Introduction to Physical Anthropology


ANTH1 Section 10002

Fall 2009, Room SS 210

M/W  12:50-2:10pm


Phone: 848-4834

Instructor: Dr. Debbie Klein

Office: PB 11-I

Office Hours: M/W 11:40am-12:40pm

& by appointment






  • The Discovery Channel will be airing an encore viewing on THURSDAY OCT 15 @ 9pm of their latest film on the discovery of Ardipithecus: We will cover the evolution of ancestral humans in the third part of the course, but this is big news right now: it turns out that Ardi, who lived 4.4 million years ago in Ethiopia, was a transitional species between ape-like hominids and human-like hominids.

Course Description


What does it mean to be human?  How did we become human?  We will explore these questions through our introduction to physical anthropology, a branch of anthropology that seeks to understand what it means to be a human being from an evolutionary point of view.  More specifically, biological anthropology examines these questions:


  • What biological characteristics define the human species?
  • How do our genes code for these characteristics?
  • What role does the environment play in shaping our traits?
  • How does evolution work and how does it apply to us?
  • What is the physical record of our evolution?
  • How does the biological variation we see in our species today evolve and what do the variable traits mean?
  • What can we learn about ourselves by studying the genes, bodies, and behavior of our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates (prosimians, monkeys, and apes)?
  • How can our understanding of human biology help us to resolve current social and political problems, such as the unequal treatment of groups of people based on assumptions about biological difference?


In addition to reading our text book, we will spend the first half of our course reading an ethnography (book written by an anthropologist based on on-site field research) by biocultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler about her fieldwork among malnourished children in Mali, West Africa. Reading an ethnography will offer us the opportunity to experience what an anthropologist does in the field.  We will discuss the challenges of conducting research in another culture and how such challenges become part of anthropological method and knowledge.


Course Learning Outcomes


  • Illustrate and analyze how scientific theory and method are developed.
  • Explain the place of Homo sapiens in the animal kingdom.
  • Examine and illustrate how evolution works in terms of the four forces of evolution.
  • Illustrate the general physical features of modern humans and compare them with the fossil hominids and non-human primates.
  • Explain and analyze important theories, concepts and data that demonstrate an understanding of human evolution from the fields of genetics, archaeology, geology, and anatomy.
  • Analyze the concepts of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism in relation to the study of human evolution.
  • Each of the above outcomes will be measured by: quizzes, response papers, exams, discussion participation, and a final research project.


Course Organization


This course is divided into 3 parts, following your text book:


1.  We start with a survey of the principles of evolution and biological inheritance, so that we can understand how the idea of human evolution has taken shape.  Because the evolutionary processes that have produced modern humans are the same processes that have produced every single species that has ever inhabited this planet, evolution and its application to the human species is a central theme of biological anthropology.

 2.  The second part of the course looks at the anatomy, behavior and evolution of our nearest relatives, the non-human primates.  Although we often think of ourselves as quite different from other animals, we can learn much about ourselves by studying the genes, bodies and behavior of our closest living relatives, and apply this knowledge to help answer questions about the origins and development of early human behavior.

 3.  The third part of the course examines the human fossil and archaeological record, which is made up of the physical remains of our ancestors and the traces of their behavior.  We will look at evidence revealing:

  • When and where our human ancestors first stood erect and when they began to “act human”
  • Where, when, and why tools were invented
  • What we know about the origins of language, art, and the many other social and cultural practices we consider so “human” today
  • Biological and cultural evolution from the earliest direct human ancestors (australopithecines) down to today, and perhaps in the future!



Texts and videos are available at the Gavilan College Bookstore and on reserve at the library.  You are also required to collect and keep track of handouts distributed in class.


Required Texts

Park, Michael.  2009.    Biological Anthropology. 

Dettwyler, Katherine.  1994.    Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa.


Course Requirements


Class Participation

Quizzes & Response Papers

2 Midterms

Final Exam

Research Project

25 points

100 points

200 points total (100 points each)

125 points

50 points


Class Participation (25 points)

Attendance at all class meetings is required.  If you miss 4 classes, you will be dropped from the course.  The college policy on attendance is that students missing one more class hour than the unit value for that particular course may be dropped without possibility of credit.  Do not be late: lateness is disrespectful to the instructor and your classmates. 


All students are expected to read the assignments before each class and come prepared to participate in class discussions and exercises.  Be prepared to read about 40 to 50 pages a week!  Please read critically and take notes, making sure you understand the authors’ main points.  Also, I encourage you to keep a personal reading journal in which you write down your reflections and questions for class discussion.


Quizzes & Response Papers (100 points total)

Several multiple choice and short answer quizzes based on course readings and lectures will be given throughout the semester.  The instructor will either let you know about quizzes in advance or surprise you.  Response papers based on specific readings or films will be assigned in advance.


A response paper is 280-560 words (1-2 pages).  While it is a relatively open format, your response paper should deal with one or a few of the main points made by the author or film. I am interested in your critical thinking here: tell me what you think about the piece.  While some summary is fine, I do not want a summary paper.  Each response paper should refer to at least 3 specific examples from the text or film.  When getting started, you might consider these questions: Given what the author or film was trying to convey, do you agree or disagree?  Why or why not?  Do you have lingering questions about the material presented?  Did you appreciate the piece?  Why or why not? 


Exams (325 points total: 200 for midterms and 125 for final)

The 2 Midterm and Final Exams will consist of multiple choice and short answer questions.  Questions will be based on assigned readings, topics covered in class, and videos.


Research Project (50 points)

DUE at the beginning of our last class. You will submit:

1) 1-2 page reading response to one of your peer-reviewed/scholarly sources.

2) Print-out of your PowerPoint presentation (maximum of 4 slides per page)


Use your curiosity, creativity and research skills to come up with an exciting project addressing any topic in biological anthropology. After doing your research, choose three articles and/or books to read thoroughly. Make sure ALL of your sources are "peer-reviewed” (scholarly). First, type a 1-2 page reading response to one of your peer-reviewed sources. Second, put together a PowerPoint presentation about your topic. Your presentation should contain graphics, text (your own words), and links (where appropriate). Observational, descriptive, and analytic projects are all possible. 

PowerPoint presentation details:

  • Your presentation should be between 12 and 20 slides.
  • Include your name on the first slide.
  • Write 1-2 paragraphs explaining the main point/thesis/argument of your presentation (as you would in an oral presentation). Include these paragraphs at the beginning or end of your presentation.
  • Your last slide should be your bibliography in APA citation style (

I have made several Scientific American articles available at  For ideas, please check these out.  You will need your Gavilan library card number to access the articles.

Sample student presentations:


The Future of Human Evolution

Coloring the Eye


Extra Credit (45 points maximum)


If you would like to earn extra credit, you can take a trip to the San Francisco Zoo to observe and document the behavior of human and nonhuman primates.  However, you must wait until we reach the second part of the course and consult with me before you go. Click here for an observation packet upon which to record your data.  You can earn up to 25 points for this assignment.


You can also write a 2 page response paper to an article, book, or video that is relevant to our course content.  You can earn up to 10 points for each response.  Each student can submit a total of 2 response papers for extra credit, for a total of 20 points.


Semester Grade

YOU MUST COMPLETE ALL OF THE ABOVE REQUIREMENTS IN ORDER TO PASS THE COURSE.  Your semester grade is based upon the total number of points you accumulate (class participation + quizzes & response papers + exams + research presentation + extra credit):

Total Possible Points = 500 points (not including extra credit)

448 + points = A,   398-447 = B,   348-397 = C,   298-347 = D,   below 298 = No Pass


Throughout the semester, how do you know your grade?  It is your responsibility to keep track of all of your grades throughout the semester.  I recommend that you keep a list of all of the grades (checks, points, etc.) that you receive.  Then, you do the math!  If you still have questions after examining your list, ask your instructor for feedback.


Important Notes


Students requiring special services or arrangements because of hearing, visual, or other disabilities should contact their instructor, counselor, or the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 848-4865.

Students are expected to exercise academic honesty and integrity.  Violations such as cheating and plagiarism will result in disciplinary action which may include recommendation for dismissal.


Lecture notes are in PowerPoint format.  If you do not have Microsoft PowerPoint, you can still access my lectures by using the PowerPoint Viewer, downloadable for free at the Microsoft Download Center at:  Once you are there, search for "PowerPoint Viewer 2007."


Classroom Etiquette

It’s a privilege to step into and participate in a college classroom, right?!  I aim to create and facilitate a productive, comfortable, and exciting learning environment for each student.  In order to do this, I need your cooperation and willingness to take this learning environment seriously.  How might we create this kind of experience?  Here are some of my rules:


  • Walk into the classroom each day with an open mind.
  • Before entering the classroom, turn OFF your cell phone.  At the very least, turn it to “vibrate” mode so that it does not disturb the class.
  • No talking to your neighbor unless it is part of the class exercise.
  • Do not do your homework for another class in this class!
  • No leaving early unless you have cleared it with me.
  • Be 100% present in body and mind!
  • If you are unable to follow this classroom etiquette, please take another class!


Course Organization

Weekly Topics and Assignments


Week 1



WED Sept 2

Introduction & Dr. Klein’s research

Discuss Syllabus and Course Expectations


Week 2



MON Sept 7

Labor Day Holiday!


WED Sept 9

Lecture: Origin Stories: Where Do We Come From?

Lecture: Biological Anthropology

Reading Due: Park Ch. 1 [for scanned chapter, go to:, you need your library card #]

& Dettwyler, Chs. 1 & 2

Writing Due: handout


Week 3



MON Sept 14

Lecture: Evolution of Evolution

Reading Due:    Park, Ch.2 [for scanned chapter, go to:, you need your library card #]


WED Sept 16

Reading Due:  Dettwyler, Chs. 3 & 4

Writing Due:  Reading response to Dettwyler Chs. 3 & 4

Video: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Handout: Fun with Mendelian Genetics


Week 4



MON Sept 21

Lecture: Darwin and Wallace

Lecture: Mendelian Genetics

Reading Due: Park, Ch.3

Handout due


WED Sept 23

Dettwyler Discussion

Lecture: Dancing Skeletons

Reading Due: Dettwyler, Chs. 5 & 6

NY Times DNA Interactive Program

Mendalian Genetics Module 1 Introduction to Mendelian genetics

Mendalian Genetics Module 2 Mendelian genetics continued

Meitosis/Meiosis animation

Celluar biology animation

Genetic Learning Resource Center Simple introduction to basics of DNA, genes, heredity



Week 5



MON Sept 28

Video: Accidents of Creation

Reading Due: Park, Ch. 4


WED Sept 30

Lecture: Processes of Evolution & Origin of Species

DNA From the Beginning A detailed animated primer on the basics of DNA, genes and heredity (Best with IE)

Nobel e-Museum DNA For the motivated student, detailed description of all aspects of molecular genetics

Reading Due: Dettwyler, Chs. 7 & 8


Week 6



MON October 5

Video: Great Transformations

Reading Due: Park, Chs. 5


WED October 7

Video: The Evolutionary Arms Race

Reading Due: Park, Ch. 6


Week 7



MON October 12

Review for First Midterm


WED October 14

Midterm 1


Week 8



MON October 19

Reading Due: Dettwyler, Chs. 9 & 10

Video: Life in the Trees


WED October 21

Lecture: The Primates

Reading Due: Park, Ch.7


Week 9



MON October 26

Lecture: Nonhuman Primate Behavior

Lecture: Primate Social Behavior

Reading Due: Park, Ch.8


WED October 28

Reading Due:  Dettwyler, Chs. 11 & 12

Writing Due: Dettwyler response paper #2


Week 10



MON Nov 2

Lecture: Fossils and Comparative Anatomy

Reading Due: Park, Ch. 9

Video: The New Chimpanzees


WED Nov 4

Reading Due: Dettwyler Chs. 13 & 14

Review for Midterm 2


Week 11



MON Nov 9

Midterm 2


WED Nov 11

Research Projects



MON Nov 16

Video: Mysteries of Mankind


WED Nov 18

Lecture: Primate Evolution

Lecture: Human Evolution: Genus Australopithecus & Paranthropus

Hominid Evolution Handout

Reading Due: Park, Ch. 10


Week 13



MON Nov 23

Lecture: Human Evolution: Genus Homo

Reading Due: Park, Ch. 11 (skim 12)

Quiz: Park chapters 10 & 11


WED Nov 25

Video: Neanderthals on Trial


Week 14



MON Nov 30

Video: Mystery of the First Americans


WED Dec 2

Lecture: Race

Reading Due: Park, Chs. 14 & 15

Video: Race: The Power of an Illusion


Week 15



MON Dec 7

Review for Final Exam


WED Dec 9

Your research presentations!


Week 16



MON Dec 14




Additional Note

This syllabus may be revised as the course goes on.  Students are responsible for noting such changes and for keeping track of events and readings in the current syllabus.