I am interested in Origins: origins of language, origins of the first stone tool technologies, origins of cognition, origins of right- and left-handedness, origins of the first Americans. My Ph.D. focused on how language relates to hand preference and brain lateralisation. Through my studies of prehistoric hand-use patterns I developed a new model of the common substrate for language and handedness.
I look for ways to extract information about past cognitive abilities from Palaeolithic artefacts, teeth, skulls, and bones. As a postdoc, I used 3D laser scanning to study prehistoric stone flakes (tool-making waste) for asymmetrical features related to the hand preference of the person who made the tool many thousands of years ago. We know that the Neanderthals were very right-handed, just as we are today.
My work combines archaeology, anthropology, cognitive science, experimental psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and primatology. In particular, I aim to improve cross-disciplinary communication to address major questions in human evolution. For example, my colleague Georg Meyer (Psychology) and I use brain scanning tools to research the common origin of language and stone tool-making. I also collaborate with Kevin Laland and Tom Morgan (St. Andrews) on transmission experiments to determine the role of language in stone tool-making skill acquisition.
In my newest project I study the vocal communication of wild chimpanzees, in collaboration with Cathy Crockford (Leipzig).