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Utah Anthropologist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

April 30, 2002 — University of Utah anthropologist Kristen Hawkes-best known for her comprehensive research on modern forager ecology-today received one of science’s most prestigious honors when she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

“Clearly this is an extraordinary honor, but one that, on the record, is richly deserved,” said Jim O’Connell, a long time University of Utah collaborator.

Hawkes, distinguished professor and chair of the University’s Anthropology Department, was among 72 new scientists and 15 foreign researchers elected to membership during the academy’s annual meeting in Washington.

“Election to membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer,” said the organization, which was established by Congress in 1863 to advise the federal government on science and technology.

“I am all but speechless. It couldn’t have happened but for all the hard work and good ideas of my long-time collaborators-and the things we learned from the work of so many others,” says Hawkes. “Science is the greatest fun, anyway-but this is astonishing. Nothing could match it.”

With Hawkes’ election, at least 23 present or former University of Utah researchers have been elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences or the affiliated National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. The groups list members by current affiliations, so there may be others who were elected in Utah and then moved away.

For more than 20 years, Hawkes has researched age- and sex-related variables in the behavior of modern hunter-gatherers. She has helped lead two major field projects-one in the early 1980s among the Paraguayan Ache and the other in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Tanzanian Hadza. Both involved the accumulation of much detailed quantitative information. The projects are among the largest and include some of the most comprehensive data sets ever assembled on modern forager ecology.

In both projects Hawkes explored differences in men’s and women’s foraging and food sharing practices and their implications for the understanding of key developments in human evolution.

Based on her work with the Tanzanian Hadza, Hawkes showed that post-menopausal women or “grandmothers” are essential contributors to their adult children’s-especially their adult daughters’-reproductive success. Specifically, by helping to provide for weaned but still dependent grandchildren, grandmothers made it more likely for their grandchildren to survive. This allowed their daughters-the mothers-to increase fertility and give birth more frequently because the grandmothers fed the older children. Hawkes and colleagues developed a novel hypothesis about the evolution of human life histories, particularly the patterns of early weaning, late maturity and long post-menopausal life spans that distinguish them from those of other hominoids.

Hawkes has also shown, based on her work with both the Hadza and the Paraguayan Ache, that among low latitude foragers, men’s big game hunting is motivated not by the goal of providing for one’s own mates and children, but by that of improving one’s social standing in the local community. Hawkes’ results challenge the conventional wisdom that nuclear families are always and everywhere units of common economic and reproductive interest. They also raise questions about the evolutionary origins of the nuclear family, which, until recently, most evolutionary anthropologists have linked to the development of big game hunting.

Hawkes attended Iowa State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology in 1968. From the University of Washington, Hawkes earned a master’s degree in anthropology in 1970 and a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1976. Hawkes joined the University of Utah faculty in 1973. She was the Human Evolution Area Editor for the recently published Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution and serves on the board of trustees for the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation.

Other present and former University of Utah researchers previously elected to the National Academy of Sciences include chemist Peter Stang, dean of the U’s College of Science; geologist-geochemist Thure Cerling; anthropologist Henry Harpending; the late anthropologist Jesse D. Jennings; chemist Cheves Walling; geneticist Mario Capecchi; biochemist Sidney Velick; biologist John R. Roth; chemist Josef Michl; and geneticist Ray White.

Present or former University of Utah engineering professors who are members of the National Academy of Engineering include Gerald Stringfellow, dean of the U’s College of Engineering; Donald Dahlstrom; the late George Hill; Jan D. Miller; Milton E. Wadsworth; Thomas G. Stockham; John Herbst; and Stephen C. Jacobsen.

Jacobsen also is a member of the Institute of Medicine, along with Eli Adashi, the U’s chairman of obstetrics and gynecology; Sung Wan Kim, a professor of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry; and medical informatics professors Homer R. Warner and Paul D. Clayton.