Cleveland, OH—May 17, 2022—As part of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s $150-million campaign to transform its building, exhibitions, education programs, and community engagement, the Museum today announced the appointment of Dr. Emma Finestone as Assistant Curator of Human Origins and Dr. Elizabeth (“Ebeth”) Sawchuk as Assistant Curator of Human Evolution. Their newly created positions advance the anthropological program at the Museum and provide a new model to connect the human past with our lives today. Their research will complement the work of an integrated team of scientists, including Dr. Nicole Burt as Curator of Human Health and Evolutionary Medicine, Dr. Brian Redmond as John Otis Hower Chair and Curator of Archaeology, and Christine Bailey, Collections Manager of Physical Anthropology. Both Dr. Finestone and Dr. Sawchuk’s appointments are effective immediately.
The new posts enhance the Museum’s longstanding global leadership in the study of human origins and evolution and the work of previous Cleveland Museum of Natural curators, including Dr. Donald Johanson, who discovered the early human relative known as “Lucy,” and Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, recognized for his research that significantly enriched our understanding of human evolution during the Pliocene.
Dr. Finestone and Dr. Sawchuk are focused on innovative and collaborative research that not only illuminates the human past, but reveals how that past shapes our present world. Dr. Finestone uses archaeological and paleoanthropological evidence to investigate behavioral innovations, early technology and toolmaking, and the adaptive shifts that enabled our ancestors to spread across the globe. Her work also looks at when our ancestors began to influence biodiversity, and how that helps us understand humans’ impact on biodiversity today. Dr. Sawchuk studies how ancient peoples navigated issues of climate change, as well as shifting economic and land use strategies. Her research integrates bioarchaeology, dental anthropology, and ancient DNA to reconstruct ancient population dynamics and understand how people adapted biologically and socially to change. Prior to joining the Museum, Dr. Finestone served as Group Leader of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, while Dr. Sawchuk served as a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Both researchers have extensive fieldwork programs based primarily in Africa.
“These new appointments support our mission to advance path-breaking research and integrate new approaches to scientific inquiry with our public exhibition and education programs,” said Sonia Winner, President and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Dr. Finestone and Dr. Sawchuk are redefining their field, and by joining our interdisciplinary research team, they will help us reframe the understanding of humanity’s past, present, and future. Their exceptional research reveals how genetics, culture, and diet bind us to our environment, from our first ancestors to our communities today. The insights from their work will be an invaluable contribution to the new exhibits on human origins and evolution we are developing for our transformed museum, and we are very excited to have them join the Cleveland Museum of Natural History team.”
Dr. Gavin Svenson, Cleveland Museum of Natural History Director of Research and Collections continued, “The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has long been a leader in mapping the human family tree—from the discovery of “Lucy” to rewriting the understanding of the branching evolution of our early ancestors. Now we have the opportunity to ask new questions about our shared human past and its implications for our shared future—questions about human behavior and innovation and how past peoples responded to the kinds of challenges we face today. Dr. Finestone and Dr. Sawchuk bring these new approaches in their research, along with a commitment to collaborating with partners globally across areas of expertise and to sharing transformative ideas with the public.”
The appointments of Dr. Finestone and Dr. Sawchuk follow the creation in October 2021 of a new post at the Museum, Assistant Curator of Environment, held by Dr. Robert (Bort) Edwards. Dr. Edwards’ research examines current and past changes in biodiversity, ecosystem structure, species distribution, climate, and other issues critical to environmental and human health. A focus of his work is modeling environmental patterns of change on a regional and global scale to explore how these changes impact plant diversity. This type of modeling can be used to study ancient environments, such as those that existed when our early ancestors emerged, with applications for understanding the context and events that led to the evolution of modern humans. Together these new curatorial appointments, and the work of the Museum’s full scientific team, foster multidisciplinary research and enhance community engagement and education programming, including contributing to the Museum’s transformed facility, which will begin phased openings in late 2022.
Emma Finestone, Assistant Curator of Human Origins noted, “The behaviors of early human ancestors are critical to understanding why and how modern humans rely on culture and technology to solve adaptive problems today. Scientists study human origins to determine not only what makes our species unique, but also how our ancestors connect to the rest of the natural world and how our past can be leveraged to advance a vision for a more equitable planet. I’m particularly excited to join the Cleveland Museum of Natural History because it combines a history of pioneering research in human origins with a platform to share my excitement for scientific inquiry with the public.”
Elizabeth (“Ebeth”) Sawchuk as Assistant Curator of Human Evolution said, “It’s not always easy to see ourselves in the past, but by studying how ancient peoples reorganized in the face of adversity—by interacting with one another and their environments in new and different ways—we can better understand how we are all connected through time and human ingenuity. It’s a privilege to join the team at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History because of the Museum’s exceptional collections and public outreach, and especially their commitment to interdisciplinary research that uncovers the past and reimagines what future lies ahead.”
Dr. Emma Finestone Bio
Before joining the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as Assistant Curator of Human Origins, Dr. Emma Finestone served at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany as Group Leader of Archaeology and as the Head of the Archaeology Laboratory Unit. She has served as an adjunct professor at Lehman College and Hunter College and a research affiliate of the National Museums of Kenya.
Dr. Finestone integrates archaeological and paleontological records with reconstructions of paleo-habitat to study the origins of human behavioral innovations, including early tool making and use, and the ability to access meat from large mammals. These behavioral innovations have important implications for early humans’ relationship with their environment and their ability to compete with other animals for resources and territory. This work also offers the opportunity to connect conclusions drawn from the fossil record to modern conservation needs. Her field projects in eastern Africa span evolutionary changes throughout the Plio-Pleistocene, focusing on reconstructing the mobility, range expansion, and landscape use of toolmakers to illuminate how early technology facilitated the spread of hominin lineages across the globe.
Her fieldwork includes directing excavations with the Homa Peninsula Research Project, Kenya and directing surveys in Busia County, Kenya. Her research with her collaborators has been published most recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Frontiers in Earth Science, the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the Journal of Human Evolution, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and she has contributed to the volume Rethinking Human Evolution. Dr. Finestone has received grants and awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the Professional Staff Congress (CUNY), and the American Association of Biological Anthropologists, among others, as well as a multiyear fellowship from the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology.
Dr. Finestone is deeply committed to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of biological anthropology and spearheads several initiatives in science communication and outreach. Dr. Finestone earned her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Elizabeth Sawchuk Bio
Prior to taking the post at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Dr. Elizabeth Sawchuk served as Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. She is also a Research Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University, NY; a Research Associate with the Turkana Basin Institute, Kenya; and a research affiliate of the National Museums of Kenya.
Dr. Sawchuk’s research includes work investigating how herding and farming spread into sub-Saharan Africa beginning approximately 5,000 years ago, and how ancient peoples navigated issues of climate change, shifting economic/land use strategies, and contact with foreign groups. Her work integrates diverse lines of evidence to understand how past peoples coped with major changes in their world and what lessons can be learned from their experiences.
She has worked at field sites across eastern Africa and collaborates on an international Archaeology-Ancient DNA project looking at human population structures in Holocene Africa. She is currently co-organizing the first ancient DNA workshop to be held in Africa.
Her research with her collaborators has been published most recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Nature, Science, Science Advances, and PLOS One. Her work has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Turkana Basin Institute, and the National Geographic Society.
Sawchuk is a strong advocate for ethical research, community-based approaches, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is committed to fostering equitable partnerships between archaeologists, curators, and the communities with whom they work, as well as developing best practices for museums’ stewardship of and policies for research on human remains.
Sawchuk earned her doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Toronto and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both in Anthropology, from the University of Alberta.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History Transformation Project
In June 2021, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History broke ground on a reinvention of its entire complex. The design is based on the geological history of the Museum’s site, evoking the glaciers that created Lake Erie and the Great Lakes and revealing how these same forces have shaped the Earth and the universe—and continue to affect life today. The Museum will use its exceptional historical collections and 11,000 acres of protected ecosystems, along with the latest scientific research and immersive technologies, to enable visitors to see how they are part of a continuum of the natural world. Various areas of the Museum will remain open throughout the expansion and phased openings of the new and reimagined spaces will begin in late 2022.
About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History illuminates the natural world and inspires visitors to engage with the scientific forces that shape their lives. Since its founding in 1920, the Museum has pioneered scientific research to advance knowledge across diverse fields of study and used its outstanding collections, which have grown to encompass more than five million artifacts and specimens, to engage the public with the dynamic connections between humans and the world around us. Through its Natural Areas Program, the Museum stewards more than 11,000 acres of protected ecosystems across northern Ohio. A community gathering place, educational center, and research institution, CMNH is a vital resource that serves the Cleveland community and the nation. For more information, visit cmnh.org.
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