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Courtney Meehan Biocultural Anthropology Lab

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 child physical, social, and emotional development and parental and alloparental reproductive and investment strategies. I conduct cross-cultural research in the Central African Republic among the Aka hunter-gatherers and the Ngandu horticulturalists and in Ethiopia among the Sidama agro-pastoralists. I am a biocultural anthropologist, whose research is informed through life history theory and behavioral ecology.

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 (Photo: R. Prescott)


Human Breast Milk Composition

My research is also focused on understanding the socio-cultural, evolutionary, genetic, environmental, and microbial aspects of human breast milk composition. In collaboration with Dr. Shelley McGuire (Washington State University, School of Biological Sciences) we are exploring the human breast milk microbiome of the Aka hunter-gatherers and Ngandu horticulturalists in the Central African Republic.

I am also co-PI and part of a large international and interdisciplinary team comprised of biological and cultural anthropologists, lactation physiologists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and a computational biologist. We are exploring variation in breastmilk composition, in particular the human breast milk microbiome and human milk oligosaccharides. This research is being undertaken in Ethiopia, Kenya, The Gambia, Ghana, Sweden, Spain, Peru, and the United States.

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