Dr. Sarah Freidline
Dr. Sarah Freidline studies the origin and evolution of Homo sapiens using three-dimensional shape analysis, geometric morphometrics and bone histology techniques. These tools help her virtually reconstruct and quantify the morphological variations found in the skulls of fossils.
“My favorite part about being an anthropologist is the traveling. There is something magical about handling fossils of ancient humans hundreds of thousands of years old in the places they impacted history.”
Freidline’s work has made significant impacts on the field of paleoanthropology, including an analysis of the Xiahe Denisovan mandible in Tibet. Denisovans are an ancient group of hominins separate from both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals believed to inhabit parts of Asia. She has also contributed to the analysis of human fossils discovered in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco — the oldest H. sapiens fossils yet discovered.
Dr. Neil Duncan and Dr. John Walker
If you know where to look, the northeastern corner of Bolivia is an excellent window into pre-Columbian society. Anthropologists Dr. John Walker and Dr. Neil Duncan have uncovered evidence of raised fields and fish weirs dating to about 3,500 years ago.
“This finding is important because it provides evidence that the Amazon is not a pristine wilderness but has been shaped and designed by indigenous people thousands of years before the Spanish arrived,” Walker says.
The mud in this region serves as a time capsule of sorts, revealing to a paleoethnobotanist like Duncan evidence of corn and squash cultivation.
Dr. Marla Toyne
Suspending yourself 100 feet in the air to study cliffside burials brings a unique set of challenges: working in a three-dimensional space; limited movement; and the threat of falling rocks. The payoff, though, is a deeper understanding of the pre-Incan Chachapoya society.
“There are still more questions than answers,” says Dr. Marla Toyne, who specializes in studying human remains as a bioarchaeologist. “But we’re slowly getting better a picture of who these people are and why they are buried on the cliffs.”
For instance, a partially mummified individual supplied enough DNA to show he lived with a debilitating bone cancer and was also infected with tuberculosis. Analysis of teeth are also yielding insights into everyday food habits for the Chachapoya.