Pump-priming exploration in strategically important field locales and time periods will place IHO scientists at a strong advantage in the competition for long-term external research funding. For example, on the heels of an IHO team’s discovery of the oldest Homo fossil in Ethiopia, we will continue work at IHO’s “gold mine” sites of Hadar and Ledi-Geraru and expand the hunt for new fossil-bearing sites in the poorly understood two- to three-million-year time period, which is critical to understanding the fate of Australopithecus, the origin of Homo, and advent of stone-tool making.
Enlarging IHO’s geographical footprint will place our field scientists in strategically critical areas of the world. To that end, we will launch a fi eld project in the Altai mountains of central Asia (Mongolia) to hunt for tools and fossils of Pleistocene populations, known so far only from DNA traces in fragments of fossil bone (i.e., the Denisovans), representing initial waves of human migration from Africa across the Old World.
Constructing an IHO network of international research collaborations, encompassing field and lab projects in Africa, Eurasia, and Europe will maximize efficiency and impact of new discoveries. Building on the success of IHO field work at Pinnacle Point, South Africa, we will launch an innovative international network of thematically linked field projects, with coordinated goals, expertise, and resources, on the origins of early modern humans and their migration across the Old World in the late Pleistocene.
A new initiative on the origins of human cognitive complexity will unite the fields of neurobiology, paleoanthropology, and studies of contemporary human populations and nonhuman primate behavior to identify the evolutionary links between cognition and technology.
Integrating perspectives from modern human populations with empirical records from the past will solidify IHO’s transdisciplinary approach to human origins science. For example, expanding research on the coastal adaptations of contemporary human populations in the Philippines will permit testing hypotheses, based on finds from IHO’s project at Pinnacle Point, South Africa, that link the origin of modern human behavior and the early migrations across southern Asia to coastal resource exploitation.
As humankind’s closest living relative, the chimpanzee faces social and ecological pressures thought to be similar to those confronted by our remote ancestors. Field studies of wild chimpanzees are therefore essential for tracing the origins of our specialized social behavior, including our capacity for large-scale cooperation. A new partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute will conduct long-term research on the iconic chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Drawing on Gombe’s unique 50- year record of behavioral observations plus new genetic and hormonal data, this research will address the evolutionary basis of friendship, group territory defense, and temperament, all of which have far-reaching implications for understanding the roots of cooperation in the human lineage.
IHO’s mission of discovery begins in the field. For three decades, our scientists have worked in some of the most inhospitable locales to unearth our origins, and this has taken its toll on IHO’s field infrastructure. For example, projects in Ethiopia and South Africa depend on vehicles, camping gear, and data-collection instruments which, approaching one to two decades in age, are rapidly becoming obsolete.