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Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their related non-human primates and their extinct hominin ancestors. It is a subfield of anthropology that provides a biological perspective to the systematic study of human beings.
As a subfield of anthropology, biological anthropology itself is further divided into several branches. All branches are united in their common application of evolutionary theory to understanding human morphology and behavior.
Scientific physical anthropology began in the 18th century with the study of racial classification. In the 1830s and 1840s, physical anthropology was prominent in the debate about slavery, with the scientific, monogenist works of the British abolitionist James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848) opposing those of the American polygenist Samuel George Morton (1799–1851). The first prominent physical anthropologist, the German physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) of Göttingen, amassed a large collection of human skulls.
In the latter 19th century French physical anthropologists, led by Paul Broca (1824–1880), focused on craniometry while the German tradition, led by Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), emphasized the influence of environment and disease upon the human body. American thought has evolved during the “four-field approach”, the inclusive research of the four sub-fields of Archaeology, Linguistics, Physical Anthropology and Cultural anthropology, based upon studies on the remains of the North American hominin clade.
Paleoanthropology, the study of fossil evidence for human evolution, studying extinct hominid and other primate species to determine the environment into which modern humans evolved, and how our species dispersed to eventually cover much of the earth's land mass.
Primatology, the study of non-human primate behavior, morphology, and genetics. Reasons via homology and analogy to infer how and why similar human traits evolved.
Human behavioral ecology, the study of behavioral adaptations (foraging, reproduction, ontogeny) from the evolutionary and ecologic perspectives, (see behavioral ecology). Human adaptation, the study of human adaptive responses (physiologic, developmental, genetic) to environmental stresses and variation.
Human biology, an interdisciplinary field of biology, biological anthropology, nutrition and medicine, concentrates upon international, population-level perspectives on health, evolution, anatomy, physiology, adaptation and population genetics.
Bioarchaeology, the study of past human cultures through examination of human remains recovered in an archaeological context. The examined human remains usually comprises bones, but may include preserved soft tissue. Researchers in bioarchaeology combine the skillsets of human osteology, paleopathology, and archaeology, and often consider the mortuary context of the remains in the final analysis.
Paleopathology is the study of disease in antiquity. This study focuses not only on pathogenic conditions observable in bones or mummified soft tissue, but also on nutritional disorders, variation in stature or the morphology of bones over time, evidence of physical trauma, or evidence of occupationally derived biomechanic stress.
Forensic anthropology, the application of osteology, paleopathology, archaeology, and other anthropological techniques for the identification of modern human remains or the reconstruction of events surrounding a person's death.
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