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Unit information: Introduction to Primatology in 2020/21

Unit name Introduction to Primatology
Unit code ARCH30050
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Joanna Bruck
Open unit status Not open




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


Much of our knowledge of how humans evolved has been developed through comparative studies of other living and fossil primates. Understanding the biology of our closest living relatives allows us to focus on the selective pressures that were responsible for uniquely human traits.

The overarching aim of this unit is to provide detailed exploration of primate biology and its relevance for biological anthropology. The first aim of the unit is to explore the morphological and behavioural diversity of living primate species. This will include developing an analytical approach to evaluating relationships among these variables. Second, the unit will explore the fossil record of primates dating back to the split from other mammals between 65 and 80 million years ago, with a specific emphasis on understanding how the patchwork of fossil ancestors links to lineages currently alive today. The third main aim of the unit will be a focus on theoretical approaches to interpreting the varied lines of evidence within this field. This will include comparative anatomical studies, cladistics analysis, and evaluation of life history. We will then consider applications of living and fossil primate data to the study of fossil hominids.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1. Assess the diversity of living primates today and critically evaluate taxonomic relationships using morphological, genetic, and behavioural evidence.

2. Provide an evaluation of primate fossil origins from the Paleocene to the present while demonstrating a balanced appraisal of the strength and quality of the fossil evidence.

3. Interpret primate behavioural ecology within the context of human evolution and demonstrate a critical understanding of how comparative behavioural and morphological studies are conducted.

4. Understand and manipulate cladistic analysis, providing critical analysis of how the method links to models from evolutionary theory.

5. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of life history and how human life history patterns can be better understood through studies of other species.

Teaching details

  • Weekly lectures * Two seminars
  • Two practicals
  • One project design session

Assessment Details

  1. 2000-word lab report (40%). ILOs 1, 2 and 3.
  2. 3500-word essay (60%). ILOs 4 and 5.

Reading and References

Molnar J, Esteve-Altava B, Rolian C, Diogo R. 2017. Comparison of musculoskeletal networks of the primate forelimb. Nature Scientific Reports 7: 10520.

Groves C. 2004. The what, why and how of primate taxonomy. International Journal of Primatology 25: 1105-1126.

K.B. Strier KB. 2016. Primate Behavioral Ecology. 5th Edition. Routledge: London.

Kamilar JM, Cooper N. 2013. Phylogenetic signal in primate behaviour, ecology and life history. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B Biological Sciences 368: 20120341.