ASU institute receives single-largest investment in human origins research

September 16, 2014

One of the most fundamental and compelling issues in science is the search for the origins of our species.

Thanks to a $4.9 million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins (IHO), university scientists will undertake a multifaceted, transdisciplinary collaborative research project that seeks to increase our understanding of the process of “how we became human.” IHO skull image Download Full Image

The Templeton-funded projects range from studies of the first use of tools by early humans to the emergence of large-scale cooperation in modern societies.

The grant, the largest of its type for human origins research, will support 11 linked projects with a focus on where, when and how unique human capacities for cognition, culture and cooperation emerged. Together, they will help explain how humans have evolved in environmental, technological and social contexts to become the dominant species on Earth.

A $200,000 supplement to support K-12 educational outreach in human origins is included in the grant.

“This is an exciting opportunity to advance the critical research being conducted by the Institute of Human Origins,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “The institute has a long-term commitment to strategically important explorations that pay off in streams of meaningful discoveries. The Templeton Foundation support will enable the institute to build upon its impressive trajectory and our knowledge of our origins. We look forward to significant outcomes that can be shared with our peers, with society and with those who will be tomorrow’s discoverers.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the John Templeton Foundation on this major research initiative,” said William Kimbel, director of IHO, who coordinated the two-year application process. “The Templeton Foundation’s focus on ‘big questions’ that unite disparate scientific disciplines fits perfectly with how IHO scientists approach the study of human origins at ASU. It is truly a transformative moment in IHO’s 33-year history.”

Under the thematic umbrella of “The Evolutionary Foundations of Human Uniqueness,” the Templeton Foundation grant will support projects directed by nine IHO-affiliated scientists in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. More than 50 external collaborators, postdoctoral scholars and ASU graduate students will be involved in the projects, which span field work, analytical studies and theoretical research in Africa, Europe, South America, Oceania and the United States.

The IHO research team comprises Robert Boyd, Christopher Campisano, Kim Hill, William Kimbel, Curtis Marean, Sarah Mathew, Kaye Reed, Gary Schwartz and Joan Silk. Outreach activities will be spearheaded by IHO founding director Donald Johanson.

With Templeton Foundation support, IHO will develop its award-winning website as the premier resource for innovative teaching and learning about human origins in primary- and secondary-school grades. A series of research workshops and a culminating public symposium are also part of the grant.

“We are gratified that the John Templeton Foundation recognizes IHO’s tradition of excellence in linking the results of scientific research to the education of young people about our origins,” noted Johanson. “Now, thanks to the Foundation’s investment, we’ll dramatically expand our reach into the science classroom.”

Included in the grant is more than $400,000 for a state-of-the-art 2- and 3-D imaging lab for analysis of fossils and artifacts, which will become a permanent facility at ASU, open to other researchers on campus and to non-ASU scientists and students collaborating with IHO researchers on longer-term projects.

"ASU has so many extraordinary scholars in human origins that our investment is equivalent to making nearly a dozen grants in the field,” said Paul Wason, vice president of Life Sciences and Genetics at the Templeton Foundation. “In this case, the project leaders will closely coordinate their work, bringing a ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ benefit to the research.

“IHO has impressive experience in public outreach, and the quality of their research on the theme of human uniqueness has the potential for real impact on young people,” Wason said.

The Institute for Human Origins and the School of Human Evolution and Social Changes are research units in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Julie Russ

Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins


Award-winning Mexican author shares how we can all can be writers

September 16, 2014

Renowned French-born, Mexican journalist and author Elena Poniatowska will kick off ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures' Fall 2014 International Artist Lecture Series with her talk “We Can All Be Writers,” from noon to 1:30 p.m., Sept. 18, at the Memorial Union Turquoise Room 220, on the Tempe campus. Lunch will be served.

Later that evening, at 7 p.m., Poniatowska will present her book "Y dondequiera, la luz” ("And Everywhere the Light"), on the photography of Raul Rámirez "Kigra" as part of the inauguration of Kigra's photographic exhibition at the 
Carlos Fuentes Gallery of the Mexican Consulate,
 320 E McDowell, in Phoenix. Award-winning journalist and author, Elena Poniatowska Download Full Image

Poniatowska’s works focus on social and political issues facing those considered to be disenfranchised, especially women and the poor. In 2013, she won Spain's Premio Cervantes Literature Award, the greatest existing Spanish language literature award for an author's lifetime works, becoming the fourth woman to receive such recognition.

Major investigative works by Poniatowska include “La noche de Tlatelolco” (“Massacre in Mexico,” 1971), about the 1968 repression of student protests in Mexico City; “Fuerte es el Silencio” (“Strong is Silence,” 1975), about the families of disappeared political prisoners, the leaders of workers’ movements, another look at the massacre in Tlatelolco and others who have defied the government; and “Nada Nadie. Las Voces del Temblor” (“Nothing No one: The Voices of the Earthquake,” 1988), a compilation of eyewitness accounts not only to the destruction of the earthquake, but also to the incompetence and corruption of the government afterward.

Her first novel, “Lilus Kikusy” (1954), is a coming-of-age story about Mexican women before feminism. “Tinísima” is a fictionalized biography of Italian photographer and political activist Tina Modotti. “Querido Diego” (“Dear Diego”) is an epistolary recreation of Diego Rivera's relationship with his first wife, a Russian painter. “Hasta no verte Jesús Mío” (Here's to You, Jesusa), from 1969, tells the story of Jesusa Palancares, a poor woman who fought in the Mexican Revolution and later became a washerwoman in Mexico City. “Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution” is about the women who were in combat, accompanied by photographs from the era.Las Siete Cabritas” (The Seven Little Goats) is about seven women in Mexican society in the 20th century, and “La Piel del Cielo” (The Skin of the Sky) provides moving descriptions of various regions of Mexico, as well as the inner-workings of politics and government.

Poniatowska’s visit is possible thanks to sponsorship from the Mexican Consulate of Phoenix, ASU professor Cynthia Hogue, Regents Professor David W. Foster, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the following academic units at ASU: Department of English; School of International Letters and Cultures; School of Transborder Studies, academic units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Letters and Sciences (Faculties of Languages and Cultures, and Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication). 

Susan Kells

Communications Coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership