Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Themes in Evolutionary Anthropology

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Anthropological Sciences

DESCRIPTION Key issues and main theoretical debates:

- Principles and mechanisms of evolution, including selection and adaptation
- Concepts of diversity and relatedness
- Primates
- Hominid evolution
- Species identification and species definitions
- Cultural evolution
- Social learning


- No prior knowledge of the subject area is required
- The study-unit will be taught through interactive lectures, small-group discussions and small-group lab practical activities
- The study-unit benefits from a balance between lectures, discussions and practicals, geared to the specific needs of the material
- The lectures and practicals are carefully integrated
- Practicals will cover topics relevant to the content of the module and take a hands-on approach to learning

The majority of this study-unit takes place during the course of one week (Days 1-5). Following a weekend break, you will be assessed by a written examination (Day 6). We reconvene the following day (Day 7) for a wrap-up session and brief individual consultations where feedback is provided on exam performance.

No prior knowledge of the subject is required, but you should read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin in preparation. This easy-to-read and engaging book will introduce you to evolutionary concepts in a non-technical language.

Day 1: How does evolution work?

Preparation: Introductory lecture

In this session you will be introduced to Darwinian theory, i.e. the main principles and mechanisms of evolution. Attention will be devoted to natural selection, sexual selection, adaptation and the biological and ecological prerequisites for evolution to occur.

Day 2: What is a primate?

Preparation: Neil Shubin video “Your Inner Primate” available online

This session will provide you with a basic understanding of primate ecology, behaviour and skeletal morphology. The lecture will be devoted largely to the defining characteristics of modern, living primate species. The practical will focus on the identification of primates on the basis of the skeleton and, by extension, the methods by which ancestral primate species can be identified in the fossil record.

Day 3: What is a human?

Visit to Natural History Museum, Mdina

This session will explain how, why and when humans evolved, covering 7 million years of history. You will be introduced to the main hominin lineages and their defining characteristics. Following the lecture, we will visit the Natural History Museum in Mdina where a small exhibit on human evolution is on display. We will use the exhibit to further explore the ideas covered in the lecture and investigate additional key topics in human evolution, such as bipedalism.

Day 4: Can culture evolve?


In this lecture you will consider how the biological principles of evolution can be applied to human (and other primate) culture. The practical that follows will demonstrate how social learning contributes to changes in culture over time.

Day 5: What does it mean to “think evolutionarily”?

Small-group (x4) discussion and presentations

This session will provide you with the opportunity to consolidate your knowledge through small group discussions and informal presentations to the larger group. You will be asked the key question: how does an evolutionary perspective shed light on human behaviour and culture? The discussions will be guided by the module leaders.

Day 6: Written examination

Day 7: Final Q&A and individual feedback meetings

Study-unit Aims:

To provide a broad overview of the main themes, methodological approaches and areas of inquiry in evolutionary anthropology.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate familiarity with basic technical biological/evolutionary terminology;
- Understand some of the fundamental concepts of evolutionary anthropology;
- Read texts and publications with a basic understanding of the purposes of evolutionary anthropological research;
- Demonstrate familiarity with some of the key methods of evolutionary study;
- Understand relevant data and how it is analysed.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Conduct anthropological research;
- Write suitable reports;
- Develop suitable research writing skills.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Readings will be provided on VLE plus teaching films, however, the following introductory textbook is highly recommended. It is updated frequently and discuses all of the subject areas covered in this study-unit.

Boyd, R. & Silk, J.B., 2014. How Humans Evolved, 7th ed. WW Norton & Company: Los Angeles.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Practicum & Seminar

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Essay Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Kristin Kovarovic

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.