In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Biological and Physical Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Databases
  • Journals
  • Funding for Research and Information Dissemination
  • Defining Biological and Physical Anthropology

Anthropology Biological and Physical Anthropology
Janet M. Monge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0054


Biological anthropology, often referred to as physical anthropology, is one of the traditional subfields within anthropology joining with cultural anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology to form the multifaceted core of what constitutes anthropology in the United States. Outside of the United States, anthropology is oftentimes defined differently and is composed exclusively by the tenets of biological anthropology, with the separate field of ethnography capturing the dimensions of what is cultural anthropology in the United States. The academic discipline of anthropology is positioned as a social science, but in reality the work of anthropologists today ranges across the broad continuum of humanities, social science, and biological science, with biological anthropology moving toward the science end of this spectrum. Physical and biological anthropologists are united in the study of humans from what is usually termed the biocultural perspective. Although biological anthropologists are generally trained in all fields of anthropological endeavor, most students focus early and develop the skills, methodologies, and instructional paradigms of their core sub-disciplinary area of interest. The field is also firmly placed as a science with evolutionary theory as its explanatory core. Because anthropology is united in the study of human culture, biological anthropology is also defined as a social science. Thus, physical and biological study is best described by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists as “a biological science that deals with the adaptations, variability, and evolution of human beings and their living and fossil relatives. Because it studies human biology in the context of human culture and behavior, physical anthropology is also a social science.” This description, as well as others reproduced in textbooks, underscores the diversity of studies encompassed within the field, a diversity that makes it difficult to synthesize the entire range of research that falls under the umbrella of biological anthropology.


The opinions and research in biological anthropology are contained within many key topical websites. As biological anthropology scrambles to engage broader audiences in discussions of human biology and behavior, these website become more important as the field attempts to define itself into the 21st Century. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists website, the Biological Anthropology Section of AAA, the Human Biology Association and BioAnth are all official sites of organizations specifically associated with Biological Anthropology. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the Talk Origins Archive, and Evolution Resources are sites dealing with evolution and education. Eskeletons is a special interest website covering a range of topic that are useful within biological anthropology and John Hawks Weblog contains weekly commentaries on many topics of interest in human evolution and evolutionary genetics.

  • American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

    This is the official website of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Not only does the site chronicle the official meeting of the association, as well as available job postings, it also incorporates position statements of the society on various socially relevant topics (e.g., the association’s position on race and commentary on federal court rulings like the Native American case of Kennewick).

  • BioAnth.

    This website is full of useful links to other websites, books, organizations, conferences, graduate training, and postdoctoral opportunities, etc. The site also includes a bibliographic description of inter-disciplinary studies in anthropology and is thus dedicated to the broadcast of information on anthropology as a cohesive field of scholarly endeavor.

  • Biological Anthropology Section of AAA.

    The American Association of Anthropology encompasses a Biological Anthropology Section. This official organization website provides a series of links to other websites and blogs emphasizing biological, anthropological, and evolutionary process. The American Anthropological Association also has a section that is devoted to evolutionary anthropology.

  • Eskeletons.

    Eskeletons is an interactive website with resources on skeletal anatomy with a focus on humans and nonhuman primates. The site contains resources on human evolutionary history under the category “e-fossils,” including an interactive time line of human evolution. Embedded in the website are resources for students and teachers, especially in dealing with the famous Ethiopian fossil, Lucy.

  • Evolution Resources.

    A very useful website with dozens of links to resources associated with the theory of evolution, especially those available through government agencies. Thus, the website is useful to educators at all levels. The homepage states that the site is dedicated to the flow of ideas generated by the work of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution by natural selection.

  • Human Biology Association.

    The official website of the Human Biology Association, and thus includes information on the annual meetings, publications, and career information. The site is unified in its focus on human biology as a specialty field of biological anthropology.

  • John Hawks Weblog: Paleoanthropology, Genetics and Evolution.

    The blog covers many topics in paleoanthropology, genetics, and evolution; but, as a broad-based scholar in biological anthropology, Hawks has covered research areas beyond these. As of April 2010 (the last figure published on his website), the John Hawks blog receives 7,000 hits a day from 120 countries and is the most popular blog site in biological anthropology.

  • National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

    This is the official website of the 4,000-member National Center for Science Education (NCSE). The site contains up-to-date information on the creation vs. evolution debate, written by leading scholars in their field, supporting constituents with copious information resources pertaining to education and legal aspects of the public controversy.

  • Talk Origins Archive.

    The website is designed as a Usenet newsgroup (a global open discussion network) covering debates surrounding the evolution vs. creation/intelligent design controversy. Topics include human evolution, a frequent focus of this debate, but the site is actually more expansive with coverage extending over issues associated with the origin of life, cosmology, and theology.

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