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A Science Odyssey Title Earth and Life Sciences Activity Title


Seeing and Believing

Overview: Research and discuss two early fossil finds
Learning Goal: Understand cultural assumptions' influence on scientists' conclusions
Video Link: Human Origins?

"If I hadn't believed it, I wouldn't have seen it!" goes one wry saying about paleoanthropology. In 1925, many scientists rejected the newly discovered Taung fossil as a human ancestor because it challenged their beliefs about human history. Present the Human Origins? segment. To guide students' viewing of the video, ask them to note what ideas the Taung fossil challenged. What new theories did it suggest?

To investigate how cultural assumptions can influence scientists' conclusions, have students compare scientists' reactions to the Taung Child and Piltdown Man. After they view the video, ask students to describe the Taung skull. How old was it? Where was it found? Which of its features were apelike and which human? How did this compare to the Piltdown fossil? Invite students to explain why many scientists preferred to see it rather than the Taung Child as a human ancestor. Can students think of other examples of science or society being resistant to new ideas? How can science reinforce social values or personal beliefs? How may it encourage people to question values and beliefs?


Activities subtitle

The Long View
DNA "Fingerprinting"
In-Depth Investigation: The Dating Game




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