Physical Anthropologist

Close-up shot of anthropologist Dr. Sabrina Sholts examining a beige skull thats in her hand in the lower right foreground.
Dr. Sabrina Sholts examining a skull. Smithsonian photo NHB2014-00809 by Don Hurlbert.

Dr. Sabrina Sholts is a research anthropologist and curator in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. As a physical anthropologist, she uses bones to study our past. Her fascination with prehistory started in museums, where she spent countless hours on family vacations, school field trips, and weekend afternoons as a kid. In high school, she took her first class in anthropology and was hooked for life. Sabrina devoted herself to archaeology at the University of Chicago, working at the Oriental Institute Museum during the school year and excavating in Turkey over the summers. Her first field season led to her discovery of ancient graves and all that can be learned from the skeleton, which she continued to explore as a PhD student at U.C. Santa Barbara and then as a postdoc at U.C. Berkeley and Stockholm University.

Since arriving at the Smithsonian in 2014, Sabrina has used bones to study the effects of environmental contaminants on people in the past and present. This work is driven by questions and ideas that came to her as a graduate student in California, where people have been exposed to natural contaminants for thousands of years. With a variety of techniques to analyze and interpret human variation, she and many collaborators are piecing together information about the different ways that our body responds to the chemicals around us. Sabrina is also the director of the Smithsonian Institution Bio-Imaging Research (SIBIR) Center, whose mission is to increase and diffuse scientific knowledge through CT imaging and analysis.