Integrative Anthropology and the Human Niche: Toward a Contemporary Approach to Human Evolution

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A niche is the structural, temporal, and social context in which a species exists. Over the last two million years, the human lineage underwent clear morphological changes alongside less easily measurable, but significant, behavioral and cognitive shifts as it forged, and was shaped by, new niches. During this time period, core human patterns emerged, including the following: hypercooperation; lengthy childhood and complex parenting; intricate and diverse foraging and hunting patterns; novel and dynamic material and symbolic cultures; and complex communication and information sharing, eventually resulting in language. Approaches to human evolution grounded in paleoanthropology and archaeology offer fundamental insights into our past, and traditional evolutionary theory offers a strong grounding for explaining them. However, given the centrality of distinctive physiological, social, semiotic, and cognitive processes in human evolutionary histories, a broader anthropological approach can facilitate additional understanding of the human story. An integrative anthropology, reaching across subfields and foci, combined with contemporary evolutionary theory is an approach that can enhance our abilities to model and understand human evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-315
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Evolution
  • Extended evolutionary synthesis
  • Homo
  • Integrative anthropology
  • Niche construction
  • Pleistocene
  • Semiosis


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