In the last decade of the twentieth century, anthropology, like many other disciplines, was deeply affected by the revolution in genetic science. Both as a set of methodological tools and as an object of study in its own right, genetics assumed an increasingly important place in anthropological research and practice, presenting new opportunities and new challenges. At the same time, public discourse around genetics intensified, touching on long-held concerns of anthropologists; yet the anthropological voice was not often heard, even when it was sorely needed. This confluence of developments led to the idea for a conference on anthropology and the new genetics. It came to fruition as a Wenner-Gren Foundation's international symposium, “Anthropology in the Age of Genetics: Practice, Discourse, Critique, ” which took place in June 1999, in Teresópolis, Brazil. This volume is a product of that conference.
I had become aware of the reverberations of the new genetics in anthropology primarily from reading the nearly one thousand grant proposals submitted to Wenner-Gren each year. This perspective afforded a significant— albeit only partial—window on the discipline. From this window I could see enormous potential for research in all areas of anthropology but also some danger signs. For each of the subfields, the developments in genetics opened up new problems for study and new approaches to old problems, but they also brought new difficulties.
The anthropological study of living nonhuman primates was profoundly affected by the advent of new genetic methods. For some time in this field, the predominant goal had been to identify the evolutionary significance of behaviors and social patterns. A key question, of course, was whether genes actually did get replicated in accordance with the predictions; but until recently, this question could be addressed only by inference. The invention