Holly Dunsworth


Holly Dunsworth is a biological anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island where she teaches with new and original approaches aimed at overturning evolutionary misconceptions and outdated evolutionary dogma. Although she began her career as a paleoanthropologist, she has a broad background that carries her interests beyond the fossil record from the evolution of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care, to energy use and sex differences in skeletal growth. Her research and teaching are primarily concerned with scientific narratives of human evolutionary history, how those narratives are formed, interpreted, and employed, and how they impact culture and society. We deserve an origin story that’s fit for all humankind. To that end, Professor Dunsworth helps to refute myths about human evolution which perpetuate sexist and racist views of human nature and support status quo inequity.

  • Human races are not like dog breeds, and to claim that they are is to employ a racist strategy for perpetuating inequity. That is, the dog breed analogy perpetuates the myth/lie that race is an inherent, natural biological category as opposed to what it really is: a system of oppression.
  • Human babies are not born when they’re born because of limitations to gestation length and fetal development imposed by the bipedal pelvis (a.k.a. the ‘obstetrical dilemma’); gestation and fetal growth are limited by physiological parameters like metabolism and energetics as they are across primates and mammals (e.g. EGG hypothesis). Childbirth can be difficult but there is no ‘obstetrical dilemma’.
  • Women’s hips are not a compromise between bipedalism and childbirth; they are not worse at bipedalism than men’s and, like men’s, they are adapted to multiple functions. Medicine underestimates women’s bodies. Childbirth interventions are not evolutionary imperatives due to the so-called ‘obstetrical dilemma’ which doesn’t exist.
  • Women’s hips are not genetically programmed to be more capacious than men’s, as if the genome is some sort of blueprint. Pelves develop differently between the sexes because they contain the virile and active gonads and genitals that take up space inside the pelves of females, and because the soft tissues of the female pelvic floor are replete with estrogen receptors, which likely affect pelvic bone development and remodeling throughout life (VAGGINA hypothesis).
  • The reason that men are taller than women is not because their tall masculine male ancestors won the competition for mates and produced tall male offspring. Continued male growth at puberty, past the point when females stop, is a by-product of estrogen’s effects on all human long bone growth and growth plate fusion. Estrogen is biphasic, causing long bone growth until its levels increase enough to cause long bone fusion, which ends growth. Different levels of estrogen expression and exposure, causing sex differences in the timing of long bone growth cessation, are due to sex differences in evolved reproductive physiologies. In all human bodies, fertility depends on a delicate balance of estrogen. Without ovaries pumping out the high levels of estrogen involved in monthly cycling, bodies without ovaries have no choice but to continue growing past the point that bodies with ovaries stop.
  • All biology is evolution. To categorize growth and development as merely “proximate” and to elevate adult states and behavior to “ultimate” and “evolutionary” is not only an unnecessary convention/habit, but it is contributing to the persistence of unscientific just-so stories about human nature.
  • Nobody on Earth but Homo sapiens knows that sex makes babies or has a concept of paternity, not even Koko, the famous “talking” gorilla. This is a specific example of abstract reasoning, which makes humans profoundly different from other animals, and must have impacted human behavior for as long as we’ve been able to imagine a connection between intercourse and procreation.

Dr. Dunsworth teaches the following courses: Human Origins and Evolution (APG 201), Sapiens: The Changing Nature of Human Evolution (APG/BIO 282G), Sex and Reproduction in Our Species (APG 399), Paleoanthropology (APG 411), Human Evolution in the U.S.A. (APG 310), Primatology (APG 412), and Senior Seminar: Unity of Anthropology (APG 427).


  • Ph.D. in Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, 2006
  • M.A. (with distinction) in Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, 2001
  • B.A. (with high honors) in Anthropology, University of Florida, 1999

Selected Publications


  • Dunsworth HM. 2021. Chapter 27: There is no evolutionary “obstetrical dilemma”. In, C Tomori and S Han, editors Handbook of Anthropology and Reproduction. Routledge.
  • Dunsworth HM. 2021.  Chapter 9: This View of Wife. In J. DeSilva (editor) A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent Got Right and Wrong About Human Evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Dunsworth HM. 2020. Expanding the evolutionary explanations for sex differences in the human skeleton. Evolutionary Anthropology 29(3): 108-116.
  • Norton HL, et al. 2019. Human races are not like dog breeds: Refuting a racist analogy. Evolution: Education and Outreach 12, Article number 17 
  • Dunsworth HM. 2018. There is no ‘obstetrical dilemma’: Towards a braver medicine with fewer childbirth interventions. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 61(2): 249-263.
  • Patel B, Organ J, Jashashvili T, Bui S, and HM Dunsworth. 2018. Ontogeny of hallucal metatarsal rigidity and shape in the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) and common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Anatomy 232(1): 39–53.
  • Dunsworth HM. 2017. How Donald Trump Got Human Evolution Wrong. Washington Post
  • Dunsworth HM and A Buchanan. 2017. Sex makes babies. Aeon Magazine August 9, 2017
  • Dunsworth HM. 2016. Do animals know where babies come from? Scientific American 314(1): 66-69.
  • Dunsworth HM and L Eccleston. 2015. The evolution of difficult childbirth and helpless hominin infants. Annual Review of Anthropology 44: 55-69. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-013918