Susan K. Pfeiffer

Susan K. Pfeiffer

Susan K. Pfeiffer
Professor Emerita

Research Keywords: Bioarchaeology, palaeopathology, adult age estimation methods, natural selection in past Homo sapiens, evolutionary theory, African foragers & pastoralists, First Nations of the Great Lakes region

Research Region: Southern Africa, Northern Kenya, North American Great Lakes


Research Bio

Dr. Pfeiffer’s research concentrates on reconstructing the conditions of past human lives from characteristics of bones and teeth. She is especially interested in methods that focus at the bone tissue level, such as biomechanical modeling and histology. For several years, she has focused on research questions based in southern Africa. She was drawn to that region because of its rich archaeological record and long temporal evidence for peoples with successful hunting and gathering adaptations. Dr. Pfeiffer is a research associate in the Archaeology Department at the University of Cape Town and has taught undergraduate courses in Human Evolution there. From 2012 to 2016, she was the bioarchaeologist for the Later Prehistory of West Turkana (LPWT) project, with colleagues at Stony Brook University. She is now a Research Professor in the Center for Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology (CASHP) at George Washington University.

Dr. Pfeiffer has also contributed to questions about the lives of the ancestors of Canadian First Nations peoples. Since her PhD thesis on hunter-gatherer populations of the Upper Great Lakes, she has published research on archaeologically derived skeletons from Ontario, particularly the ossuaries of the Northern Iroquoians. She has served as an associate editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and on the Research Advisory Board of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

Major Awards and Grants

2019   Elected Fellow of the Anthropology Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science.


In press   Pfeiffer, S., Sealy, J., Harrington, L., Loftus, E., Maggs, T.    A Late Holocene community burial area: evidence of diverse mortuary practices in the Western Cape, South Africa. PLOS ONE. Accepted 03/04/2020.

2019   Beresheim, A., Pfeiffer, S., Grynpas, M. Ontogenetic changes to bone microstructure in human ribs. Journal of Anatomy. 236:3:448-462.

2019   Pfeiffer, S. , Cameron, M.E., Beresheim, A., Sealy, J. Diet and adult age-at-death among mobile foragers: A synthesis of bioarchaeological methods. American Journal of  Physical Anthropology 2019;1–17.

2019   Sawchuk, E.A., Pfeiffer, S., Klehm, C.E., Cameron, M.E., Hill, A.C., Janzen, A., Grillo, K.M., Hildebrand, E.A. The bioarchaeology of mid-Holocene pastoralist cemeteries west of Lake Turkana, Kenya. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11:6221-6241.

2019   Schell, L.M., Gallo, M., Pfeiffer, S., Lee, F., Garry, D., Yucel, R., Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment. Trends in height, weight, BMI, skinfolds, and measures of overweight and obesity from 1979 through 1999 among American Indian Youth: The Akwesasne Mohawk. International Journal of Obesity. DOI: 10.1038/s41366-019-0349-5

2019   Pfeiffer, S., Harrington, L., Lombard, M. The people behind the samples: Biographical features of Past Hunter-Gatherers from KwaZulu-Natal who yielded aDNA. International Journal of Palaeopathology. 24:158-164.

2019   Beresheim, A., Pfeiffer, S., Grynpas, M.D., Alblas, A. Use of Backscattered Scanning Electron Microscopy to Quantify the Bone Tissues of Mid-Thoracic Human Ribs. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 168:262-278. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23716.

2019   Cameron, M.E., Pfeiffer, S. An additional person from “Diaz Street Midden,” Saldanha Bay, Western Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin. 73(208): 138-142.

2018   Beresheim, A., Pfeiffer, S., Alblas, A. The influence of body size and bone mass on cortical bone histomorphometry in human ribs. Anatomical Record. 301:1788-1796. DOI: 10.1002/ar.23933

2018   Pfeiffer, S., & Harrington, L. Regional Continuity and Local Challenges to Resilience among Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of the Greater Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. In D. Temple & C. Stojanowski (Eds.), Hunter-Gatherer Adaptation and Resilience: A Bioarchaeological Perspective (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology, pp. 26-46). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316941256.002

2018   Hildebrand, E.A., Grillo, K.M., Sawchuk, E.A., Pfeiffer, S.K., Conyers, L.B., Goldstein, S.T., Hill, A.C., Janzen, A., Klehm, C.E., Helper, M., Kiura, P., Ndiema, E., Ngugi, C., Shea, J.J., and Wang, H. A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa’s first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya. 6 pp. + Supporting Information. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201721975 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1721975115

2018   Beresheim AC, Pfeiffer SK, Grynpas MD, Alblas A. Sex-specific patterns in cortical and trabecular bone microstructure in the Kirsten Skeletal Collection, South Africa. Am J Hum Biol. 2018;e23108.

2017   Vairamuthu, T., Pfeiffer, S. A juvenile with compromised osteogenesis provides insights into past hunter-gatherer lives. International Journal of Palaeopathology 20:1-9.

2017   Pfeiffer, S., J.C. Sealy, R.F. Williamson, C. Forrest, L. Lesage. Patterns of weaning among ancestral Huron-Wendat communities, determined from nitrogen isotopes. American Antiquity 82:2: 244-261. DOI: