Welcome to the Kemp Lab of

Molecular Anthropology and Ancient DNA




Entrance of humans into the Americas


Much attention has been placed on estimating the amount and form of genetic and morphological variation that was brought to the Americas and the closely related topic of how many “waves” of migration contributed to the variation observed today. To understand the importance of resolving these issues, one can think about the pre-contact Americas as the ultimate “island” to where a number of humans migrated, while few returned.  In this case, the more precisely one can determine how much variation was carried to the Americas, the more precisely one can estimate how much variation has evolved within the Americas.  It then becomes quickly apparent that resolving the time at which humans first entered the Americas and the timing of any subsequent “waves” is essential for estimating rates of evolution on the American “island.”  This would not only be true for genetic and biological evolution, but also that of the rates of linguistic and cultural evolution. 

We are working with a number of ancient human remains and human byproducts (i.e. desiccated feces or coprolites) from Chile, Florida, Oregon, and the American Southwest that predate 8,000 years.  These samples are bound to provide novel insight into this fascinating topic. 

This research is being conducted in collaboration largely with Phil Geib (University of New Mexico), Dr. John Gifford (University of Miami), Dr. Dennis Jenkins (University of Oregon), Dr. Mauricio Moraga (University of Chile), and Dr. Eske Willerslev (University of Copenhagen).


Reconstructing Native American Prehistory


We currently have active research projects aimed to reconstruct population histories in Southeastern Alaska, California, and the American Southwest. We are conducting these research projects in collaboration largely with Rosemary Cambra (Muwekma Ohlone Indian Tribe), Phil Geib (University of New Mexico), Dr. Timothy Kohler (WSU), Dr. Steven Leblanc (Peabody Museum, Harvard University), Dr. Alan Leventhal (San Jose State University), Dr. William Lipe (WSU), Dr. R.G. Matson (University of British Columbia), Cara Monroe (WSU), and Dr. Rosita Worl (Sealaska Heritage Institute).


Improving Ancient DNA Methods


The reliability of genetic evidence obtained from degraded sources is compromised by contamination and the extent of post mortem damage of DNA template molecules.  These problems, combined with the effects of co-extracted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibitors, make the analysis of some degraded specimens difficult, if not impossible.  In this portion of our research we are conducting a number of novel experiments to address these major issues and more fully understand aspects of the “behavior” of ancient DNA.


Inferring Human Behavior through the Analysis of Ancient Animals


Currently we are pursuing questions pertaining to the domestication of turkeys in the American Southwest, fishing practices in the Pacific Northwest, and ancient variation in geese and northern fur seal populations in Alaska.We are conducting these research projects in collaboration largely with Dr. Susan Crockford (Pacific Identifications, Inc), Dr. Colin Grier (WSU), Dr. William Lipe (WSU), Dr. Camilla Speller (Simon Fraser University) and Dr. Dongya Yang (Simon Fraser University).



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Department of Anthropology, PO Box 6444910, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4910, 509-335-3441, Contact Us

School of Biological Sciences, PO Box 644236, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4236, 509-335-3553, Contact Us