David Begun

AP 418, AP 406, AP 414 (Labs)
(416) 978-8850


Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

Research Keywords: Paleoanthropology, functional anatomy, systematics, comparative primate anatomy, human origins, paleobiogeography

Research Region: West Eurasia, Africa


The research in David Begun’s lab is focused on the evolution of the lineages of great apes and humans. Dr. Begun and his students have concentrated on certain time periods in hominoid evolution most relevant to understanding the origins of new kinds of hominoids.

With collaborators from Europe and Turkey, Dr. Begun has been able to describe evidence of the origins of the great apes in Europe and Western Asia, the spread and diversification of great apes across Eurasia, leading to the origin of the ancestors of orangutans in Asia and the African ape-human lineage in Africa.  Combining evidence from functional anatomy, Dr. Begun and his students reconstruct behavior, phylogeny,  evolutionary relationships, and biogeography to reconstruct patterns of migration. Together these approaches allow us them to propose patterns of adaptation and migration of great ape/human ancestors in response to ecological changes.

Currently Dr. Begun’s research team are working on the hypothesis that the African ape/human lineage arose from a European or Western Asian ancestor that moved into Africa about 7-9 million years ago, probably in response to global climate changes. The same changes forced the ancestors of the orangutan south into the tropics from China at about the same time. This hypothesis has taken their field work focus most recently to Turkey, which has a rich record of several lineages of fossil great apes from all the relevant time periods, as well as a spectacular record of climate change and mammal evolution during the Miocene, when apes evolved.

Dr. Begun is also intrigued by the evolution of intelligence in apes and humans, and is working on the analysis of endocasts (brain case casts) of fossil apes and early humans. For him, flexibility in behavioral responses to ecological challenges, made possible by anatomical adaptations of the jaws, teeth and limbs, but also by cognitive developments made possible by the evolution of the brain, is the key to understanding the evolution of modern great apes and humans.


University of Pennsylvania, 1987


2015.  Begun, D.R.  The Real Planet of the Apes: A New Story of Human Origins. Princeton University Press.

2015.  Begun, D.R. Current perspectives on Hominoid Evolution. In Henke, W., and Tattersall, I. (eds.) Handbook of Paleoanthropology, 2nd editionSpringer-Verlag Berlin, pp.1261-1332.

2013.  Begun, D.R. (Ed.) A Companion to Paleoanthropology. Wiley-Blackwell.

2012. Begun, D.R., Nargolwalla, M. and Kordos, L. European Miocene Hominids and the Origin of the African Ape and Human Clade. Evolutionary Anthropology 21:10–23

2011.  Begun D.R., Kivell TL. Knuckle-walking in Sivapithecus: the combined effects of homology and homoplasy and implications for the origin of human bipedalism. Journal of Human Evolution 60:158-170.

2010.  Begun, D.R. 2010 Miocene hominids. Annual Review of Anthropology 39:67–84

2010.  Deane, A.S. and Begun, D.R. 2010 Pierolapithecus Locomotor Adaptations. Journal of Human Evolution 59:150-154

2010.  Begun, D.R. Catarrhine Cousins: The Origin and Evolution of Monkeys and Apes of the Old World. In Clark, C.S. (ed.), A Companion to Biological Anthropology. Wiley- Blackwell, pp. 295-313.

Graduate Students