Faculty of Arts


How Humans Evolve


In this course we introduce you to some of the big questions about 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. These include our social, cultural and physical worlds. Biological anthropologists study human evolution and human ecology at a range of different levels, from the gene to the ecological community.

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 (Canada, New Zealand) growth and development of contemporary populations (Taiwan, New Zealand) and changes in health and migration (Pacific).

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 simple.

Genetic drift was probably important in the past and is certainly evident in some populations, however, the history of human populations is heavily influenced 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 can only be understood through the biocultural lens.

As such, understanding humankind’s evolutionary journey, including the interpretation of the fossil record, is a very complex task, 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.



Coursework + exam

Availability 2020

Semester 2




Fuentes, Augustin (2019). Biological Anthropology: Concepts & Connections, 3rd edition.


Coursework + exam


ANTHRO 102: 15.0 points

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