The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology’s annual Ancestors lecture returns with a talk by The University of New Mexico Associate Professor Sherry Nelson. Nelson will speak about Becoming Human: The Early Stages from Ape to Hominin.

Sherry Nelson
Associate Professor of Anthropology Sherry Nelson

The lecture will be Thursday, Feb. 22 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at the Hibben Center for Archaeological Research, Room 105, in the Maxwell. The event is free and open to all.

“What happened in human evolution,” Nelson asks. “Our closest relatives today are the apes, who are similar to one another in diets, habitats, development, and body and brain sizes. While apes probably have not changed much over the past 10 million years, the lineage leading to humans underwent extraordinary transitions. We developed even bigger, more energetically expensive brains, bodies, and children, and yet we conquered the world.”

In this talk, using techniques in paleoecology, Nelson will explore the early stages of human evolution to understand how we first moved out of the rainforests, expanded our diets, and potentially began to change our social structure.

Nelson received her B.S. in Biology and Biological Anthropology and Anatomy from Duke University and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University. Currently, she is an associate professor at UNM's Department of Anthropology and the Principal Investigator and director of UNM's Paleoecology Laboratory.

Her research focuses on the interaction of climatic, vegetation, and faunal changes in the fossil record, particularly with respect to ape and hominin paleoecologies. She uses stable isotopic and dental microwear analyses to reconstruct paleohabitats, climates, and diets. To better reconstruct the past, she also works with modern ecosystems, including a modern chimpanzee site. Her goal is to have a direct comparison between fossil and modern data to better interpret fossil ape and hominin adaptations. She is particularly interested in the ecological requirements for fueling increasing body size, brain size, and maternal investment that mark the evolution of apes and humans.

Read more about Nelson’s fascinating work by visiting her website.

For more information about this event, visit Maxwell’s public event page hereThis in-person event will also be livestreamed on Zoom — register here.

The public lecture is co-sponsored by the UNM Department of Anthropology and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.