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Department of Archaeology

 

The drop-down boxes below give detailed information on the content of BioAnth papers on offer to undergraduate students.The numbers and names correspond to the modular options listed under each track under the BioAnth as part of various Triposes.

Part I (Archaeology, HSPS, and  PBS students):

  • B1  Humans in Biological Perspective

Part II (ArchaeologyHSPSMedST/VetSTNST, and PBS students):

  • Full-year Courses:
    • B2    Human Ecology and Behaviour
    • B3    Human Evolution
    • B4    Comparative Human  Biology
    • B5    From Data to Interpretation
    • B6    Major Topics in Human Evolutionary Studies
  • One-term Courses:
    • B11  What Finches Tell Us About Humans 
    • B12  Culture Evolves 
    • B13  Health and Disease Throughout Human Evolution 
    • B14  A Technologically Dependent Lineage 
    • B15  Friends, Relatives and Communities: Human Social Evolution 
    • B16  Genomes: Ancient, Modern and Mixed 
    • B17  Our Extended Family: Primate Biology and Behaviour 
    • B18  Decoding the Skeleton 
B1 – Humans in Biological Perspective

B1 – Humans in Biological Perspective

This paper provides a broad introduction to Biological Anthropology and can be taken as an option by students in the Archaeology, HSPS (Human, Social and Political Sciences) and PBS (Psychological and Behavioural Sciences) Triposes.

The paper covers major topics in Biological Anthropology, including non-human Primate Biology, Evolution and Behaviour, Human Origins, Comparative Perspectives on Human Health, Growth and Nutrition, and Human Genetic Diversity. The paper introduces students to behavioural and gene-environment interactions, and the ecology and adaptations of modern populations in the context of their growth, health and cultural diversity. Specific topics covered include the diversity of primates, major patterns and processes in the evolution of humans, the burden of malnutrition and interrelationships with poverty, the role of nature and nurture in shaping the human mind, and insights into the genetic diversity within and between human groups. The paper concludes with a special set of practical sessions in Easter Term on how to reconstruct aspects of an individual and his/her life from the skeleton – an introduction to human osteobiographies.

Paper Coordinator: Dr. Emma Pomeroy
Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures
Lent Term: 16 Lectures
Easter Term: 4 2-hour practical sessions

Assessment: 3-hour exam

B2 – Human Ecology and Behaviour

B2 – Human Ecology and Behaviour

This paper examines human ecology from a comparative perspective, emphasising both the primate evolutionary context and the vast diversity within our species.

The paper introduces students to the core principles of ecology and behavioural ecology, as a framework for exploring adaptation in humans and non-human primates. Diversity in primate behaviour is broadly examined, ranging from foraging strategies to social organisation to communication. We will then consider how human life-history, social structure and subsistence can be situated within the broader context of the primate order; and explore the extent to which our capacity for culture, cooperation and language is shared with our closest relatives. Additionally, human adaptation will be analysed from a cross-cultural perspective, considering society from an evolutionary standpoint and surveying the entire spectrum of human ways of life, with a particular emphasis on small-scale societies.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Nikhil Chaudhary

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures
Lent Term: 8 Lectures & 3 seminars
Assessment: 3 hour exam

B3 – Human Evolution

B3 – Human Evolution

This paper provides a foundation in Human Evolution.

The paper looks at human evolution from its primate context millions of years ago to the present day. It explores hominin origins and their relationship to the apes, the emergence of bipedalism in an ecological framework, and the adaptive radiation of hominins between 4 and 2 million years ago. It examines the first tool use of hominins more than 2.5 million years ago, and the factors shaping the evolution of early Homo and their technology within Africa. From shortly after 2 million years ago, hominins dispersed beyond Africa, and we will look at the fossil and archaeological record for these dispersals and adaptations, their diversity, as well as their behaviour and technology. We focus in detail on the emergence and dispersal of modern humans, giving particular focus on the diversity of their technology and adaptations in different parts of the world, and their relationship to both the climate in which they evolved and the archaic competitors such as Neanderthals whom they out-survived. We will explore modern human dispersal(s) and how these shaped human diversity. The context for all this will be evolutionary theory and biology, looking at the role of selection and adaptation, and the processes by which lineages diversify and potentially become extinct. We will look at the relative importance of genes, phenotypes and behaviour in the evolutionary process.

Paper Coordinator: Prof Robert Foley

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures
Lent Term: 8 Lectures & 3 seminars
Assessment: 3 hour exam

B4 – Comparative Human Biology

B4 – Comparative Human Biology

This paper examines the biology of our species in the context of non-human primate and wider mammalian variation.

The paper covers diverse aspects of human biology, including anatomy, physiology, behaviour, cognition, growth patterns and life-history characteristics. It considers the ways in which our biology differs from that of our closest living relatives, the non-human primates, as well as mammals and vertebrates more broadly. It will also explore biological variation within and between human populations, drawing on evidence from both past and contemporary human populations by combining perspectives from the fields of Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Genetics, Osteoarchaeology and Human Biology. The paper will consider not only how we vary, but why, discussing both the underlying evolutionary mechanisms (such as natural selection, neutral variation and epigenetics), as well as the developmental basis of the variation we observe.

Paper Coordinator: Dr. Rihlat Said Mohamed

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures
Lent Term: 8 Lectures & 3 seminars

Assessment: 3 hour exam

B5 - From Data to Interpretation

B5 – From Data to Interpretation

This paper introduces students to quantitative data analysis and scientific computing.

This paper provides foundational skills for critical thinking, data handling, and quantitative analysis for archaeological and anthropological research. It covers theoretical, methodological, and practical aspects of modern scientific research, enabling the identification of appropriate statistical analyses and relevant data required to address specific research questions. Lectures cover theoretical aspects pertaining the logic of scientific arguments and the core principles of statistical inference, as well as key concepts of data handling, visualisation, and analysis. Practical sessions and supervisions provide hands-on experience for carrying out many of the analysis presented in the lecture primarily through the use of R statistical computing language.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Enrico Crema

Michaelmas Term: 9 lectures + 7 ‘hands-on’ sessions
Lent Term: 10 lectures & 6 ‘hands-on’ sessions

Assessment: Coursework

B6 – Major Topics in Human Evolutionary Studies

B6 – Major Topics in Human Evolutionary Studies

This paper addresses the question of what are the key questions in Biological Anthropology
and how to investigate them in practice.

The paper is an exploration of current topics and issues at the core of Biological Anthropology - the evolutionary underpinnings of the biological and behavioural variation of humans, our hominin ancestors and our closest living animal relatives - i.e., the broader field of human evolutionary studies. It is designed to build on the background knowledge in biology and anthropology that students have acquired in their first and second years, in order to look at what are major questions of debate and what are the ways to approach these - in other words, what are the problems and how do we address them. It will comprise eight modules, each looking at a particular area of the discipline. These will vary from year to year, to reflect topical areas where research is changing rapidly. The emphasis will be on a) how to identify important questions; b) show how these relate to broader issues in anthropology and biology; c) focus on the practical methods and approaches being used or developed to tackle these questions; and d) provide guidance in how to put into practice knowledge and understanding in pure and applied science. Examples of potential topics include epigenetics, the origins of war, extinction biology, ancient DNA, climate change, phylogenetics and evolution.

Paper Coordinator: Prof Robert Foley
Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures & seminars
Lent Term: 16 Lectures & seminars

Assessment: submitted work in the form of a project proposal.

B11 – What Finches Tell Us About Humans

B11 – What Finches Tell Us About Humans

This paper explores concepts and principles in evolutionary theory and their application to the evolution of humans.

The paper covers key concepts in evolution theory - selection, drift, adaptation, behavioural ecology, the evolution of form, allometry & heterochrony, species & speciation, extinction, evolutionary geography, evolutionary systematics and macroevolution - each paired with cases and examples from human evolution, including a discussion of bipedalism as a complex adaptive system, the evolution of humans’ unique growth and life-history, patterns of speciation and hybridisation, the role of geographic dispersals in diversification, and hominin evolutionary trends. The paper is organised in the form of 8 lectures and 8 discussion seminars during which the case studies in human evolution are explored.

Paper Coordinator: Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr

Lent Term: 12 lectures & 4 seminars
Assessement: 2 hour exam

B12 – Culture Evolves

B12 – Culture Evolves

This paper examines how evolutionary theory can be explained to understand cultural change.

Does cultural change constitute a form of evolutionary process that share fundamental similarities to genetic evolution? What are the key differences and what are their implications? This paper provides a comprehensive survey of the field of cultural evolutionary studies, which studies human and non-human cultural change using methods and concepts based on evolutionary theory. In this framework, cultural change is seen as changes over time in the frequency of cultural variants expressed in a population. This could be the result of factors such as natural selection, drift, or migration, but also innovation and different forms of transmission biases. Selected topics include theoretical models of social learning, the application of phylogenetic methods to cultural data, inferential tools for analysing fashion cycles, and key concepts such as cumulative cultural evolution and cultural group selection. The paper also introduces practical skills for creating computer simulations of human behaviour and phylogenetic analysis of cultural data.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Enrico Crema

Lent Term: 10 lectures, 2 seminars, 4 Lab Sessions
Assessement: 2 hour exam

B13 – Health and Disease throughout Human Evolution

B13 – Health and Disease throughout Human Evolution

This paper explores patterns of human health and disease from our evolutionary ancestors through to the present day.

From conception to death, humans undergo a process of development that is shaped by genes, pathogens and environment. This process is a product both of evolutionary change and of the succession of environments that individuals encounter through their lives, resulting in health patterns in populations that vary greatly with time, space and culture. This course explores means to characterize health patterns of different populations from the archaeologically recovered and historically documented past up to the present day, and goes on to predict health over the next century. We will investigate how disease has shaped the way humans have evolved, how diseases have evolved to exploit humans, and how humans have attempted to treat disease through the practice of medicine.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Piers Mitchell

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures & seminars
Assessment: 2 hour exam

B14 – A Technologically Dependent Lineage

B14 – A Technologically Dependent Lineage

This paper explores how and why hominins and humans became a species entirely dependent upon technology, and how the history of stone tools over the last three million years can be used to unravel this story.

Humans are unique in many ways, but one  of these is that we are a technologically-dependent species; while other species are known to use tools, few if any, are really dependent in the sense that they would go extinct if they were removed from their behavioural repertoire. Humans would. This course looks at the role that technology played in in human evolution, from its primate foundations to the dispersals of modern humans across the globe. We will look at the broader issues of how technology impacts on hominin evolution and the evolutionary process, the nature of lithic production and what it tells us about behaviour and cognition, and how and why technology came to be at  the core of hominin behaviour.

Paper Coordinator:  Prof Robert Foley

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures & seminars

Assessment: 2 hour exam

B15 – Friends, Relatives and Communities: Human Social Evolution

B15 – Friends, Relatives and Communities: Human Social Evolution

This paper highlights the pivotal role cooperation and sociality have played in human evolutionary history whilst also exploring the striking diversity in social structure and behaviour both within and between contemporary societies.

Cooperation is widespread throughout the natural world, but many anthropologists consider human prosocial behaviour as unparalleled. This course seeks to explain the scale and ubiquity of cooperation between genetically unrelated individuals and the evolution of our prosocial emotions and cognition. We will also consider which ecological factors best predict how societies are organised and how social network analysis can be used as an analytical tool in the study of social structure. Throughout the term ongoing debates and unresolved questions related to human social evolution will be discussed, including the relationship between religion and cooperation and the persistence of pathologies such as social anxiety and autism.

 

Paper Coordinator: Dr Nikhil Chaudhary

Michaelmas Term: 14 lectures & 2 seminars
Assessment: 2 hour exam

B16 – Genomes: Ancient, Modern and Mixed

B16 – Genomes: Ancient, Modern and Mixed

This paper explores human evolutionary genetics as a tool for understanding human diversity today.

The paper discusses core concepts and principles of human genetics and the tools through which adaptive evolution and population genetic histories can be inferred. It then explores key human genetic adaptations - dietary (lactose tolerance), environmental (high altitude, spleen size, pigmentation), immunological (malaria, plague, innate immunity) and developmental (stature, fat deposition). Having considered gene-based patterns, it introduces the main historical processes - dispersals, migrations, admixture - that have shaped human diversity through time, and discusses examples of gene-culture co-evolution. The paper ends with a discussion of the impact of ancient genomes on our understanding of both adaptive evolution and genetic history, as well as the extent to which admixture with ancient hominins has impacted on our diversity and adaptability.

 

Paper Coordinator: TBA
Lent Term: 16 lectures & seminars
Assessment: 2 hour exam

B17 – Our Extended Family: Primate biology and behaviour

B17 – Our Extended Family: Primate biology and behaviour

This paper explores the fascinating world of our closest relatives in the animal world - the diversity, evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates. Primates exhibit both unique features among mammals, such as their sociality, life history and potential for culture, but they also share with them patterns of adaptive radiations, extinction, dispersals and competition. Advanced primatology offers an opportunity to study current research topics that bring together the general approaches of evolutionary biology and the unique perspectives of primatologists. Aspects to be covered will include primate diversity, life history, diet, mating patterns, social relationships, cognition, culture and communication. The paper ends with an introduction to key issues in primate conservation throughout the world

Paper Coordinator: Dr Kathelijne Koops
Lent Term: 16 lectures & seminars
Assessment: 2 hour exam

B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

This paper explores how we can investigate human biology, adaptation, evolution and variation from skeletons and fossils.

Skeletons and fossils are frequently the only physical remains we have of past populations, and offer a crucial window on the biology and lives of our ancestors. This paper considers the varied aspects of life in the past that we can infer from bones, including age at death, sex, body size, growth, activity, health, and taxonomy. It explores the different methods employed in skeletal analyses, and the basis for the techniques we use: how variation in living reference populations for which we know patterns of aging, sexual dimorphism, growth, enable to infer these characteristics from the skeletal remains. It also considers the challenges of applying these techniques based on modern populations to the fossil and archaeological records. In addition to traditional methods for estimating characters such as life span and health, the paper explores how more recent developments in fields such as palaeogenomics, palaeoproteomics, analyses of 3D morphology and work on dental calculus offer new ways in which to understand ancient lifeways and relationships among different individuals, populations and species of hominins.

Paper Coordinators: Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr & Dr Emma Pomeroy
Michaelmas Term: 16 seminars & practical sessions
Examination: submitted work

 

 

Dissertation

Dissertations in Biological Anthropology as part of the Archaeology Tripos

  • Towards a Part IIB in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology Track or Biological Anthropology/Archaeology Joint Track
  • Towards a Part II in PBS or NST
     

Dissertations towards completion of a Part IIB in the Archaeology Tripos, or done as an option/minor by Part II students in the PBS or NST Triposes, follow these regulations:

  • A topic within the field of Biological Anthropology, approved by the HoD by the end of Michaelmas Term
  • Not more than 10,000 words, including footnotes, figures, tables, and captions but not including appendices and bibliography.
  • It may or not include original data collection and analysis (i.e., either in the form of a piece of original research, or in the form of an extended essay)
  • To be submitted at the division of Easter Term

Dissertations in Biological Anthropology as part of BBS, Natural Sciences Tripos

  • Towards a Part II in BBS Major in Human Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour
     

Dissertations towards completion of a NST Biological and Biomedical Sciences Part II, follow these regulations:

  • A topic within the field of Biological Anthropology, approved by the division of the Michaelmas Term
  • Not more than 6,000 words, excluding tables, figures, and references.
  • Not including original data collection and analysis (i.e., in the form of an extended essay)
  • To be submitted on the first Friday of Easter Term

Paper Coordinator: BioAnth Part II Coordinator