Department of Anthropology
This is arguably the most exciting time in history for the study of human evolution. Barely a week goes by without reports of new and revelatory data from genetics to fossils, and living primate behavior to human biology. Today, experts in genetics, biomechanics, physiology, evolutionary biology, nutrition, psychology, and behavioral ecology are helping to elucidate the origins and evolution of our lineage--a history going back over 6 million years. Increasingly, that evolutionary history is providing valuable insight into our human natures, our experience with disease, and efforts to define what it means to be human.
These advances rely on efforts that exemplify interdisciplinary research. Work in my lab, for example, combines nutrition, primate ecology, analytical chemistry, and evolutionary biology to uncover our deep history with food and put that history into a meaningful framework relevant for consumers today. My interests focus on how our earliest ancestors defined their dietary environment and how that relationship changed over the last several million years. Studying dietary behavior from the distance of thousands, or even millions, of years requires pulling information from evidence left behind in the fossil record. Stable isotopic analyses are one such method allowing investigators to quantitatively assess dietary intake among modern as well as extinct species. Recent advances in these techniques are revealing an amazing variety of potential applications including dietary assessment over the past few weeks to that of our ancestors over the past few million years, or diagnoses of pathology or disordered eating within modern or past populations. Within the very near future we may use isotopic analyses to assess variation in digestion and metabolism as well as the percentage of fruits, vegetables, meat, and sweets in diet of modern or extinct individuals!