Phenomenal women such as Carol Ward are breaking barriers and paving the way for young women who want to contribute to the field of anthropology. Ward encourages other women to make themselves, and their work, become as visible as the fossils they work with. Carol Ward is a well-known biological anthropologist who has been very influential in her field. She received her Bachelors of Science degree in Anthropology and Zoology at the University of Michigan in 1986, and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in Functional Anatomy and Evolution at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Ward is interested in the evolution of apes and early hominins, thus her research focuses on fossils found in East and South Africa, as she hopes to understand human origins. When Ward isn’t focused on her research, she spends time teaching anatomy to undergraduate, medical, physical and occupational therapy students at the University of Missouri. Ward is also in charge of directing the Ward Laboratory. Her lab is focused on looking at the evolution of the postcranial skeleton of primates such as catarrhines, which are also known as the Old World monkeys. The lab looks at the morphology of modern primates and other mammals. The lab focuses on questions such as whether morphology is related to locomotion as well as adaptations for movement throughout evolutionary history.
Carol Ward’s research includes three different areas: studying the earliest forms of Australopithecus anamensis, torso morphology in Hominoids, and non-landmark based morphometrics. For one of those projects, she collaborates with the West Turkana Paleontology Project (WTPP) and the National Museum of Kenya. A. anamensis originated in Kenya 4.2 million years ago and was discovered at the Kanapoi site. One of the major goals of the WTPP is to create insights on the environmental conditions faced by A. anamensis. Ward’s work in this field is crucial to comprehending the adaptations and ancestry of Australopithecines.
The morphology of torsos in hominids is another main endeavor. Through the use of CT scans, landmark coordinates, photos, caliper measurements, and 3d laser scans of the torso, Ward is able to better understand its evolution as well as its relation to locomotion and posture. Specifically, she examines the structure and makeup of the torso in living primates and fossilized torsos in order to create a clearer picture of Miocene hominoids. Finally, her work on non-landmark-based morphometrics is carried out in collaboration with the Plavacan Lab and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas, complete fossil specimens are digitally created. Ward utilizes continuous laser scan data, which does not require the use of landmarks.
While participating in her groundbreaking work, Ward also manages to give back to women in anthropology. Ward is the part of the executive committee of the Physical Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network. This network is a resource for women who are just starting off in the field to connect to women who have established careers in anthropology. The young women are able to talk about anything from academia to maintaining a family life while having a career in anthropology. She is part of paving the way for other women in a predominantly male field, and her participation in the Physical Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network, along with the rest of her influential work, inspires women to join her in her pursuit of anthropology.
In addition to her work with the Physical Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network, Ward inspires women to join the field in her everyday work. In 2005, she was awarded the Michigan University Tribute to Women Award due to her continued work in the advancement of women in her field. This award highlights her desire for women in anthropology to continue to thrive in a safe, accepting place with equal opportunities for all. Although this is just one of the many awards and honors that was granted to Carol Ward throughout her fruitful career, it highlights her dedication to the young women who are just starting out in the field.
Written by Alicia Flores, Nastassia Satahoo, Lilia Arreola, and Kara Gitter for the course “Gender and Human Evolution”, taught by Caroline VanSickle and published as part of the Women in Paleoanthropology special collection.
Image provided by Carol Ward and used with permission.