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Unit information: Evolution in Action in 2020/21

Unit name Evolution in Action
Unit code ARCH10014
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kit Opie
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Biological Anthropology - one of the sub-disciplines of anthropology - is a wide and varied field of knowledge and research activities. It is unified by a scientific approach developed in evolutionary biology and a focus on humans and our relatives. The aim of this course is to introduce you to anthropological dimensions of evolutionary theory and thinking. At first, we will examine the theory of natural selection, including a basic review of the genetics, to explore modern human diversity. Then will identify biological and behavioural variation among our living relatives, primates and our antecedents. The remainder of the unit will focus on modern human's dynamic relationship with the environment in lectures on human ecology and adaptation.

The weekly lectures will be complemented by five seminars that will allow students to deepen their understanding of the topics through group work and problem-solving tasks on which students will receive formative feedback to help them prepare for the essay and exam.


  • To provide you with an overview of the field of biological anthropology, including the fundamental principles of natural selection, genetics, and ecology and their role in human evolution.
  • To enable you to assess the importance of an evolutionary perspective to human biology and behaviour and our perception of what it means to be human.
  • To understand the relevance of both adaptation and adaptability in explaining modern human diversity.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit a successful student will be able to:

  1. Explain Darwin’s theory of natural selection and his contribution to modern evolutionary thinking
  2. Understand the principles of simple Mendelian inheritance and describe the role of Mendel and others in the Modern Synthesis.
  3. Discuss, with examples, the role of both adaptive and non-adaptive factors in explaining human genetic diversity.
  4. Describe the term primate.
  5. Summarise the key stages in the pattern of human evolution, as they are currently understood.
  6. Compare and contrast the arguments in the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate
  7. Describe human adaptations to climatic variation
  8. Discuss the dynamic relationship between disease, culture and the physical environment.

Teaching details

Weekly lectures. Biweekly 1-hour seminars, supported by self-directed activities. These will include group work and problem-solving tasks on which students receive formative feedback.

Assessment Details

One formative 1500 word essay. Assesses ILOs 3, 5-8

One summative open book exam (100%). Assesses ILOs 1,2,4.

Reading and References

Boyd, R. and Joan Silk (2009) How Humans Evolved. New York: W W Norton

Jurmain, R. at al (2011). Introduction to Physical Anthropology. California: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning