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Grandmothering is topic of visiting scholar talk

Feb. 7, 2006

KALAMAZOO--The role of grandmothers in the evolution of the human race will be the topic when a renowned anthropologist visits Western Michigan University this week as part of WMU's Visiting Scholars and Artists Program.

"Grandmothering and the Evolution of Human Longevity" is the title of a talk at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in Room 2304 of Sangren Hall by Dr. Kristen Hawkes, distinguished professor of anthropology and head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah. The event is free and open to the public.

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, which have produced some of the most comprehensive data sets ever assembled on modern forager ecology.

Hawkes says humans are the longest-lived vertebrates on land, but contrary to common belief, our remarkable longevity is not new, and is not due to support for the elderly. Hawkes believes ancestral grandmothers played a central role in the evolution of the human lineage. Her hypothesis holds that humans evolved so they are weaned younger, have longer childhoods and longer lifespans, and produce more offspring because ancestral grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren and thus increased their odds of survival.

Hawkes was the 2002 winner of the Rosenblatt Prize, the University of Utah's highest award for excellence. The $40,000 gift is presented annually to a faculty member who displays excellence in teaching, research, and administrative efforts.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Hawkes is recognized by her peers as one of the top anthropologists in the nation. Hawkes was the human evolution area editor for the recently published Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution and serves on the science and grants executive committee of the board of trustees for the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation.

She earned a bachelor's degree from Iowa State University and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington. She joined the University of Utah faculty in 1973 and has served as chair of the Department of Anthropology since 1996.

The Visiting Scholars and Arts Program at WMU was established in 1960 and has supported more than 500 visits by scholars and artists representing some 65 academic disciplines.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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