Read Full Report

Date:  March 3, 2010

Contacts:  Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <>




Strategic Research Program Needed to Determine Whether, How

Past Climate Influenced Human Evolution


WASHINGTON -- Understanding how past climate may have influenced human evolution could be dramatically enhanced by an international cross-disciplinary research program to improve the sparse human fossil and incomplete climate records and examine the link between the two, says a new report from the National Research Council.


Climate and fossil records suggest that some events in human evolution -- such as the evolution of new species or movements out of Africa -- coincided with substantial changes in African and Eurasian climate.  This raises the intriguing possibility that environmental factors affected or controlled our species' evolution.  By altering the landscape, past changes in climate may have exerted pressures that led to genetic selection and innovation in humans.  But because the human fossil record and our understanding of past climate conditions are incomplete, the details of how climates influenced human evolution remain unclear.   


The report recommends several research initiatives over the next 10 to 20 years:






A public briefing to discuss the report's findings and recommendations will be held on March 31 at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Several members of the committee that wrote the report will present and answer audience questions.  For more information, please call or e-mail the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


The report was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Committee members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.

Copies of Understanding Climate's Influence on Human Evolution are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 


[ This news release and report are available at ]



Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Earth Sciences and Resources


Committee on the Earth System Context for Hominin Evolution

Robert M. Hamilton (chair)
Deputy Executive Director of Division on Earth and Life Sciences
National Research Council (retired)

Zelienople, Pa.


Berhane Asfaw * 

Rift Valley Research Service
Addis Ababa


Gail M. Ashley
Professor of Geology, and
Director of Quaternary Studies Program
Department of Geological Sciences
Rutgers University
Piscataway, N.J.

Thure E. Cerling * 
Geology and Geophysics Department
University of Utah
Salt Lake City

Andrew S. Cohen
Professor of Geosciences, and
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Arizona

Peter B. deMenocal
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University
Palisades, N.Y.


Andrew P. Hill
J. Clayton Stephenson Professor of Anthropology
Yale University
New Haven, Conn.

Thomas C. Johnson
Professor of Geology, and
Director of Large Lakes Observatory
University of Minnesota

John E. Kutzbach *
Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Environmental Sciences
Center for Climatic Research
University of Wisconsin


Richard Potts

Paleoanthropologist, and

Director of Human Origins Program and Curator of

National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

Alan R. Rogers
Professor of Anthropology and Adjunct Professor of Biology
University of Utah
Salt Lake City

Alan Walker *
Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology and Biology
Pennsylvania State University
University Park



David Feary  

Study Director

*  Member, National Academy of Sciences