Foundations of Anthropology at the University of California   Seal of The University of California
Section 5 composite

Section 5 Composite
McCown, Mohave music, Waterman

Physical Anthropology

hysical (or biological) anthropology focuses on the biological origins, evolutionary development, and genetic diversity of ancient and modern humans. Early in the development of anthropology as a discipline, during the early years of the Department, physical anthropology was often undertaken as an ancillary study of cultural anthropological research. Such work included recording measurements on the physical characteristics of living peoples such as the shape of the head or stature. Archaeological research contributed to such endeavors as well, providing similar data for past peoples. The physical characteristics of race and ethnicity in modern humans were of particular interest, while researchers also considered the effects of various cultural practices on the development and modification of the body.

Physical anthropologists in the Department have also studied the antiquity of modern humans in the Americas and elsewhere, and the fossil evidence for earlier primate species including the ancestors of modern humans. Over the past 50 years, biological anthropology at the University has expanded further to include studies of non-human primate behavior and the relatedness of primate species through genetics.

Theodore Doney McCown: Notebook from Suhkul

Theodore Doney McCown

Notebook from Suhkul


The hiring of McCown marked the beginning of dedicated research in physical anthropology by a faculty member. McCown’s interests included human evolution, drawing on his graduate studies of ancient humans from caves at Mt. Carmel in Palestine. His notebook records the progress of fieldwork, condition, and orientation of the remains discovered there.

BANC MSS 86/3 c Ctn 1

Sir Arthur Keith: A New Ancestor of Man: Palaeanthropus of Palestine The Illustrated London News

Sir Arthur Keith

“A New Ancestor of Man: Palaeanthropus of Palestine …”

The Illustrated London News

9 July 1932

McCown and Keith worked together at Mt. Carmel, and captured the public’s interest, as this popular account suggests.

full transcription

BANC MSS 86/3 c

Sherwood Washburn: The Social Life of Baboons Scientific American - newspaper clipping - Chicago Tribune

Sherwood Washburn

“The Social Life of Baboons”

Scientific American

June 1961

With Washburn’s arrival at the University in 1958, the scope of physical anthropological research grew. Washburn pursued the study of non-human primate behavior, as such research could inform on ancient and modern human behavior and adaptation.

BANC MSS 98/132 c Ctn 3:66

Sherwood L. Washburn: Notes on Teeth

Sherwood Washburn

Notes on Teeth


In attempting to understand primate evolution and the relationship between humans and apes, Washburn conducted detailed comparative studies of various key anatomical feature of various species. These notes record his study of gorilla teeth, working with collections from the Smithsonian Institution (then the United States National Museum), the American Museum of Natural History, and other institutions. Observations of molar, premolar, and canine tooth size and wear are recorded.

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