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Research Focus

Research Focus - Comparative Anatomy

3-D model of a skullThe analysis of skeletal anatomy in a wide comparative context, and particularly the application of the principles of cladistics, is of foremost importance in understanding the evolution of morphology and in deciphering phylogenetic relationships. We use these approaches, both metric and non-metric, in our study of fossil hominins.

Our research aims include building phylogenetic hypotheses for Plio-Pleistocene African and European fossil taxa using both cladistic methodology and phenetic metric comparative approaches. We focus especially on the phylogenetic position of the North African fossil material and of the early hominins from East Africa.  Additional research goals include the assessment of the taxonomy of Middle-Late Pleistocene humans in the wide framework of primate variation; the quantitative analysis of morphological characters and character states using geometric morphometric techniques (e.g. the quantitative analysis of the Neanderthal chignon); and the testing of adaptive hypotheses proposed for skeletal anatomy (e.g. the relationship of cranial morphology and climate in modern humans). These research goals are tightly integrated with fossil reconstruction and virtual paleoanthropology.

The department’s resources to these ends are considerable and growing. We are building on our extensive cast collection of fossil hominin specimens, spanning the Plio-Pleistocene and the Old World.  The department also curates a collection of wild chimpanzees specimens from the Taï forest. Finally, we are building a virtual comparative collection of both human and non-human primate fossil and recent skeletal remains.