Archaeology & Evolution Glossary P


pachynema: The stage in meiosis (mid-prophase I) during which the homologous pairs of chromosomes exchange chromosome regions.

pair bonding: Forming an intense social connection between monogamous mates.

palate: Bony roof of the mouth.

paleo– (palaeo-): Old.

paleoentomology: The study of insects from archaeological contexts. The survival of insect exoskeletons, which are quite resistant to decomposition, is an important source of evidence in the reconstruction of paleo-environments.

paleoethnobotany: The recovery and identification of plant remains from archaeological contexts, important in the reconstruction of past environments and economies.

Paleogene: Earliest division of the Tertiary including the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene.

Paleolithic: Literally the Old Stone Age, the period when humans relied on a stone technology to sustain a scavenging/hunting/gathering adaptation. The archaeological period before 10,000 BC.

paleomagnetic reversal: See magnetic reversal.

paleomagnetic stratigraphy: The arrangement of geological strata based upon the alternating direction of residual magnetism, compared with the world geomagnetic polarity column by other aspects of the sequence such as preserved fauna.

paleomagnetism: Residual magnetism from the earth’s magnetic field detectable in rock.

paleosol: Rock or sediment formed from an ancient or fossil soil.

palimpset: Writing material that is used more than one time after earlier writing has been erased.

palmar: Pertaining to the palm side of the hand.

palmigrade: Refers to a type of quadrupedal locomotion characterized by weight bearing on the palms of the hands rather than on the digits or knuckles.

palynology: Study of plant pollens and spores.

panmictic populations: One in which genotypes associate at random (i.e., with equal probabilities of mating between any two individuals of opposite sex).

paracentric inversion: An inversion in which the inverted segment occus on one chromosome arm and does not include the centromere.

paradigmatic view: Approach to science, developed by Thomas Kuhn, which holds that science develops from a set of assumptions (paradigm) and that revolutionary science ends with the acceptance of a new paradigm which ushers in a period of normal science.

parallel cousin: Ego’s father’s brother’s child or mother’s sister’s child, or more distant cousin classed terminologically with these first cousins.

parallelism: See homoplasy.

parallel flaking: Flake scars are parallel to each other and leave a sharp edge on the objective piece. These flakes are removed in a serial fashion by following the ridge created by the previously removed flake.

paramastoid process:juxtamastoid process.

parapatric: Having geographic ranges that border extensively on one another.

parapatric speciation: The divergence of two neighboring populations, while meeting in a contact zone, until they become two different species.

parasagittal:Refers to a plane through the body parallel to the sagittal plane.

parasexual system: A system that achieves genetic recombination by means other than the regular alternation of meiosis and fertilization.

parental-ditype (PD): One of three types of tetrads possible when two genes are segregating in a cross. The PD tetrad contains four nuclei, all of which are parental genotypes, with two of one parent and two of the other parent.

parental genotypes (parental classes): Individuals among progeny of crosses that have combinations of genetic markers like one or other of the parents in the parental generation.

parental imprinting: See genomic imprinting.

parietal: Wall. One of the flat paired bones forming part of the lateral sides of the skull.

parietal art: Paintings, drawings, or engravings on cave walls.

parietal association area: Part of the parietal association complex that is posterior to the sensory region of the parietal lobe. The integration of sensory, motor, and cognitive actions, or cross-modal transfer, takes place in this area.

parsimony: The use of as few assumptions as possible in an explanation or theory, “Occam’s razor” is an example.

partial dominance: See incomplete (partial) dominance.

particulate factors: The term Mendel used to describe the factors that carried hereditary information and were transmitted from parents to progeny through the gametes. We now know these factors by the name genes.

patella: Kneecap, a large sesamoid bone at the knee.

patellar groove: Depression on the distal femur in which the kneecap patella moves.

pathology: A feature related to disease or its consequences.

patrilineal: Based on relationship through the father’s side.

patrilineage: See lineage.

patrilineal descent: Descent traced through a line of ancestors in the male line (see agnatic descent).

patrilocal: See virilocal.

patristic homology: Homologies based on comparing features in some clade or lineage.

pebble tools: Simple artifacts made on cores of stone, sometimes also applied to the cores themselves even when they are not used as tools per se.

pedigree analysis: A family tree investigation that involves the careful compilation of phenotypic records of the family over several generations.

peer-polity interaction: The full ranges of exchanges taking place – including imitation, emulation, competition, warfare, and the exchange of material goods and information – between autonomous (self-governing) sociopolitical units, generally within the same geographic region.

pelvis: The bony structure comprised of the sacrum and three paired bones: the ischimu, ilium, and pubis which fuse together in adults as paired innominates.

penecontemporary: Living at or almost the same time.

penetrance: The frequency with which a dominant or homozygous recessive gene manifests itself in the phenotype of an individual.

pentose sugar: A 5-carbon sugar that, along with a nitrogenous base and a phosphate group, is one of the three parts of a nucleotide, the building block of RNA and DNA.

peptide bond: A covalent bond in a polypeptide chain that joins the a-carboxyl group of one amino acid to the a-amino group of the adjacent amino acid.

peptidyl transferase: The enzyme that catalyzes the formation of the peptide bond in protein synthesis.

percent: A fractional proportion multiplied by 100.

percussion flaking: A method of striking with a percussor to detach flakes from an objective piece. Different methods or percussion flaking using different kinds of percussors tend to produce distinctive detached pieces.

pericentric inversion: An inversion in which the inverted segment includes the parts of both chromosome arms and therefore includes the centromere.

periglacial: A region near or surrounding a glacial area.

perikymata: Elevations between the grooves encircling tooth crowns that are caused by growth-related segmentation of enamel crystals.

period: In geology, a division of an era, as the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic era.

peripatric speciation: Speciation at the periphery, through the modification of a peripherally isolated founder population.

permafrost: Permanently frozen subsoil.

petalia: Extension of parts of one side of the brain beyond the corresponding parts on the other side.

petrography: A branch of the study of rocks in which they are examined in thin section and in hand specimen.

petrosal crest: A crest that follows along the base of the auditory tube.

petrous pyramid: The petrous portion of the temporal bone is the pyramid-shaped process that extends across the cranial base, housing the internal ear.

P generation: The parental generation, i.e., the immediate parents of an F1.

phage lysate: The progeny phages released following lysis of phage-infected bacteria.

phage vector: A phage that carries pieces of bacterial DNA between bacterial strains in the process of transduction.

phalanx (phalange): Bone of the finger or toe digits.

phenetics: A method of systematics in which relationships are determined by degrees of similarity.

phenocopy: An abnormal individual resulting from special environmental conditions. It mimics a similar phenotype caused by gene mutation.

phenocrysts: The isolated large crystals in pophyry.

phenogram: A diagram indicating degree of similarity among taxa.

phenon: A sample of anatomically similar specimens.

phenotype: Appearance of an individual; the observed set of characteristics, the result of the interaction between genotype and environment.

phenotypic correlation: An association between two traits.

phenotypic variance (Vp): A measure of a trait’s variability.

phonemes: The individual sound units in a language.

phosphate group: A component, along with a pentose sugar and a nitrogenous base, of a nucleotide, the building block of RNA and DNA. Because phosphate groups are acidic in nature, DNA and RNA are called nucleic acids.

phosphodiester bond: A covalent bond in RNA and DNA between a sugar and a phosphate. Phosphodiester bonds form the repeating sugar-phosphate array of the backbone of DNA and RNA.

photoreactivation (light repair): One way by which thymine dimers can be repaired. The dimers are reverted directly to the original form by exposure to visible light in the wavelength range 320–370 nm.

phratry: A grouping of clans related by traditions of common descent or historical alliance based on kinship.

phyletic: Pertaining to descent (cf. phylogeny).

phylogenetics: The study of how genealogical relationships can be determined from morphological similarities that are homologous.

phylogenetic species: A monophyletic group of individuals whose identity can be diagnosed by at least one shared unique feature.

phylogeny: A hypothesis about how fossils and living species are related in a genealogical framework.

physical anthropology: A subdiscipline of anthropology dealing with the study of human biological or physical characteristics and their evolution.

physical map: Map of physically identifiable regions or markers on genomic DNA, constructed without genetic recombination analysis.

phytoliths: Minute particles of silica derived from the cells of plants, able to survive after the organism has decomposed or been burned. They are common in ash layers, pottery, and even on stone tools.

pilaster: A stout ridge of bone extending around the distal surface of the central part of the femoral shaft, supporting the linea aspera.

Pilastric Index: A measure of shape at the midshaft of the femur, determined by dividing the anterior-posterior length by the transverse breadth.

piriform aperture: The pear-shaped nasal opening of the skull; anterior nasal aperture.

pistil: The female reproductive organ in a flowering plant that typically consists of the stigma, the style, and the ovary.

piston core: A device for extracting columns of sediment from the ocean floor. Dates for the different layers are obtained by radiocarbon, archaeomagnetic, or uranium series methods.

plantar: Pertaining to the sole of the feet.

plantarflexion: Bending action at the ankle or internal foot joints so that the palms and soles point down.

plantigrady: A stance or locomotion in which the body is positioned so that the palms and soles point downward.

plaque: A round, clear area in a lawn of bacteria on solid medium that results from the lysis of cells by repeated cycles of phage lytic growth.

plasma membrane: Lipid bilayer that surrounds the cytoplasm of both animal and plant cells.

plasmid: An extrachromosomal genetic element consisting of double-stranded DNA that replicates autonomously from the host chromosome.

platymera: Anteroposterior flattening of the upper shaft of the femur.

Platymeric Index: A measure of shape at the upper part of the shaft of the femur; determined by dividing the anterior-posterior length just below the lesser trochanter by the transverse breadth.

platyrrhine:New World monkey infraorder.

pleiotropic: Genes that influence the expression of more than one trait.

pleiotropy: Multiple phenotypic effects resulting from a single mutant gene.

plesiomorphic: A characteristic whose form is like the ancestral condition.

Plio-Pleistocene: Shorthand term literally referring to the Pliocene and Pleistocene together, but usually meaning the Pliocene and Early Pleistocene.

plunging termination: The distal end of a flake that turns toward the objective piece removing the lower end of the objective piece, creating a detached piece that has a large distal end relative to the proximal end.

pluvial: A continent-wide unusually wet period.

pneumatization: Air spaces in cranial bones such as the mastoid area, or nasal sinuses.

point mutants: Organisms whose phenotypes result from an alteration of a single nucleotide pair.

point mutation: A mutation caused by a substitution of one base pair for another.

point of applied force: The location of lithic artifacts where force has been applied to remove a flake from an objective piece (see striking platform).

polarity: A term referring to a bacterial operon that codes for a polygenic mRNA. It is the phenomenon whereby certain nonsense mutations not only result in the loss of activity of the enzyme encoded by the gene in which they are located but also reduce significantly or abolish the synthesis of enzymes coded by structural genes on the operatordistal side of the mutation. The mutations are called polar mutations.

polity: A politically independent or autonomous social unit, whether simple or complex, which may in the case of a complex society (such as a state) comprise many lesser dependent components.

pollex: Thumb.

polyandry: Marriage of a women to two or more men.

poly(A) polymerase: The enzyme that catalyzes the production of the 3′poly(A) tail.

poly(A) site: The 3′ end of mRNA to which 50 to 250 adenine nucleotides are added as part of mRNA posttranscriptional modification.

polycentrism: Fraz Weidenreich’s theory of multiple centers of human evolution connected by a network of genic exchanges.

polygene (multiple-gene) hypothesis for quantitative inheritance: The hypothesis that quantitative traits are controlled by many genes.

polygenic: A character, controlled by several or numerous genes.

polygenic mRNA (polycistronic mRNA): A single mRNA transcript in prokaryotic operons of two or more adjacent structural genes that specifies the amino acid sequences of the corresponding polypeptides.

polygenic traits: Traits encoded by many loci.

polygyny: Any type of social organization in which one male mates with more than one female.

polylinker (multiple cloning site): A region of clustered unique restriction sites in a cloning vector.

polymerase chain reaction (PCR): A method used to replicate defined DNA sequences selectively and repeatedly from a DNA mixture.

polymorphic: Showing a variety of forms; a feature with alternative character states.

polynucleotide: A linear sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA.

polypeptide: A polymeric, covalently bonded linear arrangement of amino acids joined by peptide bonds.


polyploidy: The condition of a cell or organism that has more than its normal number of sets of chromosomes.

polyribosome (polysome): The complex between an mRNA molecule and all the ribosomes that are translating it simultaneously.

polytene chromosome: A special type of chromosome representing a bundle of numerous chromatids that have arisen by repeated cycles of replication of single chromatids without nuclear division. This type of chromosome is characteristic of various tissues of Diptera.

polytypic: A variable taxons that contains more than one taxon of the next lower category, such as a species with several subspecies or races.

pongid: A member of the family Pongidae, humans and the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) and their unique ancestors and collaterals.

pongine: Member of the subfamily Ponginae (the large-bodied Asian apes).

population: A community of potentially breeding individuals, usually at a given locality or within a limited geographic region.

population genetics: A branch of genetics that describes in mathematical terms the consequences of Mendelian inheritance on the population level.

porion: The uppermost point in the margin of the auditory meatus; the point which, with the lowest point on the orbit, defines the Frankfort Horizontal.

porphyry: An igneous rock consisting of coarse mineral grains scattered through a mixture of fine mineral grains.

positional behavior: How, when, and why an animal postures and moves itself within a particular environment.

positional cloning: The isolation of a gene association with a genetic disease on the basis of its approximate chromosomal position.

position effect: A change in the phenotypic effect of one or more genes as a result of a change in their position in the genome.

positive assortative mating: A mating that occurs more frequently between individuals who are phenotypically similar than it does among randomly chosen individuals.

positive feedback: A system’s response to external stimuli that leads to further change and reinforces it.

postcanine teeth: The premolars and molars, also called cheek teeth.

postcranium (postcranial skeleton): All elements of the skeleton below the skull.

posterior: Back.

posterior tooth loading: Force placed on the postcanine teeth, usually during mastication.

postorbital bar: Bony ridge surrounding the lateral side of the orbit in some primates and many other mammals.

postorbital breadth: The minimum transverse breadth of the frontal bone, the distance across the postorbital constriction.

postorbital constriction: Narrowing of the (frontal and sphenoidal walls of the) skull behind the orbits, where they form the inner wall of the temporal fossa.

posttranslational transport: Transport in which synthesis of the protein is completed before import into the organelle takes place.

potassium-argon dating: A method used to date rocks up to billions of years old, though it is restricted to volcanic material no more recent than approximately 100,000 years old. One of the most widely used methods in the dating of early hominid sites in Africa.

pot lid fracture: A concave scar on the surface of rock usually caused by differential expansion and contraction of the rock, such as heating by fire.

power grip: Hand hold in which there is grasping with the fingers positioned perpendicular to the object but with the palm diagonal, and using the thumb for applying significant force.

preadaptation: The concept that species, or their features, can be predesigned to meet the requirements of future adaptations.

prebregmatic eminence: See bregmatic eminence.

precision grip: Fine manipulation with the finger and thumb tips, as in turning a screwdriver.

precocial: Early or advanced in development.

precursor mRNA (primary transcripts; pre-mRNA): The initial transcript of a gene that is modified and/or processed to produce the mature, functional mRNA molecule. In eukaryotes, for example, the transcript is modified at both the 5′ and the 3′ ends, and in a number of cases RNA sequences that do not code for amino acids are present and must be excised.

precursor RNA molecule (primary transcripts; pre-RNA): The initial transcript whose processing may involve the addition and/or removal of bases, the chemical modification of some bases, or the cleavage of sequences from the precursor.

precursor rRNA (pre-rRNA): A primary transcript of adjacent rRNA genes (16S,23S, and 5S rRNA genes in prokaryotes; 18S, 5.8S, and 28S rRNA genes in eukaryotes) plus flanking and spacer DNA that must be processed to release the mature rRNA molecules.

precursor tRNA (pre-tRNA): A primary transcript of a tRNA gene whose bases must be extensively modified and that must be processed to remove extra RNA sequences in order to produce the mature tRNA molecule. In some cases, the primary transcript may contain the sequences of two or more tRNA molecules.

preferential: Of a marriage pattern (e.g., marriage with a cross-cousin, a brother’s widow, etc.), socially valued and desirable, but not conjoined.

prehensile: Capable of grasping.

prehistory: The period of human history before the advent of writing.

premastication: Preparing foods by softening or pounding before they are chewed, or chewing foods before they are presented to infants and young children.

premaxilla: Front part of the palate and subnasal maxilla, anterior to the middle of the canine roots and housing the incisors.

premolar: Tooth lying between the canine and molars, usually smaller than the molars and generally flat except for the most anterior lower tooth in species with a canine cutting complex.

Preneanderthal Hypothesis: The theory, mainly applied to Europe, that proposes two separate lineages can be found in the Middle or Late Pleistocene. It posits that Neanderthals diverged from a line leading to modern Europeans just before they became specialized.

Presapiens Hypothesis: The theory, mainly applied to Europe, that proposes two separate human lineages can be found in the Middle Pleistocene. One lineage (presapiens) evolved directly into modern H. sapiens populations and closely resembles these modern forms at an early date. The second lineage (preneanderthals) evolved into the European Neanderthal populations of the earlier Wurm glaciation and subsequently became extinct.

prescriptive marriage: In alliance threory, a requirement that marriage be with a partner in a particular kinship category. Even where “incorrect” marriages occur, they are likely to be classified as if they were correct, and kinship relations readjusted accordingly.

pressure flaker: A tool used to press a detached flake from an objective piece. This tool is often pointed and made of antler, wood, or bone.

pressure flaking: The removal of a detached piece from an objective piece by pressing rather than by percussion.

prestige goods: A term used to designate a limited range of exchange goods to which a society ascribes high status or value.

prestructuring: The inherent tendency for certain neural connections to form, with the consequence that particular behavioral associations are easier, or more likely, to be learned.

Pribnow box: A part of the promoter sequence in prokaryotic genomes that is located about 10 base pairs upstream from the transcription starting point. The consensus sequence for the Pribnow box is TATAAT. The Pribnow box is often referred to as the TATA box.

primary nondisjunction (nondisjunction): A rare event in which sister chromatids (in mitosis) or chromosomes contained in pairing configurations (in meiosis) fail to be distributed to opposite poles.

primary transcripts: See precursor RNA molecules.

primer: See RNA primer.

primitive feature: See plesiomorphic.

primitive valuables: A tern coined by Dalton to describe the tokens of wealth and prestige, often of specially valued items, that were used in the ceremonial exchange systems of non-state societies; examples include the shell necklaces and bracelets of the kula system.

primosome: A complex of E. coli primase, helicase, and perhaps other polypeptides that together become functional in catalyzing the initiation of DNA synthesis.

principle of independent assortment (second law): The law that the factors (genes) for different traits assort independently of one another. In other words, genes on different chromosomes behave independently in the production of gametes.

principle of segregation (first law): The law that two members of a gene pair (alleles) segregate (separate) from each other during the formation of gametes. As a result, one-half the gametes carry one allele and the other half carry the other allele.

probabilistic sampling: Sampling method, employing probability theory, designed to draw reliable general conclusions about a site or region, based on small sample areas. Four types of sampling strategies are recognized: (1) simple random ampling, (2) stratified random sampling, (3) systematic sampling, (4) stratified systematic sampling.

probability: The ratio of the number of times a particular event occurs to the number of trials during which the event could have happened.

proband: in human genetics, an affected person, with whom the study of a character in a family begins.

process: A long, tapering bony projection.

procumbent: Inclined forward or protruding.

product rule: The rule that the probability of two independent events occurring simultaneously is the product of each of their probabilities.

prognathous: Forward protrusion of the facial region, as a whole or in part (see alveolar prognathism), (cf. orthognathous).

projectile point: A biface that contain a haft area and is used as a projectile tip. These are often identified as arrow points, dart points, and spear points.

prokaryote: A cellular organism whose genetic material is not located within a membrane-bound nucleus.

promoter elements (modules): Consensus sequecnes found in the promoter region of the transcription initiation site. The elements are the TATA box (or Goldberg-Hogness box), CAT element, and the GC element.

promoter site: A specific regulatory nucleotide sequence in the DNA to which RNA polymerase binds for the initiation of transcription.

pronation: Rotation of the forearm so that the palm faces downward, the reverse movement from supination.

proofreading: in DNA synthesis, the process of recognizing a basepair error during the polymerization events and correcting it. Proofreading is a property of the DNA polymerase in prokaryotic cells.

prophage: A temperate bacteriophage integrated into the chromosome of a lysogenic bacterium. It replicates with the replication of the host cell’s chromosomes.

prophase: The first stage in mitosis or meiosis during which the chromosomes (already replicated) condense and become visible under the microscope.

prophase I: The first stage of meiosis. There are several stages of phophase I, including leptonema, zygonema, pachynema, diplonema, and diakinesis.

prophase II: The second stage of meiosis during which there is chromosome contraction.

propliopithecine: Member of the subfamily Propliopithecinae.

proportion of polymorphic loci: A ratio calculated by determining the number of polymorphic loci and dividing by the total number of loci examined.

proposita: In human genetics, an affected female person, with whom the study of a character in a family begins.

propositus: in human genetics, an affected male person, with whom the study of a character in a family begins.

prosthion: The most forward point on the upper jaw between the central incisors.

protein: One of a group of high-molecular weight, nitrogen-containing organic compounds of complex shape and composition.

protein degradation control: Regulation of the protein degradation rate.

proto-oncogenes: A gene that in normal cells functions to control the normal proliferation of cells, and that when mutated or changed in any other way becomes an oncogene.

prototroph: A strain that is a wild type for all nutritional requirement genes and thus requires no supplements in its growth medium.

provenience: The exact circumstances of how a specimen is related to the deposit in which it is found.

provenance: The geological origin of rock.

proximal: Closer to the midline of the body, applies to the appendicular skeleton.

proximal end of flake: The end of a flake or detached piece that contains the striking platform. On a conchoidal flake the proximal end will contain the bulb of force.

pseudo-archaeology: The use of selective archaeological evidence to promulgate nonscientific, fictional accounts of the past.

pseudodominance: The unexpected expression of a recessive trait, caused by the absence of the dominant allele.

pterion: Temple resion of the skull, where the frontal, parietal, temporal, and sphenoid bones meet.

pterygoid muscle: A two part muscle extending from the lateral pterygoid plate to the medial ramus and gonial angle (medial part, closing the jaw and generating occlusal force) and the top of the ramus (lateral part, opening the jaw and moving it from side to side).

pterygoid plate: Paired bony plates on the inferior surface of the sphenoid bone, the lateral ones for attachment of two muscles of mastication, the lateral and medial pterygoid muscles.


pubis: The front of the pelvis, formed by the parts of the innominate that meet at the midline.

pulp (cavity): The vascularized and innervated tissue enclosed in the center of a tooth.

Pulse Hypothesis: A theory that begins with the assumption that all evolutionary changes are related to speciations and extinctions. If so, during a period of climate change the rates of speciation and extinction would be expected to accelerate, and therefore major climatic changes create a turnover pulse of rapid evolutionary change as whole new species groups replace older ones.

Punctuated Equilibrium Theory: A model of evolution in which changes occur when new species are formed and only rarely are slowly and gradually accumulated during the stable periods between speciations.

Punnett square: A matrix that describes all the possible genetic fusions that will give rise to the zygotes that will produce the next generation.

purine: A type of nitrogenous base. In DNA and RNA the purines are adenine and guanine.

pyrimidine: A type of nitrogenous base. Cytosine is a pyrimidine in DNA and RNA; thymine is a pyrimidine in DNA, and uracil is a pyrimidine in RNA.

pyrotechnology: The intentional use and control of fire by humans or other hominids.


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Keesing, R.M. 1975. Kin Groups and Social Structure. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace.
Renfrew, C., and P. Bahn. 1996. Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc.
Russell, P.J. 1998. Genetics. Menlo Park: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Wolpoff, M. 1999. Paleoanthropology. second edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill.