Paleoanthropology is the branch of physical anthropology (often called biological anthropology) that focuses on the study of human evolution, tracing the anatomic, behavioral and genetic linkages of our ancient, usually bipedal, ancestors.
Paleoanthropologists study early hominins through fossil remains, traces, or impressions of ancient life; evidence such as preserved bones, tools, or footprints. Typically, a team is composed of scientists, students, and local workers, representing diverse backgrounds and academic fields.
The science arguably began in the late 1800s when important discoveries occurred which led to the study of human evolution. The discovery of the Neanderthal in Germany, Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, and Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man were all important to early paleoanthropological research.
Many workers have been criticized for not allowing other paleoanthropologists to examine their fossil finds. As Ian Tattersall notes (writing in 2006 Nature volume 441:155), paleoanthropology is distinguished as the "branch of science [that] keeps its primary data secret."
Robert Ardrey's four books, African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man (1961), The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations (1966), The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder (1970), and The Hunting Hypothesis: A Personal Conclusion Concerning the Evolutionary Nature of Man (1976), explore in depth the significant mid-20th century transition in paleoanthropological studies and methodology.
- Davidson Black (1884-1934)
- Robert Broom (1866-1951)
- J. Desmond Clark (1916-2002)
- Carleton S. Coon (1904-1981)
- Raymond Dart (1893-1988)
- Eugene Dubois (1858-1940)
- Johann Carl Fuhlrott (1803-1877)
- Donald C. Johanson (1943- )
- Kamoya Kimeu (1940- )
- Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald (1902-1982)
- Louis Leakey (1903-1972)
- Meave Leakey (1942- )
- André Leroi-Gourhan (1911-1986)
- Mary Leakey (1913-1996)
- Richard Leakey (1944- )
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
- Franz Weidenreich (1873-1948)
- Tim White (1950- )
- Milford H. Wolpoff (1942- )
Note: Some paleoanthropologists are also paleontologists leading to different interpretations of scientific discoveries.