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Department of Archaeology



Junior Research Fellow

Clare College   •   Cambridge, UK    •    2022 - 2025

Ph.D Biological Anthropology

University of Cambridge   •   Cambridge, UK    •    2017-2021

Thesis Title: Branching out: a comparative analysis of determinants of mammalian speciation

  • Research into the demographic determinants of speciation in extant mammals (focusing on primates) and extinct hominins using comparative phylogenetic methods. Major results include a role for shifts in subspecies diversification rates underlying the evolutionary replacement of major strepsirrhine clades by anthropoids, unexpected positive diversity-dependent speciation in Homo, and a novel, process-based framework for hominin taxonomy

B.A. Human, Social, Political Sciences: 1st Class

University of Cambridge    •    Cambridge, UK    •    2013-2016

  • Biological Anthropology track; papers taken included Primate Behaviour, Human Evolution, Behavioural Ecology
  • Awarded Archaeology Departmental Prize for best undergraduate exam performance and Archaeology Departmental Prize for best undergraduate dissertation
  • Awarded St. John’s College Larmor Award for “outstanding intellectual qualifications, moral conduct and practical activities”.


I am an evolutionary biologist interested in the macroevolution and evolutionary ecology of our own lineage, hominins. The evolution of the traits that set humans apart from other animals, such as cumulative culture and complex technology, have long been the focus of research. However, the macroevolutionary processes that shaped our evolution, and particularly how they compare to those of other animals, have received far less attention. How “unique” were hominin macroevolutionary dynamics? I address this question by placing our lineage in an unusually broad comparative sample—all mammals. My research is conceptually and methodologically broad, and includes mammalian macroevolution, comparative phylogenetic methods, primatology, palaeoanthropology, and ancient DNA. 

Key Publications

Key publications: 


  • van Holstein, L., Foley, RA., 2022. A process-based approach to hominin taxonomy unites ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’ to shed new light on hominin speciation. Evolutionary Anthropology.
  • van Holstein, L., Foley, RA., 2020. Terrestrial habitats decouple the relationship between species and subspecies diversification in mammals. Proc. R. Soc. B 287: 20192702.
  • van Holstein, L. 2019. Early Definitions of Species. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.
  • van Holstein, L., 2019. Darwin on Speciation. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.
  • Posth, C., Wißing, C., Kitagawa, K., Pagani, L., van Holstein, L., Racimo, F., Wehrberger, K., Conard, N.J., Kind, C.J., Bocherens, H. and Krause, J., 2017. Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals. Nature Communications, 8, p.16046.
  • van Holstein, L. and Foley, R.A. 2017. Hominin Evolution. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.


Teaching and Supervisions


In 2022-23 I am involved in the teaching of the following courses:

  • B1 - Humans in Biological Perspective

Job Titles

Junior Research Fellow, Clare College

General Info

Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Human Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology
Human Evolution

Contact Details

lav22 [at]


Person keywords: 
Mammalian evolution
Hominin speciation
Biological Anthropology
Human Evolutionary Studies
Geographical areas: