MacArthur Fellows Program

Christopher Beard

Paleontologist | Class of 2000

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
38 at time of award

Christopher Beard is a paleontologist who investigates the evolutionary origins of mammals, especially primates.

One line of Beard’s research attempts to clarify the phylogenetic relationships among early radiations of mammals through North America.  As a student, he offered the hypothesis that an extinct group of mammals—the plesiadapiforms—used gliding for locomotion.  This characteristic links the group more closely to modern flying lemurs than to modern primates, and suggests that they were not direct predecessors of primates (as previously thought) but rather shared a common ancestor with them.  In China, Beard has identified tiny fossils that may be remains of anthropoid primates, predating the earliest known African form; this led him to postulate that early anthropoids originated in Asia rather than Africa.

Beard is curator and head of the Section of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.  He is the author of The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans (2004).

Beard received an A.B. (1984) from the University of North Carolina and a Ph.D. (1989) from the School of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University.

Recent News

Christopher Beard currently serves as Foundation Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Kansas. A recent focus of Beard’s research has been to illuminate the colonization of Africa by early anthropoid primates and other mammals that originate in Asia. In doing so, Beard has collaborated with colleagues on paleontological field projects in China, Myanmar, Libya, and Turkey.

Updated July 2015

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