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Michael A. Little

Dr. Michael A. Little possesses the title of “distinguished professor” at Pennsylvania State University (where he also earned both his masters and PhD). He began his research career examining cold adaptation in the high Peruvian Andes before he began a 20 year, multidisciplinary project that studied the health, biology, and culture of pastoralists in northwest Kenya. His current work focuses mainly on documenting the history of biological anthropology mainly, through archival research. He teaches classes at PSU on comparative human growth, human biological variation, and the history of biological anthropology. In 2005, he received the Franz Boas award from the Human Biology Association and later, in 2007, received the Charles R. Darwin award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Francis E. Johnston

Dr. Francis E. Johnston is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned his PhD (his masters was earned at the University of Kentucky). He specializes in the study of the development of children in Latin America, particularly in regard to nutritional status and health. He is the founder and director of the Urban Nutrition Initiative. He was President of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists from 1983 to 1985 and has been the Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Human Biology, and The American Journal of Human Biology (where he was also founding editor). In 2003, he received the Charles Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Human Biology and Its History

  • Timeline
    • Middle Ages: the earliest form of human biology begins with the study of cadavers to determine bodily structure
    • 1924: Raymond Pearl is the first modern scholar to use the term human biology
      • Discussion: Since this chapter focuses only on the history of American human biology (due to space restrictions), what kind of biases do you think could be present, if any?

Human Variation

  • Timeline
    • 1850-1940s: the measurement and description of past and present humans in the form of a typology is popular
      • Typologies can be problematic since they represent more of an idealized image than reality.
      • Eugenics arguing for the superiority of Western Europeans were popular at the time
      • It was believed that all races were: 1) fixed, 2) came from three primary races, and 3) were one of the primary races or a mixture of two or three primary races
      • 1897: Franz Boaz measured the heads of migrants and their children, showing that the environment and plasticity were important factors in variation
        • He stated that race and culture were separate
      • 1950: The new phase of physical anthropology begins with a conference held by Theodosius Dobzhansky and Sherwood Washburn
        • The use of the scientific method in the study of evolutionary theory became the new focus of this phase of anthropology
      • 1950: Races: A study of the Problem of Race Formation in Man, written by Carleton Coon, Stanley Garn, and Joseph Birdsell, argues that racial categories formed to the conditions of the environment via natural selection
        • Race was seen as ever-changing instead of static
      • Currently: race is no longer a subject of study, with the exception of clarifying misusages of the term that lead to discrimination. Human variation is viewed as dynamic.
        • Discussion: What are some current examples of the misuse of the concept of race? How are these examples different from misusages in the past?

Human Adaptability

  • 1950s: Bodily adaptation to the environment is viewed as happening largely in terms of adaptation to climate (particularly temperature extremes)
  • 1960s—1970s: The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) implemented the International Biological Programme (IBP)
    • Human adaptability studies were a part of this, though the more scientifically inclined methodology of the research kept some human biologists from participating
    • Ecosystems science (a combination of ecology and the mathematical study of systems science) became popular
    • The physiological measurements that were also taken at this time allowed for the study of how populations adapt biobehaviorally to the environment
    • Many of the projects conducted by the human adaptability section of the IBP were multidisciplinary projects
      • Discussion: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a large-scale study such as the human adaptability research at the IBP?

Anthropological Genetics

  • Timeline
    • 1860’s- Mendel experiments with peas to develop the laws of  segregation and independent assortment
      • Explores dominance in alleles
      • Compares genotype to phenotype
    • 1927-1930- JBS Haldane and Robert Fisher expressed evolution as the aggregate effect of interactions between mutations, gene flow, selection, and genetic drift
      • Integrated Darwinian theory, population genetics, and advanced mathematical analyses
      • Let to the rise of the two modern approaches to the interpretation of patterns of gene frequency
        • One focuses on natural selection
        • One focuses on the stochastic processes of genetic drift and gene flow
    • 1900- Karl Landsteiner provides first description of human ABO blood type groups
      • Discovery of these and other antigens revolutionized immunology and segued into the study of human population genetics
      • Later found that the frequencies of these antigens are shaped, at least in a small degree, by natural selection
    • 1950- William Boyd argues against the use of anthropometry
      • Wanted scientists to focus on genetics that were not shaped by environment
      • Still believed in race as a true biological category
    • 1958- Frank B. Livingstone analyzes the distribution and dynamics  of the hemoglobin S (sickle-cell) gene
    • 1987- National Institutes of Health begin the Human Genome Project
  • Review and Discussion
    • Darwin’s description of natural selection was not complete until Mendel completed his work with the pea plants
      • Where do you stand on the issue of the main force behind evolution? Do you agree with E.B. Ford who argues that genetic polymorphism is maintained by selection and that gene frequencies are kept in equilibrium by opposing selective forces? Would  you say that population demographics like age structure, mortality rates, sex ratio, and migration/immigration patterns have the strongest  impact on the genetic variability within a population?
    • The Modern Trends
      • Most of the study of human genetics has  been at the level of DNA
      • The Human Genome Project focuses mainly on alleles considered responsible for disease
        • What else could be studied through the mapping of the human genome?
        • What portion of disease patterns do you consider to be affected by genetics and what portion of the pattern is affected by culture/environment?

Growth and Development

  • Timeline
    • 1948- Wilton M. Krogman starts to study the “whole child” and is       considered the “father” of growth studies in America
    • 1970- Though incorrect, Rose Frisch developed a hypothesis about the relationship between a “critical weight” and menarche in young females, thus sparking the interest in reproductive ecology popular in the 1980’s
    • 1986- Elizabeth Watts introduces an evolutionary perspective to the study of human growth
  • Review and Discussion
    • Franz Boas is considered the first to emphasize longitudinal studies when examining growth and development?
      • Why had few people done these before? What are the benefits? Do the benefits outweigh the numerous complications?
    • The new interest in human growth also opened new avenues on exploring the interactions between biology and the environment
      • Human ecology emerges, initiating studies that examine the physical changes that occur in people who live in extreme conditions
      • The exploration into the sub-division of reproductive ecology led to the discovery of the many environmental (and cultural) variables that influence reproduction and infant care
      • What framework were anthropologists previously using to examine         reproduction? 
    • The thrifty phenotype
      • First appears in the early 90’s
      • Based on the concept of developmental plasticity
      • States that some adult diseases can be associated with earlier growth patterns
      • How do you feel about the accuracy of this hypothesis? How could it be tested?

Biomedical Anthropology

  • Timeline
    • ~1960- Albert Damon describes the health significance in variations in physique
  • Review and Discussion
    • Four related factors that culminate in the discipline known as “biomedical anthropology"
        • The plasticity of human variability
        • Concept of “risk factors” refined by the field of epidemiology
        • Primary affiliation of many “human biologist” with the medical or dental industries
          • How would having a medical background assist a physical anthropologist? Could it be a hindrance? Or does it not really make a significant difference? 
        • The emergence of Darwinian (evolutionary) medicine
          • Examines the evolutionary aspects of contemporary human diseases
          • Includes “diseases of civilization,” representative of the fact that early adaptations to preindustrial life have become maladaptive in a contemporary, urban society
            • The book lists obesity, cardiovascular disease, and sudden infant death syndrome as examples, can you think of any others?
        • The realization of functional lifestyle changes that occur in immigrant populations
          • Focuses particularly on stress arising from culture shock and a change in social structure
          • Can culture also “cure” some of these stresses by providing a new form of adaptation?