What Is Biological Anthropology?

What Is Biological Anthropology?

Biological or Physical Anthropology is human biological diversity in time and space (Kottak, 1994). Biological Anthropology is the study of human potential from both the physiological and psychological perspective (Royal Anthropological Institute, 2010) Forensic Anthropology, Evolutionary Anthropology and  Primates are all a part of the central organizing concepts of Biological Anthropology (Royal Anthropological Institute, 2010). Much of the potential for variation in Biological Anthropology is a result of genetic and environmental features.

The focus on human variation unites five special interests within Biological Anthropology:

  • Hominid evolution as revealed by the fossil record (paleoanthropology)
  • Human genetics
  • Human growth and development
  • Human biological plasticity (the body’s ability to cope with stresses, such as heat, cold, and altitude)
  • The biology, evolution, behavior, and social life of monkeys, apes, and other nonhuman primates (Kottak, 1994).

Biological Anthropology’s research interests link it to other fields including biology, zoology, geology, anatomy, physiology, medicine and public health.  Osteology, the study of bones, helps paleoanthropologists, who examine skulls, teeth and bones to identify hominid ancestors and chart changes in anatomy.  Biological anthropologists also collaborate with archaeologists in reconstructing biological and cultural aspects of human evolution (Kottak, 1994).

Biological Anthropology informs us as to how humans are special animals but it also allows us to nest humans as a tranche of animals in both the biological and ecological world (Royal Anthropological Institute, 1994).


Kottak, Conrad Philip. 1994 “The Subdisciplines of Anthropology” In Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity, Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Royal Anthropological Institute’s Discover Anthropology Programme, What Is Anthropology?, YouTube Video entitled “What Is Biological Anthropology?” (February 11, 2010).