Human Origins and Variation [CRN 77121]

Discipline: Anthropology
Instructor: Martin
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1040
End: 1200
Field Work: Day 1 - Friday, 21 October | Senegal Download Syllabus


This course examines the evolutionary history of humans by evaluating three lines of evidence; comparative primate anatomy and behavior, the human fossil record, and the paleolithic archaeological record.  In addition, human adaptation and variation will be examined from the perspective of today.  Of critical importance to these themes is an understanding of the biological basis of human culture. We first learn about the general mechanisms of evolution and genetics. We then use that as the basis to understand primate biology, behavior, and evolutionary history. We then examine the hominin fossil record to identify the first appearance of traits, biological and behavioral, that are important to the eventual appearance of our species, homo sapiens. Finally, we explore human biological variation around the world, and the ways by which humans have adapted to various environmental contexts. To this end we will be aided by our port visits, which will give us the opportunity to see examples of many of these processes first-hand and enrich our understanding of how our daily lives are influenced by our own unique evolutionary history and biology.

Field Work

Country: Senegal
Day: 1 - Friday, 21 October

This field class will involve a guided tour through the Reserve de Bandia, in Senegal, where students will have an opportunity to see African fauna in their natural habitat, providing an opportunity to see firsthand the types of environments where our earliest ancestors evolved. We will place special focus on tracking baboon troops and other non-human primates, and students will be expected to record details of primate group structure and behavior as outlined in class. The visit to the reserve will also provide a platform for discussing the conservation threats facing our closest surviving animal relatives.   Learning objectives:

  1. To observe the African landscape and different nonhuman primate species in their natural habitat.
  2. To learn and practice how to record primate group structure and behavior first hand.
  3. To learn about conservation threats facing our closest surviving animal relatives.