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University of Utah Department of Anthropology

Anthropology is the comparative, evolutionary and historical study of humankind. Our department takes a theoretically driven, empirically-informed approach to this study, and has special expertise in archaeology, genetics, behavioral ecology, demography. Our regional expertise is strongest in Africa, Australia, New Guinea, Latin America and western North America. We have a small but influential faculty, four of whom (Harpending, Hawkes, O'Connell, Wiessner) are members of the National Academy of Sciences. Many faculty members do research that crosses disciplinary and sub-disciplinary lines, and we encourage students to do the same.

Anthropology Department in the News

Congratulations to Allison Wolfe!

first year graduate students, Allison Wolfe, was just awarded the prestigious Dienje Kenyon Memorial Fellowship through the Society of American Archaeology. This fellowship is awarded annually to one female graduate student in zooarchaeology and is based largely on the students research proposal.

Professor Dennis O'Rourke contributes to the discussion on " Genetic Testing and Tribal Identity" in The Atlantic 

Why many Native Americans have concerns about DNA kits like 23andme

to read the full article click here

Postdoctoral Researcher Ryan Schacht publishes article: Men Want Commitment When Women Are Scarce

Jan. 14, 2015 – The sexual stereotype, in line with evolutionary theory, is that women want commitment and men want lots of flings. But a study of the Makushi people in Guyana shows the truth is more complex, with men more likely to seek long-term relationships when women are in short supply. To read the full article click here

AAAS Names Three University of Utah Faculty as Fellows

Nov. 24, 2014 – Three University of Utah faculty members were honored today for distinguished efforts to promote the uses of science by being elevated to the rank of fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general-science society and publisher of the journal Science.  The three are among 401 AAAS members elevated to the rank of fellow for 2014:

-- Polly Wiessner, professor of anthropology, was honored "for distinguished contributions to the field of anthropology, particularly for the integration of ethnographic, ethnohistoric and archeological approaches in the study of human societies." 

To read the full article click here>>

Professor Shane Macfarlan is first author of a new study with provocative anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon about the Yanomamö

In Amazon Wars, Bands of Brothers-in-Law - How Culture Influences Violence Among the Amazon's 'Fierce People' 

To read the full press release, click here>>


Professor Polly Wiessner Publishes Article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

"Firelight Talk of the Kalahari Bushmen: Did Tales Told over Fires Aid Our Social and Cultural Evolution?"

Professor Wiessner recorded activities and conversations among the Ju/'hoansi Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana and Namibia during both daylight and night hours to investigate how people use evening hours in hunter-gatherer societies. She found that 75% of daytime conversations involved economic discussions or gossip that regulated social relations. Nighttime conversation steered away from tensions and worries of the day and centered on song, dance, and storytelling that together comprised 81% of nighttime conversations. To read a press release about the article, click here>>


Post-Doc Ryan Schacht publishes "Big Idea" opinion piece in New Scientist

"Testosterone Overload"

This article explores if a surplus of men leads to an increase in violence and the possible reasons behind inconclusive findings. To read the article, click here>>


Professor Dennis O'Rourke Co-authors Article in the journal Science

"The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic"

The study addressed the genetic origins and relationships of the various New World Arctic cultures to each other and to modern-day populations in the region. Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA data unequivocally showed that the Paleo-Eskimos are closer to each other than to any other present-day population. To read more, click here>>

Professor Brian Codding Publishes Article in Human Ecology

"Kangaroos Win When Aborigines Hunt with Fire: Co-evolution Benefits Australia’s Martu People and Wildlife"

Australia’s Aboriginal Martu people hunt kangaroos and set small grass fires to catch lizards, as they have for at least 2,000 years. The Department of Anthropology's Brian Codding found such man-made disruption boosts kangaroo populations – showing how co-evolution helped marsupials and made Aborigines into unintentional conservationists.

“We have uncovered a framework that allows us to predict when human subsistence practices might be detrimental to the environment and when they might be beneficial,” says Professor Codding. “When subsistence practices have long histories, they are more likely to sustain ecosystem stability,” he says. “But when there are sudden changes to the way people make a living on the land, expect the result to be detrimental to the environment.”

The findings suggest that Australia might want to encourage small-scale burning to bolster wildlife populations in certain areas, Codding says.

 To read the full press release>>


Professor Polly Wiessner Elected to Prestigious National Academy of Sciences

wiessnerOn April 29th, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced the election of 84 new members in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.  Professor Polly Wiessner from our own Department of Anthropology was among this newest group of members.
Professor Wiessner is well known for her research on exchange networks in Africa's Kalahari Desert and in Papua New Guinea and for her study of warfare and aggression, particularly among the Enga in Papua New Guinea .  Professor Wiessner is a frequent public speaker, giving invited talks at Universities and Conferences around the world.  She is also a popular instructor at the U of U, where students enjoy her courses on (The Cultures of Africa” and “The Anthropology of Food.”Professor Wiessner’s nomination and election to the Anthropology sub-section of the NAS places her among 83 fellow members (2014).  The election of Professor Wiessner brings the total number of NAS members currently in the Department of Anthropology to four.  Professor Henry Harpending was elected in 1996, Professor Kristen Hawkes and Professor James O’Connell were elected in 2002 and 2006, respectively.  Former NAS members from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah include the late Jesse Jennings, the late Julian Steward and Jeremy Sabloff (Santa Fe Institute).The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to furthering science and using science for the general welfare of society.  It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

Click here for more information>>


Professor Dennis O’Rourke publishes a perspective on the Bering land bridge and the peopling of the Americas in Science

dOrourkeGenetic and environmental evidence indicates that after the ancestors of Native Americans left Asia, once linked Siberia and Alaska. Archaeological evidence is lacking because it drowned beneath the Bering Sea when sea levels rose.

University of Utah anthropologist Dennis O’Rourke and two colleagues make that argument in the Friday, Feb. 28, issue of the journal Science. They seek to reconcile existing genetic and paleoenvironmental evidence for human habitation on the Bering land bridge – also called Beringia – with an absence of archaeological evidence.

Read more... [Anthropology Department in the News]