Meet the Curators

Part of the Horse exhibition.

Ross MacPhee, Curator, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy, and curator of The Horse

Ross MacPhee is the former chairman of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has been a Curator since 1988. Known for his paleomammalogical research on island extinctions, his most recent work has focused on how extinctions occur, particularly those in which humans are thought to be implicated during the past 100,000 years. In 1998, in collaboration with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. MacPhee collected the remains of woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea to determine how this last surviving mammoth population was wiped out. Since then he has returned to arctic Siberia annually, investigating a wide range of topics concerning the world of the Late Pleistocene. Recently, Dr. MacPhee has been working with geneticists and molecular biologists to develop the new tool of "ancient DNA" as a means for studying the population structure and ultimate collapse of Pleistocene mammals. Dr. MacPhee has also collected fossils of horses in arctic Siberia and established that horses persisted there--as far north as 75 degrees in an area that is now exclusively tundra--until about 2,000 years ago. He was a member of the scientific team that published a major new study in Science in early 2006 of the genome of the woolly mammoth. He has been involved in several television documentaries on mammoths and their world, including Raising the Mammoth (Discovery Channel) and What Killed the Megabeasts? (WNBC). Dr. MacPhee received his Ph.D. in physical anthropology from the University of Alberta in 1977 and was previously Associate Professor of Anatomy at Duke University Medical Center. In addition to having published more than 100 papers in scientific journals, he has edited two major collections, Extinctions in Near Time: Causes, Contexts, and Consequences (1999) and Primates and Their Relatives in Phylogenetic Perspective (2006).

Sandra Olsen, Curator of Anthropology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and co-curator of The Horse

Sandra Olsen is a full Curator of Anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where she has been employed since 1991. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the School of Medicine and in the Anthropology Department of the University of Pittsburgh. As a zooarchaeologist, Dr. Olsen has examined the various roles that wild and domesticated animals have played in the lives of prehistoric peoples from the American Southwest to much of Western Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. Since 1993, Dr. Olsen has focused on early horse domestication and pastoralism in northern Kazakhstan. Her work has reached the media through programs on BBC radio, National Public Radio, and Discovery Channel Canada, as well as numerous local television programs, Discovery magazine, and internationally acclaimed newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and London Times. She has been a consultant for the television program Bones, and developed the concept for an episode of the children's program Dragonfly on bog people for PBS. She has developed two major exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Age of Dinosaurs Lives On and Mongolia Today, and has won two first-place Telly Awards as producer of the short films associated with the exhibits. The second film, Mongolia: Remote Realm of the Nomads was featured at the 23rd Festival International du Film de Montagne, in Paris, in 2006. Most recently, she has CT scanned a Ptolemaic child mummy from Abydos, Egypt, that displays an unusual health condition. Dr. Olsen received her Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of London in 1984, and did a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy in the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Olsen has published more than 50 articles and has three edited volumes: Scanning Electron Microscopy in Archaeology, Horses through Time, and most recently, Horses and Humans: The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships.