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Welcome to the Biocultural Anthropology Lab

Dr. Courtney Meehan, Associate Professor

Courtney Meehan in the C.A.R. with an Aka family.
Courtney Meehan in the C.A.R. with an Aka family.


My overarching research interest concerns the evolution of human childhood. Specifically, I focus on infant and child physical, social, and emotional development, parental and alloparental reproductive and investment strategies, and breastfeeding, lactation, and human milk composition. I conduct cross-cultural research in the Central African Republic among the Aka hunter-gatherers and the Ngandu horticulturalists, Ethiopia among the Sidama agro-pastoralists and in the US among local populations. I am a biocultural anthropologist whose research is informed through life history theory and behavioral ecology. My current research projects are listed below.

Mom and baby in the forest
Aka mother and infant in forest


Child Development and Human Cooperative Breeding

My research on child development and human cooperative breeding is focused on understanding the role of parents and alloparents in children’s social and emotional development and how others affect parental reproductive and behavior strategies. For this, I explore who cares for children cross-culturally, the influence of sociecology on parental and alloparental investment in children, the role and influence of caregivers on children’s attachment relationship, and the effects of caregivers on children’s growth and nutritional status.¬† This research is being carried out in both Central and East Africa among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and agro-pastoralists.

Aka family (Photo: R. Prescott)
Aka family


Human Milk Composition

My research is also focused on understanding the socio-cultural, evolutionary, genetic, environmental, and microbial aspects of human milk composition.

I am co-PI and part of a large international and interdisciplinary team comprised of biological and cultural anthropologists, lactation physiologists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and computational biologists. This interdisciplinary project is investigating factors influencing human milk composition (e.g, the human milk microbiome, immune factors, and human milk oligosaccharides) and the infant gastrointestinal microbiome. The research was undertaken in Ethiopia, Kenya, The Gambia, Ghana, Sweden, Spain, Peru, and the United States.

In collaboration with Dr. Shelley McGuire (Washington State University, School of Biological Sciences), I am also exploring the human milk microbiome of the Aka hunter-gatherers and Ngandu horticulturalists in the Central African Republic.

Birhanu (INSPIRE field crew member) in Hawassa, Ethiopia
Birhanu (field crew member) interviewing a woman in Ethiopia


Infant Temperament

In collaboration with Dr. Masha Gartstein (Washington State University, Department of Psychology), we are examining cross-cultural variation in the development of infant temperament. Data on infant temperament was collected among rural and urban Sidama in SW Ethiopia.

Sidama mother and infant
Sidama mother and infant