Teresa E. Steele

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Office:  204 Young Hall 
E-mail:  testeele@ucdavis.edu
Telephone: (530) 554-2804


  • Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University (2002) 
  • A.M. Anthropology (Human Biocultural Evolution), Stanford University (1998) 
  • B.S. summa cum Laude Anthropology & Human Biology, Emory University (1996)


I am a paleoanthropologist who studies the later phases of human evolution – the emergence of the earliest people who were behaviorally and anatomically modern. In particular, I want to know why these fully modern humans spread out of Africa about 50,000 years ago and were able to replace the Neandertals in Europe. To address these issues, my research focuses on Middle and Late Pleistocene (780,000-10,000 years ago) archaeology – the Middle Paleolithic made by Neandertals in Europe and the Middle Stone Age and Mousterian made by their anatomically near modern contemporaries in Africa. I study the mode and tempo of human behavioral evolution during this time through zooarchaeology – reconstructing human subsistence and ecology through the patterns of variation found in vertebrate and molluscan faunal assemblages. Zooarchaeology offers a unique and critical window into modern human origins, because the migration of and replacement by modern humans involved significant demographic expansions with dietary correlates that should be detectable in the faunal record. Currently, I am leading an excavation in South Africa and am involved with other projects there, in Morocco and in France.

Courses taught:

Research Interests

My research focuses on the emergence of the earliest people who were behaviorally, culturally, and anatomically modern. Fossils and genetics have demonstrated that modern humans originated recently in Africa and subsequently spread throughout the world to predominantly replace archaic human populations, but questions remain about how this replacement occurred. One explanation is that modern humans developed a behavioral advantage before leaving Africa that allowed them to displace Eurasian populations. In my research, I have focused on the nature of this behavioral advantage, primarily by reconstructing Late Pleistocene human ecology through zooarchaeology – studying the patterns of variation found in faunal assemblages.

My main research is into the ecology of Middle Stone Age (MSA) people, who were the sub-Saharan African contemporaries of Neandertals. I am involved with the excavation, identification, and analysis of MSA materials from a coastal rockshelter, Ysterfontein 1, located on the Atlantic Ocean of South Africa. We are using data from this site to address questions about the tempo and mode of human behavioral evolution. Did modern human cultural abilities appear piece-meal over many tens of thousands of years, or did they appear in a geological instant? Was this appearance rooted in genetic changes or solely in cultural changes, possibly brought on by a demographic shift?

For comparison to the MSA of southern Africa, I am involved in the study of Mousterian and Aterian ecology at the sites of Jebel Irhoud and Rhafas Cave, Morocco. This region has produced some of the best and earliest evidence for modern human anatomy, but the archaeological and ecological context for these people is poorly understood. Finally, I am involved in studying Neandertal subsistence at Jonzac (Charente-Maritime, France) . These projects are in collaboration with the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.



Journal Articles

25. Dibble HA, V Aldeias, E Alvarez-Fernández, BA Blackwell, E Hallett-Desguez, Z Jacobs, P Goldberg, SC Lin, A Morala, MC Meyer, DI Olzsewski, K Reed, D Reed, Z Rezek, D Richter, RG Roberts, D Sandgathe, U Schurmans, AR Skinner, TE Steele and M El-Hajraoui. 2012. New Excavations at the Site of Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco. PaleoAnthropology 2012:145-201. [pdf]

24. Niven LB,TE Steele,W Rendu, J-B Mallye, S McPherron, M Soressi, J Jaubert and J-J Hublin. 2012. Neandertal mobility and large-game hunting:The exploitation of reindeer during the Quina Mousterian at Chez-Pinaud Jonzac (Charente-Maritime, France). Journal of Human Evolution 63:624-635. [pdf]

23. Steele TE, A Mackay, J Orton and S Schwortz. 2012. Varsche Rivier 003, a new Middle Stone Age site in southern Namaqualand, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 67:108-119. [pdf]

22. Steele TE and TD Weaver. 2012. Refining the Quadratic Crown Height Method of age estimation: do elk teeth wear quadratically with age? Journal of Archaeological Science 39:2329-2334. [pdf]

21. Edwards GL and TE Steele. 2011. Suid bone marrow yields and how they may influence resource choice. Journal of Taphonomy 9:163-179. [pdf]

20. Orton J, A Mackay, S Schwortz and TE Steele. 2011. Two Holocene rock shelter deposits from the Knersvlakte, southern Namaqualand, South Africa. Southern African Humanities. 23:109-150. [pdf]

19. Weaver TD, RH Boyko and TE Steele. 2011. Cross-platform program for likelihood-based comparisons of mortality profiles on a triangular graph. Journal of Archaeological Science 38:2420-2423. [pdf]

18. Britton K, V Grimes, L Niven, TE Steele, S McPherron, M Soressi, T Kelly, J Jaubert, J-J Hublin and MP Richards. 2011. Strontium isotope evidence for migration in late Pleistocene Rangifer: Implications for Neanderthal hunting strategies at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Jonzac, France. Journal of Human Evolution 61:176-185. [pdf]

17. Weaver TD, TE Steele and RG Klein. 2011. The abundance of eland, buffalo, and wild pigs in Middle and Later Stone Age sites. Journal of Human Evolution 60:309-314. [pdf]

16. Mackay A, J Orton, S Schwortz and TE Steele. 2010. Soutfontein (SFT)-001: Preliminary report on an open-air site rich in bifacial points, southern Namaqualand, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 65:84-95. [pdf]

15. Texier P-J, G Porraz, J Parkington, J-P Rigaud, C Poggenpoel, C Miller, C Tribolo, C Cartwright, A Coudenneau, R Klein, T Steele and C Verna. 2010. A Howiesons Poort tradition of engraving ostrich eggshell containers dated to 60,000 years ago at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107:6180-6185. [pdf]

14. Klein RG, RG Franciscus and TE Steele. 2010. Morphometric identification of bovid metapodials to genus and implications for taxon-free habitat reconstruction. Journal of Archaeological Science 37:389-401. [pdf]

13. Foutch A, TE Steele and CJ O'Brien. 2009. Faunal Analysis from Kibaoni, a Late Precolonial Pimbwe Village in Rukwa Valley, Tanzania: first reconstructions of cultural and environmental histories. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 44:257-267. [pdf]

12. Robbins LH, AC Campbell, ML Murphy, GA Brook, AA Mabuse, RK Hitchcock, G Babutsi, M Mmolawa, KM Stewart, TE Steele, RG Klein and CC Appleton. 2009. Mogapelwa: archaeology, palaeoenvironment and oral traditions at Lake Ngami, Botswana. South African Archaeological Bulletin 64:13-32. [pdf]

11. Niven L, TE Steele, H Finke, T Gernat and J-J Hublin. 2009. Virtual skeletons: using a structured light scanner to create a 3D faunal comparative collection. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:2018-2023. [pdf]

10. Avery G, D Halkett, J Orton, TE Steele, M Tusenius and RG Klein. 2008. The Ysterfontein 1 Middle Stone Age Rock Shelter and the evolution of coastal foraging. South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 10:66-89. [pdf]

9. Richards MP, G Taylor, TE Steele, S McPherron, M Soressi, J Jaubert, J Orschiedt, J-B Mallye, W Rendu and J-J Hublin. 2008. Isotopic dietary analysis of a Neandertal and associated fauna from the site of Jonzac (Charente-Maritime), France. Journal of Human Evolution 55:179-185. [pdf]

8. Steele TE and RG Klein. 2008. Intertidal shellfish use during the Middle and Later Stone Age of South Africa. Archaeofauna 17:63-76. [pdf]

7. Klein RG, G Avery, K Cruz-Uribe and TE Steele. 2007. The mammalian fauna associated with an archaic hominin skullcap and later Acheulean artifacts at Elandsfontein, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 52:164-186. [pdf]

6. Steele TE and RG Klein. 2005/06. Mollusk and tortoise size as proxies for stone age population density in South Africa: Implications for the evolution of human cultural capacity. Munibe (Antropologia - Arkeologia) 57:221-237. [pdf]

5. Steele TE. 2005. Comparing methods for analyzing mortality profiles in zooarchaeological and paleontological samples. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 15:404-420. [pdf]

4. Steele TE. 2004. Variation in mortality profiles of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Middle Paleolithic assemblages from western europe. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 14:307-320. [pdf]

3. Klein RG, G Avery, K Cruz-Uribe, D Halkett, JE Parkington, TE Steele, TP Volman and R Yates. 2004. The Ysterfontein 1 Middle Stone Age site, South Africa, and early human exploitation of coastal resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101:5708-5715. [pdf]

2. Steele TE. 2003. Using mortality profiles to infer behavior in the fossil record. Journal of Mammalogy 84:418-430. [pdf]

1. Steele TE and TD Weaver. 2002. The modified triangular graph: A refined method for comparing mortality profiles in archaeological samples. Journal of Archaeological Science 29:317-322. [pdf]

Book Chapters

6. Steele TE. 2012. "Late Pleistocene human subsistence in northern Africa: The state of our knowledge and placement in a continental context," in Modern Origins: A North African Perspective. Edited by Hublin J-J and S McPherron, pp. 107-125. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. [pdf]

5. Steele TE and E Álvarez-Fernández. 2011. "Initial investigations into the exploitation of coastal resources in North Africa during the Late Pleistocene at Grotte des Contrebandiers, Morocco," in Trekking the Shore: Changing Coastlines and the Antiquity of Coastal Settlement. Edited by Bicho N, J Haws and LG Davis, pp. 383-403. New York: Springer. [pdf]

4. Steele TE and RG Klein. 2009. "Late Pleistocene subsistence strategies and resource intensification in Africa," in The Evolution of Hominid Diets: Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence. Edited by Hublin J-J and MP Richards, pp. 111-124. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. [pdf]

3. Jaubert J, J-J Hublin, S McPherron, M Soressi, J-G Bordes, É Claud, D Cochard, A Delagnes, J-B Mallye, A Michel, M Niclot, LB Niven, S-J Park, W Rendu, MP Richards, D Richter, M Roussel, TE Steele, J-P Texier and C Thiébaut. 2008. "Paléolithique moyen récent et Paléolithique supérieur ancien à Jonzac (Charente-Maritime) : premiers résultats des campagnes 2004-2006," in Les sociétés du Paléolithique dans us Grand Sud-Ouest : nouveaux gisements, nouveaux résultats, nouvelles méthodes., vol. 47. Edited by Jaubert J, J-G Bordes and I Ortega, pp. 203-243: Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 47. [pdf]

2. Steele TE. 2007. "Late Pleistocene of Africa," in Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science. Edited by Elias SA, pp. 3139-3150. Oxford: Elsevier. [pdf]

1. Steele TE. 2006. "Accuracy of age determinations from tooth crown heights: a test using an expanded sample of known age Cervus elaphus," in Recent Advances in Ageing and Sexing Animal Bone. Edited by Cosmopoulos DR, pp. 119-128. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxbow Books. [pdf]


3. Steele TE. 2010. A unique hominin menu dated to 1.95 million years ago. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107:10771-10772. [pdf]

2. Klein RG and TE Steele. 2008. Gibraltar data are too sparse to inform on Neanderthal exploitation of coastal resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105:E115. [pdf]

1. Hublin J-J and TE Steele. 2006. Comment on Adler et al. Palaeolithic hunting in the Caucasus. Current Anthropology 47:107-108. [pdf]