Human Migration and the Origins of Agriculture

Spring 2023
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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When and where did humans originate and how did they disperse throughout the world?  When and where did plant and animal domestication arise, leading to the development of agriculture?  We investigate these questions through a combination of genomic, archaeological, and anthropological approaches.

In one strand, we will study the principles of evolutionary biology and probe the relationship between Homo sapiens and archaic humans, including the Neanderthals and Denisovans.  We will examine how recent advances in the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA has transformed our understanding of the history of human migrations and population mixtures.  We will explore the complex patterns of population flow, as farmers displaced hunter-gatherers in different regions of the world.

In a second strand, we will study the origins of agriculture.  When, where and why did farming arise?  What does the domestication of plants and animals mean both morphologically and genetically?  Is agriculture responsible for egalitarian hunter-gatherers becoming hierarchical-- with the subsequent rise of social inequality-- as has been hypothesized?  We will explore how the Russian plant geneticist Nikolai Vavilov’s (1887-1943) concept of “Centers of Origin” for crop plants and animals has taken on new forms as a result of current genetic techniques.  Crop botany and food labs will complement this exploration.  

We will be reading such authors as Jonathan Silvertown, David Reich, and Jennifer Raff along with David Graeber and David Wengrow’s controversial synthesis, "a new history of humanity."  Program activities will include lectures, workshops, labs, and seminar.  Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, writing assignments, exams, and a lab notebook.


Spring 2023 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 30095

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

biology and agriculture

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$350 fee covers entrance fees ($150), conference registration ($125), program supplies ($25), and required lab fee ($50). 


In Person or Remote
In Person
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 E2105 - Workshop


Date Revision
2023-02-22 $50 increased student fee due to addition of lab fee