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Research by John Hawks

I work on fossil and genetic evidence for human origins with collaborators all around the world.

Research by John Hawks

In my research, I find ways to bring together people and diverse methods to build a stronger understanding of the origins that we share as humans.

Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time on projects in the Rising Star cave system of South Africa, where our team discovered the fossils of Homo naledi. With many collaborators, I am working to understand this species, its behavior, and its relationships with today's people. I have studied skeletal evidence of hominins as varied as Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Neandertals.

I also work with human and ancient DNA to test hypotheses about ancient populations and their adaptations. My work has included some of the earliest examinations of natural selection using genome-wide evidence in living humans, and analyses of introgression from Neandertals and other archaic humans.

Sharing research with the communities where I work and the global public is important to my professional life. I am committed to promoting more open and ethical practices in anthropology and genetics. You will find these areas of focus in my scientific publications and my public writing.

For a full list of my publications, you can check out my CV.

This page provides a list of research highlights. Each of these pages provides a brief overview of the research and link to the published article.


Highlights

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Finding ancient fire use in the Rising Star cave system

The study of the underground landscape enters a new phase with evidence of charcoal and burned animal bone in deep chambers.

A piece of charcoal upon a brown surface with tiny rodent bones visible
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Research highlight: The frontal sinuses of fossil hominins

A look inside the skulls of hominins reveals the extensive variation in the form of the internal structures known as the frontal sinuses.

Crania of Petralona and LES1 showing the extent of their frontal sinuses
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Research highlight: Vertebral wedging in Homo naledi

In a new paper led by Scott Williams, we look at the way that the Homo naledi lower vertebral column compares to humans and other extinct hominins.

Vertebral column preserved for the LES1 skeleton in left lateral, anterior, posterior, and right lateral views.
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Research highlight: The limbs of Homo naledi

In a new paper, Sarah Traynor, David Green and I show that the sizes of the arm bones of Homo naledi are more or less like today's humans, despite their many morphological adaptations to climbing.

Homo naledi skeletal material on a black table with dark background
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Research highlight: Taking human origins research into the next decade

Notes on the recent history of paleoanthropology from my Distinguished Lecture for the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association

Hands reaching into the center of frame to make a cricle
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Research highlight: Pelvic fragment from the Lesedi Chamber

A new paper from our team led by Zachary Cofran looks at the immature ilium that is currently the most complete pelvic fragment of Homo naledi.

Research highlight: Pelvic fragment from the Lesedi Chamber
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Research highlight: Mandibles from Malapa

My research with Lee Berger looking at the variation of the mandibular ramus of Australopithecus sediba.

Research highlight: Mandibles from Malapa
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Research highlight: A partial skull from Rising Star

Our team uncovered the tiny skull in a near-impossible crevice deep in the cave system.

Reconstruction of Leti skull.
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Research highlight: Looking at what Darwin knew about primate relationships

I provide a context for Darwin's ideas about human and primate relationships and update Descent of Man with today's knowledge.

Notebook page from Darwin showing his proposal of primate phylogeny