Virtual anthropology (VA): a call for glasnost in paleoanthropology

G W Weber
Anatomical Record 2001 August 15, 265 (4): 193-201
The adventurous scientist, with a hat protecting him from the fierce sun as he travels from one remote place to another, hunting for fossils of our ancestors, has been a part of the romantic imagination associated with anthropological research in the 20th Century. This picture of the paleoanthropologist still retains a grain of truth. Indeed, many new sites were discovered under troublesome conditions in the recent past and have added substantial information about our origins. But on another front, probably less sensational but no less important, are contributions stemming from the analysis of the already discovered fossils. With the latter, a rapid evolution in anthropologic research took place concurrently with advances in computer technology. After ambitious activities by a handful of researchers in some specialized laboratories, a methodologic inventory evolved to extract critical information about fossilized specimens, most of it preserved in the largely inaccessible interior as unrevealed anatomic structures. Many methodologies have become established but, for various reasons, access to both the actual and the digitized fossils is still limited. It is time for more transparency, for a glasnost in paleoanthropology. Herein are presented some answers to the question of how a high-tech approach to anthropology can be integrated into a predominantly conservative field of research, and what are the main challenges for development in the future.

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