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Biological anthropology

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Title: Biological anthropology  
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Subject: Anthropology, Bibliography of anthropology, American anthropology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Outline of anthropology
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Biological anthropology

Primate skulls: Human, Chimpanzee, Orangutan, Macaque

Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline in which research is concerned with the biological and behavioral variation of human beings, other non-human primates, and extinct hominin ancestors of the human species.[1] It is a subfield of the broader discipline of anthropology, and it provides a biological perspective to the systematic study of human variation.


As a subfield of anthropology, biological anthropology itself is further divided into several branches. All branches are united in their common application of evolutionary theory to understanding human morphology and behavior.

  • Paleoanthropology, the study of fossil evidence for human evolution, studying extinct hominid and other primate species to determine the environment into which modern humans evolved, and how our species dispersed to eventually cover much of the earth's land mass.
  • Primatology, the study of non-human primate behavior, morphology, and genetics. Reasons via homology and analogy to infer how and why similar human traits evolved.
  • Human behavioral ecology, the study of behavioral adaptations (foraging, reproduction, ontogeny) from the evolutionary and ecologic perspectives, (see behavioral ecology). Human adaptation, the study of human adaptive responses (physiologic, developmental, genetic) to environmental stresses and variation.
  • Human biology, an interdisciplinary field of biology, biological anthropology, nutrition and medicine, concentrates upon international, population-level perspectives on health, evolution, adaptation and population genetics.
  • Bioarchaeology the study of past human cultures through examination of human remains recovered in an archaeological context. The examined human remains usually comprises bones, but may include preserved soft tissue. Researchers in bioarchaeology combine the skillsets of human osteology, paleopathology, and archaeology, and often consider the mortuary context of the remains in the final analysis.
  • Paleopathology is the study of disease in antiquity. This study focuses not only on pathogenic conditions observable in bones or mummified soft tissue, but also on nutritional disorders, variation in stature or the morphology of bones over time, evidence of physical trauma, or evidence of occupationally derived biomechanic stress.
  • Forensic anthropology, the application of osteology, paleopathology, archaeology, and other anthropological techniques for the identification of modern human remains or the reconstruction of events surrounding a person's death.


Franz Boas

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) of Göttingen, amassed a large collection of human skulls.

In the latter 19th century French physical anthropologists, led by Paul Broca (1824–1880), focused on craniometry while the German tradition, led by Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), emphasized the influence of environment and disease upon the human body. American thought evolved the “four-field approach”, skeletons, artefacts, language and culture (ways of life), based upon studying the remains of North American people.

In 1897 Columbia University appointed Franz Boas (1858–1942) as a physical anthropologist for his expertise in measuring schoolchildren and collecting Inuit skeletons. From his German education and training, Boas emphasized the mutability of the human form and minimized race (then a biology synonym) in favor of culture. Ales Hrdlicka (1869–1943), a physician, studied physical anthropology in France under Leonce Manouvrier before working at the Smithsonian Institution from 1902.

Aleš Hrdlička

Earnest Hooton (1887–1954), a Classics PhD from the University of Wisconsin, entered anthropology as an Oxford Rhodes Scholar under R. R. Marett and the anatomist Arthur Keith. Harvard University hired Hooton in 1913; he trained most American physical anthropologists of the coming decades, beginning with Harry L. Shapiro and Carleton S. Coon, and struggled to differentiate physical anthropology from racism.[3] There was much intellectual continuity with Germans such as Eugen Fischer, Fritz Lenz and Erwin Baur.[4]

In 1951 Sherwood Washburn, a Hooton alumnus, introduced a "new physical anthropology."[5] He changed the focus from racial typology to concentrate upon the study of human evolution, moving away from classification towards evolutionary process. Anthropology expanded to comprehend paleoanthropology and primatology.[6]

Human biology

Human biology is an interdisciplinary academic field consisting of contributions from biology, anthropology, and medicine which focuses on humans; it is closely related to primate biology, and a number of other fields.

Biomedical anthropology

Biomedical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology, predominantly found in US academic and public health settings, that incorporates perspectives from the biological and medical anthropology subfields. In contrast to much of medical anthropology, it does not generally take a critical approach to biomedicine and Western medicine. Instead, it seeks to improve medical practice and biomedical science through the holistic integration of cross-cultural or biocultural, behavioral, and epidemiological perspectives on health. As an academic discipline, biomedical anthropology is closely related to human biology.

Currently, the only accredited degree program in biomedical anthropology is at Binghamton University [1]. Other anthropology departments, such as that of the University of Washington,[7] offer biomedical tracks within more traditional biological or biocultural anthropology programs.


Somatotypology is the study of somatotypes or constitutional types. The objective is to produce a classification system that enables an observer to make determinations of the susceptibiity of a person of a given type to physical or psychological diseases or disease generally. The Carus and Kretschmer typologies are examples as well as Sheldon's constitutional theory of personality.

See also

Notable biological anthropologists


  1. ^ Jurmain, R, et al (2013). Introduction to Physical Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning
  2. ^ Marks, J. (1995) Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  3. ^ Hooton, E. A. (1936) “Plain Statements About Race”, Science, 83:511–513.
  4. ^ Baur, E., Fischer, E., and Lenz, F. (1931) Human Heredity, Eden Paul and Cedar Paul, translators. New York: Macmillan,
  5. ^ Washburn, S. L. (1951) “The New Physical Anthropology”, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Series II, 13:298–304.
  6. ^ Haraway, D. (1988) “Remodelling the Human Way of Life: Sherwood Washburn and the New Physical Anthropology, 1950–1980”, in Bones, Bodies, Behavior: Essays on Biological Anthropology, of the History of Anthropology, v.5, G. Stocking, ed., Madison, Wisc., University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 206–259.
  7. ^ "Anthropology : Academic Programs : Additional Specialty Areas : Medical Anthropology and Global Health". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 

Further reading

  • Michael A. Little and Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, eds. Histories of American Physical Anthropology in the Twentieth Century, (Lexington Books; 2010); 259 pages; essays on the field from the late 19th to the late 20th century; topics include Sherwood L. Washburn (1911–2000) and the "new physical anthropology"
  • 10:34–40 2001Evolutionary AnthropologyBrown, Ryan A and Armelagos, George, "Apportionment of Racial Diversity: A Review",
  • Modern Human Variation: Models of Classification

External links

  • American Association of Physical Anthropologists
  • British Association of Biological Anthropologists and Osteoarchaeologists
  • Human Biology Association
  • Canadian Association for Physical Anthropology
  • reconstructionsHomo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus – Electronic articles published by the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.
  • Istituto Italiano di Antropologia
  • Journal of Anthropological Sciences – free full text review articles available
  • Mapping Transdisciplinarity in Anthropology pdf
  • Fundamental Theory of Human Sciences ppt
  • Human Biology Association
  • American Journal of Human Biology
  • Human Biology, The International Journal of Population Genetics and Anthropology
  • Economics and Human Biology
  • Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University
  • The Program in Human Biology at Stanford
  • Society for the Study of Human Biology Symposium Series
  • Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Society for Nordish Physical Anthropology
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