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Dr Sally Street

Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology
Department Representative in the Durham Research Methods Centre
Fellow of the Durham Research Methods Centre


Research profile

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.


PhD in cultural evolution of music

I am particularly 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

Research interests

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


Chapter in book

Journal Article

Supervision students