Marilyn A. Norconk, PhD

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Marilyn A. Norconk

ANTH - 18630 - Human Evolution


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ABOUT THE COURSE: The focus of the course is evolutionary theory and how it is applied to human morphology, development and behavior. The course is divided into three parts: a) history of evolutionary theory, basics of genetics, and the genetic basis for human evolution; b) introduction to the living non-human primates and the evolution of primate (including human) behavior; and c) the fossil  evidence for human evolution. The human evolution story is only about 6 million years old, so I will start that section by giving you some background in the evolution of primates as a mammalian order– starting at about 50 million years.

I think that the first part of the course is the most important and relevant to you, although many of you may be more attracted to the living primates and/or fossils. I will begin the first week by discussing the history of a deceptively simple theory – the theory of natural selection. Although there are other mechanisms that contribute to evolution of organisms, natural selection is most interesting because it deals with how individuals interact with their environments to survive and reproduce. You will see that humans are very good at reproduction, and reproduction is the key to understanding how we got to where we are today, with 6 billion people worldwide and growing! There will be many references to reproduction throughout the next five weeks – if not human, than mammalian or primate – behavior, anatomy, physiology.

The topics of this course are also very accessible to us, both in the news media and pop culture and I encourage you to bring news items to our attention, or ideas that you may find interesting from the Discovery channel or PBS. I think this is a fascinating course because it is about us, about where we came from and how we got to where we are.

This is a "survey" course, which means that you will be introduced to new concepts at a fast rate throughout this five-week period. The heaviest part of the course for many people is the first third, so don't get behind and don't give up! I encourage you to talk to me during lecture, before or after lecture, by phone or email ( If you are confused, if I have muddled an explanation, you can bet that you are not alone. Also remember that this is a BASIC SCIENCE LER course, equivalent in rigor to chemistry and biology LERs.