Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology is the study of human biological variation and evolution. Biological anthropologists seek to document and explain the patterning of biological variation among contemporary human populations, trace the evolution of our lineage through time in the fossil record, and provide a comparative perspective on human uniqueness by placing our species in the context of other living primates. Students concentrating in biological anthropology are advised to take a course in statistics, as well as one or more advanced courses in biological sciences.


Introduction to Biological Anthropology

The origin of our species has long been a topic of deep curiosity for humans. In this course, we will look at the scientific evidence for the origin and evolution of Homo sapiens. This course will use data from evolutionary theory, primatology, comparative anatomy, genetics, and paleontology to understand the latest hypotheses regarding human evolution and modern human behavioral biology.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Primate Evolution and Ecology

Humans are primates. The biology of our species cannot be fully understood outside of this context. This course offers a broad survey of living nonhuman primate diversity. The physical, behavioral, and ecological attributes of each of the major groups of primates will be discussed. Emphasis will be placed on traits relating to diet, locomotion, growth, mating, and social systems. Students will gain a comparative perspective on humankind.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Primate Biomechanics

This course is an introduction to the physical principles and musculoskeletal anatomies that underlie primate behavior, including especially primate locomotion and diet. We will study basic mechanics, bone biology, soft tissue and skeletal anatomy, primate behavioral diversity, and the primate fossil record in order to address why bones are shaped the way they are, and how scientists reconstruct behavior from fossils.  Emphasis will be on primate locomotion, including the origins and evolution of human bipedalism.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI


Human Behavioral Ecology

The human condition is characterized by immense biological and behavioral variation. The extent to which such variation is adaptive is topic a great importance and controversy. Current research in the field of human behavioral ecology reflects a growing interaction between the social and biological sciences. The objectives of this course are to critically examine the origin and development of this discipline and to survey the physiological and behavioral ways that humans interact with their environment.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Human Functional Anatomy

Anatomy is a science of nomenclature; it provides a universal language for understanding how and why form supports function. Such a biomechanical conceptual framework can inform our understanding of human biology. Yet the anatomical novelties that characterize modern humans are best appreciated when contextualized against living nonhuman primates and the hominin fossil record. Student grades will be based on a mastery of concepts from lectures and labs featuring cadavers, skeletal materials, models, and casts.

(BIOL) Dist: SLA.


Human Evolution

The fossil record demonstrates that humans evolved from an extinct ape that lived in Africa more than 5 million years ago. Paleoanthropology is the branch of biological anthropology that seeks to document and explain the evolution of our lineage using paleontological and archaeological data. This course provides a survey of human evolution in light of current scientific debates in paleoanthropology. Emphasis will be placed on the use of bones and teeth to infer the biology and behavior of prehistoric species. Prerequisite: Anthropology 6 or permission of the instructor.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Gross Anatomy: Scars of Medical Evolution

Human anatomy is important for medical professionals, artists, and anthropologists. This dissection-based course will explore the human body and its many imperfections. The deficiencies of our bodies —clumsy compromises in our teeth, feet, backs, bottoms, and birthings— are chronic clinical concerns that reflect our evolutionary history. Taking a cue from Wilton Krogman’s 1951 classic, Scars of Human Evolution, this course will demonstrate how and how far the human body fails by the standards of intelligent design.

(BIOL) Dist: SLA


Human Osteology

Human osteology is an important component of biological anthropology, with applications in archaeology, paleontology, forensics, and medicine. This course is designed to acquaint students with the normal anatomy of the human skeleton. Our focus is the identification of isolated and fragmentary skeletal remains. Students are introduced to principles of bone growth and remodeling, biomechanics, morphological variation within and between populations, pathology, ancient DNA, taphonomy, and forensics. Practical techniques are developed in regular laboratory sessions. Prerequisite: Anthropology 6 or permission of the instructor.

(BIOL) Dist: SLA.

ANTH 50.30

Human and Comparative Gross Anatomy

Human and Comparative Gross Anatomy is a laboratory class that offers undergraduate students the rare opportunity to learn anatomy through anatomical dissection. Students will work in small teams to dissect human body donors, with various other vertebrate animals also available for dissection and study. Cadaver dissection is the best method by which to learn about the structures of the human body, their integration, and, most importantly, variation among humans. This is an intensive course, requiring hours of study both in the lab and from texts, but it rewards you for those hours with a strong understanding of anatomy.

(BIOL) Dist: SLA

ANTH 50.43

Social, Environmental, and Health Impacts of Human Conflict

This course will introduce students to the impacts of genocide, war, and other forms of structural violence on population, individual, and environmental health. Students will examine these impacts primarily from public health, life history, and ecosystem perspectives. This course also asks students to think critically about opportunities for scholarly contributions to prevent and/or mitigate these impacts.
(CULT or BIOL) Dist: SOC WCult: NW

ANTH 50.44

Darwin and Human Evolution

This course explores what we have learned about human evolution, behavior, and biological diversity in the 150 years since Charles Darwin wrote The Descent of Man. The course will coincide with a Winter symposium in which the contributing authors of A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin's Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong about Human Evolution will visit campus, give talks, and engage with our students. ANTH 50.44 is designed for anthropology and biology majors.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI

ANTH 50.46 (Identical to BIOL 28, EARS 32)


Macroevolution focuses on the evolutionary process from the perspective of the species and through the lens of deep time. More specifically, it focuses on the issue of whether life is organized hierarchically, and if so, can selection occur at any/all of these other levels, in addition to the level of the organism. This course is especially well suited for discussion and question, as the definition of macroevolution, as well as its very existence, is under intense discussion by both microevolutionists and macroevolutionists alike. Topics covered include punctuated equilibrium, species-level selection, homology, and mass extinctions.

(BIOL) Dist: Sci


Health and Disease in Evolutionary Perspective

This course explores how principles from biological anthropology can provide insight into human health and disease. This course also asks students to critically analyze prevailing medical concepts of 'normal' physiology and illness. We adopt a comparative approach to consider the evolutionary, physiological, and cultural bases of human health and disease by examining case studies in the following areas:

  • i) human diet and nutrition
  • ii) demography, life history, and reproduction
  • iii) pathogens, parasites, and immunity.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Evolution of Pregnancy, Birth, and Babies

This course examines human universals and cross-cultural variation in pregnancy, birth, and infant development. In the first section, principles of life history theory and human reproductive ecology are introduced, and students will learn how assisted birth evolved in humans. In the second section, students will analyze expectations and systems of pregnancy, birth, and infant care in a cross-cultural context. Throughout the course, students will evaluate current controversies surrounding medical models of childbirth, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping.

(BIOL) Dist: INT or SCI.


Human Biological Variation

How do human populations adapt to their local environments? What is more important for influencing human variation—genes or the environment? In this course you will learn about patterns of modern human biological variation as well as research methods employed by biological anthropologists to study these patterns. You will also learn important skills for all anthropologists, including hypothesis generation, study design, how to write a grant, and how to be an effective reviewer.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


Experiencing Human Origins and Evolution

This course will examine current evidence for human origins and evolution, with a particular emphasis on South Africa. Students will learn and experience firsthand how fossils, archaeological sites, and living model systems are used collectively to reconstruct and interpret the path and circumstances by which we became human. A course extension in South Africa will be offered to enable direct experience with the sites, organisms, and challenges discussed in class. 

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.


The Human Spectrum

Culminating experience.

Contemporary foraging peoples are often viewed as ecological relicts and therefore instructive models for understanding the selective pressures that gave rise to the human condition. The objective of this course is to critically evaluate this enduring concept by examining the spectrum of human interactions with tropical habitats. We will also evaluate the basis of recent popular trends – the paleo diet, raw foodism, barefoot running, parent-child co-sleeping – that emphasize the advantages of a “natural” pre-agricultural lifestyle.

(BIOL) Dist: SOC; WCult: NW.


The Evolution of Upright Walking

Culminating experience.

This is an advanced course designed to explore in-depth both the historical and current understandings of human bipedalism. This course is reading-intensive, with an average of 5 primary journal papers assigned per meeting. We will investigate hypotheses for why bipedalism evolved, the form of locomotion bipedalism evolved from, and the fossil evidence for early hominin bipedality in the ardipithecines and australopithecines.

(BIOL) Dist: SCI.