Biological Anthropology

Jacqueline Eng

Dr. Jacqueline Eng recording artifacts.

Biological anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University is concerned with the place of humans and our nearest relatives, the Primates, within the biological world. As such, biological anthropology includes a variety of different approaches and sub-specialties to the study of human biology, including:

  • Anthropological genetics
  • Comparative primate anatomy
  • Human variation and adaptation
  • Paleoanthropology
  • Primatology
  • Skeletal biology

The central paradigm of all biological anthropology is the notion that our species (Homo sapiens) is the result of the evolutionary process, that we have evolved like all other living things, and that our biology provides a necessary base of knowledge from which to interpret our behavior and place in the world. Most biological anthropologists today take a biocultural approach in their work where they recognize the importance of both human biology and the varieties of human culture in making us who we are. Our strengths in biological anthropology include the areas of:

  • Bioarchaeology
  • Comparative anatomy
  • Growth and development
  • Human and primate evolution
  • Skeletal biology

Biological anthropologists are the primary researchers interested in reconstructing the evolutionary past of humans and of the entire primate order. Paleoanthropologists recover fossils in the field and attempt to reconstruct their behavior and evolutionary relationships based on the anatomy of the fossils.

Biological anthropologists are also the primary behavioral researchers working with the living primates. Primatologists work all over the world where natural populations of primates are found, as well as in zoos and primate centers, where the behavior of these animals can be studied in captivity. They attempt to understand patterns of social behavior.

Skeletal biologists and bioarchaeologists excavate and analyze human remains from archaeological sites dating to both historic and prehistoric periods of human existence. Diet and nutrition, disease and health, sex and age at death, and many other aspects of human biology can be recovered as a result of bioarchaeological analysis of human skeletal remains.