John J Shea
Anthropology Department & Turkana Basin Institute
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11790-4364 USA
Above Left: Explaining stone tools for a documentary.
Above Center: With “Chippy”, the chimpmunk, on the back porch.
Above Right: Demonstrating flintknapping.
Above Left: Stone points from Omo Kibish, Ethiopia.
Above Right: Excavating AHS, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia.
Keywords: Paleoanthropology, Human Evolution, Paleolithic, Pleistocene, Eastern Africa, Southwest Asia, Lithic Analysis, Behavioral Variability, Hominin Dispersal, Origin of Homo sapiens, Neanderthal extinction.
I am interested in the archaeology of human evolution, specifically, the evidence for human behavioral variability during the Pleistocene geological epoch, 2.5 million-12,500 years ago. My main geographic areas of expertise are Southwest Asia and Eastern Africa. I am a flintknapper, and I use insights experiments with “primitive” technology aid my research on prehistoric stone tools (lithics).
My major peer-reviewed publications can be downloaded at
Much recent research on human origins is focused on detecting “behavioral modernity” among early Homo sapiens and other hominins. In several recent papers I argue that behavioral modernity is deeply flawed at theoretical, methodological, and empirical levels. We will learn more about human evolution by testing hypotheses about behavioral variability -not just the rise of behavioral complexity, or the persistence of behavioral simplicity, but the actual sources of variability in particular behaviors.
Š John J. Shea (2011) Refuting a Myth About Human Origins. Scientific American 99 (2): 128-135.
Š John J. Shea (2011) Homo sapiens Is as Homo sapiens Was: Behavioral Variability vs. ‘Behavioral Modernity’ in Paleolithic Archaeology. Current Anthropology 52 (1): 1-35.
At sites near Omo Kibish in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the Lake Turkana Basin, I am working to learn more about the earliest Homo sapiens populations who lived there 200,000 years ago and how they differed from more-recent East African humans.
Š John J. Shea and Elisabeth Hildebrand (2010) The Middle Stone Age of West Turkana, Kenya. Journal of Field Archaeology 35 (4): 355-364.
Š John J. Shea (2008) The Middle Stone Age Archaeology of the Lower Omo Valley Kibish Formation: Excavations, Lithic Assemblages, and Inferred Patterns of early Homo sapiens Behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 55: 448-485. (Special Issue: Paleoanthropology of the Kibish Formation, Southern Ethiopia, John Fleagle, Ed.)
Š John J. Shea, John G. Fleagle, and Zelalem Assefa (2007) Context and Chronology of early Homo sapiens fossils from the Omo Kibish Formation, Ethiopia. In P. Mellars, K. Boyle, O. Bar-Yosef and C. Stringer (Eds.) Rethinking the Human Revolution, pp. 153-162. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research Monographs.
Between 45,000-130,000 years ago, both Homo sapiens and Neandertal populations were present in the East Mediterranean Levant. The archaeological record of this region provides a unique opportunity to investigate behavioral differences, behavioral variability, and possible evolutionary relationships among two hominin species.
Š John J. Shea (2010) Neandertals and Early Homo sapiens in the Near East. In Elena Garcea (Ed.) South-Eastern Mediterranean Peoples Between 130,000-10,000 Years Ago. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. Pp.126-143.
Š Ghufran Sabri Ahmad and John J. Shea (2009) Reconstructing Late Pleistocene Human Behavior in the Jordan Valley: The Middle Paleolithic Stone Tool Assemblage from Ar Rasfa. Oxford, UK: Archaeopress (British Archaeological Reports International Series, S2042).
Š John J. Shea (2008) Transitions or Turnovers? Climatically-Forced Extinctions of Homo sapiens and Neandertals in the East Mediterranean Levant. Quaternary Science Reviews 27 (23-24): 2253-2270. (Special Issue: The Coastal Shelf of the Mediterranean and Beyond: Corridor and Refugium for Human Populations in the Pleistocene, G. Bailey, J.S. Carrión, D. Fa, C. Finlayson, G. Finlayson, and J. Rodríguez-Vidal, Eds.).
This project investigates the origins, ecological roles, and evolutionary significance of complex projectile weaponry. By “complex” I mean light, fast-moving projectile weapons launched by a non-projectile component, such as a bow or a spearthrower. Recent humans use such projectile weapons to construct wide, flexible, and stable ecological niches. This project is concerned with the origins of this niche-broadening technology and its role in Pleistocene human dispersal.
Š John J. Shea and Matthew L. Sisk (2010) Complex Projectile Technology and Homo sapiens Dispersal from Africa to Western Eurasia. Paleoanthropology 2010: 100-122.
Š John J. Shea (2009) The Impact of Projectile Weaponry on Late Pleistocene Hominin Evolution. In Jean-Jacques Hublin and Michael Richards (Eds.) The Evolution of Hominin Diets: Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence, pp. 189-201. New York: Springer.
Š John J. Shea (2006) The Origins of Lithic Projectile Point Technology: Evidence from Africa, the Levant, and Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science 33(6): 823-846.
This project will provide reference guides to the lithic record for regions in which archaeological systematics for stone tools are currently problematical, namely the Near East and Eastern Africa.
Š John J. Shea (2013) Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide. Cambridge University Press.
In order to increase public understanding of anthropology and human origins research, I participate in the filming of television documentaries. Recent appearances include the following.
2012 Mankind: The Story of All of Us for The History Channel.
2010 The Human Spark with Alan Alda for PBS/WNET.
2009 Nova: Becoming Human for PBS/WGBH.
Above: Scenes from The Human Spark.
I teach regular archaeology courses as well as a class in primitive (i.e, ancestral) technology.
ANT 417 Fall 2009: Making replicas of the Schöningen javelins.
My wife and I own two pet rabbits, Boudicca and Bianca.
Left: Boudicca & Bianca
I am an avid cyclist (road and trail/mountain) and I hope to complete a cross-country bicycle tour in the near future.
Left: New York, 2010