Nina Jablonski is a biological anthropologist who is recognized for her contributions to the understanding of primate and human evolution, especially to questions not answered directly from the fossil record such as the evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation. She grew up in rural upstate New York, and developed a love of nature and fossils as a child. She received an A.B. in Biology at Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Washington. She has held academic positions at the University of Hong Kong, The University of Western Australia, the California Academy of Sciences, and The Pennsylvania State University. She is an elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society, an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is a recipient of an Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In addition to a large body of scholarly papers, Jablonski has written two popular books for adults: Skin: A Natural History (2006) and Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color (2012), as well as a book for children, Skin We Are In (2018). A dedicated public scientist and science educator, Jablonski received an honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa in 2010 for her contribution to the worldwide fight against racism.

Research Interests

Nina Jablonski studies primate and human evolution in relation to environmental change. Trained originally in paleontology and comparative anatomy, she has documented the evolution of numerous lineages of Old World monkeys, including the geladas of Ethiopia and the golden monkeys of China, and described the first fossil chimpanzee. Fascinated increasingly over the years by the important but unheralded roles of skin and skin pigmentation in evolution, she focused her research on the origins of mostly naked human skin and diverse human skin colors. In 2000, Jablonski and her collaborator husband, George Chaplin, put forward the dual cline theory (or vitamin D-folate theory) for the evolution of human skin pigmentation that accounts for why dark skin evolved under conditions of high ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the tropics while lighter skin was favored under conditions of lower UVR nearer the poles. She and members of her lab continue to study many aspects of the evolution of the integument in humans, including the effects of skin pigmentation on human health and psychosocial well-being, the evolution of hair and hair texture, and the development of skin color and hair texture as racialized traits and human preoccupations. Her work on the history of color-based races has identified key events and figures in the European Enlightenment as being instrumental in creating misleading and inaccurate classifications of humans that continue to influence human thinking and actions to the present day.

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Primary Section

Section 51: Anthropology

Secondary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology