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Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology majors harness knowledge associated with the biological sciences, including vertebrate zoology, botany, anatomy and physiology, immunology, and pathophysiology, to specialize in one of three research tracks: applied anthropology, bioarchaeology, or forensic anthropology.

  • At Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Department of Anthropology recognizes that biological anthropologists, primatologists, bioarchaeologists, and forensic anthropologists are required to possess knowledge associated with the biological sciences. The coursework associated with this major is designed to allow students to follow their career or graduate school research interests, while gathering a basic understanding of human biology and culture.

    The curriculum presented to biological anthropology majors follows the guidelines established by the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Lecture topics, laboratory exercises, and student research are structured to conform to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of AAA (1983) and the guidelines established by the constitution of the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA, 2010), the Register of Professional Archaeology (RPA), and the Wisconsin Archaeological Survey (WAS). Additionally, all research conducted as part of the study of anthropology at WLC follows the procedural guidelines of the National Science Board (NSB).

    What Makes the Program Distinctive?

    Biological anthropology majors are able to choose a track of study to meet their educational goals and career aspirations.

    Applied Anthropology

    Applied anthropologists pair the basic frame of reference assigned to American Anthropology with current topics. Whether it is the study and conservation of non-human primates or pioneering new approaches toward local sustainability in rural China, this track enables students to attempt to devise a practical application for their knowledge with the hopes of organizing their experiences into a future career.


    Students interested in bioarchaeology study the physiological and anatomical qualities of the adaptive success story of genus Homo. Course offerings and undergraduate research projects are organized around the notion of survival and reproductive success. Often, the methodological principles of paleodemography and archaeology are applied to mortuary communities across a variety of timelines.

    Forensic Anthropology

    Forensic science is an important part of biological anthropology. Many of the concepts and techniques used by criminologists, forensic psychologists, and coroners have been drawn from the research of American Archaeologists and Anthropologists. Students interested in pursuing a graduate career in forensic science are challenged to apply current research in archaeology and biological anthropology with laboratory techniques designed around the work of toxicologists, forensic technicians, dissection specialists, and crime scene investigators.


    Student Research

    WLC's biological anthropology students benefit from undergraduate research opportunities alongside faculty. As one example, in 2011, students and faculty within WLC's biological anthropology program studied crania from South America and Canada. These biological samples, housed at the Milwaukee Public Museum, were scanned using cutting-edge computed tomography techniques developed by The Medical College of Wisconsin.

    State-of-the-Art Facilities

    Students majoring in biological anthropology work largely in WLC's premier academic building, Generac Hall. This 81,700-square-foot facility allows undergrads to experience state-of-the-art equipment and techniques that students at many other institutions would not have access to until graduate school.


    Field Research

    WLC biological anthropology students engage in hands-on learning in the field. In the past, students have created mock archaeological sites complete with stone tools, bone fragments, ceramic shards, and glass trade beads. They then map the site, identify and label artifacts, and develop hypotheses related to past human activity at the site. Students have also conducted archaeological research at Mount Hope Cemetery, produced flaked stone tools known as “flintknapping,” studied phosphorus levels in soil samples, and examined prehistoric crania samples from the Milwaukee Public Museum.

    Study Abroad

    Biological anthropology majors have an opportunity to intern in one of Milwaukee's many museums or conduct research abroad. In recent years, students have traveled to Zambia to observe and study the chimpanzee caretaking practices of researchers and personnel at the Chimfunshi Orphanage. The orphanage provides WLC students with the means of examining complex mammalian behaviors from an individual, strategy-based perspective, as opposed to a traditional male-female provisioning model. WLC's biological anthropology students focus on the effects that provisioning has on grooming and playing relationships among a group of female chimpanzees and their offspring. Once completed, this study will help conservationists to understand the psychological and sociological impact that successful rescue operations have on primate populations.


    Graduate School

    Students who plan to pursue graduate degrees in biological anthropology often combine their undergraduate academic experiences with research in forensics, criminology, primatology, and cultural resource management. The career paths that often follow from these added specializations and research partnerships allow students to acquire further certification with law enforcement programs and environmental protection agencies.


    Biological anthropology is one of four research branches within the discipline of anthropology. By its nature, it provides students with a wide range of career options. Today, graduates of this field acquire work as laboratory assistants in offices of county coroners, and they can study human physiology and demography as it is applied to fields such as nursing, medical social work, nutrition, and public health. Additionally, students holding degrees in biological anthropology work in contract field archaeology and often have the opportunity to work for federal and state parks departments.