Thank you for your interest in IHO science, education, and outreach!
The Institute of Human Origins Newsletter

Notes from the Field

August 2019 volume 3.2
Field work is what often draws students to study anthropology.

Like that young Donald Johanson, who just knew he wanted to discover something important, the thrill and mystery of exploration in exotic locales and finding rare new fossils make long hours in the classroom worth the effort. Like the discovery of flaked stone tools in the story below, scientists in the field can hold the same piece of stone that was held and crafted by one of our ancestors 2.5 million years ago. 

Or, as an IHO primatologist recently experienced, working in the field can have heartbreaking and scary consequences, as our first featured story explains. 

And if you are interested in hearing more about field experiences and discoveries, please attend IHO's annual New York event in November where Dr. Carol Ward will talk about her experiences leading field teams in Kenya. 

Summer field work is done and a return to the classroom is underway. 

Featured stories

Articles highlighting news, partnerships, and research
Chimpanzee image by Langergrabber

Tragic tale of poachers 

On a day like so many others, IHO researcher Kevin Langergraber was in the forests of Uganda, following a group of chimpanzees well known to him. Unfortunately, the rest of the day was unlike any before, and hopefully, unlike any again. Poachers and their dogs attacked the band of chimpanzees, and Langergraber was forced into a chaotic effort to save the chimpanzees from the attack. An article in The Atlantic unfolds the horrifying narrative.

A nonprofit—the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project—funds anti-poaching efforts in the Kibale National Park. See their Facebook page for information on how to help in the efforts to stop poaching in the area.

The group of chimpanzees was the subject of an Animal Planet documentary—The Rise of the Warrior Apes—which won a major animal documentary award in 2018. Read more about Langergraber's long-term research with the Ngogo chimpanzees in two related articles:

Human impacts erode behavioral diversity in chimpanzees

ASU-led study shows how working together on patrols benefits chimps

Students attempted to make this device work better

Flaked stone tools invented many times

A new archaeological site in Ethiopia discovered by an international and local team of scientists—including ASU researchers—shows that the origins of stone tool production are older than 2.58 million years ago. Previously, the oldest evidence for systematic stone tool production and use was 2.58 million to 2.55 million years ago. 

The excavation site, known as Bokol Dora 1 or BD 1, is close to the 2013 discovery of the oldest fossil attributed to our genus Homo discovered by an ASU-led team at Ledi-Geraru in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia. The fossil, a jawbone, dates to about 2.78 million years ago, some 200,000 years before the then-oldest flaked stone tools.

Analysis by the researchers of early stone age sites suggests that stone tools may have been invented many times in many ways before becoming an essential part of the human lineage. Read more or listen to an interview with IHO researcher and geologist Chris Campisano about the research.

Some anthropologists explore ancient ecosystems!

The history of humanity in your face

The face you see in the mirror is the result of millions of years of evolution and reflects the most distinctive features that we use to identify and recognize each other, molded by our need to eat, breathe, see, and communicate.

But how did the modern human face evolve to look the way it does? Eight of the top experts on the evolution of the human face, including IHO Director William Kimbel, collaborated on an article published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution to tell this four-million-year story.

“We are a product of our past,” says Kimbel. “Understanding the process by which we became human entitles us to look at our own anatomy with wonder and to ask what different parts of our anatomy tell us about the historical pathway to modernity.”

Read more about why our face and skull evolved in our unique way. 


New science

The newest developments in human origins science from IHO
(IHO-related researchers in bold; a subscription is required to access the full article)
The pregnancy pickle: Evolved immune compensation due to pregnancy underlies sex differences in human diseases
Trends in Genetics
Hieni Natri, Angela R. Gacia, Kenneth H. Buetow, Benjamin C. Trumble, Melissa A Wilson

Comparative isotopic evidence from East Turkana supports a dietary shift within the genus Homo

Nature Ecology & Evolution
David B. Patterson, David R. Braun, Kayla Allen, W. Andrew Barr, Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Maryse Biernat, Sophie B. Lehmann, Tom Maddox, Fredrick K. Manthi, Stephen R. Merritt, Sarah E. Morris, Kaedan O’Brien, Jonathan S. Reeves, Bernard A. Wood, Rene Bobe

Earliest known Oldowan artifacts at >2.58 Ma from Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia, highlight early technological diversity
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
David R. Braun, Vera Aldeias, Will Archer, J Ramon Arrowsmith, Niguss Baraki, Christopher J. Campisano, Alan L. Deino, Erin N. DiMaggio, Guillaume Dupont-Nivet, Blade Engda, David A. Feary, Dominique I. Garello, Zenash Kerfelew, Shannon P. McPherron, David B. Patterson, Jonathan S. Reeves, Jessica C. Thompson, and Kaye E. Reed

Males with a mother living in their group have higher paternity success in bonobos but not chimpanzees
Current Biology
Martin Surbeck, Christophe Boesch, Catherine Crockford, Klaus Zuberbuhler, Linda Vigilant, Kevin Langergraber

Increased variation in numbers of presacral vertebrae in suspensory mammals
Nature: Ecology & Evolution
Scott A. Williams, Jeffrey K. Spear, Lauren Petrullo, Deanna M. Goldstein, Amanda B. Lee, Amy L. Peterson, Danielle A miano, Elska B Kaczmarek, Milena R. Shattuck

The evolutionary history of the human face
Nature Ecology & Evolution
Rodrigo S. Lacruz, Chris B. Stringer, William H. Kimbel, Bernard Wood, Katerina Harvati, Paul O’Higgins, Timothy G. Bromage, Juan-Luis Arsuaga


Featured events

Engage with IHO scientists and research
Bill Kimbel at the 2018 NY Event
You Are Invited
IHO Annual New York Event

Friday, November 8, 2019
5:30 to 8:30 pm
The Harmonie Club
New York City

This will be the sixth year that IHO has hosted one of the preeminent human origins science events in New York City. This year, we will host the event at the beautiful Harmonie Club across from Central Park. 

The featured lecture—Unearthing Our Origins—will be given by IHO International Affiliate Carol Ward PhD, who is the Curator's Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences at the University of Missouri.  Ward will talk about her experiences at her field site in Kenya near Lake Turkana.

IHO Founding Director Donald Johanson will close the evening with a brief review of advances in human origins science since the discovery of the Lucy fossil 45 years ago.

Find more information or to purchase tickets go to the website or contact Julie Russ at o r 480.727.6571 directly for questions.

Watch last year's lecture by Jessica Thompson by clicking the link here.

Thank you to event sponsor Gerry Ohrstrom for his support of this annual gathering!

Purchase Tickets
Photo of a Chimpanzee
Johanson to speak at Lucy 45 Anniversary Celebration

5:30 to 8:00 pm
Friday, October 25, 2019
Cleveland Museum of Natural History

In early 1975, the 3.2 million-year-old hominin fossil known as Lucy arrived in Cleveland, where she and hundreds of other fossils would spend the next five years. Donald Johanson's lab at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History became a hotbed of activity as almost a hundred scientists traveled from all over the world to see the collection.

With his colleagues, including Bill Kimbel, Johanson spent countless hours studying the fossil during the day, and each night Lucy and her fellow specimens were packed up and put in a safe in the basement. Johanson will never forget the excitement of those years, and the intellectual fireworks, which often sparked controversy. It is only fitting that, 45 years later, Johanson returns to Cleveland to talk about not just Lucy’s role as ambassador to the past, but the profound impact the fossil has had on the field of anthropology.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to the Cleveland Museum website.

Noted and quoted

IHO science coverage and expertise in the media
Is Anamensis Lucy's ancestor?
Multiple media outlets

Media outlets for several news organizations sought Bill Kimbel's expertise about the Australopithecus anamensis fossil skull specimens discovered by a research team led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. A paper published in the journal Nature described the analysis of the fossil bones. Read coverage with quotes by Kimbel below:

Wall Street Journal 
National Geographic
CBS News
Science News

Lucy Mission featured
ASU Catalyst

The Lucy Mission will launch in October 2021 with a small spacecraft that will complete a 12-year journey to seven different asteroids around Jupiter. ASU's science-focused television program, Catalyst, features Donald Johanson, among other scientists, talking about the goals of the mission and what it means to planetary science. 

Watch the program here

Is Homo Luzonensis truly a new species?

The discovery of a new human ancestor in the Philippines added another species to our genus, Homo. But IHO Director Bill Kimbel considers that classification premature, though there is little question the 67,000-year-old hominin remains found in a cave in Northern Luzon in 2007 are important. In these respects, they much resemble the so-called "hobbits" (Homo floresiensis) found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. But do they constitute a new species?

Listen to the interview with Kimbel.


Of interest

Top stories from around ASU
The Lucy mission is launching soon!

IHO Research Council Member Art Pearce Continues Legacy of Support

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences unveiled a plaque inside the newly designated “Zebulon Pearce and Family Conference Room” honoring the Pearce family’s continued support of student success and access programs, and their recent backing of research initiatives at the Institute of Human Origins.

Zebulon died in 1969, but his legacy lives on through the Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Awards. Established in 1973, the annual endowment honors standout teaching from across The College’s 23 departments and schools. For his grandson, Arthur “Art” Pearce II, Zebulon’s time at ASU is the seed from which subsequent Pearce generations grew their own Arizona successes, including a five-year pledge to support PhD students working through programs at the Institute of Human Origins. Read the full story here.
Grand canyon rafting with IHO

An amazing trip! Let's do it again!

IHO's trips program has gone to exotic places across the globe, but here in its own backyard, was an adventure of a lifetime—Grand Canyon River Rafting! Twenty-seven hearty explorers set off on Memorial Day 2019 for a six-day journey deep into the canyons of the Colorado River. Led by IHO and School of Earth and Space Exploration geologists Chris Campisano and Ramon Arrowsmith, the river explorers learned about the beginnings of the Earth back to over 300 million years ago—and hiked, ate great food, and spent tranquil and exciting days running the river. 

The trip was such a success that IHO will again partner with Hatch River Expeditions for a May/June 2021 trip. If you are interested, email Julie Russ ( to get on the list. Hatch has not opened their calendar for 2021 yet, but we have requested time for our trip.  

Thank your for your ongoing support and interest in IHO science, research, and outreach!
Click to visit the Institute of Human Origins website
A research center of 
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Give to the Institute of Human Origins

An investment in the Institute of Human Origins helps to fund student scholarships, support research in laboratories and field sites, and meet the growing needs of our researchers and students. Please help us continue the search!
Donate now
ASU Institute of Human Origins
PO Box 874101, Tempe, AZ, 85287-4101, USA

Copyright © 2020 Arizona Board of Regents | Privacy statement