Donald C. Johanson
Founding Director, Institute of Human Origins
Professor and Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins
PhD, University of Chicago, 1974
In today's scientific community, few men have created the kind of excitement and controversy that Donald Johanson has brought to the field of paleoanthropology. His 1974 discovery of the world's best-known fossil, "Lucy," brought him the kind of attention usually reserved for rock stars. His name became synonymous with a new understanding of our human origins.
Johanson's book, LUCY: THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMANKIND, winner of the 1981 American Book Award in Science, intimately chronicles his discovery of the remarkable 3.2 million-year-old Lucy skeleton and highlights its importance for comprehending who we are and where we came from.
Human ancestor finds far more ancient than Lucy have been recovered, but she remains the benchmark in paleoanthropology by which all other discoveries are judged. Lucy has become a household name, a cornerstone in human evolutionary studies, and continues to inspire expanded exploration and discovery of our ancient ancestors.
Johanson's career, now spanning 30 years since he received his PhD from the University of Chicago, has led him to undertake field explorations in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Eritrea, and most recently Iran. His undying thirst for pursuing a more comprehensive understanding of how humans came to be was sparked as a young teenager growing up in Hartford, Connecticut when he first read Thomas Henry Huxley's book, MAN'S PLACE IN NATURE. He is profoundly committed to the notion that we cannot fully grasp who we are as a species until we have a more complete knowledge of our evolutionary roots.
Currently, Johanson is Founding Director of the internationally respected Institute of Human Origins, a human evolutionary think tank he founded in 1981. The Institute combines interdisciplinary expertise to conduct, interpret, and publicize scientific investigations of the human career. Through research, education, and sponsorship of scholarly interaction, IHO fosters the pursuit of integrated solutions to the most important questions regarding the course, cause, and timing of events in human evolution.
At present, Johanson's primary goal is to further IHO's prominence by attaining a position of world leadership in the study of human origins and evolution. An important element for achieving this goal is his current effort to consolidate the Institute in a building on the Arizona State University campus where he holds the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins.
Johanson is a frequent lecturer at universities and other forums, worldwide. He has coauthored six books now available in ten languages and has published in the National Geographic Magazine and innumerable scientific journals. Johanson hosted and narrated an Emmy nominated, three-part PBS/NOVA series titled IN SEARCH OF HUMAN ORIGINS. His current, state of the art web site is the premier web site in the world on human evolution: www.becominghuman.org. He is an Honorary Board Member of the Explorers Club where he was recently awarded the Explorers Club medal—the highest honor that the club can bestow; a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; and many other professional organizations and is the recipient of several international prizes and awards.
Johanson believes that, "Understanding who we are is not just a matter of idle curiosity. It is a matter of survival for our own species as well as for the millions of other species with whom we share Earth. For without a clearer understanding of who we are, we will fall far short of the kind of future we would want for ourselves and for our children. We are an unprecedented and totally unanticipated species, and hopefully an awareness of the deep biological roots we share with one another and the rest of nature will point us in the direction of our best dreams rather than our worst nightmares."