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  • Anthropology. The long-term scientific comparative study of human cultures and societies. See also: physical anthropology.
  • Anterior. Towards the fron tof an animal. In humans, anterior is the stomach side. See also: posterior.
  • Autosomes. The non-sex chromosomes.
  • Bipedal. An organism which ordinarily (habitually) moves around on two legs is described as bipedal (from the latin for two feet). Modern species which employ bipedalism include humans, ostriches and kangaroos, although in very different ways.
  • Chimpanzees. There are two extant species of chimpanzee: Pan paniscus and Pan troglodytes. It is estimated the two species diverged around 1 million years ago. Both species are classed as endangered according to the IUCN red list.
  • Chromosome. The genome is organised into separate blocks within the cell nucleus called chromosomes, which occur in pairs. Humans have 1 pair of sex-determining chromosomes – XX (female) or XY (male) – and 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes (autosomes).
    The number of chromosomes varies from species to species but they always occur in pairs in animals. Plants may have up to 6 copies of each chromosome.
  • Ecology. How organisms interact with each other and the environment. Includes abundance, spatial distribution, behaviour, genetic diversity and disease.
  • Equinox. A day of the year when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. They occur twice a year, around 20th March and 22nd September. From the Latin for ‘equal night’.
  • Extant. The opposite of extinct – i.e. a species that is alive today.
  • Fibula. One of two bones which make up the lower leg. The other is the tibia.
  • Femur. The thigh bone.
  • Foramen magnum. The hole at the base of the skull through which the brainstem passes to become the spinal cord. In humans and bipedal hominins the foramen magnum has a more forward position on the base of the skull, making it easier to balance the head on top of the spine.
  • Genome. The full amount of genetic material which an individual possesses. It includes the functional, protein-coding genes as well as lots of spacer stretches and ‘junk’ DNA. Junk DNA in fact may play a very useful role in regulating the action of the genes themselves.
  • Genus. The second-lowest taxon in the system of scientific classification of living organisms. It is always capitalised and typed in italics, or underlined if handwritten.
  • Great Apes. Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, in order of decreasing genetic similarity to humans.
  • Hallux. The big toe.
  • Hominid. A fairly broad term which refers to the clade comprising the great apes, to the exclusion of gibbons. It includes extant species as well as evolutionary offshoots which aren’t around today. (Hominids are a diverse bunch).**
  • Hominin. Hominin is a narrower term which refers to the clade containing only to our direct ancestors after our divergence from the chimpanzee lineage.**
  • Hominine. I know it looks like a pre-decimal spelling of hominin (think gram-gramme and ton-tonne) but this is actually a separate clade. This group includes gorillas, chimpanzees and humans as well as all extinct species which are evolutionary offshoots of these.**
  • Hominoid. The broadest term starting with ‘Homin’, which refers to the clade containing humans and their closest extant relatives the great apes: chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans; and the gibbons (lesser apes). Apes are distinguished within the monkeys by their lack of a tail.**
  • Humerus. The bone which runs the length of your upper arm. Not the funny bone, that’s actually the ulnar nerve.
  • Insolation. The amount of sun’s energy reaching the Earth’s surface. Seemingly from the Latin insolare ‘to expose to the sun’ (Wikipedia), I prefer to remember it as INcoming SOLar radiATION.
  • Long Bones. The broad  term used to refer to bones in the skeleton which are longer than they are wide. These 6 bones  are found in the upper limb (radius, ulna, humerus) and lower limb (tibia, fibula, femur).
  • Muscle fibre. Many myofibrils bundle together to form a muscle fibre.
  • Myofibril. Many sarcomeres stack end-to-end to form a myobril in a muscle.
  • Old World monkeys. All monkey species which are native to Africa and Asia. This includes baboons, geladas, mandrills, macaques, colobus monkeys, langurs and a whole host of others. All monkeys have tails. This feature distinguishes them from apes. (See: Hominoid for a definition of ape).
  • Orthoslice. A way of visualising a slice through a 3D image such as that created by an MRI or CT scan. Up to three of these slices may be orientated at 90 degrees to one another (orthogonally, hence ortho). See James Makes a Chimp Face.
  • Osteoblast. Specialised cells which live in bone matrix and produce the proteins and mineralised substances that bones are made from.
  • Osteoclast. Cells which break down the bone. They digest the mineralised portion of the bone matrix, then break up the remaining protein, mainly collagen. They are thought to be involved in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Pan paniscus. The fairly peaceful bonobo (formerly pygmy chimpanzee) lives south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is not actually that much smaller than the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.
  • Pan troglodytes. The common chimpanzee is found north of the Congo River and includes 4 distinct sub-species spread from Tanzania in the east to Senegal and Guinea Bissau in the west. It is more aggressive than Pan paniscus.
  • Phalanges (pl.). Sounds a bit naughty, doesn’t it?
    In fact, they’re the 3 bones that make up each of our fingers and toes. (Except our thumbs and big toes – they each have 2 phalanges). Singular: phalanx.
  • Physical Anthropology. “A branch of anthropology that studies the physical development of the human species. It plays an important part in paleoanthropology (the study of human origins), bioarchaeology (the study of past populations), and in forensic anthropology (the analysis and identification of human remains for legal purposes). It draws upon human anthropometrics (body measurements), human genetics (molecular anthropology), human osteology (the study of bones) and includes neuroanthropology, the study of human brain evolution, and of culture as neurological adaptation to environment.” – Wikipedia.
  • Posterior. Towards the back of an animal. In humans this refers to our back. See also: anterior.
  • Radius. One of two bones which make up the forearm. The other is the ulna.
  • Sarcomere. The contractile unit of muscle. Interlocking actin and myosin filaments are attached at either end to a mass of proeteins called a z-disc.
  • Taxa (pl.). See: Taxon.
  • Taxon (s.). A general term for the units of biological classification. In order from the highest taxon, these are: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.
    e.g. Human beings are: Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Primates, Hominidae, Homo, sapiens. Abbreviated to Homo sapiens or H. sapiens.
  • Tibia. The shin bone which, along with the fibula, make up the skeleton of the leg below the knee.
  • Ulna. One of two bones which, along with the radius, comprise the forearm.

** For a broader primate evolutionary tree which includes the hominoids and etc., see my post A Primate Primer.


6 comments on “Glossary

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