Humans are unique primates; anatomically peculiar and culturally complex, our 300,000 years on Earth have led us to be a species like no other. This module focuses on the scientific study of what it means to be human, from a combined biological and cultural perspective. The module traces the origins, and subsequent biological and cultural evolution, of modern humans (Homo sapiens) from the late Pleistocene through to the Holocene and modern era, highlighting the concurrent development of diet, cognition, anatomy, behaviour and culture. The proliferation of our species across the breadth of Earth's biogeographic environs will be studied, as will modern human life history, gene-culture co-evolution, variation in growth and biological adaptation – together with their genetic underpinnings – which contribute to our diversity. Our communicative, cultural and technological specialisation will be compared and contrasted with that of other extant primates. The co-dependence and co-evolution of human biology and culture will be assessed using fossil, genetic, artefact, anatomy and primate comparative-based evidence. By the end of the module students will have a thorough grounding in the core principles of biological anthropology as it relates to modern humans, and a comprehensive understanding of the evolutionary forces which have shaped our biology, ecology and culture. Laboratory and seminar-based teaching will emphasise practical skills and investigative techniques employed by biological anthropologists in their quest to understand what makes us human.
Total contact hours: 28
Private study hours: 122
Total study hours: 150
This module is compulsory for BSc Anthropology and BSc Biological Anthropology students. This module is also suitable as an optional module for students of the following degree programmes: BA Social Anthropology; BSc Biology. Also available as an elective module and suitable for short-course students.
Method of assessment
Popular science report to general public (2500 words) (50%)
Annotated bibliography (1500 words) (30%)
Practical assessment (1 hour) (20%) – this must be passed in order to pass the module.
Reassessment: Like for Like
Conroy, GC and Pontzer, H (2012) Reconstructing Human Origins: A Modern Synthesis, 3rd Edition. W.W. Norton and Company: London. (Paperback available to order online, 9 copies available in the Templeman Library)
Winfried, H., Tattersall, I., and Thorolf, H. (2015) Handbook of Palaeoanthropology. Springer, New York (Online eBook available through the Templeman Library)
Shea J (2017) Stone Tools in Human Evolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 9781107554931 (copies available in the Templeman Library)
Ruff, C.B. (2018) Skeletal Variation and Adaptation in Europeans: Upper Paleolithic to Twentieth Century. Wiley, Hoboken
Hardy, K. and Kubiak-Martens, L. (2016) Wild Harvest: Plants in the hominin and pre-agrarian human worlds. Oxbow Books, Oxford
Stojanowski, C.M. and Duncan, W.N. (2017) Studies in Forensic Biohistory: Anthropological Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (available as full-text e-book through Library).
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
8.1 Clearly understand the relationships between biological and cultural processes specifically in relation to modern human evolution and analyse the interplay between human biology, life history processes and human behaviour.
8.2 Critically discuss biological models and adaptive strategies to understand what makes modern humans distinct from other primates and earlier hominins (particularly with respect to cognition, communication, and culture).
8.3 Understand modern human variation and diversity, and the evolutionary forces which may have shaped it.
8.4 Identify artefacts from prehistoric populations key to understanding modern human geographic dispersal.
8.5 Understand causal and interpretative ideas about life processes and culture in different prehistoric modern-human populations, and the ways in which human identities are socially formed.
8.6 Identify and interpret the signs of different taphonomic processes on the preservation of human remains across different time scales.
8.7 Understand how changes in environment and diet contributed to modern human evolution.
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Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
- ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
- The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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