Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course of Physical Anthropology seeks to increase the understanding of how the evolution of primates.
The course focuses in particular on the genus Homo and the relations occurring between biological and cultural aspects, especially at the middle and upper Paleolithic.
In addition to the aspects of macroevolutionary, part of the course and 'dedicated to the microevolution of Homo sapiens: the final part of the course of biodemography, is dedicated to the analysis of the micro-variations of the populations in the last 3 - 4 centuries.
At the end of the training activity the student should have acquired basic theoretical and practical knowledge required to study and recognize the main groups of the current Primates (Strepsirrine and Catarrine and, for the latter, the anthropomorphous monkeys) and the main fossil finds of the Australopithecus genus and Homo.
In particular, the student should be able to:
D1. Knowledge and ability to understand
Understanding the main mechanisms that determine the evolution of vertebrates, adaptations and classification of the main groups of the order of primates, the relationships between organisms and their living environment and their main physical characteristics. The microevolution of human populations and the demographic parameters of development and growth of human populations.
D2. Ability to apply knowledge and understanding
Use the specific language of vertebrate anatomy. Apply the mathematical methods used in anthropometry and analyze the indices obtained. Apply demographic and IT methods to analyze population evolution. Understand anthropology topics in English.
D3. Autonomy of assessment
Evaluate and interpret experimental data. Critically use data from scientific literature and anthropometric and experimental methodologies that allow optimal resolution of an anthropological problem. Evaluate the teaching
D4. Communication ability
Exposing the results of anthropological studies also to an untrained public even using computer tools also made available by the teacher
D5. Learning ability
Link the different topics treated among themselves, in particular with the mechanisms of evolution of human populations. Update through the consultation of biodemographic and anthropological scientific publications. Acquire a methodology of study that allows the continuation of university studies.
No prerequisite is required. The knowledge of spreadsheets can facilitate the understanding of some of the micro-demographic models part of biodemography.
Course contents summary
The purpose of Physical Anthropology is the naturalistic study of the Homo genus, considered within the framework of zoological systematics and issues related to its origins and variations over time and space.
The first part of the course will deal with topics concerning the development of the scientific method and the main paradigms that have guided the comprehension and interpretation of natural phenomena over time. Special emphasis will be given to the genesis and historical development of evolutionary theories and the current debate surrounding them.
A number of lectures will be dedicated to the hereditary nature of the gene pool and to human anatomy.
The appearance and evolution of the Homo genus and its predecessors are followed both through the analysis of anatomic-functional changes of individual apparatuses and through the analysis of fossil finds. The global nature of the influence of evolutionary forces will constantly be emphasised during the analytical treatment; the environmental context in which evolution takes place and the increasingly important contribution made by culture to the evolution of the human species is also considered.
The development of sciences and the historical development of evolutionary theorie. Fossilisation and fossil dating principles. Osteometry and anthropometry. The actual primates.
Evolution of apparatuses and functions: adaptation and homeostatis processes.
Communication and language.
Analysis of the series of fossil finds.
Sahelanthropus. Orrorin. Ardipithecus ramidus.
Australopithecus (anamensis, afarensis, africanus, gahri). Kenyanthropus platyops.
Paranthropus aethieopicus, robustus, bosei.
Homo habilis/rudolfensi, ergaster, heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, sapiens.
Anatomically modern Homo sapiens; hypotheses regarding his origin. Overview: facts and hypotheses.
G.BIONDI, O.RICKARDS - Umani da sei milioni di anni - Carocci ed. Roma (3th ed.,2017)
SPEDINI G. - ANTROPOLOGIA EVOLUZIONISTICA, ed. Piccin
MALLEGNI F. - Come eravamo: l'evoluzione umana alla luce delle più recenti acquisizioni. LTU Ed. Pisa (2002)
KLEIN R. G. - IL CAMMINO DELL'UOMO. ANTROPOLOGIA CULTURALE BIOLOGIA, ed. Zanichelli
We use multimedia presentations and free software for the construction of phylogenetic trees. Additional copies of skulls shown to illustrate the evolution of the genus Homo.
Assessment methods and criteria
Theoretical oral examination. The physical evolution of primates and related apparatuses is discussed.
There are no ongoing tests.
The first question is always of a paleopathological nature: the student indicates three of the possible 11 paleopathological topics one of which will be chosen by the teacher.
The final grade is determined by the set of answers given by the candidate, expressed in thirtieths.
The pdfs of presentations used in class and software of anthropometric and biodemographic examples can be downloaded from the Biology site.