“He who wishes to decide whether man is the modified descendant of some pre-existing form, would probably first enquire whether man varies, however slightly, in bodily structure and in mental faculties; and if so, whether the variations are transmitted to his offspring in accordance with the laws which prevail with the lower animals.”
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)
In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin proposed that insight into human origins requires a thorough understanding of biological variation in our species, and of our own species’ biology relative to other organisms. This proposal still resonates 150 years later and defines the research and teaching program of evolutionary anthropologists. Evolutionary anthropology is dedicated to bridging gaps — between humans and other animals, between biology, civilization, and culture, and across academic disciplines ranging from mathematics to psychology. In an age of increasing specialization, our discipline commits us to seeking connections across all the scales of human organization, from genes to tissues to organisms to societies and cultures, and from the past to the present.
Never before have we had such a diversity of tools for exploring human evolution and ecology. The discoveries and new techniques available to study human nature are transforming the way we think about the physiology, anatomy, behavior, cognition, genomics, and evolution of human and nonhuman primates. In this context, our departmental mission – examination of humans in an evolutionary context – has never been more important. We prepare students – future leaders in many arenas – for a critical evaluation of themselves and their role in the natural world.
The Department of Evolutionary Anthropology is at the forefront of a broad and comparative exploration of human evolution and has established Duke as a world leader in research on the evolutionary biology of human and nonhuman primates, including genetics and genomics, evolutionary history, physiology, ecology, and behavior. Our department at Duke has helped set the direction for the field. Our departmental vision commits us to continuing to do so. We will leverage the existing strength of our faculty research programs, enhance it with key hires in human biological variation, and take advantage of the natural interdisciplinary collaborations that exist at Duke. This vision will allow us to both contribute to and capitalize on recent discoveries and new techniques, advancing a research program to decode human evolution.