Anthropology 105: The Human Species

Spring 2015

In this course we examine human biology and behavior from an evolutionary perspective, comparing our anatomy, physiology, and behavior to those of living primates and other mammals.  We will discuss the relative roles of genes (“nature”) and environment (“nurture”), the biological basis of behavior, and local biological adaptations evident in modern human populations.  Students will also actively engage in the development of scientific hypotheses, data collection, and data synthesis analysis, as part of laboratory research experiences throughout the semester. Material covered will help prepare students to understand and evaluate recent advances in genetics, behavioral studies, medicine, and evolution.


Dr. Herman Pontzer


Text & Readings: There is no required text for this course. All readings are open-source, available online or on Blackboard.


LECTURES Assigned Readings in Italics – Readings should be done before lecture

Fri.    1/30    Course introduction. Introduction to DNA.

No Labs This Week!

Tue.  2/3      Chromosomes, Genes, DNA.  Genotype vs Phenotype

                    Intro to Genetics units 1.1 – 1.5; 2.3 – 2.6; 3.2 – 3.5. Pleiotropy

Fri.    2/6      Simple vs Complex Traits            Norm of Reaction

LAB 1: Genes, Environment & Phenotype Hypothesis Development

Tue.  2/10    Forces of Evolution Natural Selection: adaptation, exaptation, and neutral evolution                             

Mutation, Natural Selection, Drift & Flow,  Neutral Evolution

Fri.    2/13    Natural Selection: Physical Traits

LAB 1: Genes, Environment & Phenotype Data Collection & Analysis

Tue.  2/17    Natural Selection: Behavioral Traits  The Baylaev Fox Experiment,   YouTube clip                     

Fri.    2/20    History of Life on Earth. Major transitions.

              Your Inner Fish: watch The Ancient History of the Human Hand, We Hear with the Bones that Reptiles Eat With, and Our Fishy Brain.

LAB 1: Meets on Wednesday! Genes, Environment & Phenotype Discussion.

Tue.       2/24    Hominin evolution: bipedalism, teeth, brains, tools     Overview of Hominin Evolution  

Fri.    2/27    EXAM 1, covering material 1/30 – 2/24

LAB 2: Mechanisms of Evolution Hypothesis Development   Lab 1 Reports Due.

Tue.  3/3      Genetic& archeological evidence for modern human evolution Archeology& Genetics

Fri.    3/6      Local adaptations: body proportions, skin color, malaria resistance, etc. Human Adaptations

LAB 2: Mechanisms of Evolution Data Collection & Analysis

Tue.  3/10    A day in the life of a traditional hunter-gatherer Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout

Fri.    3/13    Diets, diversity, and adaptation in Humans & other Primates

LAB 2: Mechanisms of Evolution Synthesis & Discussion. Review for Exam 1

Tue.  3/17    Western diets, “traditional” diets, local adaptations & microbiomes

Fri.    3/20    Resources and behavior: the Socioecological Model  Primate Social Organization

LAB 3: Diet and Foraging Behavior Hypothesis development Lab 2 Reports Due.

Tue. 3/24    Selfishness, Cooperation, Reciprocity, Altruism, Spite Clutton-Brock 2009                                    

Fri.    3/27    Hormones & behavior: testosterone, cortisol, oxytocin, serotonin Hormones & Behavior

LAB 3: Diet and Foraging Behavior Data Collection & Analysis

Tue. 3/31    EXAM 2, covering material 3/3   3/27

Fri.   4/3      No Class! Spring Break

LAB 3: Diet and Foraging Behavior Synthesis & Discussion.

Tue.  4/7      No Class! Spring Break

Fri.   4/10    No Class! Spring Break

No Labs! Spring Break

Tue.  4/14    Genes & Environment in behavioral traits.   Genes & Behavior , Environment & Behavior

Fri.    4/17    Modularity of the brain and evolved ‘intelligences’   Chimpanzee Memory Test

No Labs!

Tue.  4/21    Evolution of hominin brain size & behavior. Homo erectus, Evolution of Modern Behavior      

Fri.    4/24    Life History: growth, reproduction, and death as evolved strategies  Life History Evolution,

LAB 4: Life History Hypothesis Development

Tue.  4/28    The evolution of human childhood  Hominin Life Hx

Fri.    5/1      Parental investment and conflict. Demographic transition. Demographic Transition

LAB 4: Life History Data Collection & Analysis

Tue.  5/5      Reproduction, maintenance & disease.

Fri.    5/8      The biology & evolution of old age in humans. Evolution of Aging

LAB 4: Life History Synthesis and Discussion.

Tue.  5/12    Chronic disease as a complex trait. Mismatch Hypothesis. WHO factsheet on obesity.

Fri.    5/15    Life, health, and identity in the age of Personal Genomics Pinker 2009 NY Times

LABS: Lab 4 reports due. Review for Exam 3



Finals week (May 18 – 22)  EXAM 3. covering material 4/14  – 5/15 . Date & time TBA.


LABS Room 730 Hunter North – check your schedule for meeting time

A lot of Lab Materials are available on Blackboard! Use Blackboard to get templates for lab reports, instructions, data sheets, etc.

Students will participate in lab sessions each week to get hands-on experience with the material for the course. Labs will emphasize approaching questions with the scientific method: developing hypotheses, making predictions about the natural world, collecting and analyzing data to test those predictions, and synthesizing the results to revise or refine initial hypotheses.


A Lab Report (2 pages single spaced, 12pt Times New Roman font, 1” margins, with figures) will be due at the end of each Lab. These reports are due in Lab during the week indicated in the Lecture schedule. Turning in Lab reports late will result in a decreased grade.


Lab Outlines

LAB 1: Genes and Environment

This lab will examine the complementary effects of genes and environment on phenotype. After an introduction to the roles that genes, physiology, and environment play in shaping behavioral and physical traits, students will develop hypotheses for the role of these factors in 1. Height, 2. Grip Strength, and 3. Limb Proportions. Students will collect data on these traits both in and outside of the classroom, recording their height, parents’ heights, and the grip strengths and limb proportions (sitting height / standing height). Students will then analyze 1. The correlation and variance between their height and their parents’ heights, and 2. The distribution of grip strength, height, and limb proportions within a population (the class).  Students will use these data to test and refine their hypotheses regarding the relative roles of genes, environment (e.g., nutrition, training), physiology (e.g., sex differences) on these traits, as well as recent local evolutionary pressures shaping human populations.

LAB 2: Mechanisms of Evolution

In this lab, students will examine behavioral and physical traits as evolutionary strategies.  The success of a given strategy is dependent on the environment, specifically on the nature and frequency of strategies employed by others in the population.  After an introduction to these concepts, students will engage in evolutionary simulation games.  Students will record and analyze the success of different strategies and alleles over time, and under different starting conditions and environmental conditions. Students will use data collected and analyzed to assess and refine their initial hypotheses.

LAB 3: Diet and Foraging Behavior

This lab will examine the relationship between species’ diets and their landscape use; we will also discuss the relationship between activity level, energy expenditure, diet, and health. After an introduction to the trends in diet and foraging behavior among primates, students will develop hypotheses for the pattern of daily activity, digestive physiology, and diet in humans and other primates.  Students will then collect data on their own activity patterns during the week; in lab, they will measure dental dimensions in a sample of living primates and fossil hominins.  Students will then analyze these data, determining the patterns of activity (e.g., distance walked per day) in their population and how their activity patterns compare to those of living primates and human hunter-gatherers.  Dental dimensions will be used to reconstruct diets of living primates and fossil hominins.  Students will use these data to test and refine hypotheses regarding diet, activity patterns, and digestive physiology.

LAB 4: Life History

In this lab students will examine the schedule of growth, reproduction, and aging in humans and other primates, and the ways in which these traits are related to other factors such as body size.  After an introduction to these concepts, students will develop hypotheses regarding the relationships between growth rates, maximum lifespans, and other life history traits and body size.  Outside of class, students will collect data on these variables for a range of species. In class, students will compile and analyze these data, examining these relationships.  Students will also collect data on body size among fossil hominins, and use regressions they develop as a class to reconstruct probable life history patterns for these extinct species. Students will use their analyzed data to test and refine their hypotheses.