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Physical Anthropology: The Evolving Human


Play Overview Video

Physical Anthropology: The Evolving Human provides an understanding of human evolution and diversity from a biological perspective. The course examines patterns of anatomical, behavioral, and genetic similarities and differences among primates and humans. While new techniques and discoveries continue to alter our understanding of the human species and its place in the biological world, this course provides the student with essential knowledge of key theoretical and methodological issues involved in this sub-discipline of anthropology.

The centerpiece for each of the 17 lessons is a video clip from the award-winning series, Physical Anthropology: The Evolving HumanEach  lesson includes a number of interactive games and practice activities that engage students, reinforce learning, and the lesson ends with a quiz.

he textbook to accompany this course is Introduction to Physical Anthropology, written by Robert Jurmain, Lynn Kilgore, Wenda Trevathan, and Russell L. Ciochon. Additional information is provided under the “How to Adopt Course & Print Materials” tab below. To request access to an electronic review copy of the textbook, please contact Cengage Learning.

For access to Coast Learning Systems’ online course preview site, please complete a Preview Request Form.

Lesson Titles and Descriptions

1. The Anthropological Perspective

Anthropology is the study of human culture and of human evolutionary biology. It is a very broad discipline, and there are many different types of anthropologists. Cultural anthropology considers many aspects of human society and focuses on how it affects human behavior. Linguistic anthropologists study the interaction between culture and language, as well as the origins of human language. Archaeologists focus on the material remains of past peoples. The fourth subfield of anthropology, physical anthropology, is the topic of this course. Physical anthropology itself has different areas. These include paleoanthropology, human variation, genetics, primatology, osteology, and forensic anthropology. Physical anthropologists are scientists, and they use the methods of science to conduct their research. They collect data and develop hypotheses, which are then tested. The lesson ends with the process that the Forensic Archaeology Recovery team used to identify victims from a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island.

2. Development of Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary theory provides a foundation for the study of physical anthropology. In this lesson, experts guide students through the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. It also brings to life some of the main contributors to evolutionary theory. The theory of evolution by natural selection is illustrated using examples from the Galápagos Islands, monarch butterflies, peppered moths, and a special segment on the Channel Islands fox.

3. Biological Basis for Life

The secrets of the cell are revealed to students. They will learn basic structure of the cell and the structure and function of DNA. DNA composition, genes, chromosome structure, mitosis, and meiosis are explained by experts in ways that will be easy for students to process. These principles are also illustrated in a modern context using analyses of ancient DNA from Neandertals, interviews with DNA crime lab experts, and an in-depth view of one woman’s experience living with a challenging genetic mutation.

4. Heredity and Evolution

We are all aware that we have inherited certain traits from our parents. How are these inherited characteristics expressed? How do evolutionary processes influence patterns of change in these characteristics? In this lesson, the mechanisms and patterns of inheritance are introduced. We begin with an overview of Mendel’s principles of inheritance. Modern plant breeders discuss how they still use these principles in the breeding of sweet peas and other plants. The lesson then introduces polygenic inheritance, mutation, genetic drift, and gene flow. The discovery and the distribution of the CCR5 mutation are discussed as well as gene flow and genetic drift in Chumash Indian populations.

5. Macroevolution

Who is related to whom? How do species evolve? What has happened in geological time? This lesson focuses on macroevolution and the processes that explain it. It begins on location at a paleontological site in the Big Horn Basin, Wyoming, where scientists are recording mammalian evolution in the first 10 million years after the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary extinction. A key question of macroevolution is, “What distinguishes a species?” This leads to taxonomy and discussion of the two main approaches to classification: evolutionary systematics and cladistics. Examples are given of homologies and analogies, and ancestral and derived traits, keys to classifying by these different approaches. Cladistics focuses only on derived traits. In the second segment, two different species concepts are mentioned—the biological species concept, which is the most commonly used definition, and the ecological species concept, which places emphasis on niche occupation and natural selection. The difficulty of recognizing a fossil species is explained by anthropologists Alfred Rosenberg and Jonathan Bloch. In the third segment, the immense time span involved with macroevolution is examined, continental drift and its effects are explained, and the characteristics of mammals are illustrated. The video returns to the paleontological site in the Big Horn Basin, where Bloch is seen excavating.

6. The Living Primates

This lesson succinctly presents a portrait of what it is to be a primate with adaptation to an arboreal environment. The suite of traits that distinguish primates are presented along with a comparison to other types of mammals. Then the lesson delves into the adaptations and traits that distinguish the various type of primates from one another. Prosimians, tarsiers, New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, and hominoids are all described and distinguished. The types of locomotor patterns, diets, and habitats used by primates are interwoven throughout.

7. Primate Behavior

This lesson tackles why we study the behavior of nonhuman primates and how their behavior patterns can be related to human behavior and evolution. Experts discuss their field study experiences and what they learned about the behavior of their subjects. Social structure and social organization are related to impact on reproductive success. The central mother-infant bond is explored, along with patterns of affiliative and aggressive behaviors in social groups. Nonhuman capacities for language and culture are also addressed in interesting ways.

8. Methods of Paleoanthropology

Experts at the cutting edge of paleoanthropological research show how it’s done. In this lesson, students are introduced to the ways researchers gather data in order to answer the basic human question: Who are we and where do we come from? The multidisciplinary approach to this research is shown through interviews with established paleoanthropologists and with researchers in related areas such as archaeology, geology, the reconstruction of paleoenvironments, geomorphology, paleontology, and paleobotany. There is a strong focus on Koobi Fora, one of the most important field sites in paleoanthropology. In the last segment, relative and chronometric dating methods are explained in ways that will demonstrate state-of-the-art methods for discerningthe age of a specimen.

9. The First Bipeds

The key trait that makes a hominoid a hominin is evidence for bipedalism. In this lesson, experts discuss the physical changes that must occur for the transition to bipedalism, including the more forward positioning of the foramen magnum, the large hole through which the spinal cord passes into the skull; a pelvis that becomes more bowl-shaped rather than the long blade-like pelvis of a chimpanzee; a longer leg; and a foot with springy arches. Important discoveries are examined in the time period from 4 to 1 million years ago, including East African discoveries such as Australopithecus anamensis and the famous “Lucy” specimen. The history of discovery in South Africa is reviewed, starting with the first Australopithecus, the Taung child, and the more rugged genus Paranthropus. Finally, you will learn about the first member of our genus, Homo habilis.

10. A New Hominid

About 1.8 million years ago, a new species of Homo appears in East Africa, a species that will exist longer than any other hominin. This lesson focuses on that new species: Homo erectus, the first hominin to leave Africa. In this lesson, you will follow the migrations of this species. You will explore the history of what paleoanthropologists have discovered concerning this widespread hominin in Java and in China and learn how the recent discoveries in the Republic of Georgia have turned much of what we knew about Homo erectus on its head. Finally, you will learn about a new type of tool industry that lasts for more than a million years.

11. Pre-Modern Humans

Around 780,000 years ago a new species of Homo appears, perhaps descended from the hominins that lived in Spain and Italy between 900,000 and 800,000 years ago. This time period, called the Middle Pleistocene, is marked by alternations of glaciations and interglacials. The new species is called Homo heidelbergensis. Around 125,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis gives rise to the Neandertals. The Neandertals are the main focus of this lesson. You will see that the Neandertals were a robust people adapted for a cold, harsh environment. Their survival depended on more than just biology, however. A major factor to their survival was their stone tool culture, known as the Mousterian. In addition, the fact that they transported raw materials during their migrations to make future tools demonstrated forward planning. These people also practiced burial of the dead in which grave goods were left with the deceased. Finally, the lesson explores the question of what happened to these ancient humans.

12. Origin and Dispersal of Modern Humans

The main question of physical anthropology since its origins in the 1770s has been the origin of modern humans. At that time the question referred to the different populations of humans. Today it refers to our origins as a species in evolutionary time. This lesson begins by introducing you to the three current models for human origins. Then a physical comparison is made between modern humans and Neandertals, in which it is clear that the brain case is where we differ the most. You will journey to southern Ethiopia to see one of the earliest modern humans, discovered in 1967, but forgotten until recently. Associated with modern humans is a great advancement in technology that marks the Upper Paleolithic. The lesson ends with researchers discussing the advent of art and personal adornment and what this might have meant to the people of the Upper Paleolithic.

13. Patterns of Variation

The lesson begins with comments on some instances of ethnic genocide that have occurred in the past in the Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Nazi Germany during World War II. It relates these occurrences to the concept of “race,” a concept based on physical differences between groups. It defines the everyday usage of the word “race” and includes its biological definition, which leads to the conclusion that the word and concept of “race” cannot apply to Homo sapiens because, as is well understood, there are no subspecies of Homo sapiens. The video then briefly explains the historical context of how the concept of race emerged among European explorers during the 16th century. It explains that today anthropologists and scholars look beyond visible physical differences to explain human variation. They analyze genetics and DNA, the cornerstone of genetic studies, to describe and understand human diversity. The lesson defines polymorphisms and clearly explains how their presence in human genotypes causes differences in phenotypic variation. Using interviews with a Somali family who had to flee their country because of race-based violence, the lesson points out that the easiest difference to see is skin color. The lesson explains that science now explains skin color shifts as a response to geographical regions called clines. A montage of images illustrates the phenotypic variation of skin tones in Africa to illustrate this perspective. The video features Gregory Lanzaro, a medical entomologist working to eradicate malaria, and it describes how the sickle-cell allele began and how it has become adaptive in malarial regions. The concept that humans are products of biocultural evolution is discussed, as well as the latest theoretical viewpoints on the “thrifty gene” hypothesis.

14. Patterns of Adaptation

How do humans adapt to environmental challenges? In this lesson, experts explore this question from many angles. The difference between acclimatization and adaptation is explained. Nina Jablonski explains skin-color function and adaptations related to UV radiation levels, the vitamin D hypothesis, and preventing the loss of folate in the body. High-altitude adaptations are also discussed, along with responses to heat and cold stressors. In the last segment, the evolutionary dance between humans and their pathogens is brought to light. The interwoven interactions between human cultural activities, and the evolution of new pathogens, are discussed, as well as the evolution of drug resistance in existing pathogens.

15. Legacies of Human Evolutionary History

This eye-opening lesson discusses the interaction between human biology and culture, as well as human impact on the environment. It begins with a discussion of human life history, from birth to senescence. The biocultural evolution of dietary patterns is demonstrated, with an emphasis on the ancestral diet and the influence of agricultural practices on modern diets. The impact of these changes on human health is also discussed. Finally, Melvin J. Konner takes a look at human interaction with other organisms and the environment. He touches on antibiotic resistance, pollution, habitat destruction and the loss of biodiversity, mass extinctions, and global warming, and how we can take steps to reduce human impact on the earth.

16. Applied Anthropology

The lesson opens by defining applied anthropology as a field of study in which anthropological knowledge and methods are used to analyze and solve practical problems. In its three segments, the lesson gives clear and varied examples of where applied anthropology is used in the workforce and demonstrates how applied anthropology fits within all four subfields of anthropology—physical (or biological) anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. The video shows how a cultural anthropologist, Professor Mikel Hogan, practices applied anthropology within a hospital setting to help resolve some of the on-the-job problems that nurses face at this time of crisis within the U.S. health-care system. As the video progresses, viewers also see how linguistic anthropologist Breesha Maddrell works on the Isle of Man to help the culture there preserve and maintain the Celtic language of Manx Gaelic. Finally, the third segment shows how physical anthropologists Amy Mundorff and Diane Cockle work in the area of forensic anthropology and how they assist law enforcement agencies with identifying human remains and analyzing evidence from crime scenes. Mundorff explains the educational qualifications required for a career in forensics, explaining that a strong background in biology or chemistry, plus a strong background in anthropology, particularly archaeology, is ideal. Cockle discusses the high standard of proof required of forensic anthropologists in criminal cases. She explains the contributions that applied anthropologists have made assisting the United Nations in its efforts to investigate and stem the incidence of genocide brought about by war.

National Academic Advisory Team

George Bagwell, M.A., Colorado Mountain College
Wendy A. Birky, Ph.D., California State University, Northridge
Naomi H. Bishop, Ph.D., California State University, Northridge
Christina Brewer, M.A., Saddleback Community College
Benjamin Campbell, Ph.D., Harvard University
Gary Cummisk, Ph.D., Dickinson State University
Jeffrey David Ehrenreich, Ph.D., University of New Orleans
Barbra E. Erickson, Ph.D., California State University, Fullerton
Kathleen Godel-Gengenbach, Ph.D., Red Rocks Community College
Carol Hayman, M.A., Austin Community College
Mikel Hogan, Ph.D., California State University, Fullerton
Robert Jurmain, Ph.D., San Jose State University
Diane P. Levine, M.A., Los Angeles Pierce College
Mark S. Lewine, Ed.D., MA, Cuyahoga Community College
Linda D. Light, M.A., California State University, Long Beach, and Santa Ana College

Barbara Mueller, Ph.D., Casper College
Jill Pfeiffer, M.A., Rio Hondo College
Monica Rothschild-Boros, Ph.D. Orange Coast College
Frank A. Salamone, Ph.D., Iona College
Priscilla Schulte, Ph.D., University of Alaska Southeast
John J. Schultz, Ph.D., University of Central Florida
Michael Wesch, Ph.D., Kansas State University
Leanna Wolfe, Ph.D., Los Angeles Valley College
Marcus Young Owl, Ph.D., California State University, Long Beach

On-Camera Experts

Karen Baab, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Stony Brook Univeristy
Clark Barrett, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
Wendy Birky, Ph.D., Lecturer in Anthropology, California State University, Northridge
Naomi Bishop, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge
Jonathan I. Bloch, Ph.D., University of Florida & Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Florida Museum of Natural History
Robert Blumenschine, Ph.D., Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Rutgers University
David Braun, Ph.D., Lecturer, University of Cape Town
Lauren Breihan, M.D., Native Americans for Community Action, Inc. (NACA)
Susan Cachel, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Rutgers University
James Cheverud, Ph.D., Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine
Diane Cockle, Ph.D., Crime Scene Methods Analyst, Forensic Identification Research Services
Derek Congram, Ph.D., Forensic Archaeologist, Simon Fraser University
Tim Coonan, M.S., National Park Service
Douglas E. Crews, Ph.D., Ohio State University
Eric Delson, Ph.D., Paleoanthropologist, City University of New York

Kaitlyn Deslatte, B.A., Forensic Archaeology Recovery
Geoff Duller, Ph.D., Aberystwyth Luminescence Research Laboratory, University of Wales Aberystwyth
Barbra E. Erickson, Ph.D., Anthropologist, University of California, Fullerton
Rose-Lynn Fisher, Gaucher Disease Survivor
David Theo Goldberg, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine
Richard Gould, Ph.D., Forensic Archaeology Recovery, Brown University
Todd Griffith, Crime Lab Director, Arizona Department of Public Safety
Jack Harris, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University & Research Associate, National Museum of Kenya
Katerina Harvati, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Tom Higham, D.Phil., Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit
Kim R. Hill, Ph.D., Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Mikel Hogan, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, California State University, Fullerton, Coastline Community College
Jean-Jacques Hublin, Ph.D., Director Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Nina G. Jablonski, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University

John R. Johnson, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Steve Jones, Sales & Marketing, Bodger Seeds
Jennifer Kewley Draskau, D.Phil., Sociolinguist, Manx Heritage Foundation
Melvin J. Konner, M.D., Ph.D., Emory College
Halima Lamungu, Somali refugee
Hassan Lamungu, Somali refugee
Jane Lancaster, Ph.D., University of New Mexico
Gregory Lanzaro, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis
William R. Leonard, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University
Breesha Maddrell, Ph.D., Director of Postgraduate Studies & Lecturer in Manx Studies, Center for Manx Studies
Jonathan Marks, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Charlotte
John McNabb, Ph.D., Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins, University of Southampton
Steven Merritt, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Richard Michod, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona
Ann Marie Mires, Ph.D., Forensic Anthropologist, Office of the Medical Examiner, Boston, Massachusetts

Jim Moore, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego
Lorna G. Moore, Ph.D., Colorado Altitude Research Center, University of Colorado at Denver & Health Sciences Center
Donald Mosier, Ph.D., M.D., Immunologist, The Scripps Research Institute
Joanna L. Mountain, Ph.D., Anthropological Geneticist, Stanford University
Amy Mundorff, Ph.D., Simon Fraser University
Magnus Nordborg, Ph.D., Biological Scientist, Molecular & Computational Biology, University of Southern California
Susan Perry, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
Kari Prassack, Ph.D., Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Rutgers University
Christopher Ramsey, D.Phil., Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit
Alfred Rosenberger, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Barry Rosenbloom, M.D., Tower Oncology
Edward Rubin, M.D., Ph.D., Joint Genome Institute
Krysta Ryzewski, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Forensic Archaeology Recovery
John J. Shea, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Anthropology Department & Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University
Matt Sponheimer, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder

Ian Gordon Stanistreet, Ph.D., Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool
Anne C. Stone, Ph.D., School of Human Evolution & Social Change, Arizona State University
Melissa Tallman, M.S., Hunter College, City University of New York
Charles F. Urbanowicz, Ph.D., California State University, Chico
Robin Whittall, M.A., Education Director, Sacramento Zoo

I have worked with the staff at Coast Learning Systems for over 10 years. They are professional in all aspects and endeavor to keep up with the ever changing world of academia."
-Bonnie Shimasaki, Learning Resources Assistant, Pasadena City College


Instructors can customize the course by making learning assets open or closed to student view, add learning assets such as new assignments, discussion forums, web research activities, and extra credit work. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term. Finally, there is the option of turning on automatic student tracking that simplifies the evaluation process.

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There is no fee paid by an institution or instructor when the online course/content is adopted. Each student is required to purchase a one-time use Access Code. To adopt and offer this course online, instructors complete an Online Course Request Form prior to the start of each term, and a course shell will be provided by the date requested. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term.

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Introduction to Physical Anthropology
Cengage Learning, ISBN: 978-1-2850-6197-9
The textbook is available in paperback, loose leaf, as an eBook with multiple access lengths, eChapter, or as a rental with multiple options.

One-Time Use Online Course Access Code
Coast Learning Systems, (800) 547-4748
ISBN: 978-1-59846-548-8
Access Codes are sold through bookstores only; we do not sell directly to students.

If you are interested in licensing just the videos as a resource for your own online, hybrid, video-based, or traditional course, please contact our office. In areas where connectivity is a challenge, DVDs are a perfect solution. All of the video lessons are available in a professionally produced set of DVDs and are available directly from Coast Learning Systems. Please contact our office for DVD options and pricing, (800) 547-4748.