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Biological aspects of Human Evolution


Admission requirements

This course is part of the minor Human Evolution and is open only to students who have followed the previous course ‘The evolution of ageing and disease’.


The anatomy, embryology and evolution of the human body and man’s close relatives will be studied, with special emphasis on the skeleton, brain and digestive system. The human skull is studied in detail and compared with the skulls of other primates.
Genetic traits such as haplotypes can help us to reconstruct pathways of human migration, population differentiation and can show us the remarkable unity, as well as diversity, of different ethnic groups. Furthermore we will learn how other hominins contributed to the gene pool of modern humans.

The human genome is also studied here with practical sessions in which the student is taught how to analyze the human genome. Students gain practical training in comparative genomics and learn how to construct gene-based phylogenies using genes from the human genome and comparing them with orthologues from extinct hominin species and various mammalian genomes.

This course also deals with the evolution of language, behaviour and culture in recent man. The basic structure of a true language will be considered. The evolution of the brain in relation to tool use will be studied. Students will learn how Archaeology contributes to our understanding of how recent humans evolved and lived in communities. We will try to integrate knowledge from across the disciplines, seeing how the command of tools and fire, as well as changes in habitat, led to changes in the human body, to increased brain size, changes in skeleton and the development of language and social living.

Course objectives

* The student knows and understands the core concepts of evolutionary biology and evolutionary medicine. * The student knows when and how the species of Homo sapiens has developed from other species and has spread over the world. * The student knows and understands the evolutionary constraints in human anatomy and physiology. * The student understands why and how the human evolutionary past and present are mismatched. * The student understands how many current diseases are a consequence of the abovementioned evolutionary mismatch. * The student is able to design a research question and hypothesis and execute a research project to answer his research question and hypothesis under the guidance of a senior researcher. * The student understands the evolution of morphology of humans and primates * The students is able to work with public databases containing genome information * The students understand the evolution of the human brain * The student the evolution of language and speech * The students understands the key concepts of Evolutionary psychology * The students understand the concept of cultural evoltion and how if differs from biological evolution * The students learns to write a short essay


Date Course Biological aspects of human evolution (15 ECTS)
10-Nov Descent of man and its impact on morphology 2 wk
24-Nov Genetics of human evolution 2 wk
08-Dec Evolution of the brain, language and behaviour. 3 wk
12-Jan Writing essay 2 wk
26-Jan Cultural evolution 1 wk

Detailed time table will be published on blackboard.

Mode of instruction

Teaching consists of lectures, reading primary literature, practical’s, an independent research project, writing an essay and self-study.

Assessment method

Evaluation of reports and presentations, exams,


Announcements, course information and course material will be communicated via blackboard.

Reading list

For the minortwo handbooks are used :
Stearns, Evolution in Health and Disease, 2008
Boyd and Silk, How humans evolved, 2012


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

Contact information

T. Egberts, MSc