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What is biological anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans in comparative perspective – comparing societies and cultures, looking at change over time, exploring human diversity. Biological Anthropology takes this comparative approach in terms of human evolution and adaptation: comparisons between humans and other animals to understand human uniqueness and biological continuity; comparisons across time to unravel the evolutionary history of hominins over the last 5 million years; investigating variation in human development and health, exploring the mechanisms that underly population differences today and in the past; and looking at individual behaviour in terms of evolution and adaptation and its underlying cognitive basis.

What do biological anthropologists do?

Biological anthropology is an extremely diverse field – in a sense, it encompasses all the biological and behavioural sciences, but focuses on humanity. So, biological anthropologists can be palaeontologists, geneticists, archaeologists, ecologists, physiologists, ethologists, epidemiologists, osteologists, among others! Most people in the subject do fieldwork, usually in relatively remote places. This may involve chasing chimpanzees in the Congo, tracking the routes taken by ancient hominins across the Sahara, mapping gene and language boundaries in the Solomon Islands, collecting lemur genetic samples in Madagascar, investigating child worm infestations in Bangladesh, or digging up archaeological sites in places as different as Siberia and India. However, a lot of the work happens in the lab, from osteoarchaeology, to physiology, to genetics, to ancient DNA.

All these activities go across the three research groups and all the teaching, both graduate and undergraduate, of the Department of Biological Anthropology at Cambridge.

 

 






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