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The drop-down boxes below give detailed information on the content of BioAnth papers. BioAnth papers are offered to students from different Triposes, who can sit them as part of both Part I and Part II depending on each Tripos.

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
  • One-term Courses:
    • B11  The Human Species: Evolution, Dispersals and Diversity
    • B13  Culture Evolves
    • B14  A Technologically Dependent Lineage
    • B15  Human Sociality: Evolutionary Perspectives on Cooperation, Culture and Cognition
    • B17  Our Extended Family: Primate Biology and Behaviour 
    • B18  Decoding the Skeleton (this paper is capped, express interest in taking it here: https://cambridge.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2mAv5P1mGLilhwa)
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 lectures

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: To be confirmed.
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 also explores biological variation within and between human populations, drawing on evidence from both past and contemporary human groups by combining perspectives from the fields of Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Genetics, Osteoarchaeology and Human Biology. The paper considers 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: To be confirmed.
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: Dr Enrico Crema
Michaelmas Term: 9 lectures & 7 ‘hands-on’ sessions
Lent Term: 10 lectures & 6 ‘hands-on’ sessions

Assessment: Coursework

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 Lahr
Michaelmas Term: 12 lectures & 4 seminars

Assessement: Coursework

B13 – Culture Evolves

B13 – Culture Evolves

Does cultural change constitute a form of evolutionary process that shares fundamental similarities to genetic evolution? What are the key differences and similarities between the two?  This paper provides a comprehensive survey of the field of cultural evolutionary studies, which explores 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 social learning. Selected topics include theoretical models of cultural transmission, the application of macroevolutionary methods to study 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 developing and exploring computer simulations of human behaviour.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Enrico Crema
Timetable to be confirmed. 16 lectures & seminars.

Assessment: 2 hour exam

B14 – A Technologically Dependent Lineage

B14 – A Technologically Dependent Lineage

Humans are unique among primates in their dependence on technology. This paper explores how and why hominins (incl. modern humans) became entirely dependent upon technology, and how the development of stone and organic tools over the last three million years can be used to unravel this story. After establishing a foundation in gene-culture co-evolutionary theory, we will explore how hominin anatomy and technology evolved together to produce our diverse fossil and artefact record. This includes focused discussion on hominin cognition, language, post-cranial anatomy, and subsistence behaviours, and how each was facilitated and influenced by material culture. Equally, we will discuss how the evolutionary trajectory of stone and organic technology was impacted by anatomical and cognitive developments in the human lineage. Further, we will investigate several major technological innovations and the role they played in the colonisation of highly diverse ecological settings across Africa, Eurasia and the Americas. This includes the use of fire, clothing, and projectile technologies, among others.

Paper Coordinator: Dr Alastair Key
Timetable to be confirmed. 16 lectures & seminars.

Assessment: To be confirmed.

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

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 Sylvain Lemoine
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.

Please note that places on this paper are limited. Allocation takes place at the discression of the Department. Details of the application process are provided during the start of year induction events.

 

Paper Coordinator: Dr Emma Pomeroy
Michaelmas Term: 16 lectures, seminars & practical sessions

Examination: submitted work

(this paper is capped, express interest in taking it here: https://cambridge.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2mAv5P1mGLilhwa)

Dissertation

Dissertations in Biological Anthropology as part of the Archaeology Tripos
 

Dissertations towards the completion of Part IIB in the Archaeology Tripos (Biological Anthropology Track or Biological Anthropology/Archaeology Joint Track) or as a Part II option/minor in the PBS or NST Triposes follow these regulations:

  • A topic within the field of Biological Anthropology, approved by the Head of Department 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 on the second Friday of Easter Term

 

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

Dissertations submitted towards the completion of Part II in the NST Biological and Biomedical Sciences ‘Major in Human Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour’ follow these regulations:

  • A topic within the field of Biological Anthropology, approved by the division of 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

Further guidance is available on the BBS Dissertation webpage.

 

Paper Coordinator: BioAnth Part II Coordinator