Dennis H. O'Rourke

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences - Anthropology
Foundation Distinguished Professor
Primary office:
Fraser Hall
Room 635
University of Kansas
1415 Jayhawk Blvd.
Lawrence, Kansas 66045


Dennis O’Rourke (KU – PhD in Anthropology, emphasis in genetics) - Foundation Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas, Director of the KU ancient DNA Laboratory, Associate Director of the Laboratories of Biological Anthropology, and Professor Emeritus University of Utah.

My research focuses on the use of molecular genetic methods to address long-standing questions in prehistory. My students and collaborators have conducted fieldwork and research projects in Mexico, the Caribbean, the US Southwest and California, and the North American arctic. Most recently, my group has focused attention on ancient DNA methods to investigate the colonization and dispersal of the North American arctic, and how this informs us about the earlier initial colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Utilizing genomic analyses of both human and archaeofaunal and archaeobotanical materials, my research interests and efforts increasingly are at the intersection of anthropological genetics, bioarchaeology, and paleoecology.


Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Kansas

M.Phil., Anthropology, University of Kansas

M.A., Anthropology, University of Kansas

B.A., Anthropology, University of Kansas

Research Interests

  • Anthropological genetics/genomics
  • Ancient DNA
  • Migration
  • Colonization and regional population history
  • Bioarchaeology
  • The Americas
  • Siberia
  • The Circum-arctic

Selected Publications

Hoffecker, J. F., Elias, S. A., O'Rourke, D. H., Scott, G. R., & Bigelow, N. H. (2016). Beringia and the Global Dispersal of Modern Humans. Evol. Anthrop, 25, 64-78. DOI:10.1002/evan.21478

Tackney, J. Potter, B. A., Raff, J. Powers, M. Watkins, S. Warner, D. Reuther, J. D., Irish, J. D., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2015). Two Contemporaneous Mitogenomes from Terminal Pleistocene Burials in Eastern Beringia. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.

Hoffecker, J. F., Elias, S. A., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2014). Out of Beringia? Science (Perspective), 343, 979-980. DOI:10.1126/science.1250786

Raghavan, M. DeGiorgio, M. Albrechtsen, A. Moltke, I. Skoglund, P. Korneliussen, T. S., Gronnow, B. Appelt, M. Gullov, H. C., Friesen, M. Fitzhugh, W. Malmström, H. Rasmussen, S. Olsen, J. Melchior, L. Fuller, B. T., Fahrni, S. M., Stafford, T. Grimes, V. P., M. A., Cybulski, J. Lynnerup, N. Lahr, M. M., Britton, K. Knecht, R. Arneborg, J. Metspalu, M. Cornejo, O. E., Malaspinas, A. Wang, Y. Rasmussen, M. Raghavan, V. Hansen, T. Khusnutdinova, E. Pierre, T. Dneprovski, K. Andreasen, C. Lange, H. Hayes, M. G., Coltrain, J. Spitsyn, V. A., Götherström, A. Orlando, L. Kivisild, T. Villems, R. Crawford, M. H., Nielsen, F. C., Dissing, J. Heinemeier, J. Meldgaard, M. Bustamante, C. O'Rourke, D. H., Jakobsson, M. Gilbert, M. P., Nielsen, R. & Willersley, E. (2014). The Genetic Prehistory of the New World Arctic. Science, 345. DOI:10.1126/science. 1255832

O'Rourke, D. H., & Enk, J. (2012). Genetics, Geography, and Human Variation. In S. Stinson, B. Bogin, & D. O'Rourke (Eds.), Human Biology: An Evolutionary and Biocultural Approach(2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

O'Rourke, D. H. (2012). Why Do We Migrate? A Retrospective. In B. C. Campbell & M. Crawford (Eds.), The Causes and Consequences of Migration: An Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stinson, S., Bogin, B., & O'Rourke, D. H. (Eds.). (2012). Human Biology: An Evolutionary & Biocultural Perspective (S. Stinson, B. Bogin, & D. H. O'Rourke, Eds., 2nd ed.). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Broughton, J. M., Beck, R. K., Coltrain, J. B., O'Rourke, D. H., & Rogers, A. R. (2012). A Late Holocene Population Bottleneck in California Tule Elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes): Provisional support from ancient DNA. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. DOI:10.1007/S10816-012-9167-Y

Raff, J. Bolnick, D. A., Tackney, J. & O'Rourke, D. H. (2011). Ancient DNA Perspectives on American Colonization and Population History. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 146(503-514). DOI:10.1002/ajpa.21594

Enk, J. Debruyne, R. Devault, A. King, C. E., Treangen, T. O'Rourke, D. H., Salzberg, S. L., Fisher, D. Macphee, R. & Poiner, H. (2011). Complete Columbian Mammoth mitogenome suggests interbreeding with Woolly Mammoths. Genome Biology, 12, R51. DOI:10.1186/gb-2011-12-5-r51

O'Rourke, D. H. (2011). Contradictions and Concordances in American Colonization Models. Evolution: Education & Outreach, 4(2), 244-253. DOI:10.1007/s12052-011-0336-3

Scott, G. R., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2010). Genes across Beringia: A Physical Anthropological Perspective on the Dené-Yeniseian Hypothesis. In J. Kari & B. Potter (Eds.), Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska (New Series). Special Issue: The Dené-Yeniseian Hypothesis(1-2st ed.) (Vol. 5).

O'Rourke, D. H., & Raff, J. (2010). The Genetic History of the Americas: The Final Frontier. Current Biology, 20, R202–R207. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.051

Raff, J. Tackney, J. & O'Rourke, D. H. (2010). South From Alaska: A Pilot aDNA Study of Genetic History on the Alaska Peninsula and Eastern Aleutians. Human Biology, 82, 677-694.

O'Rourke, D. H., West, D. L., & Crawford, M. H. (2010). Unangan Past and Present: The Contrasts Between Observed and Inferred Histories. Human Biology, 82, 759-764.

O'Rourke, D. H. (2009). Human Migrations: The Two Roads Taken. Current Biology, 19(5), R203-R205. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.021

Smith, S. Haye, M. G., Cabana, G. Coltrain, J. B., Huff, C. & O'Rourke, D. H. (2009). Inferring Population Continuity versus Replacement with aDNA: A Cautionary Tale from the Aleutian Islands. Human Biology, 81(4), 19-38.

Enk, J. M., Yesner, D. R., Crossen, K. J., Veltre, D. W., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2009). Mitochondrial DNA Sequence of a Mid-Holocene Woolly Mammoth from the Pribilof Islands, Alaska: Implications for Mammoth Evolution, Dispersal, and Pleistocene Refugia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 273, 184-190. DOI:10:1016/j.paleo.2008.12.019

Goebel, T. Waters, M. & O'Rourke, D. H. (2008). The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas. Science, 319, 1497-1502.

O'Rourke, D. H. (2007). Ancient DNA and its application to reconstruction of human evolution and population history. In M. H. Crawford (Ed.), Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods & Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marchani, E. E., Rogers, A. R., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2007). The Thule expansion: Rejecting population histories using mtDNA data and computer simulation. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 134(2), 281-284.

O'Rourke, D. H. (2006). Classical marker variation in Native North Americans. In D. Ubelaker (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 3, Environment, Origins and Population. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

Coltrain, J. B., Hayes, M. G., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2006). A Radiometric Evaluation of Hrdlicka’s Aleutian Replacement Hypothesis: Population Continuity and Morphological Change. Current Anthropology, 47(3), 537-548.

Hayes, M. G., Coltrain, J. B., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2005). Molecular archaeology of the Dorset, Thule, and Sadlermiut: Ancestor-descendant relationships in Eastern North American arctic prehistory. In P. Sutherland (Ed.), Contributions to the Study of the Dorset Palaeo-Eskimos. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization.

O'Rourke, D. H., Hayes, M. G., & Carlyle, S. W. (2005). The Consent Process and aDNA Research: Contrasting Approaches in Northern North America. In T. Turner (Ed.), Biological Anthropology and Ethics. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Coltrain, J. B., Hayes, M. G., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2004). Sealing, Whaling, and Caribou: The Skeletal Isotope Chemistry of Eastern Arctic Foragers. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 39-57.

Hayes, M. E., Coltrain, J. B., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2003). Mitochondrial analyses of Dorset, Thule, Sadlermiut, and Aleut skeletal samples from the prehistoric North American Arctic. In N. Lynnerup, C. Andreasen, & J. Berglund (Eds.), Mummies in a New Millenium. Proceedings of the 4th World Congress on Mummy Studies. Copenhagen: Danish Polar Center.

O'Rourke, D. H. (2003). Anthropological Genetics in the Genomic Era: A Look Back and Ahead. American Anthropologist, 105(1), 101-109.

Stinson, S., Bogin, B., Huss-Ashmore, R., & O'Rourke, D. H. (Eds.). (2000). Human Biology: An Evolutionary & Biocultural Perspective (S. Stinson, B. Bogin, R. Huss-Ashmore, & D. H. O'Rourke, Eds.). New York: Wiley-Liss, Inc.

O'Rourke, D. H., Hayes, M. G., & Carlyle, S. W. (2000). Spatial and Temporal Stability of mtDNA Haplogroup Frequencies in Native North America. Human Biology, 72(1), 15-34.

Carlyle, S. W., Parr, R. L., Hayes, M. G., & O'Rourke, D. H. (2000). The Context of Maternal Lineages in the Greater Southwest. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 113(1), 85-101.

O'Rourke, D. H., Parr, R. L., & Carlyle, S. W. (1999). Molecular genetic variation in prehistoric inhabitants of the Eastern Great Basin. In B. E. Hemphill & C. S. Larsen (Eds.), Understanding Prehistoric Lifeways in the Great Basin Wetlands: Bioarchaeological Reconstruction and Interpretation. University of Utah Press.

Parr, R. L., O'Rourke, D. H., & Carlyle, S. W. (1996). Ancient DNA analysis of Fremont Amerindians of the Great Salt Lake Wetlands. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 99(4), 507-519.

O'Rourke, D. H., Carlyle, S. W., & Parr, R. L. (1996). Ancient DNA: A review of methods, progress, and perspectives. Amer. J. Hum. Biol., 8(5), 557-571.

Suarez, B. K., Hampe, C. L., O'Rourke, D. Van Eerdewegh, P. & Reich, T. (1995). Sib-based detection of QTLs. Genetic Epidemiology, 12(6), 675-680.

Bamshad, M. Crawford, M. H., O'Rourke, D. H., & Jorde, L. B. (1994). Biochemical heterozygosity and morphologic variation in a colony of Papio hamadryas hamadryas baboons. Evolution, 48(4), 1211-1221.

O'Rourke, D. H., Mobarry, A. & Suarez, B. K. (1992). Patterns of genetic variation in Native America. Human Biology, 64(3), 417-434.

Shearin, N. L., King, E. J., & O'Rourke, D. H. (1989). DNA preservation in Precolumbian remains from the American Southwest. Human Evolution, 4(4), 263-270.

O'Rourke, D. H., & Lichty, A. S. (1989). Spatial analysis and gene frequency maps of native North American populations. Collegium Antropologicum, 13(1), 73-84.

Crawford, M. H., Devor, E. J., O'Rourke, D. H., Yakovleva, L. A., Voevodin, A. J., & Lapin, B. A. (1987). Genetics of primate lymphomas in a baboon (Papio hamadryas) colony of Sukhumi, U.S.S.R. Genetica, 73, 145-157.

McCullough, J. M., & O'Rourke, D. H. (1986). Geographical distribution of consanguinity in Europe. Ann. Hum. Biol., 13(4), 359-367.

O'Rourke, D. H., & Suarez, B. K. (1986). Patterns and correlates of genetic variation in South Amerindians. Ann. Hum. Biol., 13(1), 13-31.

Suarez, B. K., O'Rourke, D. H., & Crouse, J. D. (1985). Genetic variation in North Amerindian populations: Association with sociocultural complexity. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 67(3), 233-239.

O'Rourke, D. H., Suarez, B. K., & Crouse, J. D. (1985). Genetic variation in North Amerindian populations: Covariance with climate. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 67(3), 241-250.

Suarez, B. K., Crouse, J. D., & O'Rourke, D. H. (1985). Genetic variation in North Amerindian populations: The geography of gene frequencies. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 67(3), 217-232.

O'Rourke, D. H., Baume, R. M., Mielke, J. H., & Crawford, M. H. (1984). Dental variation in Black Carib populations. In M. H. Crawford (Ed.), Current Developments in Anthropological Genetics, Vol. 3. Black Caribs: A Case Study in Biocultural Adaptation, Chapter 10 (pp. 169-187). New York: Plenum.

Crawford, M. H., O'Rourke, D. H., Dykes, D. Lapin, B. & Polesky, H. (1984). Inbreeding, heterozygosity and lymphoma risk among the baboons (Papio hamadryas) of Sukhumi, U.S.S.R. Amer. J. Primat., 6, 143-153.

O'Rourke, D. H., Petersen, G. M., & Johnston, F. E. (Eds.). (1983). Genetics, Evolution and Disease (D. H. O'Rourke, G. M. Petersen, & F. E. Johnston, Eds.). New York: Alan R. Liss, Inc.

O'Rourke, D. H., McGuffin, P. & Reich, T. (1983). The genetics of manic-depressive illness. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 62(1), 51-60.

O'Rourke, D. H., & Bach Enciso, V. (1982). Primate social organization, ecology and genetic variation. In M. H. Crawford & J. H. Mielke (Eds.), Current Developments in Anthropological Genetics, Vol. 2. Ecology and Population Structure, Ch. 1 (pp. 1-28). New York: Plenum.

Rice, J. Gottesman, I. I., Suarez, B. K., O'Rourke, D. H., & Reich, T. (1982). Ascertainment bias for non-twin relatives in twin proband studies. Hum. Hered., 32, 202-207.

Suarez, B. K., O'Rourke, D. H., & Van Eerdewegh, P. (1982). Power of the affected sib pair method to detect disease susceptibility loci of small effect: An application to multiple sclerosis. Amer. J. Med. Genet., 12, 309-326.

O'Rourke, D. H., Gottesman, I. I., Suarez, B. K., Rice, J. & Reich, T. (1982). Refutation of the general single locus model for the etiology of schizophrenia. Amer. J. Hum. Genet., 34(4), 630-649.

O'Rourke, D. H., & Crawford, M. H. (1980). Odontometric microdifferentiation of transplanted Mexican Indian populations: Cuanalan and Saltillo. Amer. J. Phys. Anthrop., 52(3), 421-434.

O'Rourke, D. H., & Crawford, M. H. (1976). Odontometric analysis of four Tlaxcaltecan communities. In M. H. Crawford (Ed.), The Tlaxcaltecans: Prehistory, Demography, Morphology and Genetics, Chapter 9 (pp. 81-92). Lawrence, KS: KU Printing Service.

Selected Grants

O'Rourke, D. H., (Co-Principal), Collaborative Research: Birnirk prehistory and the emergence of Inupiaq Culture in Northwestern Alaska: archaeological and anthropological perspectives, PLR-1523059, National Science Foundation, $295,423, - 12/31/2015) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, G. H., (Principal), Paleoepidemiology of Epidemic Disease in Prehistoric Europe, Funding Incentive Seed Grant, University of Utah, $33,000, - 12/31/2014) . Other University. Status: Funded.

Coltrain, J., (Principal), O'Rourke, D. H., (Co-Principal), Stable and Radio-Isotope Chemistry of the Nuvuk Mortuary Assemblage, Point Barrow, AK, OPP-0820790, National Science Foundation, $134,247, (01/01/2008 - 12/31/2009) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., (Principal), Hayes, M. G., (Principal), Collaborative Research: IPY: Reconstruction of Human Genetic History Along the North Slope, OPP-0732846, National Science Foundation, $552,543, - 12/31/2007) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., (Principal), SGER: Morphometric Assessment of Prehistoric Skeletal Series from Nuvuk, Point Barrow, Alaska, OPP-0535356, National Science Foundation, $39,858, (01/01/2005 - 12/31/2007) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., Collaborative Research: Molecular Perspectives on Aleut Origins, OPP-0327641, National Science Foundation, $271,006, (01/01/2003 - 12/31/2006) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., (Principal), Biocomplexity in the Environment Incubation Grant: A Temporal Perspective on Biocomplexity in the Aleutian Islands, BCS-BE 0119759, National Science Foundation, $75,000, (01/01/2001 - 12/31/2002) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., SGER: Identification of ancient Sin Nombre Hantavirus in the Prehistoric Southwest, BCS-0123732, NSF, $25,571, (01/01/2001 - 12/31/2002) . Federal. Status: Funded.

O'Rourke, D. H., (Principal), Collaborative Research: Origins of Aleut Populations: Molecular Perspectives, OPP 9974623, NSF, $182,980, (01/01/1999 - 12/31/2002) . Federal. Status: Funded.

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