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Dr Sally Street, BA, MSc, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology

(email at

Research interests

  • Macro-evolutionary anthropology
  • Phylogenetic comparative methods
  • Technical skill: music, tool use, construction
  • Human/animal interactions

I am an inter-disciplinary researcher interested in understanding large-scale patterns and processes in the evolution of behaviour, cognition and culture. I am primarily a ‘macro-evolutionary anthropologist’, placing broad questions on the evolution of our species’ extraordinary cognitive and cultural abilities in the wider context of vertebrate evolution. I typically investigate such questions using phylogenetic comparative statistical methods, which model how characteristics of species or populations have evolved across large temporal and spatial scales. I have a particular interest in the evolution of technically skilled behaviour, especially musical ability, tool use and construction. Along with exceptional cognitive and cultural capabilities, our species is characterised by uniquely developed technical skill, allowing us to perform a huge range of behaviour in our daily lives: from making tools and handicrafts, using technology and preparing food to performing music and dance. I am interested in why highly developed technical abilities have evolved in humans, how we learn and pass on these skills to others, and what we can learn from relevant behaviour in non-human species, especially tool use and nest building in birds and mammals. I am also interested in questions about human perceptions of non-human species, particularly in why we ‘prefer’ some species over others as pets or food sources, and the consequences of these preferences for conservation.

Research opportunities

I welcome informal enquiries from potential undergraduate dissertation supervisees, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers with relevant research interests.



I am currently seeking candidates for a PhD studentship in evolutionary anthropology, through the NERC IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership. My project aims to find out why efforts to reintroduce threatened mammals and birds favour some species over others, and how these biases affect the likelihood that reintroductions are successful. The successful candidate will investigate these questions using a combination of phylogenetic comparative analyses and human experimental studies.

Two of my colleagues are also advertising for PhD studentships through the same scheme: Prof Russell Hill is seeking candidates for a project on citizen scientist engagement in mammal monitoring through MammalWeb, and Prof Ann MacLarnon is advertising a project on integrated modelling of environmental adaptation for a model species, the Chacma baboon.

Applications are due by 5pm on 19th January 2018. Please contact one of the lead supervisors in advance if you are interested in applying. See our advertisement and the IAPETUS website for further details on the application process.

Laidlaw Scholarships

I am currently seeking to supervise undergraduate research projects under the Laidlaw Scholarship scheme. Successful applicants will undertake two 6-week summer research placements and receive a total stipend of up to £6000

Together with Dr Jamie Tehrani, I am particularly interested in supervising research on the potential role of music in cultural transmission. We would use experimental approaches to investigate the idea that music supports stable cultural transmission of complex sequences of information or behaviour, such as folk tales, religious texts or woven patterns.

All undergraduates in year 1 of 3-year degrees or year 2 of 4-year degrees are eligible to apply. The deadline for applications is 11.59pm on 16th February 2018. Applicants must get in contact with their chosen supervisor well in advance of this deadline – enquiries are very welcome by email. Further information can be found here.


PhD in cultural evolution of music

I am also seeking a PhD student for a project on the cultural evolution of music. The PhD student would use music as a model system to investigate the cultural evolution of complex behavioural sequences, using experimental and/or phylogenetic statistical approaches. Please get in touch to discuss potential funding sources if you are interested and potentially suitable. 


Research groups

Evolutionary Anthropology 

Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture


  • 2017-present: Assistant Professor in evolutionary approaches to cognition and culture, Durham University.
  • April-July 2017: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the evolution of animal construction, University of St Andrews, supervised by Prof Kevin Laland.
  • 2014-2017: Postdoctoral Research Assistant in comparative analyses of vertebrate invasion success, University of Hull, supervised by Dr Isabella Capellini.
  • 2010-2014: PhD in primate brain evolution and sexual selection, University of St Andrews, supervised by Dr Gillian Brown and Prof Kevin Laland.
  • 2008-2010: MSc in Evolutionary Psychology, University of Liverpool.
  • 2005-2008: BA in Politics and Sociology, University of Leeds


I am teaching on Human Evolution & Diversity, Doing Anthropological Research and Specialised Aspects of Evolutionary Anthropology.


Chapter in book

Journal Article