The Institute of Human Origins is one of the preeminent research organizations in the world devoted to the science of human origins
A research center of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Human Origins (IHO) pursues an integrative strategy for research and discovery central to our founding mission—bridging social, earth, and life science approaches to the most important questions concerning the course, causes, and timing of events in the human career over deep time.
IHO's strategic vision reaches across traditional disciplinary boundaries to create novel approaches to the solution of pressing and newly emerging scientific questions. IHO researchers are changing the paradigm of human origins research through—
- Continuing a legacy of high-profile discoveries
- Pursuing how the earliest modern humans evolved before and after the great diaspora out of Africa
- Excavating deep earth cores to examine how global climate affects human evolution
- Exploring the emergence of uniquely human attributes and understanding our species development and its indelible impact on the planet
- Investigating what nonhuman primates tell us about how our ancient ancestors developed cooperative behaviors
- Using DNA research to open new paths to ancient human origins and the genetic bases of primate behavior
IHO also fosters awareness of human origins and its relevance to modern society through innovative outreach programs that provide timely, accurate information for both educators and the general public.
Points of Pride
POINT #1: A PREEMINENT RESEARCH INSTITUTE
The Institute of Human Origins is one of the preeminent organizations in the world devoted to the science of human origins and pursues an integrative strategy for research and discovery central to its nearly 40-year-old founding mission, bridging social, earth, and life science approaches to the most important questions concerning the course, causes, and timing of events in the human career over deep time. IHO’s international prominence in human origins flows from:
- Long-term commitment to strategically important field sites that pay off in streams of high-profile discoveries
- Investment in cutting edge analytical expertise and technology, making interpretation of the evidence an equal partner to discovery
- A strategic vision reaching across traditional disciplinary boundaries to create novel approaches to the solution of pressing and newly emerging scientific questions
POINT #2: HIGH-PROFILE DISCOVERY
The Institute of Human Origins was founded in 1981 by Donald C. Johanson, world-renowned paleoanthropologist and sought-after public advocate for science outreach and education. In 1974, Johanson discovered the 3.2-million-year-old fossil bones of a new species, Australopithecus afarensis, popularly known as “Lucy.” Lucy has been called the “Queen of the Hominid Skeletons” by the journal Science, which reflects the scientific position of this discovery, often used as the yardstick by which every discovery in human origins science is measured.
In 2015, led by IHO Research Associates Kaye Reed and Chris Campisano, a field team working in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, discovered a fossil lower jaw that pushes back evidence for the human genus—Homo—to 2.8 million years ago. The research was published in the journal Science. The jaw predates the previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by approximately 400,000 years.
POINT #3: RESEARCH ACROSS ALL SCALES
Scientists affiliated with IHO are involved in research across all scales and disciplines for understanding how we “became human.” IHO scientists:
- Are studying the isotopic chemical signatures and microwear of ancient teeth to identify the diet and development of human ancestors
- Analyzed a single foot bone to show that over three million years ago, Australopithecus afarensis walked upright
- Are showing how the production of stone tools 71,000 years ago provides evidence for early human cognition and that the production of stone tools began 500,000 years ago—200,000 years earlier than previously thought
- Have uncovered a stratigraphy of over 50,000 years of human habitation in caves at the edge of South Africa to show how early modern humans used shellfish rich in brain-development booster Omega 3s and tubers known as fynbos to survive a human population bottleneck around 100,000 years ago
- Are investigating geological cores from paleolakes near significant sites where the fossil bones of ancient human ancestor have been discovered to analyze how global climate conditions affected human evolution
- Are observing how nonhuman primates cooperate and form friendships to understand the unique nature of human cooperation.
- Live and work closely with traditional hunter-gatherer communities to quantify the exchange of not just goods but the economic and community value of the services exchanged between the group.
- Compare the theoretical understanding of how people cooperate and learn culturally with observation and surveys of contemporary hunter-gatherer communities.
POINT #4: SCIENTIFIC AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
In addition to a high level of scientific achievement—IHO faculty include a Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (William Kimbel and Gary Schwartz), Nobel Symposium invited speaker (Curtis Marean), and two-year Program Director for the National Science Foundation Anthropology Program (Kaye Reed).
Three faculty members have received excellence in teaching and innovation awards, one ASU President’s Professor award winner and a Faculty Women’s Association Mentor awardee (Kaye Reed) and two Provost’s Faculty Achievement Awards for Defining Edge Research in Social Science (Curtis Marean and Gary Schwartz). Curtis Marean was also named as a Foundation Professor in 2015.
IHO faculty also hold two special designations for endowed chairs—Founding Director Donald C. Johanson is the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins and Director William Kimbel is the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment.
POINT #5: INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF SCIENTISTS
The Institute of Human Origins extends its scientific research through a network of International Research Affiliates, which provides an intellectually potent source of perspectives, expertise, and tools on the leading edge of research via formalized institutional partnerships and individual collaborations from the University of Chicago; University Complutense of Madrid, Spain; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; American School for Classical Studies in Athens (Greece); Tel Aviv University, and University of Missouri.
POINT #6: MODEL FOR PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
The Institute of Human Origins is a model for a strong public/private partnership between ASU and the IHO Research Council that is key to our success and a critical aspect of our long-term vision.
The IHO Research Council is led by an Executive Board, which plays a vital role in strategic planning, development, and financial oversight. The Research Council comprises individuals from business, education, and scientific communities who provide financial support for operations, research, and outreach and, through its broad network, provides a diverse outlet for IHO’s diverse public programs.