Officials at the University of California at Berkeley, where Howell was a professor emeritus, said that Howell was diagnosed with cancer last year, The New York Times reported. He died Saturday.
Howell began using expertise from other scientific areas as head of an expedition to the Omo Basin in Ethiopia from 1968-73.
"He was as much a Paleolithic archaeologist interested in prehistory as a physical anthropologist interested in anatomy," Tim White, a longtime colleague at Berkeley, told the Times. "He integrated the physical, biological and behavioral sciences."
Howell had a long association with Louis Leakey, who first suggested that humans evolved in Africa, and his wife, Mary, and son, Richard. Howell also encouraged Africans to take a greater role in research on human origins.
Howell founded the Human Evolution Research Center at Berkeley in 1970.