Hominin brain evolution in a comparative context

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Aida Gomez-Robles

Anthropology, UCL

Aida Gomez-Robles's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Christophe Soligo

Anthropology, UCL

Christophe Soligo's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Understanding the evolution of the hominin brain is challenging because brain tissue is not preserved in the fossil record. Instead, inferences on brain structure and function in fossil species need to be made based on the anatomy of endocranial casts (also called endocasts), the positive casts of the cranial cavity, which houses the brain when individuals are alive.

Living primates, however, provide an appropriate comparative context where brain variation can be compared with endocranial variation. Through this project, the patterns of covariation between brain anatomy and endocranial anatomy will be assessed across primates using MRI scans to study brains and CT-scans to study endocasts. This comparative context will be used to quantitatively infer patterns of brain evolution in fossil hominins based on the variation of their endocranial casts. This project will provide fundamental insight into when and how the modern pattern of brain organisation emerged during our evolutionary history, as well as into the differences in brain organisation between different hominin lineages.

The project will use a combination of virtual anthropology and quantitative approaches, including 3D geometric morphometrics, phylogenetic comparative methods and quantitative genetics.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding brain variation and evolution across primates is fundamental to elucidate how primates interact with their environments, which has potential implications for conservation. This primate comparative context is essential as a framework to understand human brain evolution and the changes undergone by fossil human species, which have deep implications for human health and development.

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