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Nick Blegen PhD

Nick Blegen PhD

Royal Society
Shooter International Fellow

Nick is an archaeologist and geochronologist researching the timing and causes of important events relevant to modern human (H. sapiens) evolution in East Africa.



  • 2018-current, Royal Society Eric Shooter International Fellow, University of Cambridge, Department of Geography, Cambridge, UK
  • October 2017- September 2018, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Jena, Germany
  • January 2016- August 2018, Harvard University, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Archaeology Program, Peabody Museum, Cambridge, MA


  • Ph. D. Anthropology, 2015, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
  • M.A. Anthropology, 2009, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
  • B.A. Anthropology, 2006, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL

Awards and scholarships

  • Royal Society- Shooter International Fellowship (collaboration Professor Christine Lane). Ashes of Our Ancestor: Dating the Circumstances of Modern Human Evolution in East Africa: £99,000
  •  National Energy Research Council (UK) Isotope Geosciences Facilities Grant (in collaboration with Professor Christine Lane; Dr. Darren Mark). Improved Dating of Human Evolution in the Middle–Late Pleistocene, East Africa: £66, 000
  • The Leakey Foundation: Archaeology and modern human origins: Investigations of   the Late Pleistocene Nyanza Rift, Kenya: $23,574
  • University of Connecticut Department of Anthropology Robert Dewar Award. $3,000
  • National Science Foundation. The Origins of Modern Human Behavior. Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant. $19,184
  • Geological Society of America. Graduate Dissertation Improvement Grant $2,400
  • Center for Environmental Studies and Engineering Fellowship University of Connecticut. $10,000


My research as part of the "Ashes of Our Ancestors" project, in collaboration with Prof. Christine Lane, focuses on modern human evolution through the studies of volcanic glass (obsidian) and volcanic ash layers (tephra) from the last 500,000 years in East Africa. My geochemical sourcing of obsidian artefacts shows that our human ancestors from at least 400,000 years ago regularly transported obsidian distances between 50 and 250 km. To establish a chronology of geographic matching scale, I use chemical analysis of volcanic ashes dispersed across East Africa. This work has documented many widespread ash layers, some found across an area of over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres and correlating across several East African rift basins. These tephras thus provide the chronological and stratigraphic context with which to characterise past landscape environments relating to human behaviour across large geographic areas commensurate with the scope of human interactions documented by raw material sourcing.


In Press

  • Beverly, E. J., White, J. D., Peppe, D. J., Faith, J. T., Blegen, N., Tryon, C. A., Rapid Pleistocene Desiccation and the Future of Africa’s Lake Victoria. Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
  • Blegen, N. and Conard, N. Consistent Naivasha obsidian source preference from Late Pleistocene–Holocene Beds VI, V, III & II/I of Mumba rockshelter, northern Tanzania. In (Eds: N. Conard and K. Bretzski) Kohl-Larsen’s Excavations of Mumba-Hohle, Tanganyika.


  • Blegen, N., Jicha, B., McBrearty, S. (2018). A new tephrochronology for early diverse stone tool technologies and long-distance raw material transport in the Middle and Late Pleistocene Kapthurin Formation, East Africa. Journal of Human Evolution. 121,75-103.


  • Beverly, E. J., Peppe, D. J., Driese, S. G., Blegen, N., Faith, J. T., Tryon, C. A., & Stinchcomb, G. E. (2017). Reconstruction of Late Pleistocene Paleoenvironments using bulk geochemistry of paleosols from the Lake Victoria Region. Frontiers in Earth Science, 5, 93.
  • Blegen, N., Faith, J.T., Mant-Melville, A., Peppe, D.J., Tryon, C.A., (2017). The East African Middle Stone Age after 50,000 years ago: New evidence from the Late Pleistocene sediments of the eastern Lake Victoria Basin, Nyanza Province, western Kenya. Paleoanthropology. 2017, 139-169.
  • Blegen, N. (2017). The earliest evidence for long-distance obsidian transport at the ~200 ka Middle Stone Age Sibilo School Road Site, Baringo, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution. 103, 1-19.


  • Blegen, N. Brown, F.H., Jicha, B., Binetti, K.M., Faith, J.T., Ferraro, J.V,. Gathogo, P.N., Richardson, J.L., Tryon, C.A. (2016). The Menengai Tuff: A 36 ka widespread tephra and its chronological relevance to Late Pleistocene human evolution in East Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews. 152, 152-168.
  • Faith, J. T., Patterson, D.B., Blegen, N., O'Neill, C.J., Marean, C.W., Peppe, D.J., & Tryon, C.A. (2016). Size variation in Tachyoryctes splendens (East African mole-rat) and its implications for late Quaternary temperature change in equatorial East Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews, 140, 39-48.
  • Tryon, C.A., Faith, J.T., Peppe, D.J., Beverly, E.J., Blegen, N., Blumenthal, S.A., Chritz, K.L., Driese, S.G., Patterson, D., Sharp, W.D. (2016). The Pleistocene prehistory of the Lake Victoria basin. Quaternary International, 404, 100-114.


  • Beverly, E.J., Driese, S.G., Peppe, D.J., Arellano, L.N., Blegen, N., Faith, J.T., & Tryon, C.A. (2015). Reconstruction of a semi-arid late Pleistocene paleocatena from the Lake Victoria region, Kenya. Quaternary Research, 84, 368-381.
  • Blegen, N., Tryon, C.A., Faith, J.T., Peppe, D.J., Beverly, E.J., Li, B., Jacobs, Z., (2015). Distal tephras of the eastern Lake Victoria basin, equatorial East Africa: correlations, chronology and a context for early modern humans. Quaternary Science Reviews, 122, 89-111.
  • Faith, J.T., Tryon, C.A., Peppe, D.J., Beverly, E.J., Blegen, N., Blumenthal, S., Chritz, K.L., Driese, S.G. and Patterson, D. (2015). Paleoenvironmental context of the Middle Stone Age record from Karungu, Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya, and its implications for human and faunal dispersals in East Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 83, 28-45.


  • Faith, J.T., Tryon, C.A., Peppe, D.J., Beverly, E.J., & Blegen, N. (2014).Biogeographic and Evolutionary Implications of an Extinct Late Pleistocene Impala from the Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 21, 213-222.


  • Supervisor for Biogeography (II): Humans, Climate and environments Lent term 2019.
  • Primary Instructor: Introduction to Biological Anthropology (ANT 102). Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Anthropology. Spring 2015, Fall, 2014, Spring, 2014, Spring 2013, Fall, 2013, Spring 2012.
  • Primary Instructor Physical Anthropology (ANTH 2500). Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA. Anthropology. Fall 2013.
  • Primary Instructor Environmental Geology (GEO 100). The University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA. Geology. Fall 2011.

External activities

Active field projects

  • Lukenya Hill, Kenya: Director: Lukenya Hill Late Pleistocene archaeological excavations GvJm-22. 2016- present. *
  • Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya: Co-Director (with Tyler Faith, Daniel Peppe, Christian Tryon): Pleistocene Cultural & Natural History Project, Victoria Basin, Kenya. Archaeological, Paleontological and Geological tephrostratigraphic survey. 2009 –present. *
  • Natodomeri, West Turkana, Kenya: Co- Director (with Fredrick Manthi, Joseph Michael Plavcan): Middle and Late Pleistocene paleoanthropological survey and excavation (2017- present). *

*supervised undergraduate and/or graduate students at this site.