04717 - Physical Anthropology

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course deals with the study of the natural history of humans, considering the origin, physical and bio-cultural evolution, biological variability and mechanisms of adaptation to the environment, with reference to the diversity of the present and past human groups and to the methodologies of study. At the end of the course the student acquires adequate knowledge about the methods of analysis of human biodiversity and its biological and adaptive meaning, as well as in the interpretation of the complex biocultural and biogeographical relationships of human groups.

Course contents

The course is organized in an introductory part, in which the basic biological knowledge is recalled, followed by the study of phenomena and mechanisms that are at the origin of human biological variability and preside at the evolutionary processes and adaptation of man to the environment. The main topics are:

1. Introduction to physical anthropology: fundamental notions of general biology; development of evolutionary theories; genetic bases and environmental factors of biodiversity; history of anthropological studies; content, methods and applications of anthropology; role of physical anthropology in the field of cultural heritage.

2. Evolutionary history of human body: the human body and its characterization in relation to non-human primates; the anatomic-functional transformations of the body at different stages of the pre-human and human evolution, in relation to climate and environmental changes; the conquest of bipedalism; the processes of cerebralization and anthropogenesis; the acquisition of articulated language; the appearance and spread of Homo sapiens.

3. The human variability: the inheritance of biological traits; genotype and phenotype; monogenic, polygenic and multifactorial inheritance; qualitative and quantitative traits; traits with continuous and discrete variation; polymorphism and polytypism; variability and factors of the pigmentary and tegumentary characters; morphology and morphometry of the human body; the anthropometric indexes and the fundamental somatometric characters; variability and factors of stature and body proportions; morphology and morphometry of the head and its elements. Human variability in relation to sex and life cycle: anthropological aspects of growth and ageing. Genetic polymorphisms and genetic variability of humans and human populations. The adaptive meaning of human variability: the genetic, physiological and cultural adaptation. The biological and ethnic diversity of human groups and relationships with living environments.

4. The anthropological reconstruction of the human populations of the past: the human remains of historical and archaeological interest; the types of human finds; the methods of recovery and treatment; the information obtained from their analysis; the main diagnostic criteria of sex, age of death, anthropological characters and diseases in human remains. Reconstruction of anthropological and demographic characteristics, styles and conditions of life and health of the human communities of the past


F. FACCHINI, Antropologia – Evoluzione, Uomo, Ambiente, UTET Libreria, Torino, II ed., 1995.
B. CHIARELLI, Dalla Natura alla Cultura - Principi di Antropologia biologica e culturale, Piccin, Padova, 2003-2004.

The first book on the list is the basic one for the topics in the program. The others books can be used to deepen.

Teaching methods

The course consists of frontal lectures related to the topics of the programme that can be supplemented by seminars on specific topics. Students will be encouraged to take an active part in the lessons through interventions, questions, requests for clarification and/or insights. During the course computer presentations will be projected, that will be distributed at the students at the end of the lessons. There are also demonstrations and exercises in the classroom on osteological materials.

Assessment methods

The assessment of student learning consists of an oral test, which can be sustained from the first useful scheduled exam after the end of the lessons, concerning the topics indicated in the course programme. At the begin of the exam, the student may propose to deal with a topic of choice, which will obviously follow the verification of the preparation on other topics of the program.

Students not attending. The program of the course is the same for both students attending and not attending. The frequency of the lessons is strongly recommended for the achievement of a good profit, however, students who for valid reasons cannot attend the course are invited to consult the teacher, during the office hours, for the suggestion of the necessary supplementary texts.

Teaching tools

Slide projection and PowerPoint presentations. Seminars on specific topics and case studies held by specialists. Demonstrations and exercises of osteology on human skeletal findings.

Office hours

See the website of Donata Luiselli