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Origins of Human Behaviour

What makes the human species different from other primates? When did we become human? This course examines these questions by reviewing the archaeological and fossil evidence for the development of human behaviour from six million years ago to the end of t
University of Oxford University Offices Wellington Square Oxford ,OX1 2JD United Kingdom
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Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : Sports & Fitness

Function : General

Trainer name : Dr Sarah Milliken

Starts on : 22nd Sep 2014

Duration : 10 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

About the course

In The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin laid down his theory of evolution by natural selection. At the time, no generally recognised fossil evidence of early humans was available, and his hypothesis that humans had evolved from an ancestral ape was purely conjectural. In the 150 years since these works were published, numerous fossils have been discovered which provide us with direct evidence for human evolution having occurred and for the path it has taken.

This course introduces students to past and present theories of human evolution through themes such as the origins of bipedal locomotion, the evolution of the brain and intelligence, technology, diet and subsistence, language, social organisation, and the emergence of art, symbolism and religion. Students will explore the major questions asked about the origins of human behaviour, and the various methods which scientists can use to search for answers.

Course aims

  • This course aims to review the archaeological and fossil evidence for the development of human behaviour from six million years ago to the end of the last ice age. 

This course will:

  • provide a structured overview of human evolution
  • highlight contrasting interpretations of human evolution and how these reflect the historical and social contexts in which they were formulated
  • encourage students to share their ideas and develop critical arguments

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders
  • Students will be directed to websites relevant to each session (occasionally as a requirement, usually as optional additional reading)

Teaching Outcomes

By the end of the course you will be able to:

  • chart the general progress of evolution from one hominid species to another and understand the characteristics which make humans a unique species
  • chart when these characteristics arose on an evolutionary timescale
  • understand how contrasting interpretations of human evolution reflect the historical and social contexts in which they were formulated

And you will have developed the following skills:

  • the ability to think critically
  • the ability to express your own views in a reasoned manner

Course eligibility

Course Requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following text: Lewin, R., Human Evolution: An Illustrated Introduction, 5th edition (Oxford, Blackwell Science, 2005) ISBN 1405103787

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Course Content

  • Introduction to the study of human evolution 
  • Phylogeny: human ancestors and primate cousins 
  • The earliest hominins
  • The origins of bipedal locomotion 
  • The evolution of the brain and intelligence 
  • The origins of language 
  • Sex and social organisation 
  • Diet and subsistence 
  • The origin of modern humans
  • The evolution of culture: art, symbolism and religion

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