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).



Dr. Kewal Krishan – Physical and Forensic Anthropologist

Dr. Kewal Krishan is Senior Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. His areas of interest include forensic anthropology, forensic osteology, anthropometry, stature estimation, growth and nutritional status. He extensively worked on Gujjars of North-West India. The majority of Dr. Krishan’s publications are in the fields of anthropometry, anthropometrics and forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan was a graduate student of Biological Anthropology in, and earned the Doctorate in Forensic Anthropology from, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India in 2003. He was awarded gold-medal for standing first in M.Sc (Honours School) in Biological Anthropology at Panjab University (1994) where he also earned the B.Sc., also in Anthropology. Before joining his current faculty position, he worked as an anthropologist in the Forensic Medicine Department of Government Medical College Hospital, Chandigarh, India.

Dr. Krishan’s M.Sc. supervisor was JC Sharma, editor of the book Anthropology, Population and Development (1995). Professor R N Vashisht, a paleoanthropologist, served as master-mentor for Dr. Krishan’s PhD work at Panjab University. Dr. Krishan started off his graduate career in Paleoanthropology which subsequently informed his doctoral work in forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan has published more than 100 papers on various aspects of biological and forensic anthropology including studies of the estimation of stature, bilateral asymmetry, footprints, autopsy room infection, physical growth and nutritional status. His papers are published in Forensic Science International, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Legal Medicine (Tokyo), American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology etc. Dr. Krishan’s recent scholarship in forensics, in coordination with other Indian forensic anthropologists, has important implications for disaster anthropology and disaster archaeology.

Dr. Krishan has been nominated as the Editor-in-chief of The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology and on the editorial board of 11 other international journals. Dr. Krishan is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the International Association of Law and Forensic Science and a Fellow of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.


Dr Kewal Krishan  (Photo of Dr. Kewal Krishan provided by Dr. Kewal Krishna, October of 2014)