Ian Tattersall, Ph.D.

Curator Emeritus, Human Origins

Professor Emeritus, Richard Gilder Graduate School



  • Yale University, Ph.D., 1971
  • Yale University, M.Phil, 1970
  • Cambridge University, M.A., 1970
  • Cambridge University, B.A., 1967

Research Interests

Ian Tattersall currently maintains an active research interest in species variety and higher-taxa relationships within both the hominid and lemuriform primate groups. He finds it curious that he is considered an extreme splitter in the hominid domain and an enthusiastic lumper in the lemur one, despite applying pretty consistent standards across the board. Over the last several years his research interests have been trending increasingly toward the question of how and when Homo sapiens became the extraordinary cognitive entity it is, and to developing a framework for understanding how a non-linguistic, non-symbolic ancestor can have given rise to a symbolic and linguistic descendant: a matter broached in his recent (2012) book Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins. He is also exploring the reasons behind the extraordinarily fast evolution of the hominids over the Pleistocene: no other species of any organism is anywhere near as different morphologically (and presumptively behaviorally) from its own ancestors living two million years ago than is Homo sapiens. In addition to Madagascar, he has conducted fieldwork in the Comoro Islands, Mauritius, Borneo, Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, Yemen, Vietnam, Surinam, French Guiana, Reunion, and the United States.


Biological Anthropology Reconstruction Projects

Division of Anthropology

Richard Gilder Graduate School

Ann and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins


Recent and Major Publications

2019. DeSalle, R., I. Tattersall, and P.J. Wynne. A Natural History of Beer. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2019. Tattersall, I. What lies beneath (Review of B. Switek, Skeleton keys).  Science 363 (6432): 1156.

2019. Tattersall, I. The Minimalist Program and the origin of language: a view from paleoanthropology. Frontiers in Psychology 10, Art. 677. [DOI: 10.3389/fpsg.2019.00677]

2019. Tattersall, I. Human intelligence and how it was acquired.  Sistemi Intelligenti XXXI (1): 71–85.

2019. Tattersall, I., and F. Cuozzo. Systematics of the extant Malagasy lemurs (order Primates). In S.M. Goodman, M.J. Raherilalao, and S. Wohlhauser (editors), The terrestrial protected areas of Madagascar: their history, description, and biota: 403–424. Antananarivo, Madagascar: Association Vahatra. 

2019.  Tattersall, I., and R. DeSalle. Genes, evolution, and the bell curve. Natural History 127(4): 34–39.

2019. Tattersall, I., and R. DeSalle. The accidental Homo sapiens: genetics, behavior, and free will. New York: Pegasus Books.

2018. Tattersall, I. Evolution and inevitability. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1432(1): 72–75. [DOI: 10.1111/nyas.13881]

2018. Tattersall, I. Know thyself: A progress report. Natural History 126(8): 3.

2018. Tattersall, I. History and reality of the genus Homo: what is it, and why do we think so?  Métode Science Studies Journal 9: 79–89.

2018. Tattersall, I. Robert Wald Sussman (biographical entry). International Encyclopedia of Biological Anthropology. [DOI: 10.1002/9781118584538.ieba0545]

2018. DeSalle, R., and I. Tattersall. What a DNA can (and cannot) tell us about the emergence of language and speech. Journal of Language Evolution 3 (1): 59–66. [DOI: 10.1093/jole/lxz018]

2018. DeSalle, R., and I. Tattersall. Race is not a genomic phenomenon. The Scientist 32 (6): June 2018.

2018. DeSalle, R., and I. Tattersall. Troublesome science: the misuse of genetics and genomics in understanding race. New York: Columbia University Press.

2018. Schwartz, J.H., and I. Tattersall. Notes on the hominid fossils from Le Lazaret. Appendice XXIV In: M.-A. de Lumley (editor), Les restes humains fossiles de la Grotte du Lazaret, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France. Des Homo erectus europeens en voie de neandertalisation: 623–625. Paris: CNRS Editions.

2018. Tattersall, I. Light at the museum (Review of L. Grande, Curators: behind the scenes at natural history museums what museums are good for in the 21st century, and N. Thomas, The return of curiosity). Times Literary Supplement 5988, January 5, 2018: 10–11.

2018. Tattersall, I. Brain size and the emergence of modern human cognition. In: In Schwartz (editor), Rethinking human evolution: 319–334. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

2018. Tattersall, I. Review of: Peter Bellwood, First Migrants: Ancient migration in global perspective. Journal of Cognitive Historiography 3 (1–2): 245–246. [DOI:10.1558/jch.33934]

2018. Tattersall, I., and P. Nevraumont. Hoax: a history of deception. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal.

2017. Everaert, M.B.H., M.A.C. Huybregts, R.C. Berwick, N. Chomsky, I. Tattersall, A. Moro, and J.J. Bolhuis. What is language, and how could it have evolved? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 21 (8): 569–571. [DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2017.05.007]

2017. Tattersall, I. How we got from there to here, and how we did it so fast. In: C. Lilley and D.J. Pedersen (editors), Human origins and the image of god: essays in honor of J. Wentzel van Huyssteen: 25–42. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

2017. Tattersall, I. Species, genera, and phylogenetic structure in the human fossil record: a modest proposal. Evolutionary Anthropology 26: 116–118.

2017. Tattersall, I. La bipédie: Pourquoi, comment, et quand? In: H. deLumley (editor), Sur le chemin de l’humanité: 31–41. Paris: CNRS Editions/ Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

2017. Tattersall, I. Cognitive complexity and hominid brain size. In: B. Bajd (editor), Paleoanthropology: recent advances and future prospects: 11–125. Ljubljana, Slovenia: University Faculty of Education.

2017. Tattersall, I. Quel pendolo che oscilla tra scienza e fede. MicroMega 8: 69–74.

2017. Tattersall, I. Why was human evolution so rapid? In A. Marom and E. Hovers (editors), Human paleontology and prehistory: essays in honor of Yoel Rak: 1–9. Heidelberg: Springer.

2017. Tattersall, I. The material record and the antiquity of language. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. [doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.01.043]

2017. Tattersall, I. How can we detect when language emerged? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 24: 64–67. [doi: 10.3758/s13423-016-1075-9]

2016. Tattersall, I. The hominids of Terra Amata. Appendix XXXVI In H. de Lumley (editor), Tome V: Comportement et mode de vie des chasseurs Acheuléens de Terra Amata: 515-516. Terra Amata, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France. Paris: CNRS Editions.

2016. Tattersall, I. At the birth of language (review of R. Berwick and N. Chomsky, Why only us: language and evolution). New York Review of Books, LXIII (13):27–28.

2016. Tattersall, I. The thinking primate: establishing a context for the emergence of modern human cognition. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 160(3): 154–165.

2016. Tattersall, I. Here comes a chopper (Review of D. Miles, Tale of the Axe). New Scientist 3089, 3 September 2016: 56.

2016. Tattersall, I. Robert Wald Sussman 1941–2016. Evolutionary Anthropology 25(5):221.

2016. Tattersall, I. Prerequisites for hominid bipedality. In F. Ribot Trafí (editor), Homenaje al Dr. José Gibert Clols. Una vida dedicada a la ciencia y al conocimiento de los primeros europeos: 83–91. Granada: Publicaciones Diputación de Granada.

2016. Tattersall, I. Elwyn LaVerne Simons (1930–2016). American Anthropologist 118:991–994.

2016. Tattersall, I. Evolution by other means. American Scholar Winter 2016: 18-19.

2016. Tattersall, I. The genus Homo. Inference: International Review of Science 2 (1): http://inference-review.com/article/the-genus-homo

2016. Tattersall I, and R.W. Sussman. Little Brown Lemurs come of age: Summary and perspectives. International Journal of Primatology 37 (1): 3-9. doi: 10.1007/s10764-016-9895-z

2016. Tattersall, I. A tentative framework for the acquisition of language and modern human cognition. Journal of Anthropological Sciences 94: pp tk. doi:10.4436/JASS.94030

2016. Parmigiani S., T. Pievani, and I. Tattersall. What made us human? Biological and cultural evolution of Homo sapiens. Journal of Anthropological Sciences 94: 1-4.

2016. Tattersall, I. Give us the bones (Review of M. Bonnan, The Bare Bones, and G. Dawson, Show Me the Bone). New Scientist 7 May 2016: 44.

2015. Bolhuis, J.J., I. Tattersall, N. Chomsky, and R.C. Berwick. Language: UG or not to be, that is the question. PLoS Biology 13 (2): e1002063. Henke W, and I. Tattersall, (editors).

2015. Handbook of Paleoanthropology, 2nd ed. Heidelberg: Springer. 3 vols. Tattersall, I.

2015. Homo ergaster and its contemporaries. In W. Henke and I. Tattersall, (editors), Handbook of Paleoanthropology, 2nd ed. Heidelberg: Springer, vol. 3 pp 2167-2188.

2015. Tattersall, I. The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 244 pp.

2015. Tattersall, I. Symbolic Thought, Creativity, and Human Evolution. In B. Půtova and V Soukup (eds), The Genesis of Creativity and the Origin of the Human Mind. Prague: Karolinum Press. 30-34.

2015. Tattersall, I. Human Evolution: Personhood and Emergence. In M. Jeeves (ed), The Emergence of Personhood: A Quantum Leap? Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans. 37-50.

2015. Tattersall, I., and R. DeSalle. Vinous roots: Finding the place where wine arguably began. Natural History 123 (9):32-36.

2015. Tattersall, I. La bipédie: Pourquoi, comment, et quand? In H. de Lumley (ed), Sur le Chemin de l’Humanité. Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences, pp. 31-40.

2015. Tattersall, I, and R. DeSalle. A Natural History of Wine. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 252 pp.

2015. Tattersall, I. Defining and recognizing the genus Homo. Gortania 36: 5-22.

2012. Tattersall, I. Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 266 pp.

2012. DeSalle, R. and I. Tattersall. The Brain: Big Bangs, Behaviors, and Beliefs. New Haven CT: Yale University Press. 336 pp. (R. DeSalle and I. Tattersall).

2011. Tattersall, I. Before the Neanderthals: Hominid Evolution in Middle Pleistocene Europe. In: S. Condemi and G.-C. Weninger (eds), Continuity and Discontinuity in the Peopling of Europe: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Neanderthal Study. Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 47-53.

2011. Tattersall, I. and R. DeSalle. Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 226 pp.

2010. Tattersall, I. Paleontology: A Brief History of Life. Consohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 228 pp.

2009. Tattersall, I. and J. H. Schwartz. Evolution of the genus Homo. Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37: 67-92.

2008. Tattersall, I. An evolutionary framework for the acquisition of symbolic cognition by Homo sapiens. Comp. Cogn. Behav. Revs 3: 99-114.

2007. Tattersall, I. Madagascar’s lemurs: Cryptic diversity or taxonomic inflation? Evolutionary Anthropology 16: 12-23.

2006. Tattersall, I. The concept of cathemerality: History and definition. Folia Primatol. 77: 7-14.

2005. Schwartz, J. H. and I. Tattersall. The Human Fossil Record, Volume 4: Craniodental Morphology of Early Hominids (Genera Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Orrorin) and Overview. New York: Wiley-Liss, 561 pp.
Complete List of Ian Tattersall's Publications

Teaching Experience

Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor, Dept of Anthropology, Columbia University, 1992- present
  • Adjunct Professor, Anthropology Program, CUNY Graduate School and University Center, 1991- present
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept of Anthropology, Columbia University:1979-1980
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Dept of Anthropology, Herbert H. Lehman College, CUNY: 1971-1974
  • Visiting Lecturer, Dept of Anthropology, New School for Social Research: 1971-1972