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    We (the editors) are delighted to release the second edition of our Open Educational Resources (OER) textbook, Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology. Since the publication of the first edition of Explorations in 2019, there have been a number of discoveries, scientific advancements, and, of course, a global pandemic that resulted in significant shifts within our discipline and societies. These influences have led to changes to the norms and pedagogical/andragogical standards within Anthropology, including increased emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, accessibility, as well as primate conservation and welfare. To this end, our work on the second edition was guided by the following commitments:

    1. Diversity, equity, and inclusion. We recognize that higher education has, and continues to be, an inequitable space of learning, particularly for historically underrepresented groups. We are committed to creating inclusive learning materials that better reflect our diverse student readers. We are motivated to redress the historic exclusion from science of several groups of people, including women, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, Indigenous communities, queer communities, early career researchers, among others. Following the guidance set forth by Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Open Educational Resources Initiative (ASCCC OERI)’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism (IDEA) Framework, this edition integrates constructivist theories of learning, culturally responsive, and anti-racist pedagogical approaches, as well as more inclusive content.
    2. Primate welfare. Following the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC), Primate Specialist Group Section on Human Primate Interaction, we are committed to promoting appropriate primate treatment, conservation, and welfare. We recognize that two-thirds of all primate species throughout the world are in decline or threatened; that primates are frequently killed or captured by humans for use in research or the pet trade; and that primate-human interactions run the risk of zoonotic disease transmission (see Appendix B) . We are dedicated to raising awareness of the threats to primates and promoting appropriate primate-human interaction through education. For example, in the second edition, we eliminated images of people in close proximity to primates, opting instead for images that portray researchers viewing primates from afar or with protective equipment.
    3. Human remains. We recognize the rights of descendant and related living communities to determine the disposition and portrayal of affiliated human remains. Some of these rights are protected under U.S. law and others are supported by ethical standards established by professional anthropological associations.
    4. Informed consent. We respect the rights of all people to participate (or not participate) in research and publications. We have therefore eliminated images or blurred the faces of individuals in photographs throughout the second edition when documented informed consent could not be acquired.
    5. Decolonizing anthropology. We acknowledge that biological anthropology was originally built on colonialism, scientific racism, and elitism. The terminology and language of our scholarship has the potential to either reinforce or combat racism, ethnocentrism, and structural inequalities. We have therefore been intentional about removing potentially harmful words and concepts in favor of more equity-minded terminology.
    6. Student perspectives. Our textbook is written, first and foremost, for our students, who come to us to learn about human origins and evolution, bringing with them their unique backgrounds and perspectives . Over the years, students have written to us, expressing their reactions to, and suggestions for, chapters of this book. Their invaluable feedback was supplemented by that of formally recruited and paid student reviewers in order to produce a more student-centered book.
    7. Accessibility. In order to make this OER fully accessible to diverse learners, it has undergone multiple comprehensive accessibility reviews . The eBook was created using Pressbooks’ accessibility resources, including their Voluntary Product Accessibility Template [VPAT®] and their Accessibility Standards and Commitments. Ancillary materials underwent Microsoft build-in accessibility checks. The entire project was submitted to the OERI for a professional accessibility review. We have corrected all known accessibility issues.

    Summary of Second Edition Updates

    Like the first edition, this peer-reviewed OER is available free-of-charge online for students, instructors, and the public. The second edition was funded by the ASCCC OERI and the California State University, Chico – University Foundation. It was also supported by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and California State University Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) program.

    The first edition was made possible by grants from Minnesota State Educational Innovations Grant, the ASCCC OERI, and the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC).

    In response to instructor and student feedback, in addition to formal peer reviews, we have made substantive changes to the second edition, including

    1. More concise chapters (8000-10000 words, not including call out boxes);
    2. Up-to-date chapters that include current discoveries and events;
    3. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism principles applied to the text and images;
    4. The implementation of updated accessibility standards;
    5. An instructor guide detailing how to adapt the book to fit your course;
    6. A new chapter two on the history of evolutionary thought;
    7. The first edition’s chapter two is now chapter 17, which focuses on biopolitics;
    8. Chapter 15 now focuses on forensic anthropology and points readers to other OER for more on archaeology and bioarchaeology;
    9. The ancient DNA special topic that was featured in chapter 11 is now Appendix D;
    10. Updated ancillary materials.

    An OER for YOU

    This book is grounded in the OER movement that emerged in response to the skyrocketing costs of traditional textbooks. These costs, along with increased tuition, create serious barriers to student learning and success, especially for students with financial constraints. As anthropologists concerned with social equity, we find that OER can begin to level the playing field within academia by enabling all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, to access materials they need to succeed in their courses.

    Students: This textbook has been created for you with your success in mind. The editors and authors are experienced instructors who hope to engage your curiosity and answer your questions about humankind. Our textbook is available to you for FREE! We hope that it sparks your interest in scientific inquiry and anthropological discoveries.

    Instructors: We commend you for making the inspired choice to adopt this textbook, which is written, reviewed, and edited by anthropology instructors just like you. Explorations offers you the academic freedom to align it with your own pedagogy, course content, and areas of expertise. Rather than conform your course to the chapters of a conventional textbook, you are free to modify, supplement, or add to this textbook. This is why we chose to publish Explorations with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which allows anyone to remix, adapt, transform, and build upon the contents. You can use this book as it is, or alter it by reorganizing, omitting chapters or sections of chapters, assigning only some chapters, or curating chapter selections. The only requirement is that you credit the authors and source, specify the license, and indicate any changes made. In the spirit of open education, this textbook and the content within cannot be used for commercial purposes. To learn more about OER and Creative Commons licensing, as well as specific guidance on how to adapt this book, please see the Instructor’s Guide, located at the end of our book.

    This textbook started as a grassroots endeavor by four full-time college instructors, brought together by their shared goals of saving students money and piquing student interest in biological anthropology. We were inspired by previous OER creators including the editors of Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology. With support from our professional communities, colleagues, students, and especially the wonderful authors that wrote the chapters, we published Explorations in 2019 and released the second edition in 2023.

    This project of love is dedicated to our students, but we are happy that others have benefited as well. This is also an ongoing project. If you see errors or have suggestions please let us know by using the corresponding form on our website ( or by sending an email to

    Explorations: Mission and Organization

    Mission Statement: To provide a high-quality​ ​introductory biological anthropology textbook that is readable, engaging, and accessible to all students. With chapters written by experienced instructors and subject area specialists, this textbook addresses the question of what it means to be human by exploring the origins, evolution, and diversification of primates, especially that of our species, ​Homo sapiens.

    Anthropology is the study of humanity, in all its biological and cultural aspects, past and present. It is a four-field discipline comprising biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology. The focus of this book is biological anthropology, which explores who we are from biological, evolutionary, and adaptive perspectives.

    We lay the foundation for this inquiry in the first four chapters by introducing the discipline of anthropology, evolutionary theory, molecular biology and genetics, and the forces of evolution. Chapters 5–8 consider the evolutionary, biological, and social aspects of our closest living relatives, nonhuman primates, with whom we share millions of years of evolution. We also learn about how fossils provide material insight into our past. Chapters 9–12 describe prior hominin species and the emergence of Homo sapiens, us! Finally, the last five chapters (Chapters 13–17) explore human biological variation and the concept of race, bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology, human biology and health, and biopolitics of heredity. We include further readings on osteology (Appendix A), primate conservation (Appendix B), human behavioral ecology (Appendix C), and ancient DNA (Appendix D). To guide your reading, each chapter begins with learning objectives and ends with review questions, along with a list of key terms.

    We are honored that you have chosen to use Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology in your course(s) and hope that you will enjoy the second edition. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.


    Beth Shook, Lara Braff, Katie Nelson, and Kelsie Aguilera


    We (the editors) are enormously grateful for the community of people who contributed to the development of the second edition of this textbook. In particular, we wish to thank all the authors who were willing to update content or produce new content. We also thank the peer and student reviewers for the time and thought they put into chapter reviews. We thank the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) SSC Primate Specialist Group for their guidance on the use of images of primates to promote appropriate primate treatment, conservation and welfare.

    This edition would not have been possible without the financial support of The Academic Senate for California Community College Open Educational Resources Initiative (ASCCC OERI), and the California State University Chico – University Foundation’s Governor’s Award.


    Mayumi Shimose Poe

    Peer Reviewers:

    • Belkis Abufaur
    • Bridget Alex
    • Francisca Alves Cardoso
    • Amanda Barnes-Kenned
    • Victoria Berezowski
    • Samantha Blatt
    • Jennifer Byrnes
    • Amy Carattini
    • Keith Chan
    • Caroline Clark Rivera
    • Megan Cleary
    • Shannon Clinkinbeard
    • Karen Daar
    • Elizabeth Doyle
    • Alejandra Estrin Dashe
    • Heather Gill-Frerking
    • Janeal Godfrey
    • Alexis Gray
    • Laura Greathouse
    • Corinna Guenther
    • Lindsay Hunter
    • Kelsie Johnson
    • Suzanne Kempke
    • Katie King
    • Sarah Lacy
    • David S. Leitner
    • Lydia Light
    • Vasiliki Louka
    • Christopher Loy
    • Ashley Magana
    • Giovanni Magginetti
    • Ashley Maxwell
    • Roxanne Mayoral
    • Jayashree Mazumder
    • Thomas McIlwraith
    • Carolyn Orbann
    • Andrew Petto
    • Jessica Proctor
    • Alexandra Rocca
    • Daniela Rodrigues
    • Ben Schaefer
    • Yasmine Shereen
    • Victoria Swenson
    • Lauren Taylor-Hill
    • Amy Todd
    • Lori Tremblay
    • Alberto Vigil
    • Erin Waxenbaum
    • Amanda Williams
    • Kristin Wilson
    • Heather Worne
    • Jessica Yann
    • Bonnie Yoshida-Levine
    • Aaron Young
    • Samantha Young
    • Jennifer Zovar

    California Community College Regional Liaisons

    • David Leitner
    • Ashley Magana
    • Kristin Wilson
    • Samantha Young

    Student Reviewers

    • Abdikhaliq Ali
    • Rebecca Buckler
    • Joseph DiGerlando
    • Jessalyn Fowler
    • Brooke Gorman
    • Emily Lindsay
    • Kuba Maldonado
    • Ramon Martinez
    • Alisandria Ramirez
    • Dufault, Randy
    • Savannah Suarez
    • Hannah Swartzel-Rausch
    • Naomi Tracy-Hegg
    • Billy Utecht

    Cover art

    Adapted from Stewart William’s first edition cover design by Katie Nelson


    Mary Nelson


    Students and Faculty of Geo Place, California State University, Chico