The Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies was established in 2000 to promote research in human evolution and diversity. LCHES began life as a proposal by Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert Foley in 1999 to create a research centre which strengthened and developed Cambridge's research in human evolution, building on the Duckworth Collection, the development of new scientific techniques (aDNA, genetics) and a particular research vision in integrating many fields - from prehistory to fossils to linguistics to genetics. The core idea was that by bringing together in the same building people from several disciplines, and providing a well-resourced set of laboratories and an open-minded research environment, the synergy could exploit the expanding approaches and developing scientific methods in human evolutionary studies. The proposal, made through the Joint Infra Structure Fund, was successful, and, principally through Welcome Trust funding, a £5.9M bulding was designed and erected to house the Centre. This was completed in 2005, and opened in 2006 by Richard Leakey, FRS, in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor, Alison Richard, with a day celebrating human evolutionary studies through keynote lectures across major subjects in the field. The Centre housed the Duckworth Collection, two genetics laboratories, a PalaeoLab for 3D imaging and other work, as well as space for up to 40 people. The Centre was approved by the University Senate in 2003.
Within a very short period of time, the Centre grew as a research institution. In 2001, we were awarded by the Leverhulme Trust (hence the name), jointly with Pat Bateson and Barry Keverne of the sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, a £2.1M grant for a 10 year programme of research into human evolution and development. This funding, and support from the Vice Chancellor's Strategic fund, allowed for the appointment of three more lecturers – one in Zoology and two in LCHES/Biological Anthropology, post-docs and PhD students. A further lecturer in genetics and a 5-year RCUK Fellow in ancient DNA were later appointed. The range of activities in LCHES is reflected in the number of projects funded, which between 2000 and 2011 amounted to more than £5.5M. These projects ranged from the study of languages, genes and cultures in Island Melanesia, to the study of ancient DNA from ethnographic hair samples from Malaysia, to archaeological and genetic investigations of early human dispersals in India, to studies of the behavioural ecology of hunter-gatherers or the prehistoric archaeology of the Sahara. In 2008, a new Masters in Human Evolutionary Studies built on the success of the Centre, and provided an educational opportunity for developing trans-disciplinary skills in human evolutionary studies at graduate level.
In 2011, following the end of the Leverhulme Human Evolution and Development Research Programme, the Heads of the Departments of Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology and Archaeology recommended in June 2011 the reallocation of space in the Henry Wellcome Building for wider departmental use. In 2012, with the unification of the Departments, this was implemented by the new Head. LCHES now shares a small part of the building with other research groups in the Department.
LCHES began as an idea of how to do research into human evolution. In 2013, it supports projects into the origins of modern humans in Africa, the African Middle Stone Age, the prehistory of the Sahara, 3D models of human morphology, early technology and human evolution, the genetics of East African populations, morphological diversity in australopithecines, culture-demography simulations, the biology of the Garamantes of Fezzan, as well as being the custodian of the Duckworth Collection.