Traveling the world as a paleoanthropologist
In addition to teaching biological anthropology and anthropological research, Reed works as a paleoanthropologist. Her research has taken her to Patagonia in South America and cave sites in Europe. However, her main focus is finding human ancestor fossils in African desert landscapes, such as Ethiopia and South Africa.
While in Ethiopia, Reed’s team found the oldest mandible, or jawbone, of the genus Homo. At 2.8 million years old, this jawbone belongs to a species older than humans. As a paleoanthropologist, Reed doesn’t stop at finding and examining bones, she studies the context of how and where the species lived.
“I'm not the person that describes the skull, because it's a skull. What I do is I look at the context of where that species lived, what kind of habitat it lived in, what kind of animals existed with it and reconstruct those changes through time,” explained Reed.
Looking into the past for clues about the future
Working as a paleoanthropologist allows Reed to ask big questions about the history of humans. She hopes her research contributes to how society prepares for future challenges in the natural world.
“I think that examining the past carefully about the things that happened to our ancestral species, and even Homo sapiens in the past 10,000 or 100,000 years, helps us prepare for the future,” said Reed.
Reed pointed to warnings about climate change as an example of this. She explained that human ancestors possibly went extinct as a result of climate change in the past, and it could happen again. While humans and technology have evolved, natural processes remain the same. As an added layer of complexity, the world now has billions of people, meaning climate challenges can bring conflict. Paleoanthropologists can’t stop climate change, but their research can direct how society takes action to slow it down.
Bringing the study of human origins online
Reed feels connected to ASU Online students because many of them also took nonlinear paths to pursue their degrees. She recognizes that no matter their backgrounds, her students are there for a one-of-a-kind learning experience.
Just as our human ancestors evolved, so did Reed and her teaching strategy. When Reed began teaching anthropology online, she wondered how she’d bring an impactful lab experience to the virtual space. However, over time, Reed began incorporating 3D images into her curriculum, allowing online learners to gain hands-on experience without setting foot in a lab.
“We still do labs. We still do the bones. It's just that they're looking at 3D models. And to be fair, a lot of people do research now with 3D models. It's not a big stretch,” said Reed.
Your degree, your way
Reed’s journey demonstrates that there aren’t any rules when it comes to following your dreams. Her experience also shows that you don’t have to have the answers when you start.
ASU Online offers you the opportunity to study humanity with both a BA in anthropology and a BS in anthropology, plus more than 20 other undergraduate social sciences degrees. You’ll learn from world-class faculty looking to make a difference.