ANTHRBIO 265 - Human Evolutionary Anatomy
Section: 001
Term: FA 2007
Subject: Anthropology, Biological (ANTHRBIO)
Department: LSA Anthropology
Requirements & Distribution:
Advisory Prerequisites:
LSA Honors. Background in biology or osteology helpful.
This course counts toward the 60 credits of math/science required for a Bachelor of Science degree.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This course introduces students to the evolutionary history of humans through the study of comparative human anatomy. The focus will be on the musculoskeletal anatomy of humans and their closest living and fossil relatives. Included in the course will be the reconstruction of the dietary, locomotor and social behavior of extinct hominids, such as Australopithecus and earlier forms of Homo. The class will make use of the skeletal and cast collections housed in the Anthropology Department.

This course covers two broad sub-areas in Biology, Comparative Anatomy and Evolutionary Theory. The fossil record will be used to illustrate the evolution of specific anatomical structures and theories about the selective advantages of these structures will be discussed. In addition, the concept of homology will be used to infer phylogenetic relationships among taxa, and to situate humans within the primate order. In the course of studying comparative human anatomy, students will be introduced to concepts of natural selection and genetic drift, species and speciation, convergent evolution, etc. They will also be introduced to simple metric and biomechanical methods of quantifying and comparing different species' anatomies. This course is open to students without any background in biology or anthropology, and will introduce students to valuable concepts in the natural sciences.

Humans are innately curious about their own evolutionary history. Three lines of evidence have provided us with much of the data we use to reconstruct our past: 1) comparative morphology (i.e., anatomical and physiological comparisons among humans and our closest relatives); 2) the fossil record; and 3) comparative genomics. The first two of these rely heavily on insights provided by each other and are particularly amenable to study by undergraduates because some key methodological approaches (e.g. three-dimensional shape comparisons and biomechanical interpretations) are highly intuitive. Furthermore, the demonstration of evolutionary continuity between our own bodies and those of other animals (both living and extinct) can be very illuminating for students, leading them to appreciate the magnitude of the selective process and the importance of the relationship between organism and environment. "Human Evolutionary Anatomy" will cover each region of the musculoskeletal system and compare the anatomy of humans to that of apes and fossil hominids. This approach will allow students to understand the current anatomical form and function of each region, as well as appreciate the evolutionary processes that led, for example, to the limbs being transformed from those of a climbing quadruped to those of an animal that can walk on two legs. T

Although the material covered is typically taken at the advanced undergraduate level, it would be very suitable for a group of bright, motivated students in the Honors program. Some of the relevant literature is terminologically dense, but the basic principles allowing students to understand the functional significance of shape differences (e.g. lever mechanics, simple metric comparisons) are straightforward. Understanding that humans are the product of biological evolution remains a key element in a liberal arts and sciences education, especially given the contention surrounding the teaching of evolution. The study of human anatomy is one the best opportunities we have to teach young people about evolution, because, just as in Darwin's day, the process of natural selection seems inescapable once the similarities between humans and apes are made clear.

Intended audience: First and second year Honors students. Students do not need any college-level prerequisites, but a background in biology or osteology will be an asset.

Course Requirements: Two practical midterm exams (total of 30%); five lab reports (total of 50%); and one final exam (20%). Five written assignments will be due over the course of the semester, four of which will be based on lab exercises. The final report will be a description of a “mystery human fossil” given to the student for analysis.

Class Format: Class meets three hours per week: mix of lecture, discussion, and hands-on learning in the department's bone lab. No GSI needed.

ANTHRBIO 265 - Human Evolutionary Anatomy
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
W 1:00PM - 4:00PM
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