As an iconoclast and innovative thinker, Jeffrey Schwartz has broad interests in archaeology, anthropology, evolutionary theory, systematics, and philosophy. His undergraduate work involved anthropology and premedical biology, and this was followed by a graduate program in archaeology at Columbia University, where he studied human and animal osteology at archaeological sites in the circum-Mediterranean region. While an external student at the University of London, Schwartz became interested in issues of development and homology, systematics, and fossil primates, focusing on the evolution of vertebrate dentition then under investigation by Jeffrey Osborne. At the British Museum of Natural History, Schwartz worked on Eocene fossil primates, including lemurs, and began to apply information on dental development to lemur phylogeny.
Upon returning to the United States, Schwartz completed his PhD dissertation on “Dental Development and Eruption in the Prosimians and its Bearing on Their Evolution.” He then started a collaborative research program with Ian Tattersall at the American Museum of Natural History. At the museum, Schwartz participated in the numerous discussions and talks taking place on systematic theory and evolution. His interest in punctuated models of evolution and cladistic systematics led to an exploration of developmental processes and their phylogenetic implications in a cladistic context. His research on theoretical dental homology led to new approaches to tooth identification and early Eocene primate work. Schwartz also continued to write on general developmental issues such as the role of different cell types in stimulating the growth of structure. By the 1990s, these interests naturally came together in the field of developmental genetics and his proposal for a non-Darwinian model of evolution under the label of “sudden origins.” These investigations emphasized the role of developmental genetics in making rapid evolutionary changes and establishing genetic novelty in a species without requiring the external force of natural selection.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Schwartz also began to focus attention on hominid evolution. This interest resulted in his well-known and controversial Red Ape book, in which he expands on his theory of a common ancestry between orangutans and humans. This theory is also notable for its extremely rare (among the anthropological and archaeological community) independence from the tyranny of DNA sequence similarity as the last word on phylogenetic relationship. Schwartz’s work in hominid evolution has emphasized the relatively superficial level of systematic detail and documentation prevalent in the field of primate paleontology and the practice of some paleontologists of preventing access to fossils by independent researchers.
Schwartz has published about 125 journal articles, chapters, and abstracts and 11 books and monographs. The three-volume series The Human Fossil Record provides the first comprehensive and detailed review of the craniodental morphology of Homo and the early fossil hominids. His Sudden Origins book integrates population and developmental genetics to show how evolutionary novelty may result in new patterns of biology, behavior, and ecology of organisms while avoiding the teleological mysticism that haunts most evolutionary perspectives in anthropology and paleontology.
Schwartz recently completed the second and revised edition of his Red Ape book, in which he provides new critiques of the morphological and genetic issues surrounding the evolutionary reconstruction of human origins. His current research projects include continued work on the systematics and phylogeny of modern and Pleistocene humans, the origins of modern human population diversity, the osteology of ancient Carthage, the craniodental morphology of humans and other anthropoids, and the role of regulatory genetics and development in evolution.
- Schwartz, J. H. (1993). What the bones tell us. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
- Schwartz, J. H. (1999). Sudden origins: Fossils, genes, and the emergence of species. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
- Schwartz, J. H. (2004). The red ape: Orangutans and human origins. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.