The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Integrating data in paleoanthropology: The future role of prehistoric fossils in the genomic present


Anthropology, Wellesley College

Thursday 1:45-2:00, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Technological developments in genetics have opened up vast new sources of data to address evolutionary hypotheses about humans, greatly broadening our understanding of human evolutionary history. As the recent publications of genomes from Neandertals and the archaic human remains from Denisova attest, genetic data now dominate the consensus narrative of human evolution. This shift should be welcome, rather than a source of anxiety for paleoanthropology, as these new data allow for greater resolution of hypotheses and aid in problems of equifinality. The complementary nature of genetic and fossil data, including the informational properties of the data, creates a mutually beneficial scientific synthesis. This relationship will be demonstrated by contrasting the portrait of human evolution at the end of the Pleistocene derived independently from the two sets of data.

Paleoanthropology's efficacy within this partnership is undermined, however, by a lack of openness and data access. The field of genetics has benefited from a massive expansion in the amount of readily accessible data. While paleoanthropological data is generated on a different scale than genetic data, the field is in the midst of a remarkably productive era of new, often unexpected, fossil discoveries. The increased rate of discovery and changing patterns of publication have not, however, led to dramatically increased access to data. Efforts to create open access systems in paleoanthropology have increased, but remain limited. This talk concludes with a basic functional framework, cost estimates and goals for an open access paleoanthropological fossil database.

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