Some 2013 highlights

As the new year begins, I thought I would link to some stories that struck me over the last year. I’m inspired by Kate Wong, who has summarized her top human evolution stories of 2013: “The Most Fascinating Human Evolution Discoveries of 2013”, with links back to the originals. It’s a great list, including many items that I haven’t had time to cover in detail this year.

For me, this has been a crazy year. First and foremost is the Rising Star Expedition, which was an incredible experience for many reasons. My post, “What we know and don’t know”, is a review of where the science stood near the end of the fieldwork. The advance team brought out more than 1200 hominin fossil specimens. As I look forward to 2014, I am so eager to move forward with the work on this project. The field excavation in 2013 was amazing, and the first round of analysis will give even more chances to share the science with the public worldwide.

In April I announced my upcoming massive open online course, “Human Evolution Past and Future”.

I'm doing this because human evolution is important. The effects of the past shape who we are today, our health and choices, our societies and imaginations. Anthropology can engage people in their own lives and experience. The MOOC technology platform has such potential for innovating new forms of education, I am eager to bring human evolution into that space.

We are now very close to the launch on January 21. I’ve spent a whole year preparing, from curricular design up to the extensive on-site filming and interviews with friends around the world. I have been in South Africa (twice), the Republic of Georgia, the UK, Gibraltar, Austria (twice), Croatia, and Israel, and have done interviews with more than 20 experts in different areas of paleoanthropology and archaeology. Our University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students have put together some incredible footage of their fieldwork this summer in South Africa and Tanzania.

What I have taken away from these experiences: We are just scratching the surface of what is possible. I’m looking forward to new opportunities in 2014 to expand what we are doing, bring original footage from more field sites, talk to more interesting people, and truly open up the science.

Meanwhile, this has been a very productive year for students from the Hawks lab. This year, Zach Throckmorton finished his Ph.D. and moved on to a professorship at Lincoln Memorial University. In October, I had the distinct honor of performing a wedding ceremony for Zach and his new wife, Sara.

Before 2013 began, my Ph.D. student Aaron Sams finished his degree at the end of 2012 and moved on to a postdoc at Cornell University. He brought great energy to the research and I am very proud of his work on celiac disease, which has brought a new focus to my investigation of recent human evolution. He has been busy turning out celiac disease research, with one paper out this summer and another in press. That line of research has led to some important findings about the timing of recent natural selection as well as the pattern of human genes from Neandertals, with several new papers in the pipeline. It is so wonderful to have this work continuing forward.

My research on ancient genomes has led to several publications this year and some to come out next year. This has been a very productive area. Our work was featured on NOVA this spring, including a segment showing our UW-Madison undergraduate students participating!

During it all, I’ve kept up blogging, both here and at the Rising Star Expedition blog. Some highlights from the year of blogging:

As 2013 began, I had little idea of the incredible year ahead of me. I expect that will also be true of 2014! I hope you’ll stick with me as we move forward into the new year.

And if you haven’t signed up for “Human Evolution Past and Future”, be sure you don’t miss out!