24.10.2017 - 13:19
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Early Hominin Diversity

The story of early human evolution is being reshaped by recent research that provides convergent evidence of taxonomic and behavioural diversity in early hominins. Our work on early hominin taxonomic diversity includes the description of new hominin species, improved characterisation of known species, and methodological advancements in testing for the presence of multiple species in a fossil sample. So as to better understand behavioural diversity, we investigate osteological remains to infer early hominin locomotion and tool use, as well as zooarchaeological evidence of tool use and dietary ecology.

Determining the number of species represented in a fossil sample and the identity of those species poses a challenge for paleoanthropology. The fossilized skeletal remains are typically incomplete, sample sizes are small and specimens can be poorly preserved. Researchers in the department use the methods of “Virtual Paleoanthropology” to maximise the quality of data extracted from fossil remains and to build a solid comparative framework for interpretation.

Hominin Behavioural Diversity

Species sharing the same habitat will typically differ in ecological niche—for instance, divergent foraging strategies, different locations for sheltering or nesting and, of particular interest in human evolution, potential differences in the manufacture or use of stone tools. Researchers in the department are investigating differences in hominin behaviour, to better understand the ecological implications of early hominin diversity.

Functional morphology of the upper limb

Department members are studying the functional morphology of the hand and the shoulder, with the goal of characterising how natural selection has shaped the hominin postcranial skeleton. This research adds to two long-standing debates in hominin evolution: Did our early ancestors still spend time climbing in trees? And, when and in which species did tool-use evolve?

Internal bone structure

Variation in internal bone structure (trabecular and cortical bone) makes it possible to infer aspects of behaviour in fossil hominins from high-resolution microCT images. This work is grounded on the principle that bone remodels in response to stresses and strains experienced during an individual’s lifetime. Thus, it provides an avenue to examine behaviour at an individual level—a different scale than the studies of external bone morphology.