Associate Professor Darren Curnoe
Honorary Associate Professor
Field of Research: 
Human and primate palaeontology, evolutionary biology
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 8929

Room 201A
Biological Sciences North (D26)
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Darren-Curnoe_3_LR copy_1

Fields of research: Biological (Physical) AnthropologyArchaeology of Hunter-Gatherer Societies (incl. PlArchaeology of Asia, Africa and the AmericasArchaeological ScienceEvolutionary Biology 

Where do we come from? What does it mean to be human? How can the study of the past inform us about who we are today and where we might be going as a species? Questions like these are at the core of my research as well as the wide ranging science communication work I undertake.

My research into human origins focuses on the physical (fossil human) and archaeological (ecological/cultural) evidence of our past. My interest has been on the human genus (Homo), covering some of the earliest members of the human branch dating to more than 2 million years old up till the evolution of our own species (Homo sapiens, or modern humans) over the last 200,000 years. While I have worked with many collaborators at various institutions in Australia, China, South Africa, Kenya, the U.K. and Malaysia (Sarawak) over the past (almost) twenty years, I presently focus my work on understanding humans origins in East/Southeast Asia and Australasia, spanning the last million years or so.

In Southwest China, with Prof. Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute for Cultral Relics and Archaeology and colleagues from other institutions in China and Australia, I have been studying various groups of human/pre-human that lived in the region over the last ~100,000 years. In 2012 and 2015, we published evidence for the 'Red Deer Cave people', archaic humans that survived until just 10,500 years ago and interacted, probably interbred, with modern humans. Three of our publications on the subject have been published in open access journals and can be accessed for free: PLoS One 2012Scientific Reports 2015 and PLoS One 2015.

My research in Borneo with colleagues from the Sarawak Museum Department and Griffith University has focused on reanalysing the oldest human remains in Southast Asia, the so-called 'Deep Skull' from Niah Cave dated to ~36,000 years old. Our work, published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution in 2016, has found that these human remains represent a middle-aged woman who was the probable ancestor of some of the Indigenous people of Borneo today, or perhaps the Indigenous people of the neighbouring Philippines (so-called 'Negrito' people). This is a challenge to mainstream views which argue that the region was previously inhabited by a population related to Indigenous Australians; but our work shows this is unlikely to be true.

During the first half of my career, I undertook research in Africa focussing on early hominins belonging to the genus Homo. Working with the late Professor Phillip Tobias, I studied in detail fossils from various caves, including the most complete early Homo cranium from the region, Stw 53 from Sterkfontein. In 2010, I named the new species Homo gautengensis for southern African early Homo cranial and dental fossils. With various collaborators, I have also worked on determining the geologcial age of many important fossil sites in South Africa, and have co-published the most detailed chronological framework for early human evolution in the region.

Click here to see Selected Publications and view my Google Scholar profile.

I also appear regularly in the media talking about the science of human origins and related fields and write a column for the international outlet The Conversation, have written a number of articles for ABC Science on-line, and have written and presented my own YouTube series produced by UNSWTV - How did we get here? - which has been made into a digibook on the ABC Splash site for schools.

Read and watch more at my blog page