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Physical and Biological Anthropology

Program Description

Just the Facts

Physical and Biological Anthropology. A program that focuses on the application of the biological sciences and anthropology to the study of the adaptations, variability, and the evolution of human beings and their living and fossil relatives. Includes instructions in anthropology, human and mammalian anatomy, cell biology, paleontology, human culture and behavior, neuroscience, forensic anthropology, anatomical reconstruction, comparative anatomy, and laboratory science and methods.

This program is available in these options:

  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

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Additional Information

Biology is a key part of any physical anthropology program. Students focus on the biological aspects of human evolution.

These students study evolution, anatomy and a lot of biology. At higher levels, they may specialize in an area such as human anatomy, primate physiology or forensic biology.

At the bachelor's level, most students take a general anthropology major.

"The major is in general anthropology, not specifically in physical anthropology," explains Paul Leslie, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The student may choose to take more courses that would fall under the rubric of physical or biological anthropology."

Towards the end of a bachelor's degree program, you can start choosing electives in the area that interests you most. At the master's and PhD level, there is more room to specialize.

Anthropology professor Andrew Nelson says students in his program begin with introductory courses such as socio-cultural anthropology and linguistics. Then they take electives, including topics in human evolution, primate and human paleontology, skeletal biology, prehistoric economies, and concepts of society and culture.

At Rutgers University, students can earn a BA in anthropology or a bachelor of science in evolutionary anthropology. They also may go on to earn a master's degree or a doctorate in anthropology.

Expect to take lots of science classes. Craig Feibel is the undergraduate director at Rutgers. He says bachelor of science students in evolutionary anthropology are required to take a minimum of 50 credits divided among three areas, including primatology, geoarcheology and paleoecology, and anthropology. An additional 12 to 16 credits in other anthropology, relevant biology, chemistry, geology and physics courses also are required.

To enhance these studies, the chair of the anthropology department at Rutgers co-directs the Koobi Fora Field School in Paleoanthropology in Kenya. This is offered every summer through Rutgers' study-abroad program.

Field school opportunities like this are common, and are something to bear in mind when choosing a program.

Take biology in high school. Any cross-cultural experiences, fieldwork or museum work also would be helpful to students, Feibel says. English and social studies courses are also important.

Peter Ungar is an anthropology professor at the University of Arkansas. He recommends joining clubs in geology, archeology or computers.

Besides tuition and books, students face other costs. Nelson says his students can participate in an archeological field school, but they must bear the costs.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Social Scientists, Other

Careers in Physical Anthropology
From the American Association of Physical Anthropologists


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