Physical Anthropology


Anthropology 207                                                                                        Washington and Lee University
Dr. Alison Bell                                                                                                                           Winter 2004


Instructor Contact Information

Office:  Newcomb 6
Office Phone:    x8638
Office Hours:    Tuesdays 3:30-5:00, Wednesdays 10:00-noon, Thursdays 3:30-5:00, and by appointment

Course Description

This class focuses on key theoretical, methodological, and substantive issues in physical anthropology, including the emergence of modern humans, their relationships to other species, the appearance of important social and cultural phenomena (such as expressive culture), explanations for prominent forms of human behavior (altruism, for example), and biological variation among modern human groups.

The course begins by considering the model of evolution by natural selection as Darwin and others formulated it and the ways in which this theory can explain physical variability in modern populations. Attention is given to the relationships between the theory of evolution and understandings of human origins informed by religious beliefs. Socio-cultural influences on the development of scientific ideas, including such concepts as “race,” are also considered. The question of human uniqueness in the primate world is then investigated, along with the fossil, archaeological, and genetic evidence for the gradual emergence of humans over the course of some six million years. Other debates which will be explored include the construction of the hominid family tree, the relationships of archaic humans (including Neanderthals) to fully modern people, the reasons for the “creative explosion” in the Upper Paleolithic and the subsequent Neolithic Revolution, and finally theories of sociobiology, which posit the existence of evolutionary pressures underlying much modern human behavior.


Course Texts

Stephen Jay Gould (1992). Ever Since Darwin : Reflections in Natural History. New York : W.
             W. Norton and Company.

John H. Relethford (2003). The Human Species: An Introduction to Biological Anthropology,
            Fifth Edition. Boston : McGraw Hill.

Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie (1996). African Exodus: The Origins of Modern
            Humanity. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

Course Expectations

Three Assessments

Assessments are open-book, open-note, take-home essays designed to allow the instructor to assess each student’s understanding of material in assigned readings and class discussions. Each assessment has 2-4 questions which together should require approximately 8 pages to answer (word-processed, double-spaced). In answering assessment questions, students may – but are not required – to use sources not assigned for this class.

            Assessment 1:   distributed Jan. 27; due Feb. 5
                                    covers material Jan. 6 – Jan. 29

            Assessment 2:   distributed Mar. 2; due Mar. 11
                                    covers material Feb. 3 – Mar. 4

            Assessment 3:   distributed Mar. 30; due Apr. 9
                                    covers material Mar. 9 – Apr. 1


One Research Paper

Each student should identify a topic of interest within physical anthropology. Students will submit a paper topic and tentative bibliography midway through the semester. The paper itself (10-12 pages double-spaced) is due April 1st. The instructor encourages students to submit rough drafts of papers for comments on or before March 18th.


Film Responses Posted on Blackboard

Three films which complement material from class discussions and assigned readings will be shown on evenings during the course of the term. After viewing each film, students have one week in which to respond to a question or series of questions posted to the Blackboard course website. This forum is intended to stimulate thinking and discussion about topics included in the films.


* The Honor System

In any written assignments, the only material you do not need to cite is information from your own class notes for this course. Be sure always to cite ANY and ALL of the following if/when you use them:


Final Grades

The breakdown of final grades for the course is as follows:

            Assessment One:          20%
            Assessment Two:          20%
            Assessment Three:        20%
            Research Paper:           25%
            Responses to Films:      15%


Course Outline


1. Evolution

January 6-8

A. Evolution, Science, and Religion

            Relethford Chapter 1, “Biological Anthropology and Evolution” (pp. 3-28)

            Gould Part 5, “Theories of the Earth” (p. 141-167)

            Film: What About God?

January 13-15

B. Darwin and Evolution by Natural Selection

            Relethford Chapter 4, “The Origin and Evolution of Species” (pp. 97-115)

            Gould “Prologue,” (pp. 11-13 only)

            Gould Part 1, “Darwiniana” (pp. 21-45)

            Gould Part 3, “Odd Organisms and Evolutionary Exemplars” (pp. 79-110)

                        Background Reading (consult if needed):

                        Relethford Chapter 2, “Human Genetics” (pp. 31-65)

                        Relethford Chapter 3, “Evolutionary Forces” (pp. 67-94)


2. Variation among Modern Humans

January 20-22

A. Case Studies: Microevolution

            Relethford Chapter 6, “Microevolution in Human Populations” (pp. 145-172)

B. Case Studies: Adaptation

            Relethford Chapter 7, “Human Adaptation” (pp. 175-197)


January 27-29

C. Race?

            Relethford Chapter 5, “The Study of Human Variation” (pp. 119-142)

            Gould Chapter 27, “Racism and Recapitulation” (pp. 214-221)

            Gould Chapter 29, “Why We Should Not Name Human Races” (pp. 231-236)

            Gould Chapter 31, “Racist Arguments and IQ” (pp. 243-247)


3. Humans and Other Primates

February 3-5

A. Non-hominid Primates

            Relethford Chapter 8, “Primates in Nature” (pp. 201-232)

            Relethford Chapter 9, “Biology & Behavior of Living Primates” (pp. 235-266)

            Due: Assessment One on February 5

February 10-12

B. Hominids: Characteristics and Uniqueness?

            Relethford Chapter 10, “The Human Species” (pp. 269-295)

            Gould Part 2, “Human Evolution” (pp. 49-75)

            Gould Part 6, “Size and Shape” (pp. 179-191 only)


4: Human Origins


February 24-26

A. First Hominids and Australopithecines

            Relethford Chapter 12, “Hominid Origins” (pp. 327-357)

            Stringer and McKie Chapter 1, “The Kibish Enigma” (pp. 1-16)

            Stringer and McKie Chapter 2, “ East Side Story” (pp. 17-53)

            Gould Chapter 30, “The Nonscience of Human Nature” (pp. 237-242)

            Film: In Search of Human Origins: Surviving in Africa


March 2-4

B. Pre-modern Genus Homo

            Relethford Chapter 13, “The Evolution of the Genus Homo” (pp. 359-391)

            Stringer and McKie Chapter 3, “The Grisly Folk” (54-84)


March 9-11

C. Anatomically Modern Humans

            1. Origins

                        Relethford Chapter 14, “The Origin of Modern Humans” (pp. 393-420)

                        Stringer and McKie Chapter 4, “Time and Chance” (pp. 85-114)

                        Stringer and McKie Chapter 5, “The Mother of All Humans?” (115-148)

                        Due: Assessment Two on March 11


March 16-18

            2. Diaspora

                        Stringer and McKie Ch. 6, “Footprints in the Sands of Time” (pp. 149-178)

                        Stringer and McKie Chapter 7, “Africans Under the Skin” (pp. 179-193)

            3. The Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic Revolution

                        Stringer and McKie Chapter 8, “The Sorcerer” (pp. 194-223)


5. Current Dynamics and Future Prospects


March 23-25

A. “Complex” Societies

            Relethford Chapter 15, “Human Biology and Culture Change” (pp. 423-452)

            Relethford “Epilogue” (pp. 455-456)

            Stringer and McKie Chapter 9, “Prometheus Unbound” (pp. 224-250)


March 30 – April 1

B. Sociobiology

            Gould Chapter 28, “The Criminal as Nature’s Mistake” (pp. 222-228)

            Gould Part B, “Sociobiology” (pp. 251-267)

            Gould Epilogue (pp. 268-271)

            Film: The Nature of Human Nature


            Due: Research Paper on (or preferably before) April 1


Exam Week

April 5-9

            Due: Assessment Three on or before April 9