Renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Klein, PhD, on modern human origins

Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture to explore the origin and evolution of our species

August 21, 2019

Fifty-thousand years ago, Homo sapiens went from obscure makers of stone tools to Paleolithic Picassos. They began creating jewelry and advanced weapons, and their rudimentary, cross-hatch stone carvings gave way to paintings and sculptures that would be at home in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What happened? And how did that behavioral leap lead to modern humans’ expansion out of Africa, and the quick extinction of Neanderthals and Homo erectus?

Sept. 25: Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series talk, “Modern Human Origins,” with renowned paleoanthropologist Richard G. Klein, PhD

Images of four fossil skulls. Homo Erectus, Homo Sapiens, Homo Neanderthalis and Homo Antecessor.
Fossil skull of Homo Erectus, Homo Sapiens, Homo Neanderthalis and Homo Antecessor.

Over five decades of research and discoveries

Once called the “premier anthropologist in the country,” Klein has spent over 50 years studying the evolution of human behavior through archaeological and fossil evidence. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the human fossil record and, through his fieldwork in South Africa, an inadvertent expert on fossil antelopes. He is a respected voice in the argument for the African replacement theory, which states that Homo sapiens emerged in Africa first and then spread to Eurasia 50,000 years ago, swamping or replacing Neanderthals and Homo erectus.

Recently, Klein participated in the serendipitous discovery of two skulls – one being the most complete skull of a 50,000-year-old Homo sapien – unearthed in an ancient hyena den 60 kilometers north of Cape Town, South Africa. The discovery confirms the African origin of modern humans, and if the skull retains DNA, genomic reconstruction could tell a more thorough tale.

An academic standout in study of human origin

Klein is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass professor of anthropology and biology at Stanford University. He is the author of several books, including “The Dawn of Human Culture” and “The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins,” the definitive scholarly book on human evolution.

He received his BA from the University of Michigan and his MA and PhD from the University of Chicago. Klein has taught at Stanford University since 1993. Beyond his professorial work, Klein has served on numerous editorial and advisory boards, edited The Journal of Archaeological Science since 1981, and co-chairs the Grants Committee of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

The Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series is presented by the Damrauer Endowed Lectureship Fund. Registration is recommended for the event, which is free and open to the public. Visit the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series website for more information or to register.