Home / Research / Research Projects

Research Projects

Start on the main research page to see an overview of our strategies and focus areas, or start here to explore our past and current projects.

Choose a research focus to narrow down the list of projects.
Two cut marks made by stone tools on the rib of a cow sized mammal
Principal investigators: Curtis Marean, William Kimbel
Project 1 uses a novel approach to the empirical study of hominin butchery—a potential sign of enhanced social learning—and other agents of bone-surface modification in the first extensive sample of middle Pliocene (3.4 Ma) fossils amassed for this purpose, through new field work in the critical...
Coast of South Africa
Principal investigators: Kim Hill, Curtis Marean, Rob Boyd
Project 4 uses ethnographic and experimental field data wedded to computer simulation to test the hypothesis that the high productivity of coastal habitats was critical to early modern human adaptive success in the southern African later Pleistocene, which will be examined in the field with...
Fynbos biome in South Africa. Credit: Chris Eason/Wikimedia
Principal investigators: Kaye Reed, Gary Schwartz
Project 3 takes the link between cognition and environmental variation forward in time by probing the relationship between cognitive evolution, as read through lithic technology, and the exploitation of resources in a marginal habitat called fynbos in the middle Pleistocene of southern Africa.
Members of the Turkana tribe building working together
Principal investigators: Robert Boyd, Sarah Mathew, Kim Hill
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...
People using public transit in a large city
Principal investigators: Rob Boyd, Kim Hill
Project 10 focuses on theoretical research that explores how and why extensive cooperation in humans is a predictable outcome of the evolution of our unique “moral machinery.”
Grass homes made by local house-building experts
Principal investigators: Rob Boyd, Kim Hill
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...
Fossilised teeth

Evolutionary basis of the uniquely extended pattern of human growth and development through the timing of dental growth, which is linked to important biological variables such as brain size, gestation length, and longevity.

Fynbos landscape/biome

Geographical and Ecological Origins of Modern Humans in Southern Africa through multidisciplinary field and lab research on the ecology, fossil record, and genetics of the unique fynbos Cape floral kingdom.

Landscape in Hadar, Ethiopia dig site

IHO is pioneering a cyberinfrastructure of field data, computer hardware and software, and GIS visualization technology to modernize field-data collection and scientific hypothesis-testing at fossil- and artifact-bearing sites. Collaboration with ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Fieldwork in 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).

Drilling for paleoclimactic records

Collects drill cores from paleolake sediments adjacent to fossil and artifact sites to assemble high-resolution paleoclimatic records between 4 and 1 myr ago, linking records of evolutionary and local-to-global environmental change.

Children palying a game on a tablet. Credit: WikiLouise / Wikimedia
Principal investigators: Joan Silk, Rob Boyd, Kim Hill
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...
An IHO affiliate holding the Ledi-Gararu jaw

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.

GIS scanning methods are applied to learn more about gorrila teeth errosion patters
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...
Mossel Bay in South Africa

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...

microlithic blades, recreated
Principal investigators: Curtis Marean
The archaeological data in Project 5 also directly addresses the pace of technological innovation, such as heat treatment and microlithic technology.
Searching for evidence of early technology in Hadar, Ethiopia
Project 2 investigates the environmental contexts of the earliest steps by hominins toward cognitively complex behaviors and technological advances.
Excavations of pinnacle point caves 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...

Fynbos environment
Principal investigators: Curtis Marean, Kim Hill
Project 6 uses experimental field observation and computer simulation to develop a paleoscape model that can predict productivity of fynbos and the conditions under which it would be exploited by hominins. The outcome of these projects will be more complete empirical documentation of exactly when...
Fossilised teeth and palatte

The relationship of anatomy of fossil bones and teeth to the life-ways of early hominins through a multi-institution collaborative project (NSF-funded) bridging paleontological, experimental, and biomechanical-modeling approaches to the evolution of hominin dietary adaptations.