Human Evolution

Course Basics

Anthropology 211-00

Instructor Information

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Up-to-date contact information (including office hours) is available here

General Policies

You are required to read Dr. Carter’s Policies. You are responsible for understanding and following these policies. If you have a question, please ask in class as your fellow students will benefit.

Course Description

This introductory course focuses on the paleoanthropological reconstruction of human evolution over the past 10 million years. Human evolution has produced our body, for better or worse. We will investigate what makes us human and similar to, but very different than, other mammals, especially our genetic cousins, the apes. This course is organized into four approximately equal parts. The first part covers the basic biology behind evolution with specific examples focusing on humans. The second section covers the skeletal biology of Homo sapiens, especially in comparison to our ape relatives. Human and ape skeletal biology is the basis for much of our understanding of the fossil record. The third and fourth sections detail the hominid fossil record and concern the fascinating story of how we came to be human, that is an upright, brainy, bipedal creatures capable of making tools and completely new brand of sociality and language.

Course Objectives

Students will be able to:
– Locate the discipline of physical anthropology within anthropology broadly.
– Relate the essential differences between those who support creationism and those who support a scientific perspective of human origins
– Identify the factors that act upon population diversity.
– Use essential concepts of evolution to understand the human past.
– Discuss different dating methods, how they work and under what conditions they are useful.
– Describe the structure and function of DNA.
– Describe how variation is introduced into populations and how that variation is either maintained or reduced.
– Describe natural selection and discuss scenarios in which it may have operated in the human past.
– Critique the appropriateness of different primates as analogies for early human ancestors.
– Analyze the human fossil record and assess issues of preservation and sample size.
– Describe and identify major changes in human biology and culture.


For this course, you are required to read much of the following book. Therefore, you must have access to it.

Marks, Jonathan M. 2018. The Alternative Introduction to Biological Anthropology. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN #9780190490997.

Class format

For each class you will be assigned reading that you are expected to complete prior to our class session.  Class will be a combination of lecture and discussion. I have a strong preference for the latter (because that is how students learn the best), but lecture is appropriate at times.


Distribution of assessments

  • Four exams‐ 20%
  • Lab activities‐ 15%
  • RATs‐ 20%
  • Critical Reviews‐ 20%
  • Final Exam‐ 10%
  • Participation‐ 15%

Exams: Exams will be an approximately equal combination of objective (i.e. multiple choice, etc.) and open‐ended questions that require short, but thoughtful, responses. These are intended to assess basic knowledge- in this sense, these are relatively “easy.”

Lab activities: You will complete two labs that encourage detailed understanding of human and chimpanzee skeletal anatomy. While many visual and physical aids will be employed throughout the class, the classes about the skeleton are best taught through hands‐on manipulation of bones. You will complete lab reports for these activities.

RAT: For nearly every class, you will have a Reading Assessment Test, or RAT. These are straightforward assessments of your completion and comprehension of the assigned reading for that day. Each quiz is 5 multiple choice questions. You may use your notes (but not the reading or your computer). For each quiz, I will grade out of 4 points; that is, you are allowed one wrong with no penalty.

Critical Reviews: You will be expected to write 2 ESSAYS. For the 1st ESSAY, choose a living non‐human primate (e.g., chimpanzee, howler monkey, etc.), and find two topically‐related articles about that primate in a scholarly journal. Read the articles and then write a critical summary of the topics discussed in the articles. For the 2nd ESSAY, choose a fossil hominid (e.g., Homo habilis, Ardipithecus ramidus), and write a critical essay as above.

Final exam: Yes, it is cumulative. This is intended to assess your ability to utilize the material from the three sections of this class and put them together to achieve an improved understanding of the complexity and the imperfection of human evolution.

Participation: You are required to participate in each and every class. This will be assessed to the best of my ability. There are a few basic principles to remember to ensure a good grade.

First, COME TO CLASS. Is there any question why this is important? This class is NOT about memorizing a set of facts, but engaging with complex ideas and being able to deploy appropriate facts and methods in support (or not) those ideas.

Second, READ all of the required material. That does not mean look at each and every word on the assigned pages. It means actually try to understand everything that is written. This is not a quick process. Expect to spend a significant amount of time reading!

Third, THINK. I will present you with a large amount of material. You need to think about it. If you regurgitate what I say, you will likely pass. If you think about what I say and ask probing questions, you will learn (and likely get a much, much higher grade!).

Fourth, SHARE. The more you contribute to the class conversation, the more everyone will learn. It’s just that simple. This means that I encourage you to take risks. Ask that “stupid” question- it could be really important and it is probably NOT “stupid.”

 Class LMS (Learning Management System)

For this course, we will be using our Learning Management System (LMS) known as Canvas. Our schedule and many course materials live on Canvas. You will turn in most assignments via Canvas. Canvas provides excellent online documentation for nearly anything. Here is a link to the Student Guide. However, even Canvas representatives have encouraged us to just Google “canvas lms” and whatever you want to do (e.g., find calendar).


Your official calendar is in Canvas. I highly encourage you to download the app (just Google “Canvas lms” along with your platform, e.g., “IOS” or “Android”) and/or synchronize your Canvas calendar with your calendar on your phone/computer using the iCal feed (Click here for instructions; note that what you do on your phone depends upon your device, but it is pretty straight forward).