Ongoing Research Projects
Craniometric variation and neutral human population history
To what extent does global human craniometric variation fit a neutral microevolutionary model of population history? A growing body of literature, based on numerous independent datasets, suggests that the majority of human craniometric variation is consistent with neutral population processes such as genetic drift and gene flow, as opposed to natural selection. Within this broader context, research is focused on the relative neutrality of different regions of the cranium, delineated on the basis of specific criteria, such as modes of ossification, functional complexity, individual bones and masticatory function.
Funding: Gates Cambridge Trust Scholarship, St. John’s College Cambridge, the EU SYNTHESYS initiative.
Craniometric evidence for the transition to agriculture in Europe
As part of a larger research project led by Ron Pinhasi, we have been investigating the biological nature of the transition to agriculture in Europe by using series of Mesolithic and Neolithic crania to test explicit models of demic versus cultural diffusion of early Neolithic populations from the Near East into central and eastern Europe. Using craniometric data to tackle these long standing questions is advantageous in the sense that they can serve as a proxy for population-level parameters, yet are more geographically and temporally widespread than the currently available samples of ancient DNA. Moreover, by using samples of crania, questions about the actual populations of interest can be tested directly rather than relying on modern European genetic samples, which may not accurately reflect past population processes. Recently, in collaboration with Jay Stock, we have expanded these analyses to include postcranial and cranial datasets, in order to directly compare the effect of population history and environmental influences on skeletal variability.
Funding: European Research Council Starting Grant (2010-StG 263441)
Genetic-morphometric congruence in non-human primate taxa
In collaboration with Heather Smith, we have been investigating the extent of congruence between genetic and phenotypic estimates of taxon relationships within the hominoids and the papionins. Specifically, we are testing whether the craniomandibular regions found to be reliable in modern humans for reconstructing population history are also relatively reliable for estimating genetic relationships in non-human primates. This approach will allow us to detect areas of agreement and disagreement in terms of relative genetic congruence across a broad range of primates, and also to test these predictions at various taxonomic levels; intra-generic, inter-generic and intra-specific. The results of these analyses will help to generate a more accurate inference model for the fossil hominins regarding the strength of the phylogenetic signal in craniomandibular morphology.
Funding: L.S.B. Leakey Foundation Research Grant