I study human evolution and genetics. I’ve done research examining almost every part of our evolutionary story, from the very origin of the human lineage more than six million years ago up to the last 100 years as people have continued to evolve. My work on recent evolutionary changes has strong connections to global health, especially adaptations to agricultural and sedentary lifestyles and new diseases.
For the past decade, I have been engaged with paleontological fieldwork in South Africa. I’ve been honored to work with the great team of researchers at the Rising Star cave system, where we discovered Homo naledi in 2013. Together with my friend and colleague Lee Berger, I wrote a book about these South African discoveries: Almost Human, published by National Geographic Books. Our work there and at other sites continues to yield exciting new discoveries.
In my lab, we work to understand the evolution of humans and our ancient relatives, and how people around the world continue to evolve. My students and I emphasize effective communication with the public. We work on new ways of visualizing morphology and 3D relationships of fossil hominins, and on new ways of depicting the patterns that connect the genomes of people around the world. We work with whole genome sequences from thousands of living and ancient people, and are especially interested in the ways that environments selected for genetic changes in ancient people. Part of this work is building a deeper understanding of the genetics of Neandertals and Denisovans and their connections to today’s people.
I have been fortunate over the years to work with collections and amazing scientists across Africa, Asia, and Europe. I have measured thousands of bones and investigated dozens of archaeological sites. I’ve used my work in genetics and skeletal biology to form rich collaborations with colleagues in a dozen countries. I love to discover new friends in new places!
My academic position is the Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Right now, I’m Associate Chair of Anthropology, an affiliate of both the Department of Integrative Biology and a member of the J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution. I am also proud to be a Visiting Professor at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
You can get a PDF copy of my CV to see my full publication list and other professional activities.
My research has been featured in documentaries from PBS Nova, PBS Secrets of the Dead, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, History Channel, Science Channel, and the BBC. I consult for many documentary productions, and if you’re looking to produce a story in the area of human origins, I would love to talk with you!
I believe in using technology to transform science into a more open and public enterprise. I am building and pioneering new open science projects in human evolution. For me, science is at its best when anyone can take part.
You’ve found my weblog, so you already know that I spend a lot of time and effort on science communication. In addition to my blog, you can follow me on Twitter, where I’m part of an active community of science communicators.