copyright Lucy B

Physical/ biological anthropology is the study of the past and present evolution of the human species and is especially concerned with understanding the causes of present human diversity. Within this broad definition it encompasses fields as disparate as human palaeontology, evolutionary biology, human genetics, comparative anatomy and physiology, primate behaviour, human behavioural ecology, and human biology. Human biology broadly covers the areas of modern human biological variation, human ecology, nutrition and demography. What makes physical/ biological anthropology unique is that it brings all of these areas to bear on our understanding of the human condition.

Evolutionary perspectives encompass the origins of modern humans and of modern human diversity; the relationship between climate and human evolution; the evolution of language and cognition. What underlies all of these areas is the interpretation of archaeological and palaeontological evidence. Such evidence is considered within the broader theoretical context of evolutionary biology and furthermore draws on evidence from comparative morphology and behavioural research on both humans and non-human primates.

Evolutionary studies also extend to modern human biological and behaviour variation. One fascinating area of current interest is the degree to which human behaviour is rooted in biology rather than culture. In the general area of human ecology recent concerns emphasise the implications for vulnerable human groups of changes in climate, land tenure and economy. This area also impinges on questions of environmental conservation in the modern world. These more recent interests in human ecology occur alongside the more traditional concerns which focus on human biological variation and the correlates of this variation.

Text written by: Professor Leslie Aiello


Recommended Resources


The following film was produced by filmmaker Ed Owles (shot at the London Anthropology Day 2007) 




The following film is part of a five part BBC series called Journey of Life . The series is presented by Steve Leonard and explores the trajectory of the beginnings of human life on the planet to where we are today. Human Life is the 5th part of the series and explores human evolution and the reasons for why and how we seperated from our chimpanzee cousins.








Homo Britannicus: The Incredible story of Human Life in Britain
Stringer, C. (Pengiun 2006)

How Humans Evolved: Fifth Edition 
Boyd, R. and Silk, J. (WW Norton & Co. 2009)

Exploring Biological Anthropology: The Essentials
Stanford C. and Alles S.J. and Anton C.S (Prentice Hall, 2009) 

General - An interactive documentary produced by the Institute of Human Origins which uses multimedia, research, and scholarship to promote greater understanding of the course of human evolution. - A website based on the book Braindance by Dean Falk of the University of Albany. This website is a compellation of her past and present research. - A project of the American Anthropological Association that explores the concept of race by looking through the eyes of history, science and lived experience. - The International Directory of Primatology provides a variety of information on areas of primate research, education and conservation.


Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programmes in the UK

The following universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Biological Anthropology or related specialist areas.

Bournemouth University


University of Cambridge 

Durham University


University of Kent


Oxford University


Oxford Brookes University


Roehampton University (only undergraduate level)


University College London


University of Wales, Trinitiy St. David (only postgraduate level) 



Professional Organisations, Groups, and Associations

American Association of Physical Anthropologists - The AAPA is the world's leading professional organisation for physical anthropologists

Human Behavior and Evolution Society - HBES is a society for all those studying the evolution of human behavior. Scientific perspectives range from evolutionary psychology to evolutionary anthropology and cultural evolution; and the membership includes researchers from a range of disciplines in the social and biological sciences.

Evolutionary Anthropology Society - a section of the American Anthropological Association bringing together all those interested in applying modern evolutionary theory to the analysis of human biology, behaviour, and culture.

Palaeoanthropology Society - brings together physical anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists and a range of other researchers whose work has the potential to shed light on hominid behavioral and biological evolution.

British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaelogy - BABAO promotes the study of human bioarchaeology and osteoarchaeology for the purpose of understanding humanity from the past to the present.

Society for the Study of Human Biology -- The aims of the SSHB are the general advancement and promotion of research in the biology of human populations in all its branches, including human variability and genetics, human adaptability and ecology, and human evolution.

The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) - is the world's longest-established scholarly association dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology (the study of humankind) in its broadest and most inclusive sense.


Field Opportunities - Biological Anthropology Section of the AAA, which posts current field school opportunities.

Disclaimer: The above information is provided for information and guidance only. It should not be interpreted as endorsement or otherwise by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) for any external institution listed.  Furthermore, the RAI accepts no responsibility for material created by external parties or the content of external websites.