Steve Merritt. Assistant
University Hall (UH) 3129
(205) 934-2742

Research and Teaching Interests:  Paleoanthropology, zooarchaeology, taphonomy, actualistic studies, paleoecology, hominin carnivory, butchery, human osteology, forensic anthropology

Office Hours: Please email to schedule an appointment

  • BS, Rutgers University, Evolutionary Anthropology
  • MA, Rugers University, Anthropology
  • PhD, Rutgers University, Anthropology

My research explores the paleoecology and evolution of human tool-assisted carnivory. Eating animals and using tools to butcher is an important intersection between the diet and technology. The ecological contexts surrounding this change in foraging behavior have likely influenced major trends in human evolution — like brain size expansion and increasing complexity of food production and consumption. In the contemporary world, diet is an important lens for examining culture, human health, and poverty; by examining industrialized food production, it is easy to appreciate the tremendous technological power that humanity wields as it produces more abundant, nutritious, cost-effective foods. Precisely because of the unprecedented ecological power our technology affords, humanity must act responsibly as we control other species’ genotypes, ensure equitable access to nutritious foods around the globe, and mediate the human footprint on the earth.

The important ways in which diet and technology are intertwined in the modern world brings up questions about their origins. How did we come to be the top consumer in all of the world’s ecosystems? To answer questions about the paleoecology of tool-assisted carnivory, I conduct fieldwork at Koobi Fora, in northern Kenya, where the deep history of human carnivory is encoded in archaeological assemblages of butchered bone that date approximately 1-2 million years ago. At this time in human prehistory, Oldowan stone tool technology was involved in a dietary shift toward large mammal carcass consumption, an ecological transition that put our ancestors in direct competition with ancient Carnivore guild members. As a zooarchaeologist and paleoanthropologist, I use information generated in carefully constructed modern-day experiments to reconstruct the role ancient humans and carnivores played in the formation of fragmentary bone assemblages.

Currently, I am a taphonomist for the Koobi Fora Paleoanthropology Research Project, and I also help run the Koobi Fora Field School. This six-week summer field course introduces students to fieldwork in East Africa, beginning with modern landscape studies in a savanna mosaic environment on Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, and applies these ideas to an independent field-based research project at Koobi Fora. Last summer the student working with me conducted archaeological survey, determined which bones and how many animals were present in different bone assemblages, and described the incidence of hominin butchery marks, carnivore tooth marks, and other taphonomic variables.

My courses emphasize critical thinking about human biology, behavior, culture, the fossil record, and human evolution - topics that are controversial at times, especially when misunderstood, but are very important for understanding the complex place that humanity occupies in the world.
  • ANTH 102: Introduction to Biological Anthropology
  • ANTH 211: Human Evolution
  • ANTH 319/619: Food and Culture
  • ANTH 400/613: Human Osteology
  • ANTH 401/601: Forensic Anthropology
  • ANTH 453/610: Advanced Biological Anthropology
  • Stephen R. Merritt, "Factors affecting Early Stone Age cut mark cross-sectional size: implications from actualistic butchery trials," Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012):2984-94
  • Merritt, S. R. (2015). Cut Mark Cluster Geometry and Equifinality in Replicated Early Stone Age Butchery. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. DOI: 10.1002/oa.2448
  • Paleoanthropological Society
  • Society of American Archaeologists
  • American Association of Physical Anthropologists