On the behavioral side, the Department of Human Evolution has a number of archaeologists who specialize in the analysis of the material remains recovered from hominin sites. For sites of this time period (the Paleolithic) the two primary categories of evidence are stone tools and animal bones, though in some later contexts other items such as ornaments and pigments can be found.
Stone tools are an important line of evidence in part because they are so durable and in part because they span such a long time period. The first stone tools come from deposits that date to 2.6-2.5 million years ago in the Afar region of Ethiopia (see also the Dikika Research Project). The study of these oldest stone tools through to the stone tools of anatomically modern humans can inform us about the development and roll of this critical technology with its implications for hominin subsistence, mobility, manual dexterity, cognitive development, social networks, landscape use, and more. Our focus here is primarily on reconstructing the factors (geographical, physiological, technological, cognitive, etc.) that influenced these past technical traditions. We do this primarily through techno/typological analyses of stone tool collections and through the analysis of raw materials. Currently, our work is focused on the earliest stone tools from east Africa (the Oldowan) and the stone tool traditions of Africa and Europe immediately prior to and immediately subsequent to the arrival of anatomically modern humans. (see Artifacts Analyses)
Though bones are less frequently preserved in the archaeological record, they are critical for our understanding of human evolution in that they provide direct evidence for what we ate and, therefore, our place in the local ecology, and indirect evidence for the paleoenvironment in which we lived. Our department includes a number of zooarchaeologists who specialize in reconstructing the behavioral aspect of bone accumulations. The current goal of our zooarchaeological research is to reconstruct late Pleistocene human ecology by analyzing the patterns of variation found in bone assemblages. Ultimately, we want to understand what roll subsistence behaviors played in the origins and spread of modern humans throughout the world. (see Zooarchaeology)
In addition to analysis of the traditional kinds of archaeological data such as bones and stones, the department is specializing in new laboratory techniques that take a biomolecular approach to addressing some of these same evolutionary issues of diet, mobility, and landscape use. In particular, we are developing improved methods of protein extraction (see Proteomics), mainly from bone, and measuring the stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen in order to reconstruct the past hominin diets
(see Palaeodietary research).