Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

37th Recipient (2021)


The Committee on the International Prize for Biology awards
the 2021 International Prize for Biology
in the field of "Biology of Human Evolution” to
Dr. Timothy Douglas White,
Professor of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, USA

On August 31, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. FUJIYOSHI Yoshinori, Distinguished Professor, Tokyo Medical and Dental University) decided to award the 37th (2021) International Prize for Biology to Dr. Timothy Douglas White, Professor of Integrative Biology and Director of Human Evolution Research Center, University of California at Berkeley, USA. This year’s Prize is awarded in the field of the Biology of Human Evolution.
Photo of Timothy Douglas White

Timothy Douglas White

Education and Professional Positions

1995–Present  Professor of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley
                                Research Paleoanthropologist and Director, Human Evolution Research Center (HERC), University of California at Berkeley
                                Distinguished Chair in Life and Physical Sciences, University of California at Berkeley
1986–1995         Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley
1982–1986         Associate Professor, University of California at Berkeley
1978–1982         Assistant Professor, University of California at Berkeley
1977–1978         Visiting Lecturer, University of California at Berkeley
1976–1977         Lecturer, Anthropology, University of Michigan
1972–1975         Teaching Fellow and Laboratory Supervisor, University of Michigan
1977                      Ph.D. degree in Biological Anthropology, University of Michigan


2019                     Inaugural CENIEH-Cajavava Distinguished Lecturer, Burgos, Spain
2019                     Keynote Speaker, Berkeley Geochronology Center 25th anniversary, San Francisco
2014                     Associate Fellow, Ethiopian Academy of Sciences
2011                     Holiday Lecturer, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Maryland
2010                     TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People
2009                     Science Breakthrough of the Year: Ardipithecus; AAAS
2002–Present  Honorary Fellow, Royal Society of South Africa
2002–Present  Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2000–Present  Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
2000–Present  Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
2000                      U.C. Riverside, Distinguished Alumnus of the Year 2000
1995                      American Academy of Achievement, Golden Plate Award

Research Achievements

From early on in his career Dr. White has been involved in the study of important hominid fossils; in particular, he played a central role in the detailed analytical research on Australopithecus afarensis fossils (including fossilized footprints) dated to 3.7 to 3 million years ago. Due to the highly variable fossil assemblage, it was believed that multiple species had been mixed together, but through his thorough analysis, comparison, and interpretation of the fossils, Dr. White showed that the assemblage represents a single species with a large degree of variation, that he and colleagues named Australopithecus afarensis.
Dr. White’s research on and interpretation of the A. afarensis fossils have become a model for all subsequent work in the field of paleoanthropology and continue to influence research in this field to the present day.

The Middle Awash project in Ethiopia, which Dr. White has co-led with Ethiopian researchers since 1990, has discovered hominid fossils of various ages, including Ardipithecus kadabba (5.7 million years ago), Australopithecus anamensis (4.1 million years ago), Australopithecus garhi (2.5 million years ago), Homo erectus in Africa (1 million years ago), and Homo sapiens idaltu (the 160,000 year-old “Herto man”). Through rigorous analysis Dr. White and his colleagues have provided interpretations for each of these fossils that show that Ardipithecus kadabba is a more primitive hominid precursor of Ardipithecus ramidus; that Australopithecus garhi may be an ancestor of the genus Homo; and that Herto man is Homo sapiens at a period not long after our species arose.

The discovery by Dr. White and others of the 4.4 million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus fossil, in particular, has provided the first comprehensive findings on the pre-Australopithecus phase of human evolution more than 4 million years ago. Dr. White was also personally in charge of the lengthy restoration work on its nearly complete but very fragile whole-body skeleton (nicknamed “Ardi”). As a result, the research he and his colleagues have done has clarified various aspects of Ardipithecus ramidus, inferring, among other things, what sort of environment the species inhabited by elucidating its mode of locomotion, foraging adaptations, sexual dimorphism (individual traits that differ depending on gender) and its socio-ecological significance, as well as revealing the surrounding paleoenvironment. These findings, for the first time, not only provide clues for a better understanding of the common ancestor of human beings and modern apes, which until now had been vaguely assumed to be chimpanzee-like, they have also simultaneously led to a new perspective on the position of Australopithecus in the history of human evolution.

The study of human evolution today has inevitably become sustained, international, and multidisciplinary, encompassing a wide variety of related fields including geology, geochronology, paleontology, archeology, taphonomy (the study of various changes that occur in the process of fossilization), functional morphology and systematic taxonomy. Dr. White’s personal promotion of wide-ranging research not just on hominid fossils, but also on non-human animal fossils, taphonomy, the paleoenvironment, archeology, osteology and cannibalistic practices and other human behaviors can be said to embody the multifaceted and international state of the study of human evolution today.

Dr. White has also devoted his energies to nurturing younger scholars. The next generation of researchers, including those from the eastern African region, who have been thoroughly trained in the field and in the laboratory by Dr. White and others, are now playing an active role at the forefront of African and Asian paleontology. In addition, the textbook on human osteology that Dr. White authored, considered the field’s unrivaled standard work, has become an indispensable reference not only for beginners but also for specialists.

Representative Publications and Literatures:

  1. White, T.D., Lovejoy, C.O., Asfaw, B., Carlson, J.P. and Suwa, G. (2015) Neither chimpanzee nor human, Ardipithecus reveals the surprising ancestry of both. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA 112(16): 4877-4884. Special Feature: The Future of the Fossil Record, PNAS Centenary, D. Jablonski and N. Shubin, eds. www.pnas.org/cgi/content/short/1403659111
  2. White, T.D., Black, M.T. and Folkens, P.A. (2012) Human Osteology. Third Edition. Elsevier Academic Press. San Diego. 662p.
  3. White, T. D., Asfaw, B., Beyene, Y., Haile-Selassie, Y., Lovejoy, C. O., Suwa, G., and WoldeGabriel. (2009) Ardipithecus ramidus and the paleobiology of early hominids. Science, 326(5949): 75-86.
  4. White, T.D. (2009) Ladders, bushes, punctuations, and clades: Hominid paleobiology in the late Twentieth Century. In: D. Sepkoski and M. Ruse (Eds.) The Paleobiological Revolution: Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 122-148.
  5. Haile-Selassie, Y., Suwa, G., and White, T.D. (2009) Chapter 7, Hominidae. In: Y. Haile-Selassie and G. WoldeGabriel (Eds.), Ardipithecus kadabba: Late Miocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 159-236.
  6. White, T.D., WoldeGabriel, G., Asfaw, B., Ambrose, S., Beyene, Y., Bernor, R.L., Boisserie, J.R., Currie, B., Gilbert, H., Haile-Selassie, Y., Hart, W.K., Hlusko, L.J., Howell, F.C., Kono, R.T., Lehmann, T., Louchart, A., Lovejoy, C.O., Renne, P.R., Saegusa, H., Vrba, E.S., Wesselman, H., and Suwa, G. (2006) Asa Issie, Aramis, and the origin of Australopithecus. Nature, 440: 883-889.
  7. White, T.D., Asfaw, B., DeGusta, D., Gilbert, H., Richards, G.D., Suwa, G., and Howell, F.C. (2003) Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature, 423: 742-747.
  8. Asfaw, B., Gilbert, W.H., Beyene, Y., Hart, W.K., Renne, P.R., WoldeGabriel, G., Vrba, E.S., and White, T.D. (2002) Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature, 416: 317-320.
  9. White, T.D. (2000) A view on the science: Physical Anthropology at the Millennium. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 113: 287-292.
  10. Defleur, A., White, T.D., Valensi, P., Slimak, L., and Crégut-Bonnoure, E. (1999) Neanderthal cannibalism at Moula-Guercy, Ardèche, France. Science, 286: 128-131.
  11. Asfaw, B., White, T.D., Lovejoy, C.O., Latimer, B., Simpson, S. and Suwa, G. (1999) Australopithecus garhi: A new species of early hominid from Ethiopia. Science, 284: 629-635.
  12. White, T.D., Suwa, G. and Asfaw, B. (1994) Australopithecus ramidus, a new species of early hominid from Aramis, Ethiopia. Nature, 371: 306-312.
  13. WoldeGabriel, G., White, T.D., Suwa, G., Renne, P., de Heinzelin, J., Hart, W.K. and Heiken, G. (1994) Ecological and temporal placement of early Pliocene hominids at Aramis, Ethiopia. Nature, 371: 330-333.
  14. White, T.D., Suwa, G., Hart, W.K., Walter, R.C., WoldeGabriel, G., de Heinzelin, J., Clark, J.D., Asfaw, B., and Vrba, E. (1993) New discoveries of Australopithecus at Maka, Ethiopia. Nature, 366: 261-265.
  15. White, T.D. (1992) Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 488p.
  16. White, T.D. (1986) Cutmarks on the Bodo cranium: A case of prehistoric defleshing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 69: 503-509.
  17. Johanson, D.C., Lovejoy, C.O., Kimbel, W.H., White, T.D., Ward, S.C., Bush, M.E., Latimer, B.M. and Coppens, Y. (1982) Morphology of the Pliocene partial skeleton (A.L. 288-1) from the Hadar Formation, Ethiopia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 57: 403-452.
  18. White, T.D. (1980) Evolutionary implications of Pliocene hominid footprints. Science, 208: 175-176.
  19. Johanson, D.C. and White, T.D. (1979) A systematic assessment of early African hominids. Science, 203: 321-330.
  20. Harris, J.M. and White, T.D. (1979) Evolution of the Plio-Pleistocene African Suidae. Monograph: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 69, Part 2: 1-128.