Applied Post-Apocalyptic Biological Anthropology

Zombies in Dawn of the Dead (2004) I offer to you a lesson plan* I made for a week on natural selection and cultural adaptation in a bioanth class. Use as you like!

GROUP 1: zombie pandemic**
GROUP 2: a chain reaction of global warming put 98% of the earth under water***
GROUP 3: unidentified disease causes human lifespans to drop to 25 years (osteoporosis by 17, mental senility can start by 20)****
GROUP 4: worldwide governments instituted the use of self-maintaining and reproducing humanoid robots who kill people apparently at random to decrease overpopulation*****

It is the year 2030, one year after a massive worldwide apocalypse. You have been observing the changes taking place in the area that we currently call North America. In small groups, discuss what the post-apocalyptic world looks like, make up any details not identified in your group’s listed apocalyptic cause, and answer the questions below. Be prepared to give a five minute explanation of your post-apocalyptic world and your answers to the group and to give feedback to other groups on their worlds.

Begin by separating your section into small groups and assign them their apocalyptic cause. Give them 20 minutes to discuss their post-apocalyptic “natural experiment” in human variation and answer the questions. Then give each group five minutes to present their situation and explain their answers to the rest of the class. Have the rest of the class contribute other possible answers for each section (1 minute per group). (50 minute class)


1. Give a paragraph overview of what the post-apocalyptic world looks like.
2. List two new problems that threaten individual human survival and reproduction in this environment and explain how they might have differed from problems during the EEA.
3. List two existing psychological mechanisms might help face these dilemmas and explain why.
4. List one existing psychological mechanism that might make these dilemmas more difficult to handle and explain why.
5. List two accumulated cultural adaptations that could be useful in this environment and explain why.
6. List two accumulated cultural adaptations that could be maladaptive in this environment and explain why.
7. Imagine a meme that might spread in this new environment. Describe it and why it might be selected for in this environment.

* this is inspired by Chapter 15: Evolution and Human Behavior of Boyd and Silk’s How Humans Evolved
** see Brunch of the Living Dead
*** see Water World, starring Kevin Costner
**** see Orson Scott Card’s short story “Geriatric Ward” in Brave New Worlds
***** feel free to steal this idea for your own story


2 thoughts on “Applied Post-Apocalyptic Biological Anthropology

  1. So many things to love about this – zombies, Water World… You neglected to situate the hypothetical zombie apocalypse in relation to the election of Mitt Romney tho.

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