KU alumnus, expert in ancient DNA returning as Foundation Distinguished Professor

A Kansas University graduate who went on to become a leading scholar of migration and settlement of the Americas is coming back to KU as a Foundation Distinguished Professor.

Dennis O’Rourke, professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, will join KU’s department of anthropology in January 2016, KU announced Monday.

O’Rourke is considered one of the country’s foremost experts in the use of ancient DNA to reconstruct human settlement, according to KU. His documentation of the genetic diversity of ancient and modern populations in the North American arctic has provided a new view of migration and colonization events.

Dennis O’Rourke

“The addition of Professor O’Rourke to the faculty will make KU’s Department of Anthropology a leader in molecular anthropology, particularly in studies of ancient DNA,” Jane Gibson, professor and chairwoman of the department, said in a news release.

O’Rourke has been with the University of Utah since 1978, with the exception of two years he spent as program director for physical anthropology at the National Science Foundation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from KU in 1973. He also has a master of arts, a master of philosophy and a doctorate from KU, all in anthropology.

O’Rourke is one of six Foundation Distinguished Professors to be hired so far, part of KU’s ongoing initiative to hire 12.