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IHO Facts

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, IHO pursues an integrative strategy for research and discovery central to its over 30-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 fosters public awareness of human origins and its relevance to contemporary society through innovative outreach programs that create timely, accurate information for both education and lay communities.

Research Interests

  • Evolutionary foundations of human uniqueness
  • The fossil record of the earliest human evolution
  • Emergence of modern humans in Africa
  • Paleoecology and paleoenvironments
  • Origins of early human adaptations and life-ways
  • Human adaptations to a changeable planet

Learn more about our research

Research Scientists

IHO Research Scientists are teaching faculty in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

See our research faculty page for full list of our faculty affiliates (including expertise, room numbers, bios, etc), and explore the people section to get an idea of who our local and international collaborators are and where you can find them.

Points of Pride

Point #1: A Preeminent Research Institute

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 over 30-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

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

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

Point #4: Scientific and Academic Achievement

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

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

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.

IHO Research funding 2005-2017: 16 million total. 8mil from philanthropic sources, 6mil from the national science foundation, and 2mil from ASU

We have a long-term commitment to strategically important field sites and cutting-edge analysis supported by public and private funding.

Select funding sources include

  • $1 million Hyde Family Foundation for HOMER: Human Origins, Migration and Evolution Research (2017–2022)
  • $4.9 million John Templeton Foundation for Evolutionary Foundations of Human Uniqueness project (2014–2017)
  • $1.7 million National Science Foundation Paleolakebed Drilling Project IHO joins an international team in Kenya and Ethiopia (2013)
  • $2.5 million National Science Foundation Human Origins: Moving in New Directions Pinnacle Point research team awarded largest ever NSF grant for anthropology (2007)

Field sites

1997–2017
  • Bolivia
  • China
  • Ethiopia
  • Fiji Islands
  • India
  • Italy
  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Mongolia
  • Morocco
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Venezuela

We are training the next generation of human origins scientists

26

PhD graduates affiliated with IHO scientists (1997–2017)

65%

percent of our PhD graduates are women

35

affiliated graduate students in 2017

Websites and Outreach

Learn more about our outreach efforts