Physical anthropology, sometimes called "biological anthropology", studies the mechanisms of biological evolution, genetic inheritance, human adaptability and variation, primatology, primate morphology, and the fossil record of human evolution. See also: Race.
Physical anthropology developed in the 19th century, prior to the rise of Charles Darwin' theory of evolution and Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics. Physical anthropology was so called because all of its data was physical (fossils, especially human bones). With the rise of Darwinian theory and the modern synthesis, anthropologists had access to new forms of data, and many began to call themselves "biological anthropologists."
Some of the early branches of physical anthropology, such as early anthropometry, are now rejected as pseudoscience. Metrics such as the cephalic index were used to derive behavioral characteristics. Two of the earliest founders of scientific physical anthropology were Paul Pierre Broca and Franz Boas.
The study of human evolution involves another specialization:
- human osteology, the study of skeletal material. Experts in osteology are able to apply their skills and knowledge to other areas:
- Paleopathology , which studies the traces of disease and injury in human skeletons
- Forensic anthropology, the analysis and identification of human remains in the service of coronors or medical examiners. This research often provides law enforcement with important evidence.