Paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental context of the origins of modern humans in South Africa

Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Context of the Origins of Modern Humans in South Africa, which, through exploration, excavation, and cutting-edge lab analysis, is developing the first continuous sequence of African environmental change from 400 to 30 kyr ago—a period of profound climatic oscillation and evolutionary innovation in the human lineage.

Mossel Bay Archaeology

Mossel Bay Archaeology Project is a long-term field study of the Middle Stone Age of southern Africa shedding light on the early occurrence of modern human behavior, such as symbolic expression, the strategic exploitation of marine food resources, and the early use of fire to improve the quality of stone-tool flaking.

Ledi-Geraru Research

Plio-Pleistocene hominin site in Ethiopia. Recovery of hominin fossils and preliminary identification of the time range of the deposits and evidence, and understanding the depositional environments and fossil distribution of the center of Paleolake, Hadar.

Hadar, Ethiopia

Addresses the early evolution and ecological variation of Australopithecus (3.0–3.4 myr) and the origin of Homo and stone-tool making (2.3 myr). In 2007, this field project began to operate as ASU’s Hadar Field School, which has in three field seasons enrolled 46 undergraduates from ASU and other universities across the U.S. in a rigorous semester-abroad curriculum on field methods in human origins research.

Collective Action

Project 11 tests competing hypotheses about the development of large networks of cooperation in a mid-size human society (the Turkana). The outcome of these projects will be improved understanding of how and under what conditions traditional human societies cooperate. Such understanding opens pathways to the archaeological record, in which the record of technological innovation can serve as a proxy for complex cooperative behavior.

Human Social Preferences

Project 9 fills gaps in our understanding of how child cognitive development interacts with culture (beliefs, norms, and values) and socialization to generate cross-cultural variation in cooperation in several small-scale human societies. The ontogeny of culturally-specific patterns of cooperation connects to Project 10’s focus.

Life History Evolution

Cumulative cultural evolution in humans implies a life-history schedule that facilitates the early weaning, slow growth, and delayed onset of reproduction underlying the transmission of cognitively complex skills and the development of extensive networks of cooperation. These life-history benchmarks, which are correlated with dental eruption patterns, can be studied in fossils through the age at emergence of the first molar. Project 8 addresses our poor knowledge of the timing of first molar emergence in our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, which is the most appropriate yardstick for assessing the trajectory of human life-history evolution.

Evolution of Complex Technology

The pace of technological change is a subject of Project 7, which uses theoretical and ethnographic studies to investigate how demographic factors, such as population size and connectedness, influence the adoption and transmission of complex technology. The outcome of these projects will contribute fresh insights into the evolutionary/cultural events and processes by which humans adopted progressively complex technology — a hallmark of modern human uniqueness. Most significant is the potential to narrow the range of hypotheses regarding the times and places of origins and the “environments of innovation” in technological evolution by linking paleoanthropological to ethnographical and theoretical (modeling) research.