Graduate Program in Biological Anthropology

Physical anthropology or biological anthropology is an area of investigation that examines all aspects of the biological domain of humans. As a subdiscipline of anthropology it has its intellectual and academic roots in the social sciences, but it also has strong interdisciplinary connections with the natural sciences, especially biology, psychology, ethology and the earth sciences. Consequently, practitioners of physical anthropology have long embraced a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective that integrates a diversity of approaches from the social and natural sciences. Physical anthropologists acknowledge this paradigm as the most profitable for unravelling the complex theoretical and conceptual issues that underlie the study of human beings. In parallel with the remarkable growth and maturation of the natural sciences, knowledge and expertise in physical anthropology has greatly expanded in recent years beyond the intellectual and technical grasp of individual generalists, and as a result the subdiscipline has witnessed a corresponding degree of sub-specialization. The research programs and interests of the biological anthropologists in our department (Profs. Antón, Bailey, Disotell, Harrison, Higham, and Williams) intersect many of these major subdisciplinary specialties, including primate socioecology, comparative primate morphology, molecular anthropology, paleoanthropology, primate paleontology, and skeletal morphology. In addition to expertise in these specialist areas, faculty and student research is unified by a conceptual and intellectual foundation in genetics, evolutionary theory, ecology, and behavior. We regard these as core themes in a common enterprise that can be referred to as evolutionary primatology – the study of human beings and other primates within an evolutionary context. Our research is based on a solid foundation of traditional approaches and concepts in biological anthropology, an appreciation of the multidisciplinarity of the subdiscipline, and technical and theoretical proficiency in newly emerging specialty areas. The research and training program in our department is distinguished by its unique commitment to integrating laboratory-based and field-based research. We have state-of-the-art laboratories in population genetics, molecular systematics, behavioral endocrinology, paleoanthropology and osteology, with superb facilities for both research and teaching in these areas. In addition, faculty and students are conducting primatological and paleoanthropological research at sites in Puerto Rico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, and China. Our faculty maintains an active network of collaborative and educational links with colleagues and institutions worldwide as part of this major international research effort.

New York Consortium for Evolutionary Primatology

The physical anthropologists at New York University participate in the New York Consortium for Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP), a unique research and graduate training consortium that brings together researchers, educators and resources from five institutions in New York City – City University of New York, Columbia University, New York University, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. The consortium includes over sixty scholars with research interests in comparative anatomy, paleontology, molecular systematics, population genetics, social behavior, ecology, and conservation of primates (including humans), spanning the entire breadth of the field of evolutionary primatology. In addition to providing a wider menu of courses for graduate students to choose from, NYCEP also offers an integrated educational curriculum and research program with a multidisciplinary and global agenda.
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Center for the Study of Human Origins

The Center for the Study of Human Origins (CSHO) in the Department of Anthropology at New York University was founded in 2002. Its mission is to enhance and facilitate research in all fields of biological anthropology and archaeology that are broadly related to the study of human origins and evolution from a biological and cultural perspective. CSHO’s aim is to foster and support multidisciplinary investigations, with an emphasis on the development of collaborative projects, international fieldwork, and state-of-the-art laboratory research.

Faculty members associated with the Center currently work on aspects of primate and human paleontology, skeletal biology and comparative anatomy, molecular primatology, population genetics, primate socioecology and conservation, Paleolithic archaeology, zooarchaeology, and the origins of symbolism, complex societies, and city-states. In addition to research, the Center also aims to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the study of human origins among the academic community and the public at large through conferences, workshops, educational programs, and outreach activities.

Special Resources and Facilities

Excellent research laboratories dedicated to primate population genetics and molecular primatology, comparative anatomy, paleoanthropology, and human osteology, are available in the department.

In addition, the faculty is engaged in ongoing research at field sites in Africa and Asia

A number of other departments and schools at New York University provide resources of collaboration and instruction. These include the Departments of Biology, the Center for Neural Science, and the various academic departments of the School of Medicine and the College of Dentistry. In addition, the department’s ties to various institutions abroad and in the United States greatly enhance research opportunities available to students interested in primatology, paleoanthropology, and skeletal biology.

The many libraries and museums in New York that are available to students enrolled in the department include the incomparable collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

Through CSHO, the department sponsors a special lecture and workshop series to which leading international scholars are invited to present their latest research.

  • Photo of
    Susan C. Antón
    Research/Interest: Physical anthropology; skeletal biology; evolution of genus Homo; dispersal; evolutionary morphology; human osteology and anatomy; growth, development and life history patterns. Field programs in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Photo of
    Shara E. Bailey
    Research/Interest: Physical anthropology; paleoanthropology; dental morphology and morphometrics; Middle-Late Pleistocene hominins; Neandertals; modern human origins; Plio-Pleistocene hominin evolution; Europe; Africa.
  • Photo of
    Todd R. Disotell
    Research/Interest: Biological anthropology, primate evolution, molecular evolution, genomics, mitochondrial DNA, phylogenetic systematics, bioinformatics, conservation genetics, Darwinian medicine, human variation, cryptozoology, and the history of biological anthropology.
  • Photo of
    Terry Harrison
    Research/Interest: Human evolution; fossil apes and monkeys; functional morphology; paleobiology; primate comparative anatomy; allometry; taphonomy; paleoecology.
  • Photo of
    James Higham
    Research/Interest: Sexual selection, communication, behavioral endocrinology.
  • Photo of
    Scott A. Williams
    Research/Interest: Human evolution; Evolutionary functional morphology; Fossil hominins; Bipedalism; Trunk; Axial skeleton; Vertebral column;