Fall 2020 San Diego City College Student Anthropology Journal; photo of a sunset shining rays of light through stacks of large boulders.

Fall 2020 San Diego City College Student Anthropology Journal

Edited by Nicholas Roberge

Published by Arnie Schoenberg

Cover Photo: “Perspectives” by Estefany Mendez and Noelani Testa Keech, 2020


Volume 4 Issue 2

Fall, 2020

latest update: 6/13/21

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

More issues at http://arnieschoenberg.com/anth/journal/

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Table of Contents

Preface by Nicholas Roberge

"The Only Time That Matters: Geologic Time" by Rachel Pariseau 

"Alcoholism: An Adaptation to Dietary Ethanol and The Disease That Followed" by Manuel Salcido

"Studies on the Origin and Evolution of Language: A Brief Summary" by Kimberly Garcia

"Cellular levels: Social Schemas of Human Society" By Emily Inama

Hierarchies in Apes and Humans” by Sergio Ibarra


In their quest to study anthropology, my peers submitted final projects about each of the discipline's four subfields: First, we have an article by Rachel Pariseau about how we came to know the age of the Earth- and what that meant for the study of evolution. We then have an excellent essay by Manuel Salcido who, while searching for the root cause of alcoholism, discovered not only has alcohol been being consumed long before Homo sapiens, but that there's never a single, simple answer in anthropology. Next, Kimberly Garcia opened my eyes to the unavoidable difficulties of researching the beginnings of speech. Our penultimate paper, by Emily Inama, offers a comparison and explanation of both Down's & William's Syndrome. Finally, Sergio Ibarra differentiates social orders between apes & humans.


"The Only Time That Matters: Geologic Time" by Rachel Pariseau 

Have you ever taken the time to ponder how we got here?  The answer to this question lies in the past. It is easy to think that would entail talking to a great- grandparent or researching your ancestry, but unless that ancestry can be traced back a millennia, which is doubtful, the scale of time is to be observed in a different manner. We as Homo sapiens are only a miniscule development in the history of the Earth. To more accurately depict and learn about who we are, the Earth must be observed in her own time scale, considering that Homo sapiens are infants in the scope of geologic time. Without this more grandiose depiction of time, we would be lost in history and time would not have any larger meaning. With that being said most of us do not put much thought into what time means outside of the scope of our own lifespan. 

The length of time that you can perceive is limited by your own biological expiration date. The neat thing about geology is you start thinking like a rock. Imagine 1,000 years passing, 10,000 years, 100,000 years, 1,000,000 (a million) years, 1,000,000,000 (a billion) years... Lyell proved that the Earth is old, that rocks have been around for a long time. This was important to biologists and paleontologists because it showed that fossils are very old too. If life has been around for billions of years, we can more easily accept that drastic changes could happen over that long a time span [Schoenberg 2020]

The grandfathers of geology, Charles Lyell and James Hutton used empirical evidence based on their observations and experience leading to the discovery that the Earth was much older than originally estimated (Schoenberg 2020). This breakthrough was pertinent to the development of the theory of evolution.

How do we know how old the Earth is? Geologists have almost unanimously come to the conclusion that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Scientists began theorizing an estimation of the Earth’s age in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. This conclusion has been drawn using the Earth’s own geology, coining the term Geologic Time Scale. Here is an example that gives perspective on how new Homo sapiens are in the eyes of geologic time.

To grasp just how old Earth is, imagine fitting its entire history into one calendar year. If Earth formed on January 1, the earliest primitive life (think algae) wouldn’t appear until March. Fish first swam onto the scene in late November. Dinosaurs stomped around from December 16 until December 26. The first modern humans — Homo sapiens — were real late-comers. They didn’t show up until just 12 minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve. (Geiger 2019)

The Earth was initially thought to be a mere five thousand years old. Any theory of evolution could not be supported by this idea. Thus a hypothesis was born:  the Earth is not 5,000 years old, but instead older than commonality could fathom. Research began in the layers within rocks. It has been theorized that, “in an undisturbed stack of rock layers, the oldest will always be on the bottom and the youngest on the top”, this observation was made by Nicolaus Steno in 1669. He coined  The Law of Superposition, which helped to shape the principles of what geologists believe to this day.  There are also three other principles that were all used as methods to create the initial estimation of the Earth’s age through it’s separate rock layers.

James Hutton, whose work also influenced that of Darwin, proposed two of the other principles of geologic time. The first being The Law of Crosscutting Relationships, which states that if a fault were to cause rock to cut through other layers of rock, then the rocks that are cutting through are younger than the rocks that are being cut through. He additionally came up with The Law of Inclusions. This states that when fragments of a rock are within that of another rock, the fragments are older than the surrounding strata they are within. The final law of geologic time, proposed in the 1700’s, is The Law of Faunal Succession. William Smith discovered in 1790 that fossils of invertebrates seemed to appear in a pattern. It was later determined that fossils do indeed appear in a sequence throughout the Earth’s strata. Before the 19th century these empirical tools were all that geologists had to hypothesize the lifespan of the Earth. 

This became almost primitive after the discovery of radiometric dating. Dating using empirical evidence is called relative dating and is done by using the laws of geologic time; ultimately it is an estimation. Absolute age is more of an approximation which gives a closer numerical age using radiometric dating. This breakthrough enabled geologists to achieve more accurate age specifications for different rock layers and fossils. “Radiometric dating is based on how much of one radioactive ‘parent’ isotope has decayed into its stable daughter” (Geiger 2019). All rocks are made up of different elements and some of those elements are radioactive. Radioactive elements go through a process called decay, during which they shed subatomic particles. After decay is complete the element becomes the stable daughter element. Time is determined by the rate of decay because radioactive isotopes always decay at the same rate. This comparison shows how much time has passed since the formation of the rocks (Geiger 2019). The element that is chosen varies based upon the age and condition of the rock and if it has been heated or chemically altered. Due to the possibilities of variation in elements accessible within a rock, radiometric dating does not always produce an absolute age. At times geologists must revert back to empirical evidence and compare the rock in order to achieve a relative age. “Getting the dates right is crucial, but we hardly ever get an exact date, like something you could use for a time machine, usually it's just a statistical approximation. But, by combining multiple dating techniques our dates get more reliable, good enough to make conclusions about how to put fossils into groups of paleospecies” (Schoenberg 2020). The idea of geologic time and the age of the Earth had an immense impact on Darwin and his theory of evolution. The entirety of it is hard to grasp and is often referred to as deep time (Schoenberg 2020). Think of it this way: if the Earth was as young as 5,000 years old, in what time frame would any species have had the time to evolve?  Without rocks there would be no age or true sense of time for that matter.

The evidence that geologists have collected has led to the creation of the agreed upon geologic time scale, which is broken up into four major time periods. The Precambian is the oldest and by far the longest time period. That period alone is broken up into separate eons including, Hadean, Archean, and Proterozoic. The shorter three periods are the Paleozoic era, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic era; these are all split up into their own epochs and ages as well. The concept of geologic time is difficult to grasp based on how small of a blip humanity is on the radar of the Earth’s lifespan. To put Earth’s time scale into perspective, imagine the Grand Canyon. At one point in time the earth around the Grand Canyon was level, but after generations of the Colorado River cutting through the land, the canyon began to erode. Such a large canyon took an estimated 5 million to 6 million years to be what it is today,  that’s the same amount of time that it took for evolution to separate us from apes.

These ideas have gone on to help shape the world of anthropology and the study of where we came from. Without these tools, there wouldn’t have been a way to determine the age of any fossils or any other materials discovered. The study of Homo sapiens includes more than what we can see in the not so distant past. In order to perceive the effects these discoveries have on anthropology we must look within the subfield of archaeology, paleoanthropology. Dating is necessary and without it there would be no way to determine what species were alive at what points in time. The ability to find an absolute date for fossils has enabled these fields to create a timeline of evolution.

In 1994 a fossil was found deep in a South African cave. Within this cave the remains of an early hominid were found and named “Little Foot” (Borths 2015). Scientists originally believed that this fossil was around 2 million years old, but there was no way for them to get a more exact time frame when the originator of this fossil was alive and walking the planet. Scientists hypothesized that they could use what they know about the effect cosmic rays have on an atom’s structure; the sand around the fossil could be dated giving a more specific age to Little Foot (Borths 2015). 

Initially, Little Foot being located in a cave made it harder to date the materials, but later proved to be useful in dating the fossils. For this study it is important to know what a cave is. Over the course of hundreds of years layers of rock accumulate. A cave begins to form when groundwater wears away at stone, bit by bit until a hole begins to form, leading to a cave. Eventually after significant erosion, the roof of a cave becomes too thin and collapses, resulting in a sinkhole. When rain comes, it then washes things into the sinkhole, like fossils, and there they are preserved from the outside world. 

The method used to give a more accurate reading to the age of this fossil is fascinating. When Little Foot died the body was surrounded by sand. Sand is made up of different types of atoms, notably aluminum and beryllium. While out on the surface, these atoms are exposed to cosmic rays that change the structure of these atoms. Once rain washes the fossils, along with the surrounding sand, into the sinkhole, the cosmic rays are no longer able to reach the atoms. The atoms then begin to change back. Physicists looked at how the atoms changed since they were on the surface and used them to date the fossil to the age of three and a half million years old. In order to extract these atoms, samples from the cave were put into an accelerator with a gas filled magnet. This magnet then separates the atoms that are wanted, like aluminum, from the atoms that are not, like magnesium. Beams of ions are shot into the magnet- chamber, filled with nitrogen gas. This causes only the aluminum to proceed into the detector in order to have it’s rate of decay analyzed (Borths 2015). The age of Little Foot helps to place him in the evolutionary table and into his specific species.

With this more accurate reading,  Little Foot would have been alive during the same time as Lucy,  a different type of hominid in a different part of the world. This means that there could have been many species of hominids walking the Earth at the same time. It was concluded that sand grains around Little Foot were between 3.6 and 3.7 million years old;  this is a significant difference from the original idea that they were from a mere 2 million years ago. The basic concept of how a series of events unfolds led to new innovations concerning how to date fossils found within caves. So far this has not been disproven, but when something is this old it is hard at times to know just how accurate the dating is (Schoenberg 2020).

With the discovery of Little Foot and the ability to date the fossil, quite a bit can be learned. But what if more than a single fossil is found?  It is easy to feel as if nothing new can come from something so old. Alas, new fossils and ideas are still being uncovered today (we only haven’t heard about those ones yet!). One of the more recent fossil discoveries was that of Homo naledi. In 2013 paleoanthropologist Juliet Brophy had the opportunity to be a part of a team to analyze fossils found deep within a cave on the southern tip of South Africa. There the team found the remains of thirteen individuals. This was not so far fetched, but the puzzling aspect was that every part of each of these skeletons resemble another species within the genus Homo. They even questioned whether or not it could be an australopithecine based on how small the brain was. “We originally defined the genus Homo because of two interrelated factors: the first evidence for stone tools and significantly bigger brains'' (Schoenberg 2020). The smaller brains of the fossils gave indication that they must fit into the earliest of the genus, if not an australopithecine. It was hypothesized that this must be a new species, Homo naledi; if it weren’t for how complete the skeletal fossil constructions were, the conclusion may have been drawn that the fossils were from an already known species. Not only that, but the remains were located so deep within the cave that their placement had to be intentional. The remains of Homo naledi were found so deep that only the scientists with the smallest builds could access the location within the Rising Star cave system. There is not evidence to support that the fossils were somehow washed that deep into the cave. This means that the species may have been burying their dead,  suggesting higher cognitive thinking than that of the australopithecines.

The last common ancestor between humans and apes dates back to almost eight million years ago. Within this timeframe evolutionary trends have been observed in the fossil record. These trends help to place fossils within a species which can give information about the date of the fossils. Homo naledi was a special case though and the discovery of these fossils changed what we thought we know about human evolution. The position of the shoulders, for example, suggest that Homo naledi was a climber, which would place the species early on in the evolutionary tree. The curved fingers resembled that of Homo erectus, also indicating that the fossils would be millions of years old. Conversely,  Homo naledi also had long legs and feet that were closer to those of Homo heidelbergensis and even had wrists that had evolved to grip things like tools more easily. All of these clues were contradicting and made it difficult to accurately place a date on the fossils. 

The only solution that would make sense is that Homo naledi must be part of earlier ancestors due to the primitive aspects of some of the fossils. Enter radiometric dating. Uranium was used to date the teeth of and sediment around the fossils found. They were then dated to be between 235,000 to 336,000 years old. This meant that Homo naledi was alive during the same time as modern humans were. Before this, it was understood that body morphology evolved as brain size grew. Now here we have a small brained individual with more evolved wrists, legs and feet. The fingers and wrists also resemble fossils of species that used stone tools. Initially it was hypothesized that the creation and use of stone tools was an indication of a larger brain. Now that hypothesis is not necessarily true and new hypotheses must be made as to what force is driving evolution of some species and not so much in others.

New discoveries are changing what we know about evolution still today. The fact that Homo naledi was only discovered in 2013 indicates that there could be more fossils of different species that have yet to be uncovered. Without the use of radiometric dating, there would not have been a way to adequately date the remains found within the Rising Star cave system. As groundbreaking as it is for a new species in the genus Homo to be uncovered, paleoanthropologists are left with more questions than answers as to what Homo naledi means to evolution.

Although geologic time is older than we could imagine, it is still being impacted by Homo sapiens in a similar way to how the climate is being impacted by us. Extreme population growth is correlated to climate change in such a way that with more people consuming more, our ecological footprint is ever expanding (Schoenberg 2020). It seems that fossils or “footprints” from our generation will be preserved in a layer of broken down plastics and old cell phones. With this, it is being hypothesized that the Earth has entered a new era, called the Anthropocene, that is being proliferated by changes Homo sapiens are causing to the Earth. The problem with proposing an entirely new “epoch” is that we are currently living in it. Nonetheless scientists have already begun to see the changes Homo sapiens have caused in the past few hundred years. Earth’s eras and epochs are noted by large scale changes in Earth’s atmosphere and geochemistry. So events like mass extinctions or ice ages mark a new geologic time point in Earth’s history. “Geological periods are usually bracketed by climate change and major extinction, and they are based on empirical evidence that a geologist with a rock hammer can go out and find” (Schoenberg 2020). Geologists can visibly see the impact the world’s consumerism has had in the last few hundred years.

The methods used to determine whether the Anthropocene will be included in the geologic time scale involves the stratal context. The Anthropocene needs to be placed within the fundamental units of Earth’s lifespan (Zalasiewicz 2010). Geologists look for a “marker” that shows where strata differs radically from the surrounding strata. This is called the Global Stratigraphic Section and Point or nicknamed “golden spike”. Stratal units are used to create a better understanding of the geologic time scale in comparison to our individual lifetime. 

Evidence to support the induction of a new era begins with the explosion of the human population during the 19th century. In this time the world population grew from one billion to  more than six billion people. This extreme growth in population is mostly due to the Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions, which led to the mass production of mono-crops enabling the land to “support” the booming population. With the increase in population, megacities began to arrive. These ever growing megacities increase the rate of long term erosion and the materials from these cities have become present in the layer of strata forming. With the ever rising CO2 levels, polar ice caps are melting, changing migration patterns and larval hatch times, this can affect entire ecosystems. High Ph levels in the ocean are making the water more acidic, killing off coral reefs, drastically changing marine ecosystems. The earth has also begun to experience a sharp increase in the rate of extinctions; that would make this the Earth’s sixth great extinction event (Zalasiewicz 2010). All of this evidence points to the idea that we have entered an entirely new age.

The argument to classify the Anthropocene as its own epoch is a sound one, unfortunately it must pass through many committees in order to be inducted officially into the geologic time scale. Data from the past and present must be analysed to determine the case, which is not necessarily easy. Data from the past is mainly from fossils which limits what is retrievable, due to erosion. Only some species create lasting fossils- mostly the ones that lived near the water. Conversely, we are currently living in the proposed Anthropocene, so there is a plethora of comparable data thanks to easily accessible empirical observation. The Holocene Epoch, which we technically preside in, is young as far as epochs go, encompassing only about 11,000 years, but the scale of change that has occured in that time period is so drastic that the Earth no longer resembles the conditions that signified the dawn of the Holocene Age. Many in the science community are already using the term Anthropocene to refer to the current time period. 

Geology has a far reaching impact on deciphering what happened in the past, but there are implications which reach into the future. Geologic time is measured in the millions of years, on a larger scale cosmic time is measured in the billions of years. If we do not destroy the planet, our sun will become a red giant within 22 cosmic years (plus or minus 250 million years), wiping out all evidence of our existence. Future research includes the hope of terraforming another planet to sustain life, Mars comes to mind. There are different components needed to sustain life on another planet, or our own. It is hard to say what is the most essential component of life, so let’s start with the atmosphere. We are carbon based beings, making it easy to see why carbon dioxide is important in creating a stable atmosphere. CO2 can be found on Mars within the layers of rock and in its polar ice caps. If we were to drill into these, there still wouldn’t be enough CO2 to create an atmosphere that Homo sapiens could reside in (Kenrick 2020). Atmosphere would only be a start, water is essential to life as a solvent to enable chemical reactions from plants, animals and microbial cells. Nitrogen is also needed because it carries the genetic code for life. It may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but in the not so far off future, terraforming a new planet may be our only path for survival 

Geology has proven to be quite relevant to further the study of anthropology, thanks to radiometric dating. Without it, archaeology and paleoanthropology would only be able to tell how long fossils or other materials have been in the ground  by using primitive methods. It has been shown through the findings of Homo naledi that empirical evidence can only take us so far. Geologic time has given science a timeline to work with –- the rocks make time mean something. Other than contributing to what we know about what other species walked the planet during different ages, geologic time also had an immense impact on Darwin’s theory of evolution. Early empirical observations gave way to the modern theory that the Earth is old. Using radiometric dating to give an absolute age to fossils allowed for a tree of evolution to be formed. This timeline allows us to see the changes that have taken place within the genus Homo over the last two million years, and even since the australopithecines. Geology may even help Homo sapiens inhabit new planets. Our lives are such a small part of a much bigger picture. Geologic time gives greater meaning to the lifespan of the Earth and even gives us a perspective on what time really means. And what it means is that life is short, really short, unless you are a rock. 

Author’s Bio:

My academic career has only recently begun. After high school I committed myself to some travelling, but mainly snowboarding. I grew up in Colorado where snow is more abundant so being a ski bum was easier while living there. I have spent ten years in the service industry and four of those years as a bartender. I have an intense love for food, wine, and classic cocktails, but after so many years I have realized it is time to move on. Last semester was my first at City college and I am pursuing my associates of science degree. I intend on transferring to a university to attain a bachelor's in Geology and quite possibly my masters after that.

I have been collecting gems and minerals since I was very young and I have always known that geology was my calling. I have passion for science and would like to eventually work as an environmental geologist or write for a scientific journal. I am a hands on type of person, so any sort of science field work sounds amazing to me. I was called towards an anthropology class because geology draws upon all other sciences and I want a solid background in science in general. 

Works Cited

Arnie Schoenberg. 8/16/20. “Introduction to Physical Anthropology”.http://arnieschoenberg.com/anth/bio/intro/index.html

Beth Gieger. June 13, 2019. “Understanding Geologic Time”. Science News for Students. https://ncse.ngo/radiometric-dating-does-work

Borths, Matthew. Early, Catherine. “News Bite: Cosmic Rays Date Ancient Human Ancestor”. PastTime Paleo Podcast. 4/10/15. https://www.pasttime.org/podcast/news-bite-cosmic-rays-date-ancient-human-ancestor/

Juliet Brophy. “How a new species of ancestors is changing our theory of human evolution”. March 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/juliet_brophy_how_a_new_species_of_ancestors_is_changing_our_theory_of_human_evolution

Dr. Paul Kenrick. "Eight Ingredients for Life in Space". updated 2020. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/eight-ingredients-life-in-space.html

“Geologic Time Chart”. Education Resources. Idaho Museum of Natural History. https://imnh.iri.isu.edu/exhibits/online/geo_time/geo_principles.htm

Jan Zalasiewicz. “The New World of Anthropocene”. 2/25/10.Environmental Science and Technology. ACS Publications. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903118j#

"Alcoholism: An Adaptation to Dietary Ethanol and The Disease That Followed" by Manuel Salcido

Much of what ails the human body today is caused by cultural behavior that evolved out of the necessity for survival among our hominid ancestors millions of years ago. Such is the case with alcohol. This Literature Review seeks to understand the disease of alcoholism as the result of cultural behavior, born out of adaptive necessity early on in human evolution. The complexity of this disease is extensive, and there are a number of genetic, neurological, cultural and environmental factors to be considered. In the interest of maintaining our focus on alcohol consumption as an adaptive measure, this review will be limited to our genetic ability to digest alcohol developed over the course of our evolution.

In large part, interest lying in the study of alcoholism as a genetic disease is due to the tremendous socio-economic impact the affliction has. Next to tobacco and diet alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of preventable death in America, accounting for 88,000 deaths annually. 31 percent of all driving fatalities in the U.S are alcohol related. In 2010 alcohol abuse cost Americans $249 billion (NIAAA 2020). Home, school, work, and societal life are all adversely affected every year by alcohol abuse to some degree. Unlike some other genetic diseases where death and economic impact are virtually impossible to prevent, the death and economic impact associated with alcohol abuse is preventable. All these factors contribute to the ever-increasing urgency to develop new ways to detect susceptibility, for the purpose of preventative treatment and treatments for acute alcoholism


I draw from four main sources. “Hominids adapted to metabolize ethanol long before human-directed fermentation”, an article published in 2015, authored by Matthew A. Carrigana et al., covers the ability to metabolize alcohol by our hominid ancestors as an adaptation that took place 10 mya. “Genetics and genomics of alcohol sensitivity”, published in 2013 and authored by  Tatiana V. Morozova et al., explains sensitivity to alcohol, and makes a correlation between sensitivity to alcohol and tolerance as an indicating factor of Alcoholism. Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick, a book authored by Noel T. Boaz in 2002, explains the relationship shared by modern cultural behavior and disease. Introduction to Physical Anthropology, a book authored by Arnie Schoenberg and updated in 2020, covers the subfields of Anthropology utilized in each of the studies cited in this article. 

It is important to note the complex nature of Alcoholism. Consequently, the information available on the subject is vast. Scores of studies have been conducted since the treatment of Alcoholism as a disease began. Each study contains a substantial amount of data to unpack. There are many neurological and  environmental factors to take into consideration here as well. This being the case, sources confined to my hypothesis may be limited or dated. This article, in no way attempts to explain this complex disease by exhaustive means.  

Adaptation to Dietary Ethanol

Much of what we know about alcoholism today is due to the significant contribution science has made in the field of paleogenetics. Paleogenetics is an emerging field of Paleoanthropological research, “that resurrects ancestral proteins from now-extinct organisms to test, in the laboratory, models of protein function, based on natural history and Darwinian evolution” (Carrigana et al. 2015:458). The study of hominid fossils in the interest of understanding behaviors associated with alcoholism is a relatively new idea. We lean on Paleoanthropology for this because it deals with the fossilized remains of hominids primarily. Hominids are of interest because in human taxonomy we share the same genetic family (Schoenberg 2020:6.10). Understanding the evolution of hominids gives researchers insight to the origin of many biological and cultural matters of today, especially when it comes to our struggle to understand the origins of human disease.

According to research in the aforementioned field of Paleogenetics, our hominid ancestors developed the ability to metabolize “dietary ethanol” around 10 million years ago (Carrigana et al. 2015:459). This was due to the development of Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH are enzymes in the liver, stomach and intestinal tract that oxidize ethanol. The ability to metabolize ethanol was not present in the genetic makeup of early hominids prior to this. It was not until they came down from trees and adapted to terrestrial life that they developed this ability. Fruit found on the ground became a common source of substance. Often, this fruit was overripe and fermented, therefore containing significant amounts of ethanol (Carrigana et al. 2015:461). This is understood to be an adaptation which allowed our hominid ancestors to survive on foods their bodies may have otherwise rejected.

Ability With Limitations

The ability to metabolize dietary ethanol served our hominid ancestors well. It would not be too much of a stretch to say this adaptation may have ensured the arrival of Homo sapiens to some degree. We can at least say, the much-appreciated ability to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, that would otherwise kill us, can be attributed to the adaptability of our ancestors. However, this ability does not come without limitations. While modern humans of all backgrounds enjoy alcohol as a cultural affair, there is a level of sensitivity to alcohol each individual may experience uniquely. Alcohol sensitivity is a “quantitative trait”, as a result of polygenic variants. These variations are observable, contribute to “alcohol-related phenotypes'' and indicate a propensity to alcohol addiction or dependency (Morozova et al. 2013:253-254). Alcohol sensitivity is related to the rate at which Alcohol is metabolized. The process by which alcohol is metabolized involves, in large part, the conversion of ethanol to acetaldehyde by ADH enzymes in the liver, stomach and intestinal tract. Enzymes are proteins involved in the metabolic system of each cell in the human body. Each cell consists of different organelles. “A very important organelle is the nucleus. Inside the nucleus are your chromosomes. Your chromosomes direct protein synthesis, which determines how the cells interact with each other, and how you function as an individual” (Schoenberg 2020:2.4.1). It is within this order that we can identify genetic mutation. Gene mutations found in the metabolic system affect the way those with Alcoholism metabolize alcohol. Variants in the seven ADH genes located on chromosome 4q have been found to contribute to alcohol dependency (Morozoza et al. 2013:254). The development of Alcoholism, in many cases, can be attributed to alcohol tolerance which can be measured by alcohol sensitivity. Both of which are governed by the rate at which alcohol is metabolized. In this context, science can classify alcoholism as a disorder as opposed to a strictly moral issue which has been the case for most of history.

Adaptive Normality

Much of human behavior today is the cumulative effect of millions of years of evolution. Evolutionary adaptations served our early hominid ancestors as a means of survival. Genetic variation, such as the one found in the metabolic system of our hominid ancestors that enabled them to digest dietary ethanol, are random and constant. This means that any population, at any given time, “consists of individuals that are all slightly different from one another'' (O’Neil 2013). Nature then selects those possessing “a variation that gives them an advantage in staying alive long enough to successfully reproduce” (O’Neil 2013) by imposing environmental changes, such as: volatile climates, shifting land masses, famine, drought, competition for resources or territory with other species, etc. Individuals in possession of these advantageous variations “are the ones that pass on their traits more frequently to the next generation” (O’Neil 2013). This process is known as Natural Selection. The evolutionary mechanism of natural selection allows for adaptations to be passed down to subsequent generations. But when we take those adaptations and venture outside of “Adaptive Normality'' (Boaz 2002:5), the negative consequences associated with those behaviors begin to outweigh the benefits we enjoyed previously. For example, gorging on dietary sugars such as those found in ripe fruit served as a means for our early hominid ancestors to store up sugars and fats in response to a limited supply. Anticipating the scarcity of nutrients was important for their survival (Boaz 2002:6). Today, while our taste for sugar as an adaptation served us well, many diseases associated with overconsumption of sugars plague humanity. Cardiovascular Disease is one instance (Howard et al. 2002) of the many health risks that can be linked to our proclivity to indulge ourselves in foods containing large amounts of sugar, even after our stomachs are full. Adaptive Normality is an “optimal average” (Boaz 2002:9) achieved by natural selection to ensure the sustainability of a particular ecological niche, or “Econiche”(Boaz 2002:7). “An econiche includes not only a physical location on Earth, but the dietary adaptations, daily activity patterns, mating behaviors, and physical attributes that adapt a species to a particular way of life”(Boaz 2002:7). A population will tend to evolve in a way that situates them within their econiche, so that they fit neatly into the present conditions, as long as those conditions are constant. This is also known as “Stabilizing Selection”(Boaz 2002:9). The proverbial Goldie Locks illustration serves well here. For instance, a child’s temperature and weight are important at birth. We take this data and compare it to the rest of the population to gauge their health. Children born too light or too heavy often experience a greater degree of health complications. 

Individuals not too big but not too slight, not too strong but not too weak-can survive the widest range of hazards. They are not specialized in any one direction and thus tend statistically to survive well. Only if conditions change permanently and in one direction will stabilizing selection be replaced by directional selection, moving the average for the population to a new point. [Boaz 2002:9-10]

Average, in biology, is good.

Cultural Econiche

Humans are unique in that we have culture. Our ability to pass on learned behavior, socially, was the catalyst that urged hominids out of Africa and into Eurasia 1.9 million years ago (Boaz 2002:7) and is the key to our rapid ascension as the dominant life form on earth. Our incredible adaptability can be attributed to culture. It allows humans to adjust rapidly to changing circumstances, a challenge many species have become extinct when faced with. Humans would certainly not be at the ascendancy we find ourselves at today left to our biological rate of evolution alone. For this reason, “anthropologists consider that humans have now evolved to live in a new econiche, a cultural econiche”(Boaz 2002:7).

As human culture becomes increasingly multi-faceted, assisted by the rapid development of technology, our cultural econiche expands, and as it does, so does human adaptation. This effect puts us on the edges of the adaptive normality we have come to know over millions of years of evolution. As the human brain grows larger and more complex, so does human culture. So much so, that our biological evolution has now come to bear culture. And as our environment changes our culture adjusts, thrusting humans forward and sometimes outside the adaptive normality of our biological econiche.

We see this today with alcohol. The ability to digest dietary ethanol helped our ancestors to maintain their place within their econiche. However, as human culture evolved, new ways to engage our taste for alcohol developed. The earliest physical evidence of wine found to date was in China, and was achieved by fermenting rice roughly 10,000 years ago. It is said to have contained roughly 20% alcohol by volume (Wikipedia 2020). That is about the same alcohol content of a modern-day “fortified” wine. Naturally fermented fruit foraged from the forest floor by hominids 10 mya would have contained, on average, between 0.9% and 4.5% according to a study conducted by researcher Robert Dudley at UC Berkeley (2004:315). While those numbers are significant and can cause inebriation, the amount of fermented fruit one would have to consume to achieve the same effect a glass of fortified wine provides is substantial. It is unlikely ancient hominids foraged enough over-ripe fruit to achieve those effects on a regular basis. One thing to consider however, is the fact that 10 mya hominids had no previous relationship with alcohol, while modern humans who have had at least 10 million years of evolutionary experience. We cannot be sure how alcohol affected us early on. What can be said, is as far back as 10,000 years ago, consumption of concentrated alcohol had become a common and regular practice for reasons other than what the initial adaptation addressed. We, therefore, find ourselves outside of adaptive normality, in terms of our ability to metabolize alcohol safely. Our cultural econiche has given way to unintended consequences.


The development of ADH enzymes some 10 million years ago benefited our hominid ancestors, they enabled them to digest food that may have otherwise been poisonous to them. This was advantageous to them in a time when food sources may have been scarce. I think it’s safe to assume that a “taste” for alcohol ensued and continued as we evolved to Homo sapiens. As human culture developed so did the ability to harness the psychotropic effects of alcohol, and alcohol became a fixture in human culture. It turns out, due to the limitations in the same ADH enzymes that made alcohol consumption possible, humans are sensitive to alcohol in concentrated forms. However, because alcohol has become such a fixture in human culture, this cultural behavior encourages many of us to continue consumption beyond the adaptation’s limitations. As a result, the human body is being pushed outside adaptive normality, beyond the intended benefit the adaptation afforded,  causing diseases such as alcoholism.


Although science has uncovered many mysteries surrounding alcoholism by means of genetic research, much more is to be learned and many questions remain unanswered. My interest in the subject began as a search for a single gene that could be identified as the cause. But as my research progressed, I realized nothing could be further from the truth. At some point it became clear to me that I was searching for a myth. And, in the words of Arnie Schoenberg, I had to “abandon the search for the missing link”. The problem is much more complicated than I anticipated. While there is validity in the idea that alcoholism is the result of cultural behavior extending outside our adaptive norm and causing genetic mutations, it is unclear whether this is actually the case. What we might be seeing is a maladaptation to concentrated levels of alcoholic beverages that cause genetic mutations. One aspect of alcoholism I neglected to cover, in the interest of focus, was heredity. This is one element that would add to the overall picture. It would also be interesting to explore how alcohol has been used in different parts of the world historically, and the impact alcoholism has on those populations.

Works Cited

Boaz, Noel T.

2002 Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick

John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York


Carrigana, Matthew A. - Oleg Uryasevb , Carole B. Fryeb , Blair L. Eckmanb , Candace R. Myersc , Thomas D. Hurleyc , and Steven A. Bennerb 2013 “Hominids adapted to metabolize ethanol long before human-directed fermentation”

458–463 | PNAS | January 13, 2015 | vol. 112 | no. 2     www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1404167111  accessed 10/1/20


Dudley, Robert 2004 “Ethanol, Fruit Ripening, and the Historical Origins of Human Alcoholism in Primate Frugivory” 

https://academic.oup.com/icb/article/44/4/315/800304 accessed 11/19/20


Morozova, Tatiana V. - Trudy F. C. Mackay · Robert R. H. Anholt 2013 “Genetics and genomics of alcohol sensitivity Mol Genet Genomics” (2014) 289:253–269

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= accessed 9/23/20


National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) 2020 “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics accessed 9/23/20  

O’Neil, Dennis 2013 Darwin and Natural Selection https://www2.palomar.edu/anthro/evolve/evolve_2.htm accessed 11/19/20

Schoenberg, Arnie

2020 Introduction to Physical Anthropology sec. 2.4.1, 6.2.5, 5.3.3, 4.10 

Wikipedia 2020 “History of alcoholic drinks” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_alcoholic_drinks#:~:text=Evidence%20of%20alcoholic%20beverages%20has,to%206000%20BC%20in%20Georgia accessed 11/19/20

About the Author

Manuel Salcido, first year student at San Diego City College, working toward an Associate Degree in Journalism with plans to transfer to a four-year university. Dedicated Husband and father of four. My goal is to be a professional writer/photojournalist. As an aspiring writer, Anthropology has given me a new perspective on human behavior and will aid in my future endeavor to observe the human experience and share what I learn with the world. 

"Studies on the Origin and Evolution of Language: A Brief Summary" by Kimberly Garcia

Language is present across all societies; there are hundreds of different types of languages around the world. Studies on the Origin of Language research how the production of speech came to be, and how it evolved in Homo sapiens. The ability of language is something that is unique to Homo sapiens. Language is possible through multiple biological components, involving both the body and the mind; many of which are not present in other animals. There are several approaches when conducting research on this topic.

What are the origins of language? There is no concrete evidence that will give a definitive answer, the voices of ancestral Homo sapiens and preceding species couldn’t be recorded. Due to this, the people studying this subject have to get creative, gathering evidence where they can. Anthropology has four sub fields: physical anthropology, archaeological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology (Schoenberg 2020:1.2). Linguistic anthropology studies the origin of language, how it evolved, the physiology behind it, and its cultural ties. This all largely falls under linguistic anthropology.


My method was to compare how anthropologists acquire data while studying the origins of language. Examples of empirical data illustrate the physiology of speech and the complexity of language. I compared the methods of four different sources, and characterized which method is used most often, and why some data is unilaterally accepted and some data isn’t. The four sources are The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body by Steven Mithen, the 2020 version of Introduction to Physical Anthropology by Arnie Schoenberg, “Evolution of Human Vocal Production” by Drew Rendall and Asif A. Ghazanfar, and “Introduction: Origin and Evolution of Language—An Interdisciplinary Perspective” by Ines Adornetti, Alessandra Chiera, Erica Cosentino, Ferretti, Francesco, and Serena Niacchiarelli.


Studies done on the origin of language used to be entirely theoretical, thanks to a lack of evidence. There was even an 1866 ban by the Société de Linguistique de Paris on discussions pertaining to this topic (Mithen 2007:1). It used to be that very little was known on the origins of language, but recently there has been an increase of empirical data associated with this topic. Empirical data is something observed and experienced by the ones that acquire it. The study of language is multidimensional (Schoenberg 2020). It is related to many fields of study outside of pure anthropology, and a lot can be learned through studying these related fields (Mithen 2007). 

The recent increase in empirical evidence can be seen as a negative thing. It is hard to organize all that data. When scientists research something it is good to have a general goal, something that puts them all in the same thinking space or else the data could be all over the place (Adornetti, Chiera, Cosentino, Ferretti, Niacchiarelli 2018). Studies on the origin of language are associated with a wide spectrum of fields, anthropology, biology, neurology, zoology, music, etc. All of these fields can bring in different types of empirical data. This could range from the descended larynx on human primates (Ghazanfar, Rendall 2008) to the discovery of mirror neurons (Adornetti, Chiera, Cosentino, Ferretti, Niacchiarelli 2018). These pieces of data are important for entirely different reasons but both contribute to the general research on this topic.

The descended larynx is an anatomical discovery that is not present in nonhuman primates. This is found through the comparative method, which compares Homo sapiens to other animals, typically other primates. The larynx is physical, it leaves an evolutionary footprint. This can be tracked down and placed chronologically to give a better timeline of evolution. The mirror neurons are found through neuroscience, and have an impact on gestural language. This is not concrete but opens pathways for further research. The two are tied together by a larger topic but share no direct correlation.

This is just a small example; all sorts of empirical data are associated with this topic. For anthropologists to research this, it is necessary for them to be on the same page. Unfortunately, much of this subject is not concrete and can lead to splits. Some anthropologists feel that gestural language was a stepping stone to vocal language, others feel that it came in the middle. A way to organize the vast amount of empirical data would be to use interpretative models to make a “...shared conceptual space in which to construct connections among the various disciplines'' (Adornetti, Chiera, Cosentino,Ferretti, Niacchiarelli 2018). This puts all the researchers on the same page at the same time, by uniting the models into one perspective that’s shared by all researchers. These models are like hypotheses, they gather the empirical data and give it a direction or a very specific question to answer-before being gathered into broader research programs (Adornetti, Chiera, Cosentino, Ferretti, Niacchiarelli 2018). Studies of the origin of language are still largely speculative, but they regain some of the characteristics of science when they are organized in this way. They are hypotheses backed up by empirical data.

Language is not just the sound produced when speaking, it is a “complex communication system” (Mithen 2007:2). Sounds are grouped into words, which are then grouped into sentences, which are put together to communicate thoughts. They follow a set structure, the rules of grammar. The research focuses on the structure, physiology, and cultural transmission of language. As far as physiology is concerned, vocal production needs a sound source and a filter. This is present in all primates because all of them are able to produce some sort of sound, although human language is different from the vocalization of other primates. The sound source is the larynx, and the filter is the airways of the vocal tract, the mouth and nose (Ghazanfar, Rendall, 2008).

Anatomical differences between humans and other primates are what allow for the nuances of language. Increased breath control allows for uninterrupted sentences and longer communication. The descended larynx in humans allows for a two-tube configuration and a larger pharyngeal cavity. “This two-tube configuration, coupled with an agile tongue and a capacity for rapid mandible and lip movements, allows humans considerable articulatory latitude when vocalizing” (Ghazanfar, Rendall, 2008). All the details, when put together, allow for the modern language we have today.

Both the mind and body have developed in a way that allows for language. They are the best pieces of empirical evidence for explaining the mechanics that allowed for it. Examples of biological features that allow for the production of speech are researched mainly through the aforementioned comparative method. As previously stated, the production of language is an ability unique to the human species. One of the ways to get a clear picture on what differentiates humans from other animals is by studying the biological features involved in producing language and seeing if other species have the same or different features. To fully utilize this method the subject being compared must display either a similar linguistic ability or be evolutionarily close to the human species.

The anatomy of the body that allows for vocal production is only one part of language, “The evolution of the human capacity for language is tied to the development of encephalization and culture. You need a brain to process language, and language enables complex cultural transmission” (Schoenberg 2020:6.4). Mithen also writes about how biological evolution is tied to the evolution of language. His book focuses on music and language but also on how the mind and body have developed in tandem. 

Encephalization is the increase in the size of the brain, and by extension the head, over time. This is important, a larger brain allowed for higher thinking. There is also the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe of the brain where language systems reside. When studying encephalization and the Broca’s area, the researchers are limited to the fossils discovered for the size of the skull (Schoenberg 2020:6.1.2), similarly Rendall and Ghazanfar cite this as a problem. Most of the physical traits that are thought to be necessary for human speech, and therefore human language, do not fossilize (Ghazanfar, Rendall 2008:1).

Certain parts of the body are responsible for the physical production of sound while  culture is more along the lines of why language evolved. The anthropological explanation for why language evolved in humans is that complex communication systems were needed. The culture of a group of people is a record of how they survived. There are hundreds of different languages, meaning that human language evolved in different cultural groups. If one connects culture, and biology, it can be inferred that being able to use a complex communication system provided an advantage where survival was concerned. 

An example of cultural influence on language can be seen in the Homo neanderthalensis. It is debated whether Homo neanderthalensis had language, “...[neanderthals] had brains as large as those of modern humans but behaved in a quite different fashion, one that indicates the absence of language” (Mithen 2007:221). There is physical evidence which indicates language had not yet evolved, and the stability of their society also indicates that language was not around to allow for complex thought transmission.However they did have social intimacy and there’s proof that tool making techniques were passed down throughout generations. Homo neanderthalensis is a good species to research because there’s an easy method for obtaining evidence- there’s a ton of fossils available to analyze (Mithen 2007).

There are also genetics at play. A gene called FOXP2 may be associated with language. It was found that when FOXP2 malfunctions certain aspects of a person’s ability to produce language are affected, but the direct correlation is not known. (Mithen 2007).,“As the capacity for language is a biological attribute of Homo sapiens, something embedded in the genome of our species, one should conclude that it had also evolved by 170,000 years ago” (Mithen 2007:249). 


Much of the studies on the origin of language are still speculative. There are theories being thrown around and debates at every discovery. Every source I cited had a different hypothesis, and it shows how divided the anthropologists studying this subject are. This is why it needs to be organized into models and research programs, so that the empirical evidence and the anthropologists can be put on the same page. There are multiple methods used to acquire the empirical evidence, or data. This topic is something that requires intensive study to understand because it is broad and covers a wide array of fields. There is no conclusive answer for this topic due to the different avenues of research attached to it.

Works Cited

Ferretti, Francesco, Ines Adornetti, Alessandra Chiera, Erica Cosentino, and Serena Niacchiarelli. “Introduction: Origin and Evolution of Language-An Interdisciplinary Perspective.” Topoi. Springer Netherlands, May 2, 2018. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11245-018-9560-6.


Ghazanfar, Asif A, and Drew Rendall. “Evolution of Human Vocal Production.” CB. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18522811/.


Mithen, Steven. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.


Schoenberg, Arnie. “2020 Introduction to Physical Anthropology.” http://arnieschoenberg.com/anth/bio/intro/index.html. version: 8/16/20. Accessed: 11/1/20.

Author’s Bio

I graduated from San Diego High School-International Studies in 2017. I was fortunate enough to get both an academic and an athletic scholarship to Queen's University of Charlotte. I pursued a sports and exercise science degree and was there for two years. Rugby is an all year-round sport so I was constantly juggling that with my course load. I was also on work study as a sports manager and got my first job in customer service as a barista and cashier. There was a hiccup with my financial aid and, long story short, I couldn't afford to continue going to school there.

I moved back to San Diego and focused on working for a year. This is my first semester at city college and I was thinking of switching up my major. When I was attending Queens University of Charlotte I took a higher level Spanish course specialized for health professionals. The final assignment was to translate an health article from Spanish to English. I really enjoyed the experience and in general I've always been fascinated by languages and different cultures in general. I'm working for a bachelors in English and am still deciding how and where to further that degree.

“Cellular levels: Social Schemas of Human Society” By Emily Inama

Conversation is more complicated than we think, but because we don’t have congenital abnormalities that limit our communication, we don’t realize the extent of our privilege. We are liable for making part of our population frustrated because of a lack of understanding; thus, there is a need for reintroduction into the human social norm. As humans we hold onto our cultures, which are influenced by geography, and what these environments expose us to. The study of anthropology, who we are as human beings, is known for its holistic approach to how we live and work as a species. In this article I am exploring the cellular level of our bodies, such as our chromosomes and DNA, and how these affect our social behavior when interacting with other individuals.

This all starts with what we think a social interaction entails. What comes to mind is a conversation or perhaps an exchange of body language, and if these examples are the only ones someone can come up with, then they are an individual in the average population who don’t want to look further into it. The topic of social interaction does not interest them, which might be because it’s never been a problem for them. They have words they can form with their mouths that even a stranger can understand. They know the code of conduct involving the sequence of gestures which can make or break a social interaction. Therefore, many of us don’t think much of speaking or, its counterpart, being heard, which means many of us don’t acknowledge that a minority of the population is being silenced.

Down Syndrome and William’s Syndrome

Those affected by congenital abnormalities don’t get enough representation on how different it is for them to communicate. “Congenital anomalies, also commonly referred to as birth defects, congenital disorders, congenital malformations, or congenital abnormalities, are conditions of prenatal origin that are present at birth, potentially impacting an infant’s health, development and/or survival” (Desilva, 2016). An average individual with textbook DNA and chromosome structure has certain gene expressions that light up in their brain, but those without textbook biological structure might struggle a lot in that area. Because of their exchanges being different, the interchanges of dialogue and body language become more complicated and may cause frustration as the communicator is not understood.

Social behavior is a basic behavior mediated by multiple brain regions and neural circuits, and is crucial for the survival and development of animals and humans. Two neuropsychiatric disorders that have prominent social behavior abnormalities are autism spectrum disorders (ASD) which is characterized mainly by hyposociability, and Williams Syndrome (WS) whose subjects exhibit hypersociability. [Barak B et al, 2016]

There are two interactions that can occur when presented with separate individuals whose intended social behavior is described as hyperactive (excess or exaggeration in sociability) or hypoactive (lack of sociability to certain extent). Those with Down syndrome may be less inclined to interact than those with Williams Syndrome, who are typically more active in social interactions. With Down Syndrome, stimuli is both distracting yet not interesting enough and may not hold their attention for long. When someone is talking straight to an individual with Down Syndrome they may not respond with any language or hand expressions. In other words, they may feel comfort from hearing you speak to them and how you hug them, but how they communicate back can be lost in translation. William’s Syndrome is quite the opposite, as you have a very interactive individual that seems as though they can’t get enough of the stimuli you provide, including conversation. We are talking about individuals so there might be a blurred line on how each person affected with Down Syndrome or Williams syndrome will react to an exchange. On one hand, there is a generalization. On the other, individuals speak for themselves.

These two conditions are model examples of individual populations which are known to be difficult to socialize with in the manner most people do. However, that does not mean that they cannot communicate whatsoever. People don't think about this because it doesn't have anything to do with them-or so they think. However, being unable to understand someone with a congenital abnormality may put a person at a disadvantage. Involving everyone in the community really means ‘everyone’. It’s important to understand that even those with a disability have a primal need to communicate, or at the very least a need for social interaction and a need to be listened to. If someone is not in tune with someone with a congenital mental disorder, they may not understand that the individual is likely to get frustrated and anxious as they are being deprived of the common rights every human needs access to: The desire to be cared for and taken seriously. They might have a better sense of what the ‘“human pack” is than we do, because they are the ones fighting to obtain entry. 

We also need to think of howand why people with Down Syndrome, and Williams Syndrome are different on the cellular level.The root cause of Down Syndrome is the appearance of trisomy 21, the nondisjunction of chromosome 21 and leads to a fetus with three copies of that chromosome instead of one. Trisomy 21 can lead to not only external differences such as craniofacial abnormalities but also heart defects and mental retardation. We are made up of trillions of cells, and inside each cell is the nucleus which contains information about how we function, this is the reason why we might all look and act different than our counterparts.

Trisomy 21 is a common chromosomal defect and can be detected through prenatal screenings. It is true that this disorder can be fatal, although there are numerous accounts and great family stories out there of loved ones with trisomy 21 who proved the ‘always terminal’ theory wrong. They became white collar workers, survived, and thrived like any other human beings. They surely got that far with some form of communication and personal attachments, which gave them quality of life. It’s truly important that doctors and scientists need to stop looking at how many days a person with Down Syndrome has surpassed, but at how they are in need of interaction. With that interaction they will prove that those arbitrary milestones aren’t all that important compared to living to the extent of one’s capabilities.

Now that we know our population of study (those with congenital disorders affecting interactions with others), the question now becomes what parts of the brain react when it comes to an exchange. First, we should go over what expressions trigger such cues we deem sociable and unsociable in the human schema. 

The egr1 expression

What primal part of us demands reciprocal social behavior? What makes us express ourselves the way we do when we interact with other individuals of the same race? “Social behavior is based on the ability to properly communicate with others; individuals must sense, process and interpret social cues, as well as respond with appropriate behaviors” (Barak et al, 2016). In people who have Down Syndrome and Williams Syndrome, for example, these cues are being interrupted and are therefore never displayed back for the other person to respond to. But for those of us without a congenital defect or impacted neurological capacity, we grow and learn the ways of our group, what hand signs are good and bad, and what not to say versus what to definitely say in a social engagement. 

It turns out, there’s a certain gene for all these expressions, and it’s not just in us. Multiple specimens that were tested in the following experiment were found to have a similar gene, though its location in the brain may differ. This gene influences communication, and where would we be without it? “A common denominator across diverse social behaviors is the production, reception, and interpretation of signals that influence the behavior of the individual depending on the social context” (Robinson et al, 2011). We so often relate ourselves to primates because of how similar their DNA makeup is to ours, but the egr1 gene is found in the brains of more distant relatives, even birds and fish. Looking at how we categorize the animal kingdom, oddly this is one more way to organize species into groups, by how predominant this gene is in certain animals. 

The subject of a gene’s expression and where it’s located is useful in explaining how humans may evolve social interactions over time based on responses that might take on different meanings versus ones that stay the same generation after generation. 

Given the diversity and complexity of social behavior, is it realistic to anticipate that conserved mechanisms and general principles operate to control social behavior at the level of genes and genomes? We believe so. Although specific behavioral outcomes vary widely from species to species, the biological needs that drive these behaviors are deeply shared. Social behavior clearly evolved multiple times, but probably within a framework of conserved neural mechanisms (Robinson et al, 2011).

Think of our brain as a disco ball that lights up when a reaction is wanted or triggered. These may be learned, primal, or instinctual behaviors. For example, different species of animals have defensive tones or facial cues that’ll warn others to stay away. For humans it can be as simple as a frown or the middle finger. “Genomes in fact remain highly responsive throughout life to a variety of stimuli associated with social behavior. Social information can lead to changes in brain and behavior via effects on the genome”. It’s common knowledge that our brain is the driving force of a conversation or a non-verbal interaction, even between species. The brain's receptors of data see comfort or threat, and use that data to react dismissively or defensively. But what we are discerning is the genes of our species, not how our brain works. We are discussing the changes our brains go through when our genes come into play during a human social interaction. 

The first demonstrations for gene responses to a social stimuli focused on a handful of immediate early genes, and one of these has proven especially useful. Referred to now as egr1, this transcription factor-encoding gene was discovered and named (ngfi-a, zif-268, Krox-24, tis8, Zenk) independently in different species (Robinson et al, 2011).

The study of the egr1 expression looks at animals, such as the songbird, and analyzes their different social interactions, such as those with different vocalizations or ways of determining territory amongst the population. What we now know is, “although egr1 is only one of many socially responsive genes, its molecular and cellular character provides insights of general significance” (Robinson et al. 2011).

As our brain lights up in response to vocalization and the tone of an interaction, it triggers the genetic filtering of egr1, though how it is triggered and where it might reside can differ between species. “Not simply an auditory response, egr1 expression in this region (the forebrain) is specifically linked to the social significance of the signal” (Robinson et al, 2011). 

What we can relate to in other species is a specific neurological relation and reaction in social behavior. Through the observance of many different species of animals and how the egr1 expression is activated, we can then make the following assumption:

The example of egr1 suggests how social experience might trigger changes in larger gene networks in the brain. Indeed, through the application of high-throughput technologies for measure in the expression of many genes simultaneously, it is now becoming apparent that responses to social stimuli can be massive, involving hundreds or thousands of genes and perhaps many different brain regions at once (Robinson et al, 2011).


So while we may think that life is unscripted and we are roaming spirits that chance upon others and communicate of our own free will, we as humans follow direct if not umbrella-like schemas. In anthropology we look at several things that make us human, and though it seems we are a bit more animal than we like to think, it’s all in good nature. We are designed and taught in such a way that has allowed our species to come out on top and remain undefeated in intelligence and mode of action. 

How does this apply to those with congenital abnormalities? Overall, these are infants that have grown up with basically the same brain as any other human, so the same gene must be present, although it might light up in a different way than what we are used to seeing. People who are born without developmental abnormalities may look at people with developmental abnormalities as if they don’t realize how a social interaction works. On the contrary, those with a developmental abnormality may not know they are different and therefore do not think they have any less quality of life than those who are not diagnosed with such developmental issues. Their way of communicating may be different and may reach different results, but they are socializing, and all human beings need such interaction to fulfill this natural and maybe even an instinctual need. 

Therefore, expression of language, this includes body language, is so important and adds positively to our existence. The kindness we are meant to show to those of our own species is pertinent to how we continue as Homo sapiens. Those with Down Syndrome might not be able to communicate in ways we’re used to seeing, but with acceptance and patience we can understand. One can find it extremely easy to have a conversation with someone who has a different genetic makeup, but I believe we are meant to be far more expansive in our capabilities. They might have a better sense of what the ‘“human pack” is than we do, because they are the ones fighting to obtain entry. We are the top predator, the most innovative creature on the planet, so we know a thing or two about acceptance and communication, since communication is how we’ve come so far. An extra chromosome or lack of the normal twenty three shouldn’t define success; we have long outlived those barbaric days. 

Sources cited 

Barak, B et al

Neurobiology of social behavior abnormalities in autism and Williams syndrome and Williams syndrome, 2016, PMC https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4896837/

Desilva, Malini et al.

Congenital anomalies: case definition and guidelines for data collection, analysis, and presentation of immunization safety data, 2016, PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5139892/

Kazemi, Mohammad et al.

2016 Down Syndrome: Current Status, Challenges and Future Perspectives. Babol University of Medical Sciences

Robinson, Gene E et al. 

“Genes and social behavior.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 322,5903 (2008): 896-900. doi:10.1126/science.1159277

Schoenberg, Arnie

sect. 2.4, genetic and cellular biology, 2020 Introduction to Physical Anthropology 

Author’s Note

Being raised in Alaska personally meant little room to grow academically, since there were only two universities you could go to - both were very cold, dark, and depressing. In 2015 I studied abroad on the eastern coast of Spain, and in 2017 I graduated High School a year early and moved to California for a better taste of what was out there for me education-wise. I attended Cabrillo college in Santa Cruz for two years and one semester and although I miss it as a great space to make friends and to grow, getting married and moving to San Diego was a better choice for me in the long run. 

Now on my own, it’s my first time tangoing with financial aid and navigating more diverse scholastic settings. Exploring new subjects and accepting a challenge or two that could shape and light up my ideas in my own philosophy was an instinctual choice. Uncovering lost ethics and delving into the thought of who we are as a human race just might boost personal morals and lead to an eager return to society as a confident debater of the next generation. Anthropology may not be the first mind-opening step I’ve taken to expand my intellectual horizons, but I’ve chosen it to be a stepping stone for new convictions and principles ready to transform me as a humble student.

“Hierarchies in Apes and Humans” by Sergio Ibarra 


Hierarchies have been a large part of the most successful societies. Humans relate a lot to how societies in ape environments work. Humans have been able to function in a way that maximises creativity and time management to take advantage of resources in the best way possible. Hierarchies play a huge role in most successful communities. Apes for example, live in large communities and sometimes follow a leader. This intrigues me, knowing that I get frustrated sometimes working in group settings. I researched how apes work together, by following a leader's orders. And discovered how closely related non-human primate hierarchies are to human ones.

Hierarchies in a primate society allow for better work and communication. All primates have hierarchies, however it works varies depending on the situation that the primates are in. 

 Most primates, including humans, spend their lives in large social groups or communities. In the case of semi-terrestrial species, such as baboons, being in a large community helps provide protection against predatory cats, dogs, and hyenas. It also helps protect scarce food resources. This is especially true for non-human primates when the food is fruit. Leaf-eaters, such as colobus monkeys and langurs, tend to form smaller social groupings since there is little competition for their food.  [O’Neil 2012 Par. 1]

This helps us understand why these hierarchies are created. 

There is a push and pull of conflict and resolution in primate societies. Primates fight to see who's on top, and then make-up to keep the group together. Agonistic behavior helps to establish dominance hierarchies, and is usually followed by reconciliation, a kind of affiliative behavior. The most common primate affiliative behavior is grooming. We tend to think of grooming as keeping clean, but its main function for primates is social bonding. [Schoenberg 2020:5.3.6]

 I understand that all primates form hierarchies, however they only create hierarchies when it is necessary, i.e. if there is a dearth of food. Primates with less competition for food don't need to worry about being in a pack and having a team to back them up in case of an attack. There is a variety of different primate social groups: 

While there is considerable variation in social group composition among the primates, there is very little variability within each species. In fact, most non-human primate species are limited to only one of the following six basic patterns:

1.single female and her offspring

2. monogamous family group

3.polyandrous family group

4.one-male-several-female group

5.multimale-multifemale group

6.fission-fusion society [O’Neil 2012 Par. 5]

This further proves the point that primates follow a pattern of social groups that allows them to work better in their society, not always having to form a hierarchy.

The selection of a leader in a hierarchy is crucial for the community. The leader represents the society, gives directions and is respected among all primates. In an article by Mathias Franz (2015),  “self-organizing dominance hierarchies in a wild primate population.” There are different hypotheses as to why a primate would be selected as a leader according to Franz, he states,

 Linear dominance hierarchies, which are common in social animals, can profoundly influence access to limited resources, reproductive opportunities and health. In spite of their importance, the mechanisms that govern the dynamics of such hierarchies remain unclear. Two hypotheses explain how linear hierarchies might emerge and change over time. The ‘prior attributes hypothesis’ posits that individual differences in fighting ability directly determine dominance ranks. By contrast, the ‘social dynamics hypothesis’ posits that dominance ranks emerge from social self-organization dynamics such as winner and loser effects. While the prior attributes hypothesis is well supported in the literature, current support for the social dynamics hypothesis is limited to experimental studies that artificially eliminate or minimize individual differences in fighting abilities. [Franz 2015, Par.1]

 This shows how there are two main hypotheses of how a primate is elected as a leader in a hierarchy of a community. It could be determined by their social dynamics or their physical strength. The method used by Mathias Franz, that led him to his conclusion, was based on observation and research formed by members of the Amboseli-Longido pastoralist communities, the Kenya Wildlife Services, Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, and the National Council for Science and Technology.

Primates form hierarchies to decrease fights and injuries: “agonistic means ‘aggressive’, but it is usually more bluff and intimidation than physical violence. Natural selection is going to generally select for conflict resolution that avoids members of the same species injuring each other. Many primates are aggressive, but they don't kill each other very often. They learn hierarchies to avoid injury. But when push comes to shove, primates make bad pets.”  (Schoenberg 2020, Sec. 5.3.5)  After reading the journal by Jessica E Koski (2015),   “Understanding social hierarchies: The neural and psychological foundations of status perception,” I was able to make comparisons between humans and primates. After all, we do have a lot in common not only physically but also socially, in the article by Jessica Koski she states the importance of socials groups,

Social groups across species rapidly self-organize into hierarchies, where members vary in their level of power, influence, skill, or dominance. In this review we explore the nature of social hierarchies and the traits associated with status in both humans and nonhuman primates, and how status varies across development in humans. Our review finds that we can rapidly identify social status based on a wide range of cues. Like monkeys, we tend to use certain cues, like physical strength, to make status judgments, although layered on top of these more primitive perceptual cues are socio-cultural status cues like job titles and educational attainment.  [Koski 2015, Par.1]

 Humans are very similar to apes, however, apes focus their hierarchies around physical points, whereas humans tend to position themselves higher up in the pyramid with job titles, and education to back them up. Koski and Olson were able to study human behavior in many different ways, by analyzing a human brain, they were able to determine differences in adults and teenagers and how impactful being higher or lower in the hierarchy when being a teenager affects them emotionally.


In conclusion these hierarchies have helped bring a society together. Generally when there is a leader, there is less chaos and more productivity. Once that leader can no longer benefit the community the power is passed to another. We can see this happening in both ape and human societies. In the former, the main factors that contribute to the formation of a hierarchy is determined by the amount of food as well as the predators that live in the same area. For humans we tend to give power to the most educated. This is how hierarchies relate between apes and humans. 

Work Cited

Franz, Mathias et al. 2015 “Self-organizing dominance hierarchies in a wild primate population.” Proceedings. Biological sciences vol. 282,1814 : 20151512. doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.1512

O'Neil, Dennis. 2012 “Social Structure.” Primate Behavior: Social Structure, www2.palomar.edu/anthro/behavior/behave_2.htm. 

Schoenberg , Arnie. 2020 “Primatology.” Introduction to Physical Anthropology, arnieschoenberg.com/anth/bio/intro/index.html#contents. 

Koski, Jessica E et al. 2015 “Understanding social hierarchies: The neural and psychological foundations of status perception.” Social neuroscience vol. 10,5: 527-50. doi:10.1080/17470919.2015.1013223

Biographical paragraph

I graduated high school class of 2019. I decided to continue my education in community college instead of a 4 year university in order to get a better idea and more time to really focus on finding a major that I like. In high school, I was really focused on Architecture and Engineering, I was president of the architecture  club and Vice President of the engineering club, our team competed in multiple events throughout San Diego. This past year, I got my first job, at Nordstrom, La Jolla. I've been able to study full time and work full time to save money for the university I will end up transferring to. My goal is to find something that I like and from there just focus on it and get it done.