University of Minnesota
Department of Anthropology

Subfield: Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology is the study of human biology within the framework of the theory of evolution, with an emphasis on the interaction between biology, behavior, and ecology. Among this branch of anthropology's many areas of specialization are: paleoanthropology—the study of human evolution, particularly as inscribed in the fossil record; genetics—the study of gene structure and action and the patterns of inheritance of traits from parent to offspring; primatology—the study of the biology and behavior of primates (prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans); paleopathology—the study of the traces of disease and injury in human skeletal remains; and forensic anthropology, which is an anthropological approach that deals with legal matters. Forensic anthropologists are commonly called on to work with coroners and others in the analysis and identification of human remains.

Biological anthropologists in the department offer a limited number of courses in this subfield at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Introductory courses include:

  • Human Evolution (Anth 1001)
  • Changing Human Adaptations (Anth 1906, Freshman Seminar)
  • Warfare and Human Evolution (Anth 1910W)

Intermediate level courses include:

  • Sex, Evolution, and Behavior: Examining Human Evolutionary Biology (Anth 3002)
  • Topics in Biological and Physical Anthropology (Anth 3310)
  • The Human Fossil Record (Anth 3401)
  • Human Skeletal Analysis (Anth 3405)
  • Primate Ecology and Social Behavior (EEB 4329)

Among the advanced courses regularly taught are:

  • Interpreting Ancient Bone (Anth 5244/8244)
  • The Human Fossil Record (Anth 5401)
  • Quantitative Methods in Biological Anthropology (Anth 5403)
  • Human Skeletal Analysis (Anth 5405)
  • Primate Evolution (Anth 5990/8510)

There are also opportunities to carry out a senior project (Anth 4013) and independent study (Anth 4991/92/93/94) at the undergraduate level.

Courses in other areas critical to biological anthropology, such as genetics, are offered in other departments and programs at the university. Forensic anthropology is a major focus of the biological anthropologists in the Department of Anthropology at near-by Hamline University but is not presently offered as a series of courses or in a course at the University of Minnesota.

Many of the courses and independent study opportunities mentioned above are carried out in Evolutionary Anthropology Laboratories, which has Primate Morphology and Evolution and Primate Behavior and Ecology sections.

The three biological anthropologists in the department work primarily in Africa (McNulty, Tappen, and Wilson) and Europe (Tappen). Their research focuses on human and primate skeletal evolution, the evolution of behavior, and primate behavior and ecology.

Kieran McNulty has research specialties in paleoanthropology, human and primate evolution, geometric morphometrics, cranial evolution and ontogeny, and East Africa. He has contributed many articles to the Journal of Human Evolution, many of which simulate the relationship between size, shape, and asymmetry in fossil hominids. Among the courses he teaches regularly are Human Evolution (Anth 1001), The Human Fossil record (Anth 3401/5401), Human Skeletal Analysis (Anth 3405/5405), Quantitative Methods in Biological Anthropology (Anth 5403), and Primate Evolution (Anth 5990/8510).

Martha Tappen is a paleoanthropologist with research interests in the evolution of human behavior (especially human-animal interactions), site formation processes, the adoption of meat-eating, and the spread of humans out of Africa. She is currently involved in the excavation and analysis of the Dmanisi Homo erectus site in the Republic of Georgia. Her specialties are human evolution and adaptations, out of Africa I, zooarchaeology and taphonomy, Stone Age archaeology, and paleoenvironments. Professor Tappen teaches Human Evolution (Anth 1001), Changing Human Adaptations (Anth 1906, Freshman seminar), Human Fossil Record (Anth 3401), Zooarchaeology Laboratory (Anth 3402/5402), and Interpreting Ancient Bone (Anth 5244/8244).

Michael Wilson, who has a joint appointment with the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, is a primatologist with research specialties in primate behavior and ecology, the evolution of communication, and wildlife health and conservation. He has published widely on chimpanzee life in the wild in Tanzania and Uganda in East Africa. Prior to his appointment at the University of Minnesota, Prof. Wilson served as the Director of Field Research at Gombe Stream Research Center. He regularly teaches Sex, Evolution and Behavior (Anth 3002), Warfare and Human Evolution (Anth 4009W), and Primate Ecology and Social Behavior (EEB 4329).