Faculty of Arts


How Humans Evolve

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for ANTHRO 102.


In this course we introduce you to some of the big questions of how humans evolve. The course is an introduction to biological anthropology; the study of human and non-human primate biological variation over time, and the relationship of that variation to the worlds we inhabit: social, cultural and physical. Biological anthropologists study human evolution and human ecology at a range of different levels, from the gene to the population.

In Anthropology at the University of Auckland we are involved in the analysis of skeletons from the past (e.g., Bronze Age Mongolia, pre-contact Australia), primate studies (Indonesia, Africa), infectious disease, growth and development of contemporary populations (Taiwan, New Zealand), human behaviour in the context of economic change (China), changes in health and migration (Pacific) and the genetics of environmental change (Pacific, Australia).

Our past and present students have gone on to work in diverse areas: archaeological consulting, museum work, teaching, community work, public health research and clinical research.


Humans are part of the diverse primate order, united by an emphasis on sociality, diversity and flexibility. We are subject to the same evolutionary forces as other species.

While mutation is important it is not the only source of variation. Furthermore very few genes involve a straight line from the gene to the trait, even sex is not that straightforward. Genetic drift was probably important in the past and is certainly evident in studies of inbreeding, however, human populations are dominated by gene flow. Natural selection is important in both our past history and in our relationships with the world today, but, more broadly, humans inherit both genes and culture so that human evolution in the past is in some parts more about gene-culture coevolution than genes alone. This involves how many species there ever were and even are today and is very complex and even more difficult when dealing with fossils. However, we can trace some of that history with molecules.

The history of humans also involves the evolution of human life history and human social systems. Humans are biocultural beings so our biology is interpenetrated with culture and that is particularly clear when we look at characteristics like skin colour. So while we share biological characteristics our biology is also local. Genes are important but not everything. And yes, humans are still evolving and evolution is still important in understanding how the world works.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Nicholas Malone


Fuentes, Augustin (2011). Biological Anthropology: Concepts & Connections, 2nd Edition.


Coursework + exam


ANTHRO 102: 15.0 points

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