Facial morphology of Australopithecus afaransis: exploring intraspecific variation in human evolution

Profile
Profile Display Name:

Hester Hanegraef

E-mail Address:

h.hanegraef@nhm.ac.uk

Start Year

2017 (Cohort 4)

Research interests:
Hobbies and interests:
PhD Project
PhD Title

Facial morphology of Australopithecus afaransis: exploring intraspecific variation in human evolution

Research Theme

Evolution and Adaptation

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution

NHM

Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution

UCL

Abstract

Morphological variation of known species is an essential aspect that needs to be considered when attributing fossils to specific taxa. When studying human evolution, the assumed variation of extinct species is mostly inferred from samples of modern humans and apes. However, these extant species are not necessarily representative, most obviously as they sample a much shorter time period. Thus, exploring the morphological variation of a well defined early hominin species could provide an alternative and improved standard. Australopithecus afarensis is the best candidate, because it has a large and well-preserved fossil record from eastern Africa, which represents a substantial time period (3.0-3.7 Ma). Facial morphology most commonly differentiates early hominin species, probably reflecting masticatory specialisation and dietary ecological niche. This project therefore focuses on analysing maxillary variation, directly and aided by mandibular evidence. A. afarensis fossils will be virtually reconstructed based on uCT images, removing taphonomic distortion where necessary. Then, 3D geometric morphometric analyses will be used to examine the amount and nature of variation, including sexual dimorphism and temporal trends potentially related to random drift or changes in palaeoclimate and environment. Results will improve our understanding of A. afarensis, and provide a framework for the classification of hominin species.

Policy Impact
Background Reading
Publications

None

News & Blogs

How the skull of humanity’s oldest known ancestor is changing our understanding of evolution, The Conversation
PeerJ Award Winner Hester Hanegraef – Best Talk at the Natural History Museum student conference, PeerJ Blog

Activities
Conferences and Workshops
  • A Changing Planet: The Joint DTP Conference (September 2018).
  • NHM Student Conference (March 2019). Poster: Facial morphology of Australopithecus afaransis: exploring intraspecific variation in human evolution.
  • Dynamic Earth: The Joint DTP Conference (September 2019). Poster: Maxillary morphology of chimpanzees: captive versus wild environments.
  • BABAO Conference (September 2019). Volunteer
  • ESHE Conference (September 2019). Poster: Facial morphology of Australopithecus afaransis: exploring intraspecific variation in human evolution.
  • NHM Student Conference (March 2020). Talk: Intraspecific variation in the maxillary morphology of Australopithecus afaransis.
  • ESHE Conference (September 2020). Talk: Are subspecies of African apes morphologically distinct? Evidence from the maxilla.
  • NHM Student Conference (June 2021). Organiser
  • Darwin Day Conference (January 2020). Invited Speaker: Intraspecific variation in the maxillary morphology of Australopithecus afaransis.
Engagement
  • Palaeoanthropology Display Table for Open Days at UCL Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology Workshop for Taster Courses at UCL Anthropology
  • Human Evolution Table for European Researchers Night at Natural History Museum
  • Nature Live ‘Redrawing Our Family Tree’ at Natural History Museum
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