Biological anthropology is the study of human biology and culture within an evolutionary framework. Biological anthropology includes the study of human genetics, human evolution and paleontology, primatology, human biological adaptation and variation, and the osteology of past and present populations including bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology. Genetic studies allow biological anthropologists to study evolutionary relationships among human populations as well as between humans and primates. Recent discoveries have pushed the hominin fossil record back to about 7 million years ago and our understanding of how and where humans evolved as well as the astonishing diversity of early hominins continues to develop. The study of nonhuman primate anatomy and behavior helps us understand the evolution of human anatomy and behavior. Also, many primate species are threatened today, so the work of primatologists is particularly important for emphasizing the need for policies that protect them. Biological anthropologists also study biological variability in human populations to better understand how people have adapted to biological stress such as that imposed by cold, heat, high altitude or disease. Osteology, or the study of the skeleton can contribute to the study of past lifeways by providing data to reconstruct demographic and disease patterns in ancient populations. Knowledge of the human skeleton, including determination of age, sex, stature, ancestry and disease and trauma can also be applied to legal issues. Forensic anthropologists can assist in the identification of skeletal remains in a variety of situations, including criminal investigations, mass disasters, and human rights issues.
The Department of Anthropology offers courses that cover this broad range of topics, including an introductory biological anthropology class, lower division courses in forensic anthropology and human biological variation and upper division courses in human evolution, forensic osteology and bioarchaeology and topics in primate conservation. In addition to the Anthropology Major, the biological anthropology classes count toward the Biocultural Anthropology Minor (for non-anthropology majors) and several also count toward the Forensic Studies Minor.
Laboratory-based instruction is an integral part of many of these courses. We have an extensive early hominid cast collection, a number of non-human primate casts, including a fully articulated gorilla and chimpanzee, and many human bone casts, as well as a small anatomical collection of real human bone and a large faunal comparative collection. Students trained in osteology have assisted in the analysis of human remains from prehistoric sites in the Durango area. The biological anthropology laboratory is a Smart Classroom and is also equipped with an image analysis system for histological studies, including a microscope, video camera and computer.