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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


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
2017-2019 NSF #1736235: EXP: Social science education through virtual reality simulation of an archaeological research site
2016 Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative Phase II Grant
2016 Wenner-Gren (PI: Demeter, co-PI: Shackelford)
2012 Arnold O. Beckman Research Award, UIUC Research Board
2009 UIUC Research Board
2007 L.S.B. Leakey Foundation
2002 Sigma Xi Research Grant
2007 UIUC Research Board
2003-04 National Science Foundation BCS-0314002: Doctoral Dissertation Grant
2003 Lambda Alpha Research Grant
2015 Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative Seed Funding Program
2003 AMNH Collection Study Grant
2011 Hewlett Foundation International Research Grant


Office Address

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

Office Phone


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