Dr. Briana Pobiner is a prehistoric archaeologist with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where her research centers on the real “paleodiet”—the evolution of human diet (with a focus on meat-eating), but has included topics as diverse as cannibalism in the Cook Islands and chimpanzee carnivory. Despite not being into science in high school, a wonderful professor at Bryn Mawr College—where she designed her own major in Evolutionary Studies—ignited the spark of her passion for studying the origins of humanity. She then went on to get an MA and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rutgers University, and came to the Smithsonian in 2005 to help put together the Hall of Human Origins.
Briana’s Ph.D. research focused on documenting patterns of chewing damage left by living large African carnivores when they eat their prey, and looking for these patterns on fossils from prehistoric sites in eastern Africa (Koobi Fora, Kenya and Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania) where early humans may have competed with carnivores for access to animal prey. She also studied butchery marks made by ancient stone tools at these sites to determine whether early humans were getting access to the meaty parts of carcasses, or scavenging the scraps left over from carnivores. Some of her favorite field moments include falling asleep in a tent in the Serengeti in Tanzania while listening to the distant whoops of hyenas, watching a pride of lions eat a zebra carcass on the Kenyan equator, and discovering fossil animal bones in Kenya that were last touched, butchered, and eaten by one of her 1.5-million-year-old ancestors.
Her current research projects include examining the relationship between the living and bone community in a game conservancy in central Kenya, studying 1-million-year-old fossils from the archaeological site of Olorgesailie in southern Kenya, and investigating a Pleistocene human footprints site in northern Tanzania, and experimental butchery of modern animals with stone tools.
Along with her scientific research, Briana manages the Human Origins Program's public programs, website content, social media, and volunteer content training.