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Module BSX-3161:
Human Evolutionary Biology

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Isabelle Winder

Overall aims and purpose

This module focuses on understanding human biology in an evolutionary context. In introduces students to the palaeontological study of hominin fossils, and to the use of genetic, comparative and palaeoenvironmental data in building up a picture of our lineage’s history. This is then used to contextualise the in-depth study of modern human evolutionary genetics, reproductive biology, life histories, health, behaviour and cognition to identify and explain the traits that link us and distinguish us from the rest of Primate order.

Course content

This module will cover:

  • How to study human evolution (theory, evidence, methods and ethics);
  • Humans in primate context;
  • The human fossil record & ancient environments;
  • Modern human evolutionary biology (including genetics, reproduction/sexuality, endocrinology/physiology, diets, life histories, behavioural ecology and health & disease);
  • The archaeological evidence for human evolution;
  • The evolution of cognition;

Assessment Criteria


A threshold student (scoring 50-59%) should have a basic grasp of the major patterns in human evolution presented in the module, and some understanding of the ways in which humans differ from other animals. Written answers will demonstrate the ability to organise relevant lecture material into a clear argument and presentations will show some evidence of thought about the intended audience and their level of prior knowledge.


A good student (scoring 60-69%) should have a thorough factual knowledge of all areas of the module, and be able to give examples where appropriate to back up their arguments. Written answers should demonstrate some critical thinking and evaluation of the evidence surrounding a coherent argument, and will be able to synthesise lecture material with information from the students’ wider reading. Presentations will be considerate of the audiences’ prior knowledge and will show evidence of careful planning and reflection.


An excellent student (scoring 70%+) should demonstrate comprehensive factual knowledge of human evolutionary biology, including evidence of significant wider reading e.g. of sources not found on the reading list. They will show a critical understanding of the theories underpinning studies of human evolution and will be able to evaluate case studies to construct and defend a convincing, coherent argument in written assignments. Presentations will integrate evidence from a wide range of sources and will take careful account of the audiences’ prior knowledge and the ethics of human biology.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of how modern human biological systems (including locomotion, endocrinology, behaviour, diets, life histories, reproductive strategies and social systems) have evolved from the time of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees

  2. Critically assess the archaeological, genetic and comparative evidence for the evolution of human cognitive capacities and behaviours like the use of language, art and music

  3. Be able to explain their understanding of human evolutionary biology to specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language and means of presentation.

  4. Describe the history of palaeoanthropology and evaluate the significance of specific fossil discoveries, novel techniques and theories pertaining to our growing understanding of our own past

  5. Explain and critique specific theories of human evolution in the context of wider debates on evolutionary theory.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
LOGBOOK OR PORTFOLIO Portfolio of research-talk tasks

Each of the four specified ‘video research-talks’ (featuring well-known scientists in the field) will have a pre-specified short task to complete, e.g. write an abstract/annotated summary/bibliography/critique of the presentation. Students will have the opportunity to ask questions in drop-ins as they work on these, and will then submit their full portfolio for marking at the end of term. Each task will be under 500 words, with specific guidelines given in each case.

COURSEWORK Science communication task

Students will read a popular science book in human evolutionary biology, and investigate the literature surrounding one aspect of the content. There will be a choice of books spanning a range of subject matter and styles. They will review this book for a lay audience but drawing on their own advanced scientific knowledge, including the wider academic literature, to provide a critical summary and an explanation of what they thought important, valuable or contested about the content.

This will typically be submitted as a written review, but the option exists to present the script together with a recorded or videod version (these will be marked identically when it comes to content, but with 'presentation' components of the mark scheme tailored to the format).


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 28
Practical classes and workshops 6

Drop-in hours for support of assessment 2.

LOs targeted may depend on what the student does.

Private study 162

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
  • Appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms.
  • Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
  • Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation


Resource implications for students


Reading list

One will be provided before the module starts!

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: