Physical/Biological Anthropology

Physical or biological anthropology deals with the evolution of humans, their variability, and adaptations to environmental stresses. Using an evolutionary perspective, we examine not only the physical form of humans - the bones, muscles, and organs - but also how it functions to allow survival and reproduction.

Within the field of physical anthropology there are many different areas of focus. Paleoanthropology studies the evolution of primates and hominids from the fossil record and from what can be determined through comparative anatomy and studies of social structure and behavior from our closest living relatives. Primatologists study prosimians, monkeys and apes, using this work to understand the features that make each group distinct and those that link groups together. Skeletal biology concentrates on the study of anatomically modern humans, primarily from archaeological sites, and aims to understand the diseases and conditions these past people experienced prior to dying. Forensic anthropologists use the study of skeletal biology to assist in the identification and analysis of more recently deceased individuals. Such cases often involve complex legal considerations. Human biologists concentrate on contemporary humans, examining not only their anatomy and physiology but also their reproduction and the effects of social status and other factors on their growth and development.

Because these studies take place within an understanding of the context of human behavior and culture, physical anthropology stands as a unique link between the social and biological sciences. At UCSC we focus on skeletal material but within the framework of a functioning organism, each with its own life story written in the bones. Primary research interests and areas of expertise include human skeletal biology and forensic anthropology (Alison Galloway); ancient DNA, human biology, population biology, molecular evolution (Lars Fehren-Schmitz); and primatology, diet, nutrition, carbon, ecology, and biogeochemistry (Vicky Oelze). Our well-equipped anthropology laboratories support the program.