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Anthropology 102: Introduction to Human Evolution

Sara Stinson

(Submission #9)

Course Description

Evolution is one of the central, unifying theories of biological science. In 1973, Theodore Dobzhansky, one of the most influential figures in evolutionary biology, wrote "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." This course pursues an integrative approach to the study of human evolution. Situating humans within the animal kingdom as members of the Primate Order, students are introduced to evolution from multiple perspectives: molecular genetics, population genetics, and the fossil record; on multiple levels, including molecular, organismic, population, species, and higher order taxonomic units. This class also relates the theory of evolution to other fields of scientific inquiry: biological systematics, ethology, morphology, biomechanics, and geology. The course is designed to achieve PLAS goals as follows:

1. To demonstrate how biological anthropology and evolutionary biology create knowledge and understanding, this course introduces the students to the scientific method and its role in developing our understandings of how evolution has shaped our species and produced biological variation among modern humans. This course aims to make students aware of the investigative roles of observation, construction and testing of research hypotheses, experimental design, and data analysis.

2. To position biological anthropology and evolutionary biology within the liberal arts and the larger society, using human evolution as a central theme. Liberal arts refer to a college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum. This course illustrates how core biological concepts relate to our understanding of the origins of our species, as well as exposing the connections between humans and non-human primates. Throughout the course there will be an emphasis on the ways in which scientists learn about human evolution and the significance of human evolution for understanding humans today.

3. To introduce students to a body of knowledge at the core of the natural sciences: the biological basis of life, the basics of cell biology and molecular genetics, Mendelian genetics, population genetics, systematics, molecular phylogeny, cladistic analysis, behavioral studies, biomechanics, and analysis of the fossil record.

4. To enhance quantitative reasoning among students through assignments that employ quantitative exercises in the context of evolutionary theory.

5. To introduce students to the primary sources of literature on human evolution and other primary materials such as the skeletons of non-human primates and replicas of fossils related to human evolution.

6. To reveal the existence and importance of change through time, the natural processes that result in biological change across the generations are the primary focus of this course. The course discusses how natural selection, mutations, gene flow, and genetic drift result in biological change over time. The course also examines the fossil record as a direct source of evidence of biological change.

7. To illuminate diversity, as well as the nature and construction of forms of difference, this course considers how the forces of evolution have shaped biological variation in modern humans and examines how environmental variation around the world, as well as the distribution of pathogens, has affected stature and body proportions, pigmentation, and the distribution of other heritable traits in different human populations.


Area of Knowledge and Inquiry: Natural Science (NS)
Context of Experience: Not Applicable
Extended Requirement: Not Applicable

Additional Course information

Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
Existing Course: Existing
Existing Course Number: Anthropology 102
Course Anticipated to be offered: Every Semester
Other (if specified): 
Number of Sections: 5-8
Number of Seats: 45-120


[Justification, Materials, Assessment, and Administration (PDF)]   [Sample Syllabus (PDF)]  

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