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Sheela Athreya

Sheela Athreya
Associate Professor
Contact
  • (979) 845-4785
  • athreya@tamu.edu
  • Anthropology 316E
Professional Links
Degree
PhD, Washington University in St. Louis, 2003
Program
Biological Anthropology

Specialty:

Middle and Late Pleistocene Hominin Evolution and Systematics; Postcolonialism in Biological Anthropology; Human Biological Variation, Craniofacial Biology; Quantitative Methods

Current Research Projects:

My research focuses on human evolution in the Middle and Late Pleistocene. I look at patterns of morphological variation within and among populations of this time period to understand the evolutionary history of our own species, Homo sapiens. I have explored questions of phylogeny and systematics using quantitative assessments of craniofacial morphology, and use the results to understand which evolutionary forces, including population dynamics and interactions, shaped regional populations of H. sapiens.

For several years I conducted work in Gujarat, western India surveying sites associated with the Toba volcanic super-eruption.  This research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, focused on paleoenvironmental reconstruction of western India before and after the eruption. I have also participated in the Narmada Basin Paleoanthropology Project in the central Narmada Valley of Madhya Pradesh, in excavations at Lower and Upper Paleolithic sites in France, and at a Harappan site in western India. I have also conducted research in museums throughout Europe, Asia and Africa looking at the original fossils of most Middle Pleistocene specimens.

My current research is an NSF and Wenner-Gren funded project examining the burials from the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, Central India.  This is a UNESCO world heritage site initially excavated in the 1970s and 1980s by the late V.S. Wakankar of Vikram University.  I am working with a multidisciplinary team to reconstruct early Homo sapiens  evolution in India using a combination of morphological, genomic, and archaeological data.  Our work aims to decolonize the study of our evolutionary history by moving beyond the “Out of Africa” model and building regional models, using local voices and data, that are more appropriate for South Asia.

Related to this, I teach and publish on critical issues of voice, inclusivity, diversity, representation, and postcolonialism in science more broadly, and biological anthropology specifically.

Courses Taught:

ANTH 201- Introduction to Anthropology
ANTH 225- Introduction to Biological Anthropology
ANTH 427/667- Human Biological Variation (Writing intensive)
ANTH 489/489- The Neanderthals (Writing intensive)
ANTH 601- Biological Anthropology (Core course)
ANTH 648- Issues in Human Evolution Theory
ANTH 649- Origin and Evolution of the Genus Homo
ANTH 689- Pleistocene Peopling of the Old World (co-taught with Dr. Kelly Graf)

Current Graduate Students:

Brittany Moody, Hyein Kim, Missy Gandarilla, Harshita Jain, Debraj Sarkar

Selected and Recent Publications:

2015          Athreya S. Modern human emergence in South Asia: A synthesis of morphological and genetic evidence. In Proceedings of the Symposium on the Emergence of Modern Human Behavior in Asia, Kaifu, Y, Izumi M and Goebel FE (eds). Texas A&M University Press. Chapter 5: 61-79.

2014          Brophy JK, DJ de Ruiter, S Athreya and TJ DeWitt. Quantitative morphological analysis of bovid teeth and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Plovers Lake, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 41:376-388.

2013          Wu X and Athreya S. A description of the geological context, discrete traits and linear morphometrics of the Middle Pleistocene hominin from Dali, Shaanxi Province, China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150(1): 141-157.

2013          Bruner E, Athreya S, de la Cuétara JM and Marks, T. Geometric variation of the frontal squama in the genus Homo: Frontal bulging and the origin of modern human morphology.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150(2): 313-323.

2012          Athreya S. The frontal bone in the genus Homo: functional and phylogenetic sources of variation. (Invited review) Journal of Anthropological Sciences 90:1-22.

2009         Athreya S. A comparative study of frontal bone morphology among Pleistocene hominin fossil groups. Journal of Human Evolution 57(6): 786-804.