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Department of Anthropology

Program in
Human Ecology and Archaeobiology


A historian and archaeologist by training, Zelalem Assefa is currently a Research Collaborator in the Human Origins and Archaeobiology Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. With over twenty-five years of field work experience, he is currently the director of an archaeological project funded by the National Geographic Society and the Wenner-Gren Foundation that has been surveying and documenting Upper Pleistocene and Holocene sites in the central highlands and southeastern region of Ethiopia. Moreover, for over a decade, Zelalem has used GIS and remote sensing applications in his research and has helped to design the GIS component of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program. Zelalem has a Master’s degree in geospatial technology from the MPS GIS Program of the University of Maryland.


Zelalem’s primary interests have been the evolution and ecology of human subsistence behavior and the dynamics of human cognitive development. His research goals are to detect cultural variability in the use of faunal resources through time and to investigate the early expressions of symbolic behavior among modern humans. In the past few years, he has been involved in developing a digital catalogue on dentitions of east African large mammals. He has been co-director of a major paleoanthropological field project in Ethiopia at the Omo-Kibish – a site best known for yielding the earliest skeletal evidence of anatomically modern humans. Since 2007, he has been running a new field project in southeastern Ethiopia with the objective of locating new and previously identified cave sites within the extensive limestone deposits of the region. … link to Assefa Research Page

Area of Specialization

Zoooarchaeology, Paleoanthropology, GIS

Recent Publications

  • Assefa, Zelalem, Y.M. Lam, and H.K. Mienis
    2008 Symbolic Use of Terrestrial Gastropod Opercula during the Middle Stone Age at Porc-Epic Cave, Ethiopia. Current Anthropology 49(4):746-756.
  • Assefa, Zelalem, S. Yirga, and K.E. Reed
  • 2008 The Large-Mammal Fauna from the Kibish Formation. Journal of Human Evolution 55(3):501-512.
  • Fleagle, J.G., Zelalem Assefa, F.H. Brown, and J.J. Shea
    2008 Paleoanthropology of the Kibish Formation, Southern Ethiopia: Introduction. Journal of Human Evolution 55:360-365.
  • Shea, J.J., J.G. Fleagle, and Zelalem Assefa
    2007 Context and Chronology of Early Homo sapiens Fossils from the Omo Kibish Formation, Ethiopia. In Rethinking the Human Revolution, edited by P. Mellars, C. Stringer, O. Bar-Yosef, and K. Boyle, pp. 153-162. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research Monographs, Cambridge.
  • Assefa, Zelalem
    2006 Faunal Remains from Porc-Epic: Paleoecological and Zooarchaeological Investigations from a Middle Stone Age Site in Southeastern Ethiopia. Journal of Human Evolution 51(1):50-75.

  • Marean, C.W., and Zelalem Assefa
    2005 The Middle and Upper Pleistocene African Record for the Biological and Behavioral Origins of Modern Humans. In African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction, edited by A. Stahl, pp. 93-129. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford.

  • Marean, C.W., and Zelalem Assefa
    1999 Zooarchaeological Evidence for the Faunal Exploitation Behavior of Neanderthals and Early Modern Humans. Evolutionary Anthropology 8(1):22-37.
Zelalem Assefa photo


Mailing Address:

Department of Anthropology, NHB 112
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
PO Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

Courier Delivery Address:

Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History
10th and Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20560-0112

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