Biological Anthropology

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.


The Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University offers the following biological anthropology courses:


  • ANTH 1500: Race, Biology, and Culture
  • ANTH 2500: Introduction to Biological Anthropology
  • ANTH 2510: Forensic Anthropology
  • ANTH 3500: Primate Evolution
  • ANTH 3510: Human Osteology
  • ANTH 3520: Faunal Analysis
  • ANTH 3530: Bioarchaeology
  • ANTH 3540: Growth and Development
  • ANTH 4500: Primate Behavior and Ecology

Course descriptions

Course schedules

thesis topics

The Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University offers a sampling of past biological anthropology thesis topics.

Undergraduate Honors Theses

  • "Functional aspects of the Neanderthal pelvis in locomotion"
  • "Skeletal lesions in tuberculosis: an update and reappraisal"
  • "Stature estimation from footprints"

Graduate Theses

  • "A histological approach to taphonomy: The freeze-thaw cycle and water immersion"
  • "A New Early Eocene Mammalian Fauna from the Great Divide Basin, Southwestern Wyoming: Vertebrate Paleontology, Paleoclimatology and Biostratigraphy"
  • "Age, status, and gender: mortality patterns and mortuary practices at Umm el-Jimal, Jordan"
  • "Building a predictive model for Paleoindian archaeological site location using Geographic Information Systems"
  • "Childhood health and nutrition: an exploration of enamel hypoplasia studies using the Milwaukee County Institutional Grounds cemetery"
  • "Geology and Biostratigraphy of the Freighter Gap region, Great Divide Basin, southwestern Wyoming"
  • "Interpreting diet by age, status, and gender, and establishing weaning patterns using trace element analysis on human remains from Umm el Jimal, Jordan"
  • "Reconsidering the auricular surface as an indicator of age at death"
  • "The accuracy of US age estimation standards when used to age US and Bosnian skeletal samples"