Africa holds a rich record of human evolution. But investigating that record has historically left out many of our voices. We aim to change this, and to drive exceptional palaeoscience with diverse teams that are welcome, supported and dedicated to uncovering the story of how and why we became human.

The Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) drives African-led research on human evolution at UCT and across the continent. We believe that with diverse teams, we can ask deeper questions and get better answers to our origin story. The result can lead to a better understanding of our past and a greater appreciation of human diversity.

Our research focuses on questions of human biological and cultural evolution on many levels and across a wide time period. Our multidisciplinary teams investigate fossil records, the role of hybridisation in evolution, understanding the origins of modern human behaviour and dating Africa’s fossil and archaeological sites, as well as understanding how changing climates and environments shaped us.

We also host leading figures in the palaeosciences at our space on the UCT campus for talks, teas and workshops. We encourage interdisciplinary exchange and cooperation in our research, our collaborations and our communication.

Our Mission

To drive transformative research on the African record of human evolution, while prioritising the training and support of multidisciplinary teams that are diverse, inclusive and passionate.


There is no greater story than that of our own human evolution, and that story can only be told when everyone is represented.
— Robyn Pickering, HERI Deputy Director

SELECT RECENT PUBLICATIONS

  • Ackermann RR. (2019). Reflections on the history and legacy of scientific racism in South African palaeoanthropology and beyond. Journal of Human Evolution. 126: 106-111. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2018.11.007
    Preprint AfricArxiv DOI: https://doi.org/10.31730/osf.io/t3v9a

  • Black W., Cole C.C., Thebele W., Mosothwane M.N., Omar R. & Silvester J. (2019). “Who Were They? Repatriation and the Rehumanisation of Human Remains in Museums in Southern Africa”. In Museums and Communities: Diversity, Dialogue and Collaboration in an Age of Migrations, pp 308-321, edited by Viv Golding and Jen Walklate, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.

  • Edwards, T.R., Armstrong, B.J., Birket-Rees, J., Blackwood, A.F., Herries, A.I.R.,Penzo-Kajewski, P., Pickering, R., Adams, J.W. 2019. Combining legacy data with new drone and DGPS mapping to identify the provenance of Plio-Pleistocene fossils from Bolt’s Farm, Cradle of Humankind (South Africa), PeerJ, 7, e6202. 
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6202

  • Pickering, R., Herries, A., Woodhead, J.D., Hellstrom, J.C., Green, H.E., Paul, P., Ritzman, T., Strait, D.S., Schoville, B.J., Hancox, J. (2019). South African hominin record restricted to dry phases as demonstrated by U-Pb dated flowstones. Nature, 565, 7738, 226-229.

    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0711-0

  • Eugene Smith, Zenobia Jacobs, Racheal Johnsen, Minghua Ren, Erich C. Fisher, Simen Oestmo, Jayne Wilkins, Jacob A. Harris, Panagiotis Karkanas, Shelby Fitch, Amber Ciravolo, Deborah Keenan, Naomi Cleghorn, Christine S. Lane, Thalassa Matthews and Curtis W. Marean. (2018) Humans thrived in South Africa through the Toba super-volcanic eruption ~74,000 years ago. Nature 555:511.

  • Warren, K, T Ritzman, R Humphreys, C Percival, B Hallgrimsson, RR Ackermann. (2018). Craniomandibular form and body size variation of first generation mouse hybrids: a model for hominin hybridization. Journal of Human Evolution. 116: 57-74. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.12.002