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Origins of human anatomy and physiology


Admission requirements

This course is part of the minor Human Evolution and only open to students who have been admitted to that minor.


In this course, comparative approaches are used to understand the origins of human anatomy and physiology. We will examine how the study of other animal species, an in particular that of non-human primates, can contribute to our understanding of the evolution of human bodies and minds.
The course starts with a general introduction into evolutionary biology and genetics, including topics such as gene regulation, genetic variation and mutation, population genetics, inclusive fitness, speciation, and phylogeny, followed by the biological principles of life histories and ageing. These concepts are crucial to understand and follow the remainder of the minor.
The remainder of the course is devoted to the comparative anatomy and evolution of the human body. We start off with the skeleton. Amongst others, the human skull is studied in detail and compared with the skulls of other primates during practicals. This is followed by the comparative anatomy and physiology of other traits, such as the human digestive tract, immune system, and brain. Soft tissues of humans will be studied in a dissection practical using human cadaveric remains at the University of Amsterdam.
During this course, you will spend around 28 hrs to prepare the biological part of your half-minor essay topic.

Course Objectives

After the course, the student can:
1. Explain basic principles of natural selection, evolutionary biology and phylogeny.
2. Compare and explain anatomical and morphological differences between primate species.
3. Explain the effect of environmental factors and food specialization on fysiological and anatomical adaptation of vertebrates, with the focus on primates.
4. Make a fylogenetic classification based on skeleton structures or other anatomical properties.
5. Explain and interpret the function and evolution of anatomical brain structures and systems in vertebrates, with the focus on primates.
6. Recognize and reproduce human anatomy based on human remains.
7. Write a theoretical group assignment (essay) about a given theme.
8. Give a presentation and assess it according to a theoretical assignment.


From 5 September 2022 until 30 September October 15 2022. A detailed time table will be published on Brightspace.

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, computer practicals (molecular phylogenetics), practicals (skulls, skeletons), and a dissection practical on human cadaveric remains. During this course, you will spend around 28 hrs to prepare the biological part of your half-minor essay topic (Evolution of Diet, Brain, Life Histories, or Disease in humans).

Assessment method

The mark for this course will consist of the following:

  • Examinations together 80% - the first exam contributes 20% to this score, the second exam 80%. Each exam needs to achieve the minimum score of 5.6.

  • PPT presentation: 20%, minimum score 6.

Reading list

Compulsory book: R. Boyd & J.B. Silk; How Humans Evolved, 8th edition, 2018; Norton Publishers.
Primary literature t.b.a.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information. Exemptions are minor students and fall semester for 1st year bachelor students: the student administration will enroll these groups for courses.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.


Contactperson: Dr. C. Tudorache (


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