The quality of the early hominin fossil record: implications for evolutionary analyses

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Simon Maxwell

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Start Year

2014 (Cohort 1)

Research interests:

I am interested in many areas of human evolution and especially the trend toward big brains and increased intelligence. My current research focuses on the quality of the early African fossil record of hominin evolution.

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PhD Project
PhD Title

The quality of the early hominin fossil record: implications for evolutionary analyses

Research Theme

Past Life and Environments

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The tribe Hominini (a member of which is termed a hominin) comprises modern humans and all fossil taxa that are more closely related to modern humans than to chimpanzees – our closest extant relative. Molecular clock studies estimate this group diverged during the late Miocene and fossil evidence reveals a complex history of mosaic evolution and faunal turnover thereafter. They represented a morphologically and ecologically diverse group throughout the Plio-Pleistocene and their evolution includes the transition to obligate bipedalism, reduced sexual dimorphism, increased carnivory, grossly enlarged brains and tool manufacture and use – all highly derived adaptations within the family Hominidae (great apes). However, their fossil record is notoriously poor, particularly during their estimated time of origin, and most research on macroevolutionary pattern and process involves a literal interpretation of the fossil record. My research provides a detailed examination of the early evolution and biogeography of Hominini and the quality of their fossil record. This includes an assessment of species richness; fossil record completeness; potential sources of bias; the merit of current phylogenies; and biogeographic history. My project also combines the use of stable isotope analyses of fossil carnivore enamel from key hominin localities to infer the time scales over which hominin fossil assemblages accumulate and the degree to which they are time averaged.

Policy Impact
Background Reading


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