Dr. Natalie Uomini

Kahlaische Str. 10

07745 Jena



Dr. Natalie Uomini

Dr. Natalie Uomini
Dr. Natalie Uomini
Dept. of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution

Phone: +49 3641-686-820

Main Focus

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COLT Lab (COgnition, Language and Technology)

I'm interested in the evolution of cognition. My focus is on tools and language. I integrate different disciplines and different species (including humans) to study:

  • what are evolutionarily shared traits (continuities in the evolution of tool-use, intelligence, or communication across species) 
  • what makes a species unique (some behaviours or abilities in a species which seem to be unique)

I combine the approaches of Psychology/Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Anthropology on the one hand, which generally focus on human uniqueness, and Biology and Ecology on the other hand, which generally focus on similarities across species. I think each species has both shared and unique traits, and both are important to define a species while understanding its origins.

My current projects are:

  • Language and stone tools in the brain (fMRI studies with humans)
  • Grammar of tool-making in New Caledonian crows (behavioral observations and field experiments in the wild)
  • Evolution of speech (chimpanzee phonetics)
  • Social transmission of technology, learning, teaching (controlled experiments with humans, human cross-cultural syntheses, and wild bird behavior)
  • Co-evolution of language and culture (human comparisons and real-world experiments)

Archaeological fieldwork I'm directing

  • Cave exploration and surveying in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Mt. Hagen area)
  • Surveys at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, USA

Grammar of Tool Manufacture
One theory about the co-evolution of language and culture - particularly material culture - is that they share a "grammar of action". While humans are considered to have the most complex tool cultures and languages of any animal, there are other species whose tool cultures also have the potential for action grammars. This project documents: 1) the grammatical structure of tool behaviours in New Caledonian crows, and 2) the communication of New Caledonian crows. This will allow: 3) comparison with the action grammars and linguistic structures of other tool-using animals such as chimpanzees, sea otters, and humans past and present.

Curriculum Vitae

summary CV

My first degree in Cognitive Science and Linguistics made me realise the overlaps between disciplines. My first master's in Linguistics-Phonetics (focusing on vowel height perception) got me excited about speech/language evolution, so I got a second master's in Biological Anthropology in order to learn more about human origins, where I discovered that stone tools can tell us about language evolution through laterality.

Then I pursued a PhD in Archaeology and established the world's largest dataset on the evolution of right-handedness, based on prehistoric stone tools, fossil arm bones, fossil brain cases, and primate handedness. I also proposed a theoretical model of brain laterality linking neuroscience with linguistics.

Afterwards, in my first post-doc I worked with Neuroscience and discovered shared brain networks for stone tool-making and speech. I also worked with Evolutionary Biology to show how verbal teaching improves learning to make stone tools.

In my second post-doc I bridged my two passions in Phonetics and Primatology to study how wild chimpanzees articulate sounds. Now, in my third post-doc, I am working with Ecology and Biology to understand how birds and sea otters use tools.      

Over the years I have enjoyed collaborating with various disciplines, and I welcome new challenges in bridging disciplines.

In my free time I do caving, mountain biking, kayaking, acrobatics, and Stone Age crafts.

I'm always open to new collaborations with researchers, students, and non-academics.

To write me a message, please fill in the form here. Thank you!

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