, champion an opinion that is inconsistent with your worldview, or simply bore you.  Anyone who talks when someone else is talking, is hostile, or otherwise violates classroom etiquette (e.g., does other homework, reads the newspaper) will be considered to be in violation of this policy and will need to meet with me. 

A basic requirement of this course is that you will participate in class and conscientiously complete writing and reading assignments.  If you miss more than half our class meetings within the first four weeks of the semester without contacting me, you will be administratively withdrawn from this section. If you miss more than four classes in the first four weeks, you may be withdrawn. Administrative withdrawal may have academic, financial, and financial aid implications. Administrative withdrawal will take place after the full refund period, and if you are administratively withdrawn from the course you will not be eligible for a tuition refund. If you have questions about the administrative withdrawal policy at any point during the semester, please contact me.


Course Schedule (readings in italics)



January 9, 11

Introduction to course: what is archaeology? anthropology? culture? material culture? time? prehistory?






January 18, 23, 25 (Chapter 1)

How do anthropologists decide what they want to know?: ideology and research questions

Indiana Jones and the Ivory Tower: who are archaeologists?


January 30, February 1

Ideology and innocuous objects: beer cans and the construction of modern identity




February 6, 8 (Chapter 8)

What is an archaeological site? How are sites identified?

How are sites examined?: trowels, screens, shovels, and squares

What is context?: stratigraphy and archaeological association


February 13, 15

What do archaeologists find?: bones, pottery, stone tools, art, space, and other artifacts

How are artifacts and sites dated?: relative and absolute dating


February 20, 22 (Chapter 2)

What is evolution? Science and narrative in evolutionary research

Archaeology of human originations: Where did humans come from?


EXAM 1 March 1


February 27, March 1

Exam Week




March 6, 8 (Chapter 9)

European vacation: Homo erectus and migration from Africa




March 20, 22 (Chapter 10)

The history of Neanderthal archaeology: why did archaeologists assume Neanderthals were brutes? 




March 27, 29 (Chapter 11)

Art, religion, and cosmology in the Paleolithic


Exam 2 April 5


April 3, 5

Exam Week


April 10, 12 (Chapter 13)

Migration to the New World: how? when? why?

Paleoindians in the Americas: Clovis and Folsom cultures


April 17, 19

Social organization: hunters and gatherers, chiefdoms, and states


April 24, 26 (Chapter 14)

The Neolithic Revolution: sedentism, agriculture and the emergence of states in the Near East 


May 1

Otzi: the body of a Neolithic traveler 


FINAL EXAM Wednesday May 3 1:00-3:00


Last updated November 29, 2016