One of the most important goals of the Paleoanthropology work group is the understanding of the evolutionary processes which critically influenced human evolution and which shaped modern human phenotypic variation around the globe today.
We approach this goal in an interdisciplinary and integrative fashion
Our comparative samples comprise a large number of modern human population series from across the modern human geographic and ecological range. They also include our closest living relatives, non-human primate species.
The proximal goals of this work are to disentangle the evolutionary mechanisms underlying human phenotypic variation and to apply these findings to the interpretation of the human fossil record.
Ultimately we aim to elucidate the biological and historical processes through which have shaped human evolution in the past (and are likely to do so in the future). Within our theoretical framework of comparative study we apply the methodologies:
Additionally, we integrate climatic (Harvati and Weaver, 2006a,b; Tzedakis et al. 2007; Hubbe et al. 2009; Noback et al. 2011, [see citations]), archaeological (Hubbe et al. 2011), stable isotopic (e.g. Richards et al., 2008) and genetic (Harvati and Weaver, 2006a,b) data with phenotypic data.
The influence on climate and diet on human craniofacial morphology.
A link between climatic adaptation / dietary function on the one hand, and craniofacial morphology on the other has long been postulated in the interpretation of fossil as well as modern human skeletal variation. Our recent seminal studies confirmed the hypothesis of climate selection of human cranial anatomy, especially in the face. This work has been widely cited in the literature and featured in popular science reports (Science, Nature).
Since 2010 a dissertation by Marlijn Noback aims to further evaluate the influence of climate in combination with dietary functional requirements in shaping modern human external and internal cranial morphology. This project is conducted on CT scans of a large comparative sample of geographic populations of known distinct climatic categories and dietary adaptations, and has been awarded four external grants (SYNTHESYS Copenhagen and Vienna, L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and Wenner-Gren Foundation dissertation grants).