Susan K. Pfeiffer

Susan K. Pfeiffer

Susan K. Pfeiffer

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.


In press          Pfeiffer, S., Harrington, L. Regional Continuity and Local Distinctions among Holocene foragers of coastal South Africa: defining identity at different scales.  Hunter-Gatherer Resilience in Bioarchaeological Perspective, D. Temple and C. Stojanowski, eds., Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology, Cambridge University Press.

In Press.        Beresheim, A., Pfeiffer, S., Alblas, A. An exploration of body size and bone mass on cortical bone histomorphometry in human ribs. Anatomical Record. Accepted 01/17/18

2018          Hildebrand EA, KM Grillo, EA Sawchuk, SK Pfeiffer, L Conyers, S.T. Goldstein, AC Hill, A Janzen, CE Klehm, M Helper, P Kiura, E Ndiema, C Ngugi, JJ Shea, H Wang. A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa’s first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of

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.

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:

2016          Pfeiffer, S., J.C. Sealy, R.F. Williamson, S. Needs-Howarth, L. Lesage. Maize, fish and deer: Investigating dietary staples among ancestral Huron-Wendat villages, as documented from tooth samples. American Antiquity 81:3:515-532

2016         Pfeiffer, S. An exploration of interpersonal violence among Holocene foragers of Southern Africa. International Journal of Paleopathology, 13: 27-38. doi:10.1016/j.ijpp.2016.01.001

2014         Pfeiffer, S., Doyle, L.E., Kurki, H. K., Harrington, L., Ginter, J.K., Merritt, C.E. Discernment of Mortality Risk associated with Childbirth in Archaeologically Derived Forager Skeletons. International Journal of Palaeopathology, 7: 15-24.

2014         Pfeiffer, S., Lesage, L. The Repatriation of Wendat Ancestors / Le rapatriement des ancêtres Wendat, 2013. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 38: 1-22.

2014         Cameron, M. Pfeiffer, S. Later Stone Age foragers’ long bone cross-sectional geometric properties compared: fynbos, forest and lower Orange River Valley. South African Journal of Science, 110 (9/10): Art. #2013-0369.

2014          Pfeiffer, S., Williamson, R.F., Sealy, J., Smith, D.G., Snow, M. Stable Isotopes and mtDNA from Woodland period southern Ontario people: results from a tooth sampling protocol. Journal of Archaeological Science 42: 334-345.

2013          Pfeiffer, S. Population dynamics in the Southern African Holocene: Human burials from the West Coast. Chapter 8, pp. 143-154 in The Archaeology of the West Coast of South Africa, Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology No. 84, A. Jerardino, A. Malan, D. Braun eds. BAR International Series 2526, UK:Oxford, ISBN 978 1 4073 1144 9.

2012           Pfeiffer, S. Conditions for evolution of small adult body size in Southern Africa. Human Biology and the origin of Homo. Current Anthropology 53:S6:S383-S394, Editors: S. Antόn, L. Aiello. Wenner-Gren Foundation Symposium

2012           Pfeiffer, S., Pinto, D. Histological analyses of human bone from archaeological contexts. Chapter 11. In: Bone Histology: An Anthropological Perspective, Sam Stout and Christian Crowder, eds., pp. 297-311, Boca Raton: CRC Press.

2012           Pfeiffer, S. Two Disparate Instances of Healed Cranial Trauma from the Later Stone Age. South African Archaeological Bulletin 67(196): 256-261.

2012           Kurki, H.K., Pfeiffer, S., Stynder, D.D. Allometry of head and body size in Holocene foragers of the South African Cape. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147: 462–471.

2011         Doyle, L.E., Lazenby, R.A., Pfeiffer, S. Cortical bone mass and geometry: age, sex, and intraskeletal variation in Nineteenth-Century Euro-Canadians. American Journal of Human Biology 23: 534-545.

2011         Pfeiffer, S., Harrington, L. Bioarchaeological evidence for the basis of small adult stature in southern Africa. Current Anthropology, 52(3): 449-461.

2011         Pfeiffer, S. Pelvic stress injuries in a small-bodied forager. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 21: 694-703.

2010           Pfeiffer, S., Harrington, L. Child growth among southern African foragers. In: Moffat, T. and Prowse, T. (eds.) Human Diet and Nutrition in Biocultural Perspective, pp. 35-56, Biosocial Book Series, Catherine Panter-Brick (ed.),  Berghahn Press (Oxford and New York).

2010           Crowder, C., Pfeiffer, S. The application of cortical bone histomorphometry to estimate age at death. In: Age Estimation from the Human Skeleton. Editors: Krista E. Latham and Michael Finnegan. Pp. 193-215. C.C.Thomas.