Introduction to Physical Anthropology

Course Number: ATH 101
Transcript Title: Intro to Physical Anthropology
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: June 6, 2017
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 40
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 0
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: Yes
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit
Repeats available for credit: 0


MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121.

Course Description

Presents physical anthropology and the study of human biological evolution in the context of modern genetics and primate behavior studies. Examines bio-cultural variation, the human fossil record, adaptive significance, as well as the diversity and commonality of present and ancestral populations. Prerequisites: MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the scientific basis of physical anthropology in terms of biochemistry, genetics, evolutionary adaptation, and molecular biology.
  2. Analyze the fossil record in light of current information on genetics, evolutionary processes, molecular evidence of evolution, and the anatomy and behavior of living primates.
  3. Compare primate anatomy, behavior, gender roles, social organization, reproduction and ecology, as well as noting diversity, classification and geographic distribution of various species.
  4. Examine the evidence for emergent hominin cultural behavior over time, recognizing ancient variations as formative antecedents to modern human expressions.
  5. Identify how human diversity is a bio-cultural response to environmental and biological factors.

Alignment with Institutional Core Learning Outcomes

In-depth 1. Communicate effectively using appropriate reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. (Communication)


2. Creatively solve problems by using relevant methods of research, personal reflection, reasoning, and evaluation of information. (Critical thinking and Problem-Solving)
3. Extract, interpret, evaluate, communicate, and apply quantitative information and methods to solve problems, evaluate claims, and support decisions in their academic, professional and private lives. (Quantitative Literacy)


4. Appreciate cultural diversity and constructively address issues that arise out of cultural differences in the workplace and community. (Cultural Awareness)


5. Recognize the consequences of human activity upon our social and natural world. (Community and Environmental Responsibility)

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Tests, research papers, discussion, quizzes, homework, group projects, and other forms of assessment all may be used for this course at the instructor's discretion.

Course Activities and Design

Lectures, discussion, group activities, service learning are some of the potential activities that instructors may use at their discretion in this course.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

Themes, Concepts, and Issues

  • Basic concepts in physical anthropology.
  • The scientific method applied to the study of humans.
  • Differences between culturally and biologically determined behaviors.
  • The biological background for physical anthropology.
  • The structure of DNA, protein synthesis, and the significance of mutations in evolution.
  • ·Chromosomal structure, cell division, and aberration in creating variation and evolution.
  • Mendel's laws of inheritance.
  • Animal adaptations and diversity in geological time.
  • Features shared with other primates, other mammals, and other vertebrate animals.
  • Current examples from biochemistry, genetics, adaptation, and molecular biology.
  • Understanding of evolutionary theory applied to medicine.
  • The anatomy and behavior of living primates.
  • Diversity in the order primates: prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans.
  • Anatomical and locomotor adaptations of primates including humans.
  • The fossil record of humanity.
  • The evidence for human evolution.
  • Current data on genetics and evolutionary processes in the molecular evidence of evolution.
  • Important stages in the evolution of Homo sapiens
  • Questions and controversies involving the interpretation of fossil hominids and artifacts.
  • Emergence and transformations of human culture over time.
  • Earliest cultural behavior: living spaces and tool technologies.
  • Ancient cultural sources for modern human society.
  • Homo habilisand Homo erectus: developing culture-based lifeways.
  • Cultural behaviors of the Paleolithic peoples: evidence and interpretations.
  • Ancient cultural sources for modern human society: cognition and language.
  • Importance of the environment in human evolutionary success.
  • Past and present impact of the environment on human populations.
  • Possible future outcomes for our species based on present trends in environmental change.

Competencies and Skills

The successful student should be able to: 

  1. Describe how physical anthropologists use scientific evidence to explain evolutionary processes.
  2. Identify key examples from the fossil record to illustrate changes in primate and hominin development.
  3. Distinguish the different kinds of primates into various classifications, including humans.
  4. Provide examples of ancient cultural behavior, including artifacts and abstract thought.
  5. Connect modern human diversity with prehistoric responses to environment factors.