What is HEB?

Welcome to the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB) at Harvard University.

Research and teaching in the HEB is driven by the question: “How did evolution make humans the way they are?” HEB students and faculty are also interested in the related question: “How is an evolutionary perspective on human biology relevant to contemporary human opportunities and challenges?”

In order to address these questions, the department is loosely divided into four subfields:

1. Behavioral biology and cultural evolution

2. Evolution and anatomy

3. Genetics and genomics

4. Physiology

A brief history of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University

HEB’s roots at Harvard trace back to the Department of Archaeology and Ethnology, created in 1890, which soon thereafter became the Department of Anthropology. In 1972, Harvard’s Anthropology Department split into three “wings” (Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, and Social Anthropology), each with distinct undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2009, following reorganization of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences into Divisions (Humanities, Social Science, and Science), the Biological Anthropology wing became the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. As a separate department, HEB has been able to expand its scope, the size of the faculty and the graduate program, but retains ties to the Department of Anthropology and is still housed in the Peabody Museum.

HEB’s fundamental mission is to engage in teaching and research that addresses the fundamental question of how evolution made humans the way we are. HEB thus encompasses a diversity of fields including human and non-human primate paleontology, anatomy, physiology, behavioral ecology, genetics, cultural evolution, developmental biology, and more. As a department, we continue to be committed to using the lens of evolution to further our understanding of the human condition using both experimental and observational methods.