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What is Biological Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans in a comparative perspective - comparing societies and cultures, looking at change over time, exploring human diversity.

all2Biological Anthropology applies this comparative approach to studying human evolution and adaptation:

  • comparing humans and other animals to understand human uniqueness and biological continuity
  • exploring the hominin fossil and prehistoric records to unravel the processes that shaped our evolutionary history over the last 5 million years 
  • investigating variation in human development and health across the world to understand the mechanisms that underlie how populations differs in their response to the environment, and their resilience in the face of ecological, nutritional and social challenges today and in the past
  • looking at individual behaviour in terms of evolution and adaptation and its underlying cognitive basis
  • understanding the basis of human genetic variation today, its evolution, and how it shapes our susceptibility and resistance to disease

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, investigating child worm infections in Bangladesh, or digging up archaeological sites in places as different as Siberia and India. A lot of the work also happens in the lab -  from osteoarchaeology, to physiology, to genetics, to ancient DNA.

Explore how you can study Biological Anthropology at Cambridge as an undergraduate or graduate student.