Sally McBrearty was a professor emerita and former head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, before her passing in July 2023. She was preceded in death by her husband and CARTA Member Andrew Hill (d. 2015), also a paleoanthropologist. McBrearty directed archaeological field projects for more than 30 years in East Africa, focusing upon the Middle Pleistocene and the origin of Homo sapiens. She was particularly interested in the behavior of early humans, their environmental setting, and how behavior and environment interact with geologic processes to produce the fossil and archaeological records.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley and her graduate degrees from the University of Illinois, Urbana; she held faculty positions at Brandeis, Yale, and the College of William & Mary. Her work was supported by NSF, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, and she served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Human Evolution, Before Farming, and Springer’s Vertebrate Paleobiology & Paleoanthropology monograph series.
Her 2000 publication with CARTA Member Alison Brooks, “The Revolution That Wasn’t,” in Journal of Human Evolution, is the most frequently cited paper in that journal’s history (i.e., cited over 1800 times). McBrearty and CARTA Member Nina Jablonski are credited with the discovery of the first known chimpanzee fossils. McBrearty collected the first fossil, a molar, during her surveys at Kapthurin, Kenya, in the East African Rift Valley in 2004, immediately suspecting that it belonged to an ape. Jablonski then examined the tooth and positively identified it as belonging to a chimpanzee. She also found a second example, an incisor, in the same collection. The following year, McBrearty's team returned to Kapthurin and discovered a further two fossil chimpanzee teeth, believing that all four teeth belonged to the same individual. McBrearty and Jablonski announced the discovery of the "First fossil chimpanzee," in a paper in Nature in 2005. McBrearty was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007.