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Darren Curnoe is a Senior Lecturer at the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, The University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is an Honorary Professor in Palaeoanthropology, Southeast Asia Archeology Research Centre, and Yunnan Institute for Cultural Relics and Archeology.

Darren Curnoe Bio

Darren Curnoe is an anthropologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of Aboriginal Australians and found that they are descended from a single founding population that arrived on the continent about 50,000 years ago. This is much earlier than previous estimates, which put the arrival of Aboriginal Australians at between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

The new research also suggests that the Aboriginal Australians are more closely related to other modern humans than previously thought. Curnoe and his colleagues found that the Aboriginal Australians share a genetic signature with people from Melanesia, an area that includes the countries of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands. This signature is not found in other populations, such as Europeans and Asians.

The findings suggest that the ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians split off from the ancestors of Melanesians about 37,000 years ago. This is much earlier than previous estimates, which put the split at between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.

The findings have important implications for the history of human migration. They suggest that the ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians were among the first modern humans to leave Africa, and that they colonized Australia before the ancestors of Melanesians colonized Melanesia. This means that the Aboriginal Australians are likely to be the most ancient population of modern humans outside of Africa.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

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Education

Curnoe earned his PhD from the University of New England in Australia. His research focuses on the origins and evolution of modern humans, with a particular focus on Asia and Australasia.

Research

Curnoe’s research has focused on the origins and evolution of modern humans, with a particular focus on Asia and Australasia. He has conducted fieldwork in Australia, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

He has also done extensive research on the fossils of Homo floresiensis, a small-bodied hominin that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until about 12,000 years ago. Curnoe is one of the world’s leading experts on Homo floresiensis, and his research has helped to clarify the evolutionary history of this enigmatic species.

Postdoctoral research

Following completion of my PhD, I was a visiting fellow in ANH, RSPAS, for two years. I worked closely with Alan Thorne during this time, developing ideas relating to the timing of the colonisation of Australia and the origins and diversity of the earliest Indigenous inhabitants of this continent.

Although I never published any direct research relating to the Multiregional hypothesis of modern human origins, I was at this time committed to a view of minimal species diversity and deep-time continuity across the globe. (This view last manifest itself as support for the Assimilation hypothesis in a solo-authored paper published during 2007.)

During 2002, I was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Sterkfontein Research Unit, School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). My supervisor and mentor at that time was Emeritus Professor Phillip Tobias. Following his invitation, and under his supervision, I reconstructed and provided the first detailed description, comparison and classification of the most complete skull of early Homo from southern Africa: specimen Stw 53 from Sterkfontein cave. This work built on my PhD research and focused on a set of much neglected fossils central to understanding the emergence, defining features and evolution of Homo. Professor Tobias’ invitation to study these remains was a defining moment in my career and afforded me a rare, remarkable and life-defining opportunity.

Publications

I have published over 70 articles, book chapters, edited volumes, abstracts, book reviews and media articles, more than 50 of them being in peer-reviewed scientific journals and books.

Details of many of my peer-reviewed publications and peer citations of my research can be found on my Google Scholar CitationsResearcher ID and Academia.Edu profiles.

Awards and honors

Curnoe has been awarded the Rhys Jones Medal by the Australian Academy of Science, the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, and the Joseph Birdsell Award by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Royal Society of New South Wales, and the Linnean Society of London.

Curnoe has also been awarded the Sir Nicholas Platt Award by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and the Phillip Tobias Medal by the World Federation of Scientists.

Achievements

Curnoe’s research has made important contributions to our understanding of the origins and evolution of modern humans. He has helped to clarify the evolutionary history of Homo floresiensis, and his work on Aboriginal Australian DNA has revealed new insights into the colonisation of Australia.Curnoe is one of the world’s leading experts on Homo floresiensis, and his research has helped to clarify the evolutionary history of this enigmatic species.In addition to his scientific achievements, Curnoe is also a committed science communicator.

Qualifications

2000 (April). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in palaeoanthropology and geochronology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.

1996 (April). Bachelor of Arts With 1st Class Honours majoring in biological anthropology, The Australian National University.

Academic positions/roles

2009-present. Senior Lecturer, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, The University of New South Wales.

2006-2007. Director of Teaching, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, The University of New South Wales.

2005-2008. Senior Lecturer, Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, The University of New South Wales.

2002-2005. Lecturer, Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, The University of New South Wales.

2002. Lecturer and Demonstrator (casual), School of Anatomical Sciences, The University of the Witwatersrand.

2002. Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Sterkfontein Research Unit, School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, The University of the Witwatersrand.

1999-2002. Visiting Fellow, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.

1997-1998. Tutor (casual), School of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Australian National University.

Interests after 2002

I maintained a close working relationship with Alan Thorne until the mid-2000s when our views diverged and I reconsidered my ideas about modern human origins, moving away from the biological systematics school and biological species concept (as championed by Ernst Mayr). Despite these differences, I count Alan Thorne among my most important influences and mentors.

At this time, I began to delve into explanations provided by the emerging field of ‘evo-devo’ and to seek less subjective and rigorous approaches to taxonomic and phylogenetic hypothesis building and testing, such as provided by the phylogenetic systematics school. This was an extension of my earlier work employing genetic distances to test ideas about lineage diversity and macroevolution, and marked a return to earlier ideas outlined in my PhD and published in two phylogenetic studies in the South African Journal of Science during 2001 and 2002. This shift in (or return to?) philosophy and methodology was largely forced by my experiences with hominin/human fossils in South Africa, Kenya and China, where I regularly encountered remains that appeared to violently undermine my earlier views.

After spending much of the previous decade disagreeing with more speciose interpretations of human evolution, I found myself on a professional and intellectual ‘road to Damascus’, increasingly striving for a scientific approach consistent with the spirit of ‘Popperian’ enquiry (hypothetico-deductive approach) and keyed into best practice within the broader biological sciences. In short, I embraced a more speciose view of the human evolutionary tree, in-line with what I felt was the view held widely within biology that nature does and has contained in the past high levels of diversity. In my view, to argue otherwise for the hominin tree was (is) little more than special pleading.

In 2009, I founded and presently convene the Asian-Australasian Association of Palaeoanthropologists, the first professional organisation of its kind in this region. The group is focused on providing new opportunities for research and collaboration across the broad Asian region and helping Asian colleagues engage in international collaboration and to bring their work to the attention of the broader (international) scientific community.