Biological Anthropology / Physical anthropology Anthropology Paper I


Syllabus Section: 1.3 Main branches of Anthropology, their scope, and relevance



Biological Anthropology is the branch of Anthropology that considers humans as biological organisms. As the name indicates, it studies the biological and physical characteristics of humans. Biological Anthropology starts with the study of the origin and evolution of humans and analyses their diversity. It also examines the bio-social adaptation of different human populations living in different geographical and ecological settings. The knowledge of different branches of Biological Anthropology will help us to examine how it deals with human evolution and variation.


Paul Broca defines Biological Anthropology as “the science whose objective is the study of humanity considered as a whole in its parts and in relationship to the rest of nature”.


Meaning and Scope of Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, studies the biological characteristics of humans. Biological anthropology deals with the study of the biological origin, evolution, and variation of human beings. It is interested in the comparative study of the past, present and future of human life from a biological point of view. It also analyses the biological adaptation of different human populations living in different geographical and ecological zones. Biological anthropology looks for scientific evidence in its analysis and references. In the process, it uses some of the general principles of biology and utilizes the findings of anatomy, physiology, embryology, zoology, paleontology, etc.


For a systematic study of this kind, there are many fields of specialization within biological anthropology as the following:

·       Paleoanthropology

·       Primatology

·       Human Genetics

·       Forensic Anthropology

·       Serology

·       Dermatoglyphics

·       Anthropometry and Craniometry

·       Paleopathology

·       Bio-archaeology

· Neuro-Anthropology

·       Biomedical Anthropology

Anthropology optional


Let us take a brief look into these specialized areas of biological anthropology before proceeding further.


Paleoanthropology earlier known as human paleontology is the study of human origin and evolution, particularly as inscribed in the fossil record. Palaeo anthropologists are interested in reconstructing the evolutionary stages of humans, based on fossil evidence. They work with archaeologists, and geologists, in unearthing fossil remains from many parts of the world. The knowledge of osteology helps them to examine, measure, and reconstruct these remains to understand the course of human evolution and identify the possible lines of descent from our ancestors to the present form, Homo sapiens.


Human Paleontology or Paleoanthropology: Human Paleontology studies the fossil evidence of human skeletons of different stages and thereby reconstructs the evolutionary history of humans. This helps in the classification and comparison of the fossils of different stages to determine the link between modern humans and their ancestors.


Primatology is the study of living and extinct primates. Primates include humans, apes, monkeys, and prosimians. Different stages of human evolution can be understood by analyzing the fossil evidence of the primates. Human paleontology helps us in this regard. Any study of human evolution requires an understanding of the members of primates.


Primatology is the study of primates, the group to which prosimians, apes, monkeys, and humans belong. It focuses on how the behavior of non-human primates is similar to that of humans. The anatomy of non-human primates especially monkeys and apes has been studied to ascertain the similarities and differences between these primates and humans.

This type of study helps to trace the evolutionary relationship between human and non-human primates because of the remarkable similarities between monkeys, apes, and humans.


Human Genetics:

Human genetics is the branch of biological anthropology that deals with inheritance and variation. It is the study of gene structure and action and the patterns of inheritance of traits from parents to offspring. To understand how evolution works, it is important to know the mechanisms of heredity.


Forensic Anthropology

Morphological and genetic variations among humans help biological anthropologists to identify individuals, criminals, victims of misshapes and natural calamities etc. The branch of anthropology specialized in such an area is called Forensic Anthropology. It deals with legal matters from an anthropological perspective. It is the application of osteology, paleopathology, archaeology, and other anthropological techniques for the identification of modern human remains or the reconstruction of events surrounding a person’s death and for legal purposes.


Serology: It is a scientific study of blood groups. It studies plasma serum and other red cell enzymes. In practice, the term usually denotes the diagnostic identification of antibodies in the serum. Serological tests are also used forensically, particularly concerning a piece of evidence.


Dermatoglyphics is the study of skin ridges on fingers palms, toes, and soles. Fingerprint patterns are not only used in Forensic investigation but also in genetics to know the variation between two populations.


Anthropometry is the systematic art/study of taking measurements of skeletons and living human beings.


Craniometry is the sub-branch of anthropometry that deals with the measurement of craniums.

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