Human Biogeography

Human Biogeography

Human Biogeography

Human Biogeography


In this innovative, wide-ranging synthesis of anthropology and biogeography, Alexander Harcourt tells how and why our species came to be distributed around the world. He explains our current understanding of human origins, tells how climate determined our spread, and describes the barriers that delayed and directed migrating peoples. He explores the rich and complex ways in which our anatomy, physiology, cultural diversity, and population density vary from region to region in the areas we inhabit. The book closes with chapters on how human cultures have affected each other's geographic distributions, how non-human species have influenced human distribution, and how humans have reduced the ranges of many other species while increasing the ranges of others. Throughout, Harcourt compares what we understand of human biogeography to non-human primate biogeography.


Ethnology is the science which determines the distinctive
traits of mankind; which ascertains the distribution of those
traits in present and past times, and seeks to discover the
causes of the traits and of their distributions.

—modified from T. H. Huxley, 1865, “On the Methods and Results
of Ethnology,” Fortnightly Review

This book is about how and why our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is distributed around the world in the way it is—why we are what we are where we are. It is therefore both anthropology and biogeography. Anthropology is literally the study of humans, and it is nicely summarized in Thomas Huxley’s description of what he termed ethnology. Biogeography perhaps needs a bit more explanation.

One part of the field of biogeography investigates why organisms are where they are. How did they get there? Why are they where they are and not somewhere else? Why is this sort of organism here, and that sort of organism there? Scientists and others have been asking these questions for centuries. “God” used to be the answer, and still is for half the American population. But in science, biogeography took off with the explorations of the 18th century [104; 463, ch. 2; 464]. The early work can be seen as culminating in Alfred Russell Wallace’s two-volume The Geographical Distribution of Animals [803; 804].

A modern example of biogeography is the quantitative, statistical approach of phylogeography, a subfield of biogeography that relates data on the distribution of organisms to data on their evolutionary trajectories, their phylogeny [26; 27; 74; 348; 463, ch. 11, 12; 646; 663 . . .

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