Personal profile

Research Interests

Paleoanthropology, Southeast Asia, Late Pleistocene human evolution; Functional anatomy, postcranial biomechanics; Virtual reality, educational technology

As a National Geographic Explorer, Laura's research focuses on the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens, as a background to understanding recent human diversity. She has a geographic focus in Southeast Asia and co-directs ongoing field research in northern Laos. Her team's excavations have recovered early modern humans dating back 70,000 years at Tam Pa Ling, Laos. More recently, her team's research at Tam Ngu Hao 2 (Cobra Cave), Laos, recovered the first evidence of the elusive Denisovan population in Southeast Asia

In addition to ongoing excavations in Southeast Asia, Laura's research explores virtual reality and technology in education to make human prehistory and archaeological field work accessible to more students. 

Laura splits her time between Anthropology and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine where she is the Director of Anatomy. She teaches human anatomy to first and second year medical students and works with advanced medical students on research to answer clinical and anatomical questions and explore innovative approaches to health care. 


Ph.D., Anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis, 2005
M.A., Anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis, 2001
B.S., Biological Anthropology & Anatomy, Duke University, 1998


2023-2024 Leakey Foundation: The Denisovans and their past environment in mainland Southeast Asia: Tam Ngu Hao 2 cave, Laos (PI: Demeter, co-PI: Shackelford)

2020-2023 NSF #2021460: IUSE: Game-based learning in virtual reality to engage college students using wheelchairs: Test case for field training in archaeology

2018-2020 National Geographic: Quest for human origins in mainland Southeast Asia: Tam Pa Ling cave, Laos

2017-2020 NSF #1736235: EXP: Social science education through virtual reality simulation of an archaeological research site

2017-2019 Wenner-Gren: Early modern human evolution and dispersal in mainland Southeast Asia at Tam Pa Ling cave, Laos (PI: Demeter, co-PI: Shackelford)

2011 Hewlett Foundation International Research Grant

2007-2008 L.S.B. Leakey Foundation. Paleoanthropology in mainland Southeast Asia; Excavations at Tam Hang, Laos

2003-04 National Science Foundation BCS-0314002: Doctoral Dissertation Grant

2003 Lambda Alpha Research Grant

2003 AMNH Collection Study Grant

2002 Sigma Xi Research Grant

Internal grants:

2019 ILLINOIS SBSRI. Life history and hormones: mechanisms linking childhood experiences to women's health (Clancy K, Shackelford L, Lara-Cinisomo S)

2016 Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative Phase II Grant. Digital Archaeology: Virtual reality in social science education.

2015 Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative Seed Funding. Teaching and Learning in the three-dimensional world (Aldridge B, Shackelford LL, Malnar J, Craig AB, Helms K, Sinn-Hanlon J, Edwards K, and del Cristo MM)

2013 UIUC Scholars' travel Award

2012 Arnold O. Beckman Research Award, UIUC Research Board

2011 UIUC Scholars' Travel Award (#12376)

2009 UIUC Research Board. Pleistocene human evolution in mainland Southeast Asia.

2007 UIUC Research Board. Paleoanthropology in mainland Southeast Asia: Excavation at Tam Hang, Laos



Office Address

Department of Anthropology
607 S Mathews Ave.
M/C 148
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone


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