Adaptation to Altitude

Adaptation to Altitude

Mother and child in Tibet


As a companion to their exhibit What does it mean to be human?, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History produced a series of five lesson plans that address topics related to human evolution; adaptation to altitude, the evolution of human skin color, malaria, what it means to be human and strategies for working with cultural and religious sensitivity.

The learning materials related to human adaptation include the following activities:

  • Designing an experiment to test the difference between acclimation and adaptation,
  • Investigating how scientific arguments show support for natural selection among Tibetans,
  • Designing an investigation using a simulation based on the Hardy-Weinberg principle to explore mechanisms of evolution,
  • Devising a test for whether other groups of people have adapted to living at high altitudes.

The learning activities on adapting to altitude are oriented toward high school AP Biology students, however they can be adapted for use in introductory biological anthropology college courses as well as introductory four-field anthropology courses.

Links to download the resources:


Photograph by: Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons