Professor John J. Shea

Left: At Field Lab in Omo Kibish, Ethiopia, January 2014 (I. Wallace Photo) Center: Stony Brook University's "Anthropology Rock" (Justin Pargeter photo). Right: At Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, May 2021.

Professor John J. Shea

Anthropology Dept. and Turkana Basin Institute

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364 USA



2014 State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.

Sigma XI Distinguished Lecturer (2012-2014).


B.A. 1982 Boston University (Archaeology, Anthropology).

Ph.D. 1991 Harvard University (Anthropology).


The Pleistocene prehistory of Southwest Asia and Eastern Africa.

Stone tools, lithic analysis, experimental archaeology, complex projectile technology, bushcraft, survival skills.

Paleoanthropology, origin and dispersal of Homo sapiens, extinction of the Neanderthals, evolution of human behavioral variability.


  • The Unstoppable Species: The Emergence and Dispersal of Homo sapiens. Book project (2019-2021). Status: Under pre-publication review with Cambridge University Press.

  • Surviving Prehistory: How Early Humans Lived Long Enough to Become Our Ancestors. Book project planned to start in 2023.

Prehistoric Stone Tools of Eastern Africa: A Guide (2020) Cambridge University Press.

Stone tools are the least familiar objects that archaeologists recover from their excavations, and predictably, they struggle to understand them. Eastern Africa alone boasts a 3.4 million-year-long archaeological record but its stone tool evidence still remains disorganized, unsynthesized, and all-but-impenetrable to non-experts, and especially so to students from Eastern African countries. In this book, John J. Shea offers a simple, straightforward, and richly illustrated introduction in how to read stone tools. An experienced stone tool analyst and an expert stoneworker, he synthesizes the Eastern African stone tool evidence for the first time. Shea presents the EAST Typology, a new framework for describing stone tools specifically designed to allow archaeologists to do what they currently cannot: compare stone tool evidence across the full sweep of Eastern African prehistory. He also includes a series of short, fictional, and humorous vignettes set on an Eastern African archaeological excavation, which illustrate the major issues and controversies in research about stone tools.

Stone Tools in Human Evolution: Behavioral Differences among Technological Primates (2017) Cambridge University Press.

In Stone Tools in Human Evolution, John J. Shea argues that over the last three million years hominins' technological strategies shifted from occasional tool use, much like that seen among living non-human primates, to a uniquely human pattern of obligatory tool use. Examining how the lithic archaeological record changed over the course of human evolution, he compares tool use by living humans and non-human primates and predicts how the archaeological stone tool evidence should have changed as distinctively human behaviors evolved. Those behaviors include using cutting tools, logistical mobility (carrying things), language and symbolic artifacts, geographic dispersal and diaspora, and residential sedentism (living in the same place for prolonged periods). Shea then tests those predictions by analyzing the archaeological lithic record from 6,500 years ago to 3.5 million years ago.

Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide (2015) Cambridge University Press.

Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide surveys the lithic record for the East Mediterranean Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, and adjacent territories) from the earliest times to 6,500 years ago. It is intended both as an introduction to this lithic evidence for students and as a resource for researchers working with Paleolithic and Neolithic stone tool evidence. Written by a lithic analyst and professional flintknapper, this book systematically examines variation in technology, typology, and industries for the Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic; the Epipaleolithic; and Neolithic periods in the Near East. It is extensively illustrated with drawings of stone tools. In addition to surveying the lithic evidence, the book also considers ways in which archaeological treatment of this evidence could be changed to make it more relevant to major issues in human origins research. A final chapter shows how change in stone tool designs point to increasing human dependence on stone tools across the long sweep of Stone Age prehistory.

Past Research Projects

  • Archaeological survey and excavation of Holocene sites in West Turkana Kenya (2007-2012). Co-PI with Elisabeth Hildebrand.

  • The Middle Stone Age archaeology of the Lower Omo Valley Kibish Formation, Ethiopia (2000-2003, 2014). Co-PI with John Fleagle.

  • Experimental and morphometric investigations into the origins of complex projectile weaponry (2001-present). With (at various times) Mat Sisk, Kyle Brown, Justin Pargeter.

  • Excavations of Ar Rasfa, a Middle Paleolithic Site in Northwest Jordan (1996-1999, 2008-2009).

  • Excavations at 'Ubeidiya, an Early Pleistocene site in Israel (1992-1999). Co-PI with Ofer Bar-Yosef, Eitan Tchernov & Claude Guérin.


Jenna Anderson (Ph.D. student). Co-Advisor with Sonia Harmand (Advisor).


Hilary M. Duke (Ph.D. 2019) Continuity and change: A diachronic technological analysis of the earliest Acheulean at Kokiselei in Turkana, Kenya (1.8-1.76 Ma)

Justin A. Pargeter (Ph.D. 2017) Lithic Miniaturization in the Later Pleistocene of Southern Africa.

Erik Otárola-Castillo (Ph.D. 2017) A spatio-temporal model of hunter-gatherer foraging ecology across the North American Great Plains throughout the Paleoindian period.

Mathew L. Sisk (Ph.D. 2010) GIS-Assisted Analysis of Contrast between Middle and Upper Paleolithic Settlement Patterns in the Perigord, France.

Amanuel Beyin Yosief (Ph.D. 2009) Archaeological Investigation of the Buri Peninsula and Gulf of Zula, Red Sea Coast, Eritrea.

Ghufran Sabri Ahmad (MA, 2009) The Middle Paleolithic Stone Tool Assemblage from Ar Rasfa: Reconstructing Late Pleistocene Human Behavior in the Jordan Valley.

Kyle S. Brown (MA, 1999) Raw Material Selection and Flake Production in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa: Die Kelders Cave 1 and Montagu Cave, South Africa