Ralph Holloway is a biological anthropologist whose main interest is in paleoanthropology. His area of specialty deals with the evolution of the brain, particularly within paleoneurology, which involves the study of brain endocasts. These are casts made from the interior of fossil cranial remains which provide information regarding the size of the once living brain, cerebral asymmetries, gyral and sulcal patterns if present, and morphometric shape, in a comparative perspective. Holloway was born in Philadelphia, PA, first attending Drexel Institute of Technology, in metallurgical engineering. He finished his B.S. degree at the University of New Mexico majoring in Geology. His graduate work in physical anthropology was completed in 1964 at The University of California, Berkeley. He has taught at Columbia University in the Department of Anthropology since 1964, and has worked on fossil hominin cranial remains in Europe, Africa, and Indonesia. Additionally, he is interested in modern human variation, sexual dimorphism, and behavior.

Research Interests

The study of the evolution of the human brain involves three different types of evidence. Comparative studies of neurological structure and function in different primates, particularly the apes, are indispensable for understanding what varies in different nervous systems and how these relate to behavior. This evidence is indirect because current apes are not ancestral to us. Two lines of evidence are direct, that of paleoneurology, and more recently neurogenomics. Endocasts, as in paleoneurological studies can only study the imprints left on the cranial interior surface; the interior structures such as fiber systems, neural nuclei, neurotransmitters, cannot be studied, thus paleoneurology has its limitations regarding the whole brain. Paleoneurology can provide evidence regarding size, and sometimes can provide details regarding differences in cerebral organization, such as the reduction of primary visual cortex and the expansion of parietal association cortex. A major question is when the hominin brain become reorganized to a human-like pattern. All three approaches are necessary, but equally important is acquiring more evidence of how brains vary both in structure and behavior. Neurogenomics will hopefully be able to indicate which genetic patterns have undergone natural selection in the past and thus increase our understanding of how we evolved as a species.

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Primary Section

Section 51: Anthropology

Secondary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience