Palaeoarchaeology (or paleoarcheology) is the archaeology of deep time. Their studies focus on hominid fossils ranging from 15,000,000 to 10,000 years ago. Paleoarchaeologists emphasize human evolution and how humans have adapted to the environment in the past few million years.
Interest in the field of study began in the late 1850s and early 1860s, with a shift in interest caused by the discoveries made by Boucher de Perthes, after Joseph Prestwich, Hugh Falconer, and John Evans had visited Boucher de Perthes's site in the Somme valley themselves. Two such archaeologists who had been attracted to join archaeological societies by palaeoarchaeology were Augustus Pitt Rivers and Edward Burnett Tylor. Evans, Pitt Rivers, and John Lubbock all promoted interest in the field, each an enthusiast and each quickly rising to positions of authority and influence within archaeological circles. In 1868, for example, they together organized, in conjunction with the annual general meeting in Norwich of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Third International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology.
The majority of paleoarchaeology sites are found in Southern and Western Africa. Some of the most productive sites have been those of Hadar, Sterkfontein, Kanapoi, and Olduvai Gorge.
The fact that paleoarchaeology deals with such ancient human remains presents some unique difficulties. Often the remains that are found are incomplete. In addition, paleoarchaeologists often deal with remains that lie somewhere between their primate ancestors and modern humans. This can make the analysis of the remains rather difficult. Similar finds can be rare so paleoarchaeologists must rely on the reanalysis of existing fossils.
In an attempt to analyze human evolution, paleoarchaeologists have been engaged in an attempt to find the last common ancestor of all hominids. It is currently believed that the fossil belonging to Orrorin tugenensis may represent the last common ancestor. It is estimated that this fossil is 6.2-5.6 million years ago. Unfortnuately, as with many other fossils, O. tugenensis only contains a partial skeleton (femur, teeth, humerus, mandibles, and fingers). This means that it still requires a great deal of analysis. Currently several researchers have suggested that O. tugenensis is indeed a bipedal primate who was ancestral to later hominins.
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