Origins of Human Behaviour (Online)


What makes the human species different from other primates? When did we become human? We will examine these questions by reviewing the archaeological and fossil evidence for the development of human behaviour from six million years ago to the end of the last ice age.

In The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin laid down his theory of evolution by natural selection. At the time, no generally recognised fossil evidence of early humans was available, and his hypothesis that humans had evolved from an ancestral ape was purely conjectural.

In the 150 years since these works were published, numerous fossils have been discovered which provide us with direct evidence for human evolution having occurred and for the path it has taken.

You will be introduced to past and present theories of human evolution through themes such as the origins of bipedal locomotion, the evolution of the brain and intelligence, technology, diet and subsistence, language, social organisation, and the emergence of art, symbolism and religion.

We will explore the major questions asked about the origins of human behaviour, and the various methods which scientists can use to search for answers.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Introduction to the study of human evolution
2. Phylogeny: human ancestors and primate cousins
3. The earliest hominins
4. The origins of bipedal locomotion
5. The evolution of the brain and intelligence
6. The origins of language
7. Sex and social organisation
8. Diet and subsistence
9. The origin of modern humans
10. The evolution of culture: art, symbolism and religion

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Richard Jennings

Richard is a Reader in Archaeology and Programme Leader of Human Evolution and Behaviour BSc at Liverpool John Moores University. He completed a D.Phil. at Oxford University on the Neanderthals of Southern Iberia and has also undertaken palaeolithic archaeological fieldwork projects in North Africa, the Caucasus, Arabia, the UK and in Ireland. He is passionate about human evolution and is excited about the question, what makes us human?

Course aims

This course aims to review the archaeological and fossil evidence for the development of human behaviour from six million years ago to the end of the last ice age.

Course objectives

  • Provide a structured overview of human evolution.
  • Highlight contrasting interpretations of human evolution and how these reflect the historical and social contexts in which they were formulated.
  • Encourage students to share their ideas and develop critical arguments.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders
  • Students will be directed to websites relevant to each session (occasionally as a requirement, usually as optional additional reading)

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will be able to:

  • Chart the general progress of evolution from one hominid species to another and understand the characteristics which make humans a unique species.
  • Chart when these characteristics arose on an evolutionary timescale.
  • Understand how contrasting interpretations of human evolution reflect the historical and social contexts in which they were formulated.

And you will have developed the following skills:

  • The ability to think critically.
  • The ability to express your own views in a reasoned manner.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.