My main areas of research focus on the integration of evolutionary theory into the social sciences, in particular archaeology and anthropology.
In the late 1990s, I began concentrating on the use of phylogenetic methods, especially cladistics, in archaeology. This was controversial, as was the application of evolutionary principles to cultural phenomena generally. Today, however, evolutionary theory is well at home in archaeology, and studies employing phylogenetic methods appear routinely. My early collaborators included John Darwent (University of California, Davis) and Lee Lyman and Dan Glover (University of Missouri).
About the same time, I started trying to figure out how to incorporate models of social learning into archaeology, especially as they relate to the early colonization of North America by Paleoindian peoples. My main collaborators have been Briggs Buchanan (University of Tulsa), Metin Eren (Kent State University), and Matt Boulanger (Southern Methodist University). I also worked with Metin and Matt, together with numerous other colleagues, on dispelling the notion that people from western Europe colonized eastern North America 20,000-plus years ago—the so-called “Solutrean Hypothesis.” Metin, Briggs, and I have a book coming out in spring of 2018 from MIT Press titled Convergent Evolution in Stone-Tool Technology. It came out of an Altenberg Workshop that we put on at the KLI in Klosterneuburg, Austria, in June 2016.
I’ve also done a lot of work on modeling human behavior, especially in the face of uncertain payoffs on unfamiliar or risky fitness landscapes, alongside Alex Bentley (University of Tennessee), Buz Brock (University of Wisconsin), and Camila Caiado (Durham University). Alex and I have done two books on behavior and choice with MIT Press—I’ll Have What She’s Having (2011) and The Acceleration of Cultural Change (2017).
Over the years I've benefited from collaborative interactions with numerous other archaeologists and social scientists, including Lee Lyman and Todd VanPool (University of Missouri), Alex Mesoudi (University of Exeter), Mark Collard (Simon Fraser University), Kevin Laland (St Andrews University), and David Meltzer (Southern Methodist University).
On the personal side, I have a wonderful wife, Gloria, and five grown kids scattered across the United States.
On July 15, 2015, I officially “retired” from the University of Missouri to become provost and professor at Texas A&M University–San Antonio. My Web site there is http://www.tamusa.edu/officeofthepresident/UniversityLeadership/Mike-OBrien.html, but I’ll continue updating this one first and then that one.
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