Biological Anthropology: Research

The Anthropology Department at The Field Museum has traditionally focused primarily on Archaeology. As a result, research into human evolution (Biological Anthropology including Palaeoanthropology) has taken a back seat with only sporadic representation. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Dr. Fay-Cooper Cole served as Assistant Curator of Physical Anthropology and Malayan Ethnology at The Field Museum, participating in various collecting expeditions (notably in the Philippines) and conducting research into anthropometry. Henry Field, an Oxford-trained archaeologist, was The Field Museum’s first full-time biological anthropologist. He joined the Museum as Assistant Curator of Physical Anthropology soon after graduating in 1925 and served as Head Curator from 1934 until 1941. Field contributed significantly to the collections that are housed at the Museum today and initiated the hominid cast collection as well as contributing to key exhibitions. He spent the period between 1928 and 1934 excavating and collecting material from the Sumerian-Akkadian capital of Kish, including nearly 5,000 photographs of the excavations and portraits of villagers. Field also visited prehistoric caves in France and Spain and gathered data to enable sculptor Frederick Blaschke to create a series of nine life-sized "Prehistoric Man" dioramas for display at Field Museum. Field was responsible for bringing "Magdalenian Girl" to The Field Museum and published a monograph on the skeleton. After Field's time, biological anthropology was relatively neglected as a discipline at The Field Museum until the current A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology, Dr. Robert D. Martin, joined the staff in 2001. Biological anthropology is now thriving once again at The Field Museum, with several lines of new research into primate and human evolution, accompanied by a concerted effort to build up the collection of hominid casts to make it truly representative. One new development is the discovery that "Magdalenian Girl" is in fact a woman who was around 30 years old at death. Although her wisdom teeth had not erupted (seemingly because of impaction rather than immaturity), the rest of her skeleton is clearly that on an adult, with fully fused long bones and some attrition of the vertebrae.

Skeleton of "Magdalenian Girl" as displayed in the permanent exhibit Evolving Planet:

Evolutionary Tree of Hominids, from 7 Million Years Ago to the Present:

For information on research, see the following: