Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective

Take a glimpse into our selected primate heritage to understand the forces that continue to shape us.
Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 118.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biological Anthropology is an excellent overview! The 24 30 minute lectures delve into the earliest life forms and their evolution over millions of years into the complex life forms now present. Chemistry is explained and it presents how it started life on Earth. My biggest surprise was learning about self-replicating molecules, which I've never heard about!
Date published: 2021-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Informative Dr. King paints a very clear big picture. I was eager to see how her gender and the prevailing "wokeness" would influence her perspective and delivery. She seemed to struggle carving out a major evolutionary role for women (as if child making were not enough) and to water down the science by downplaying racial differences over the ages in favor of more recent population dynamics.
Date published: 2021-07-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult to Listen I bought this last month and while the content is fascinating I can't access the recording for some reason. Sometimes I do and it's good, but for example, tonight, I couldn't get it to play. Definitely not recommending it!
Date published: 2021-07-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Outdated Material The course material is indeed a "101" level introduction to biological anthropology, but is very, very outdated. A lot has happened in this field since this course was produced, and much of the chronology presented is now incorrect by significant amounts. Significant new discoveries, such as the Denisovan branch of the Homo family, are entirely missing. I recommend this course be removed from your inventory until it can be updated.
Date published: 2021-06-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Many Interesting Topics I checked the copyright date before viewing the course, so I knew that some information would be outdated. That's OK. Still, I found the content interesting. I've read some of her work before, and I found it very interesting. But, I don't need to spend time on a course to get another dose of the "-isms". Racism, sexism, on and on. I get enough of it in all media, every day.
Date published: 2021-05-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interaction with Professor The Professor refuses to look at me. She looks anywhere else, at anyone else, making me feel like I am spying as a voyeur
Date published: 2021-04-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Yesterday's Science I believe Great Courses should be held responsible for continuing to offer a course with such outdated information! The lecturer seems to present information as factual when she only gives her opinion of more recent studies i.e. speciation of various Homonide members. I would not recommend her for the presenter of a new course as her delivery tends to put you to sleep. The entire subject of human evolution is largely unknown; therefore, it needs to be presented as theory vs fact!
Date published: 2021-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This course deserves an updated version I cruised through the 24 lectures and greatly appreciated the lecturer's guide and insights every step of the way. This course was exactly what I needed to better understand (human) evolution. Many of the concepts explained are brushed over in other courses or articles about evolution. Possibly these are considered by scholars to be obvious, but to the laymen, they can be critical in understanding. I think this topic is well worth being updated with all that new information from the fascinating anthropological discoveries made in the period 2003-2021 like Homo Florensiensis and Homo Denisova. Perhaps the studies of the Sherpa people and the Bajau people could be used in the Human variation lecture. Nevertheless, thank you for providing this content.
Date published: 2021-01-23
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Biological anthropology is far more than studying old bones. The history of humanity and its future as provided by Professor Barbara J. King considers evolution as a vital, active force. Join this noted scholar, teacher, and researcher as she explores more than a century of scientific scholarship to examine human history from this evolutionary perspective.


Barbara J. King
Barbara J. King

Scientific creationism, however, and even the newer doctrine of intelligent design, are fundamentally at odds with the bedrock principles of biological anthropology, and of science itself.


The College of William & Mary

Dr. Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist and Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. She earned her B.A. in Anthropology from Douglass College, Rutgers University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Professor King's research interests concern the social communication of the great apes, the closest living relatives to humans. She has studied ape and monkey behavior in Gabon, Kenya, and at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. The recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, she has published three books on anthropology, including The Information Continuum: Social Information Transfer in Monkeys, Apes, and Hominids. At William and Mary, Professor King has won four teaching awards: The William and Mary Alumni Association Teaching Award, the college's Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, the Virginia State Council of Higher Education for Virginia's Outstanding Faculty Award, and the designation of University Professor for Teaching Excellence, 1999-2002.

By This Professor

What is Biological Anthropology?

01: What is Biological Anthropology?

Whether studying primates in the field, gene sequences in a lab, fossils from the Earth, or modern human populations across the globe, biological anthropologists employ an evolutionary perspective to understand the history of our species, and perhaps its future....

33 min
How Evolution Works

02: How Evolution Works

Evolution, or systematic change in a gene pool over time, is driven by the mechanisms of natural selection, mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift. Understanding the role played by "differential productive success" helps us to see that evolution still plays an important role in our lives today....

30 min
The Debate Over Evolution

03: The Debate Over Evolution

Americans continue to reject the theory of evolution in large numbers, perhaps because of a perceived incompatibility between belief in evolution and religious faith. In fact, some evolutionary scientists are deeply religious. Scientific creationism, however, and even the newer doctrine of intelligent design, are fundamentally at odds with the bedrock principles of biological anthropology, and of ...

30 min
Matter Arising-New Species

04: Matter Arising-New Species

As different animal populations become isolated from each other, differing selection pressures cause them to adapt to their ecological niche, until a variety of forms emerge which cannot interbreed. About 65 million years ago, ancestral rodent-like populations underwent such pressures, resulting in the emergence of primates....

30 min
Prosimians, Monkeys, and Apes

05: Prosimians, Monkeys, and Apes

The obvious anatomical and behavioral differences among these three subgroups of non-human primates led early anthropologists to focus on their static measurement and classification. In 1951, Sherwood Washburn focused on how the dynamic processes of evolutionary change had produced different yet fundamentally related species....

30 min
Monkey and Ape Social Behavior

06: Monkey and Ape Social Behavior

The rhesus monkeys of Cayo Santiago, an island off Puerto Rico, organize their society around groups of differently ranked females, while chimpanzee communities are male-dominated, organized around communal male hunting and border patrols. As Washburn would have predicted, a common trend of hierarchical grouping and intense social bonding emerges, across diverse primates....

30 min
The Mind of the Great Ape

07: The Mind of the Great Ape

Is there a watershed difference in cognitive abilities between great apes and other non-human primates? Advocates of this viewpoint point to two phenomena: the great ape's "theory of mind," or its ability to comprehend another being's mental state, and the great ape's ability to communicate through gestures and human-devised symbol systems....

30 min
Models for Human Ancestors?

08: Models for Human Ancestors?

Some anthropologists create models for the evolution of human behavior by studying primates whose behaviors most closely resemble our own. Others say we should only study behavior shared universally by all great apes. Some stress that the process by which a behavior emerged in a primate group can best indicate how our own behaviors evolved....

30 min
Introducing the Hominids

09: Introducing the Hominids

The hominids are the first human ancestors, diverging from a common ancestor with the great apes some six or seven million years ago. Despite fossil evidence and the contributions of molecular science, the precise speciation date is still elusive. Climate change and dietary pressures are examined as possible explanations for the hominids' key anatomical adaptation, bipedality....

31 min
Lucy and Company

10: Lucy and Company

When the 40 percent complete Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) skeleton was found in 1974, she upset researchers' expectations by being bipedal, yet possessing an ape-sized brain. Subsequent studies of other species show us that a variety of bipedal hominid forms had evolved even earlier than Lucy, and that they co-existed. Rather than a straight line, evolution more resembled a many-branched bush...

29 min
Stones and Bones

11: Stones and Bones

Homo habilis, who first appeared 2.4 million years ago, was not the first gracile, light-boned hominid, but it was the first to leave evidence of its lifestyle. It manufactured rudimentary stone tools, probably used to forage and to process animal carcasses. Different cultural practices have been inferred from this tool use, but the technological leap it represents is certain....

30 min
Out of Africa

12: Out of Africa

With Homo erectus, some hominid populations migrated from their African homes and into Asia. Anatomical advantages of this species included a larger brain, and in the case of an African specimen, a tropically adapted body frame. Its more advanced toolkit allowed more efficient animal processing, while its probable control of fire aided hunting, cooking, defense, and temperature control....

30 min
Who Were the Neandertals?

13: Who Were the Neandertals?

In 1911, a French anatomist fashioned a reconstruction of a Neandertal based on a skeleton afflicted with arthritis, and the stooped, shambling, primitive figure that resulted has lived on in the popular imagination. In truth, Neandertals were large-brained, upright bipeds, effective hunters, and sophisticated toolmakers. Their practice of deliberately burying their dead hints at a possible symbol...

30 min
Did Hunting Make Us Human?

14: Did Hunting Make Us Human?

Intelligence and the ability to cooperate are essential to success in hunting. Could these qualities have been naturally selected, and acted as prime evolutionary movers in the evolution of human intelligence? Critics note that there is little evidence for hunting in many of the early hominids, while others stress that social coordination and problem solving are equally required in female gatherin...

28 min
The Prehistory of Gender

15: The Prehistory of Gender

The prehistoric landscape of behavioral gender differences is a veritable minefield, where an anthropologist's inferences may always fall prey to ideology. From the 1960s until today, we have seen models that promote the male as the protector and provider, making no allowances for behavioral flexibility. Alternatives that posit the primacy of female-centered networks in place of the nuclear family...

30 min
Modern Human Anatomy and Behavior

16: Modern Human Anatomy and Behavior

Unlike bones, modern human behavior cannot easily be dated. The famous Lascaux cave paintings, together with other artifacts from Western Europe, were once thought to be firsts. New excavations of rock art and finely worked tools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Namibia are challenging this view, and showcase Africa once more as the likely crucible of progress....

31 min
On the Origins of Homo sapiens

17: On the Origins of Homo sapiens

Did modern Homo sapiens evolve entirely on the African continent, then fan out into Asia and Europe, replacing other hominid forms as they went? Or would it be more accurate to see evolution from intermediate hominid forms occurring simultaneously, and in the same direction, on all three continents? Fossils, knowledge of evolution, and genetic testing all contribute to theories, but no single answ...

30 min

18: Language

With its immense vocabulary and complex syntax, modern language is often seen as a mysterious development, lying on the far side of some mist-shrouded Rubicon from which the point of origin is barely visible. This need not be so. Anthropologist Robbins Burling has proposed a scenario that includes the step-by-step evolutionary shifts necessary to get us from ape communication to human language....

30 min
Do Human Races Exist?

19: Do Human Races Exist?

To quote anthropologist Michael Blakey, the idea that people can be grouped into races may seem as obvious to us as the sun rising in the east. Blakey's point, however, was that our eyes can mislead us, and common sense can be inadequate to deal with scientific questions. This lecture confronts the question of whether skin color or other attributes can be used to sort people into biologically mean...

30 min
Modern Human Variation

20: Modern Human Variation

If race is a flawed prism through which to view human diversity, how ought we to understand it? A population that undergoes pronounced selection pressures may experience significant evolutionary changes. This lecture considers the anatomical adaptations that occur in response to extreme climates, as well as the process of acclimatization, a non-genetic type of human adaptation....

30 min
Body Fat, Diet, and Obesity

21: Body Fat, Diet, and Obesity

Humans developed the ability to convert calories into fat deposits to combat the periodic food shortages endemic to early hominid life. Consequently, we are not well adapted to process large portions of salt, sugar, and fat. Anthropologists propose various ways of coping with this adaptation to the past....

31 min
The Body and Mind Evolving

22: The Body and Mind Evolving

Recent research suggests that morning sickness in pregnant women, and hypertension in African-Americans, can be explained in evolutionary terms. By considering psychology and even moral action as similarly influenced by evolutionary pressures, are we at risk of endorsing biological determinism?...

31 min
Tyranny of the Gene?

23: Tyranny of the Gene?

The disappointing results of animal cloning confirm that environment plays as great a role as genes do in an organism's biological destiny. Understanding how genes affect human health may produce promising treatments, but we affirm the fundamental truth that genetic material acts, and is acted upon, in complex and unpredictable ways....

30 min
Evolution and Our Future

24: Evolution and Our Future

Even though Homo sapiens is now the planet's dominant species and prime evolutionary mover, the selection pressures we generate and are subject to will have consequences that we cannot predict. The intimate connection we share with our primate relatives and all other animal species should inspire a sense of common responsibility as we meet the challenges of the future....

33 min