Course Exam – ANTH 336: Evolutionary Anthropology

Evolutionary Anthropology (ANTH 336) is hot off the AU press! A three-credit undergraduate course in the social sciences, ANTH 336 just opened this past January and is now available for individualized study online.

Evolutionary Anthropology explores human evolution, but from a sociological perspective: the course highlights the interpretation of our ?morphological, cultural, and behavioural adaptations? in the light of our evolutionary past. According to course author and professor Dr. Hugh Notman, ANTH 336 ?focuses on a handful of domains specific to the human evolutionary experience, and how some aspects of our physiology, cognition, and behaviour may, in fact, be biological adaptations to social and ecological challenges our ancestors faced in the past.? This includes discussion of issues like the ?nature vs. nurture? dilemma: whether, as Dr. Notman says, ?some human traits are biological, as opposed to cultural in origin.?

ANTH 336 consists of 11 units, each of which explores a different aspect of human adaptation. Unit 1 lays out the background, giving a comprehensive review of evolutionary theory (including discussion on natural selection and kin theory). The second unit is also review in part, covering the fossil record and our earliest known human roots seven million years ago.

Unit 3 ?looks at how the study of non-human primates, such as monkeys, apes, and pro-simians can be informative for testing models and predictions about the evolutionary origins of human traits,? says Dr. Notman. It also discusses the pros and cons to using such research models, including questions of ethics.

The fourth unit is a foundational one: it discusses evolutionary psychology and how it acts as an ?explanatory paradigm for some universal human behaviours, and particularly the underlying cognitive mechanisms responsible for those behaviours,? Dr. Notman says. Students use what they learn in Unit 4 as an interpretive aid for the rest of the course.

Unit 5 focuses on human relationships, including attraction (what makes us attracted to some and not others?) and bonding (how and why does bonding occur?). In Unit 6, students explore an interesting physiological question: is menopause specific to humans? Dr. Notman leads the unit with intriguing questions like whether menopause is a human adaptation or a ?by-product of longer life expectancies.?

Units 7 and 8 discuss the evolution of human language, ?arguably one of the most distinguishing characteristics of our species,? says Dr. Notman. These units explore whether ?primates use ?language? in the way we do? and whether ?language [is] an ?adaptation? that is unique to us.? Students also study possible ways that coherent languages developed.

Unit 9 deals with another unique topic: how diet has affected human development and behaviour across the evolutionary cycle. According to Dr. Notman, diet has had a significant impact on human history, even perhaps being ?responsible for the enlargement of our brains.? He further explains: ?Even in our recent evolutionary past (within 10,000 years), our diets have impacted aspects of our physiology, behaviour, and cultural practices, such as dairy farming and lactose tolerance.?

In Unit 10, the focus is on religion and its origin. Where did religion and religious tendencies come from, and why is there a ?universal tendency for cultures to subscribe to and perform some type of religious ritual?? The final unit of ANTH 336 ?[speculates] about the direction human evolution may take in the future, given current trends in migration, fertility and technology, and the constraints of natural selection.?

Student evaluation in ANTH 336 is achieved through two assignments and two exams (a mid-term worth 30 per cent of the final grade and a final worth 35 per cent). The exams have a combination format containing a variety of question styles: multiple choice, short answer, and essay.

The two assignments are interconnected. The first assignment requires students to read and discuss ?two related articles that discuss the phenomenon of male sexual aggression in humans from [a] biological perspective,? Dr. Notman says. Discussions are completed with tutors. For the second assignment, students critique these articles. As Dr. Notman explains, the primary focus of the assignments is for students to defend their ?point of view of another discipline or theoretical perspective (such as feminist theory, cultural anthropology, sociology).?

For more information on Evolutionary Anthropology (ANTH 336), visit the course website.