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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  The human species: evolution, dispersals and diversity
    • B12  The inner ape: Hominin origins and evolution
    • B13  Evolution, medicine, and public health: new perspectives on health and disease
    • B14  A Technologically Dependent Lineage 
    • B15  Human Sociality: evolutionary perspectives on cooperation, culture and cognition
    • 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

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.

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 behaviour from a comparative perspective, emphasising both the primate evolutionary context and the vast diversity within our species. The paper begins with a focus on non-human primates and introduces students to the core principles of primatology. Particular attention is paid to the interrelationships between foraging strategies, social systems and life-history. We then situate humans within the broader primate context by exploring how the shift to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle drove the evolution of our derived life-history and social behaviour. Finally, we consider evolutionary explanations for the astounding behavioural diversity across the entire spectrum of human societies, from industrialised market economies to small-scale farmers, pastoralists and foragers. Variation in mate choice, marriage systems, familial relationships and fertility rates among human populations is examined.

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 is organised into two parts - an overview of human evolution in Michaelmas Term (16 lectures), and a set of 8 lectures focused on the evolution of modern humans and their interaction with other contemporary hominin species. In Michaelmas, the paper introduces students to human evolution, with an emphasis on the fossil record and the evolutionary principles that shaped the evolution of our lineage. The course will explore the apes of the Miocene, and discuss the controversies surrounding hominin origins; it will review the record for Pliocene hominins, focusing on evolutionary trends among the australopithecines, the appearance of morphological and technological innovations, and the role of African geography in shaping early hominin diversity; it will introduce the debate on the origins of the genus Homo, and explore the evolutionary geography of inter-continental hominin dispersals in the Pleistocene; finally, it will critically assess the fossil record for the evolution of multiple regional species in the later Quaternary, including our own, and explore the adaptive processes that led to this diversity. In Lent, the paper will focus on later hominins, the evidence for their behaviour and morphological adaptive trends, and the genetic evidence for inter-specific interactions.

Paper Coordinator: Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr

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 to 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: TBA

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: TBA
Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures & seminars
Lent Term: 16 Lectures & seminars

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

B11 – The human species: evolution, dispersals and diversity

B11 – The human species: evolution, dispersals and diversity

This paper explores the evolution of our species and its diversity, with a particular focus on Africa. The paper is organised as a mixture of lectures and discussion seminars, addressing (1) the evidence for the evolution of humans in Africa, (2) the concept of 'behaviourally modern', (3) the debates on the number of modern human dispersals out of Africa, (4) the socio-demographic inferences that may be drawn from the genomic diversity, (5) the extinction of megafauna, (6) farming dispersals and linguistic diversity, and (7) the role of the Holocene filter in shaping human diversity today. Students will lead (or co-lead) the discussions, and choose a topic among those discussed to develop into a 2000 word essay as their coursework. In the last session, students will make a short presentation on the subject of their essay.

Paper Coordinator: Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr

Michaelmas Term: 12 lectures & 4 seminars
Assessement: Coursework

B12 – The inner ape: Hominin origins and evolution

B12 – The inner ape: Hominin origins and evolution

This paper focuses on the origins of hominins and the adaptations that shaped the early evolution of our lineage. The paper discusses the controversies surrounding ape evolution in the Miocene, the first evidence of bipedalism, and the adaptive variation in Pliocene hominins. The paper will consist of a combination of lectures, seminars and practical sessions.

Paper Coordinator: TBA

Lent Term: 16 Lectures
Assessment: 2 hour exam

B13 – Evolution, medicine, and public health: new perspectives on health and disease

B13 – Evolution, medicine, and public health: new perspectives on health and disease

This paper explores patterns of health and disease from our earliest hominin ancestors right through to the present day, taking an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary medicine and evolutionary public health, emerging fields combining evolutionary biology, behavioural ecology, and biological anthropology offer a new lens through which we can understand human health and risks of disease. In this course we will discuss the concepts of “health” and “disease”; explore how the evolution of human biology has shaped risk of disease throughout hominin evolution; scrutinize the interactions between ecology, geography, culture and patterns of health and disease throughout hominin evolution and across the human life course; and investigate how an evolutionary approach to medicine and public health may help predict, prevent, treat and individual and population risks of diseases, including the recent non-communicable disease epidemic.

Paper Coordinator:  Dr. Rihlat Said Mohamed

Lent 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 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:  Dr Philip Nigst

Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures & seminars

Assessment: 2 hour exam

B15 – Human Sociality: evolutionary perspectives on cooperation, culture and cognition

B15 – Human Sociality: evolutionary perspectives on cooperation, culture and cognition

This course focuses on understanding the remarkable social behaviour and cognition of our species. Whilst cooperation is widespread throughout the natural world, many anthropologists consider human prosociality as unparalleled. Here, we consider evolutionary explanations for the scale and ubiquity of cooperation between non-relatives and the emergence of our prosocial emotions. Along the way students are introduced to the field of cultural evolution as we explore the co-evolutionary relationship between human culture and cooperation. We also address the evolution of our highly sophisticated social cognition, and finish by examining the persistence of disturbances to the social brain such as autism and schizophrenia. Throughout the term ongoing debates related to human social evolution are discussed, including the relationship between cooperation, religion and morality. Additionally, analytical techniques used in the study of sociality such as game theory and social network analysis are introduced.

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: Dr Guy Jacobs
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.

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

B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

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, and health. It explores the different methods employed in skeletal analyses, and the basis for the techniques we use: for example how variation in living reference populations for which we know patterns of aging, sexual dimorphism, and 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: 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