I am a physical anthropologist interested in hominin/hominid craniofacial variation and focusing on hominin brain evolution and the evolution of brain growth patterns. During ontogeny, the brain grows and develops according to a species-specific pattern. This pattern contributes to adult morphology and therefore can be used to inform evolutionary analyses. However, brains are not preserved in the fossil record. The only direct evidence of brain anatomy are so-called endocasts, casts of the internal table of cranial bones that approximate brain size and its outer morphology.
Therefore, my research concentrates on the investigation of endocasts and the endocranial cavity of humans, fossil hominins and our living relatives. Methodologically, I mostly use digital individuals based on biomedical imaging techniques and geometric morphometrics to quantify and analyze endocranial form (size and shape). To capture endocranial shape, I generate virtual endocasts and use homologous anatomical landmarks as well as semilandmarks on curves and surfaces.
Previous and current research topics include:
- hominin brain size evolution
- changes of endocranial shape during different periods of hominin evolution
- the evolution of brain growth patterns
- the ontogenetic patterns contributing to adult variation of endocranial shape
- the relationship between developmental and evolutionary changes
- the variation of endocranial asymmetry.
My work comprises extensive virtual reconstruction of fragmentary and distorted hominin fossils as well as the study of variation in our extant relatives building the framework to analyze the reconstructed fossils. I have worked on these research questions in recent humans and apes, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus, early Homo, Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and fossil modern humans.
I studied anthropology at the University of Vienna and received a Master’s Degree (Mag. rer. nat.) in 2005. After conducting my PhD project at the Department of Human Evolution of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, I graduated at the University of Leipzig in 2010 and since then hold a PhD (Dr. rer. nat.).