Abstracts of Research Projects

Each Fellow of the Center "Words, Bones, Genes, Tools" aims to conduct a research project during the time at the Center. This includes interdisciplinary projects, collaborations between other fellows, current and associated members of the center. On this site, the abstracts of the projects are sorted in alphabetical order according to the lastname of the fellows.

Dr. Costantino Buzi

Dr. Costantino Buzi’ s research interest is on human cranial cavities and inner structures by means of virtual anthropology, with a focus on paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity and their influence on mid-facial morphology. This, with reference to the early Neanderthals and, more in general, to the pre-modern human populations of Europe and Italy from the Middle to Late Pleistocene. Dr. Buzi is also interested in the digital reconstruction of human fossils and the design of virtual methodologies of analysis. Dr Buzi has combined his laboratorial activities with fieldwork on major fossil sites in Europe and Africa.

Prof. Dr. Rebecca Rogers Ackermann

Professor Ackermann is a palaeoanthropologist who specialises in the roles that various evolutionary processes play in shaping hominin morphology through time.
She is working with Prof Katerina Harvati to investigate the current evidence for hybridization among hominins and how it manifests in the skeleton, particularly in the fossil record of Late Pleistocene humans.

Dr. Mark Hubbe

Dr. Mark Hubbe's research agenda in biological anthropology has been largely focused on two major topics, primarily explored in the context of South American prehistory. The first one relates to early human expansion across the continent, and the second explores the rise of structured social inequality in the South-Central Andes. Recently, these two foci have been complemented by his interest in pursuing a critical review of some of the theoretical and critical assumptions we have in Biological Anthropology and associated disciplines.
More details can be found here: https://anthropology.osu.edu/people/hubbe.1

Prof. Jane Buikstra

Jane Buikstra is a Regents’ Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University (US), where she was the Inaugural Director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research. She received MA and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago and holds an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Durham University (UK).  She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Association of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), and a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Sciences.  She was the Inaugural Editor of the International Journal of Paleopathology and is the President of the Center for American Archeology. She is past-President of the American Anthropological Association, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), and the Paleopathology Association.  She has received the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award (AAPA), the Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Science (Society for American Archaeology), the T. Dale Stewart Award (AAFS), the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology (Archaeological Institute of America), The Lloyd Cotsen Prize for Lifetime Achievement in World Archaeology, the Gorjanovic-Kramberger Medal in Anthropology, Croatian Society of Anthropology, the Aleš Hrdlička Memorial Medal, Anthropology Society of the Czech Republic, the Shanghai Archaeological Forum Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Midwest Archaeological Conference, Distinguished Career Award.

Credited with the establishing the field of (human) bioarcheology, Prof. Buikstra is actively engaged in collaborative research on the global history of infectious diseases, the application of “one health” concepts to the human condition today and in the past, the sacrifice of children in the Ancient Americas, juvenile sex ratios as measures of human health and gender-based neglect,  the role of worldview in human resiliency,  structural and physical violence during the formation of the Greek democracy, and occupational specialization as recorded in the human skeleton.  Her research foci thus include bioarchaeology, paleopathology, forensic anthropology, and paleodemography. Prof. Buikstra has conducted bioarchaeological research in mid-continental North America, the Iberian Peninsula, Colonial Argentina, the west-central Andes, and Mayan Mesoamerica.  A current project focuses upon the Eastern Mediterranean, anchored by the Phaleron Bioarchaeology Project (PBP) at the Wiener Laboratory for Archaeological Science of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (http://phaleron.digital-ascsa.org/project/).  During her fellowship at the DFG Center for Advanced Studies Prof. Buikstra plans to advance collaborations with the PBP, focused upon reconstructing physical activities and occupational specializations in the past and distinguishing peri-mortem from post-mortem blunt force trauma. 

Dr. Antonio Profico

Antonio is a biological anthropologist and morphometrician interested in human evolution and virtual anthropology. His research concerns the application of geometric morphometrics and multivariate statistics for the study of the human fossil record.
He is also developer of different R packages widely used in virtual anthropology (Arothron), dental microwear analysis (MicroWeaR) and cross-sectional geometry (morphomap).

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ProficoA
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Antonio-Profico
GoogleScholar: https://scholar.google.it/citations?user=qMttLZsAAAAJ&hl

Prof. Dr. Rainer Grün

During his stay in Tübingen, Prof. Rainer Grün will work on two projects. 
First he will wirte a review paper on the direct dating of human fossils and their implications for the story of human evolution. This century has seen a dramatic expansion of our knowledge of human evolution. At least four new species were discovered and rapid progress in genetic analysis has given us insights into the complex relationships between some of them. The last review of Prof. Grün on this topic has been published in 2006 (Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 49: 2-48). 

Three important human species were discovered after that point of time. Prof. Grün has personally worked on most of the human fossils that were directly dated (beyond the radiocarbon dating range) in the 2000s. Most genetic and results were also obtained well after 2006. Prof. Grün plans to write the paper with Chris Stringer and they will review the present status of genetic evidence and geochronological results and discuss the implications for human evolution for which the journal Quaternary Science Reviews has committed a full volume. It is expected that Prof Harvati will provide crucial inputs.

Furthermore dating strategies for the sites in Greece that are presently excavated under the leadership of Prof Harvati will be outlined.

Prof. em. John Nerbonne

John Nerbonne has developed a research line applying edit distances to phonetic transcriptions in language variation data. The focused application area has been dialectology, but Jäger's work at Words, Bones, Genes and Tools on historical linguistics uses similar techniques, and there are more. The application to dialectology has used the sum of edit distances based on pairs of pronunciations of the same word in different varieties, but this is quite different from traditional historical work, which emphasizes the importance of regular sound correspondences as clues to historical relatedness.  The current project aims to compare these approaches, first in dialectology, and if some collaboration can arise, on historical data, too.

Prof. Dr. Mirjana Roksandic

The palaeoanthropological community is increasingly recognizing the critical role of the Eastern Mediterranean in the peopling of Eurasia. We now know that humans populated Europe multiple times during the Pleistocene, but the questions of “who,” “when,” and “how” remain unanswered. As part of the Eastern Mediterranean Area, the Balkan Peninsula sits at an important crossroads between Europe and Western Asia. As a potential route of human migration between the Levant, Anatolia, and Western Europe, it holds the key to resolving several major questions about the evolution and population movements of ancient humans. The Peninsula is also a hotspot of biodiversity which served as refuge for plants and animals during the Pleistocene Ice Ages, when glaciers expanded southwards (between 2.6 ma and 10 ka). While adjoining areas (Western Europe and the Near East) have been studied extensively, Palaeolithic evidence from the Balkans is still scarce. Recent surveys and excavations of Palaeolithic sites in Greece and the Central Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia, and Northern Macedonia) have resulted in important discoveries, demonstrating the potential of the region to change the narrative of human evolution in the Pleistocene.


In the Central Balkans Prof. Roksandic works with the team of Prof. Dusan Mihailovic (University of Belgrade). The last 15 years of collaboration have resulted in survey and excavation of numerous sites of which four are hominin bearing sites. They cover the last 500 thousand years of human occupation of the region. The fossils include a partial mandible of a non-Neanderthal hominin from Mala Balanica cave, potentially linked to the Middle Pleistocene of SW Asia and Africa; four 300 ka teeth from Velika Balanica cave assigned to an early Neanderthal group similar to Sima de los Huesos; two more teeth from the same cave that are awaiting analysis; a 100ka tooth, and a somewhat younger juvenile radius from Pešturina cave, both assigned to Neanderthals. All three sites are within 5 km of each other in southern Serbia on the Vardar-Morava corridor. In eastern Serbia, linked to the Danube corridor, we have recently recovered a fragment of a mandible that is still awaiting dating and analysis. Continued excavation, the analysis of the recovered material and establishing the role of these diverse hominins in human evolution in Eurasia will be the main focus of my research while at the DFG Word Bones Genes Tools at the University of Tübingen.

Dr. Kenan Hochuli

We almost entirely live and move in spaces that have been established, shaped and transformed by our predecessors. Human environments do not simply provide the framework in which sociality can take place, they can be understood as artifacts that reflect the way of life for which they were created. But where has this process begun, and what significance must be attached to it? In my research, I examine the emergence and development of prehistoric architectures from an interaction-analytical perspective and with a special interest in the emergence of human (and therefore also: linguistic) communication. The focus of my stay in Tübingen is the exchange with archaeologists and the visit to caves in the Swabian Jura.

Dr. Ivan Roksandic

This project focuses on Xavante toponomastics in central Brazil, its morphophonological features, socio-cultural naming practices, and relevance for supporting Xavante territorial rights. It is a part of a larger international project “Colonization of the sacred places of the Xavante territory,” whose main objectives are to apply different fields of inquiry (linguistics, archaeology, bioanthropology, genetics) in order to document colonial history of the Xavante people on their traditional territory and to contribute to the understanding of the social, political and cultural dynamics that reconfigures their way of life.
The Xavante are an indigenous group which inhabited the Central-West region of Brazil (the north-eastern portion of the State of Mato Grosso) at least since the 1840s. They originally lived in the province of Goiás some 500 km to the east, but gradually moved westward under the pressure of European colonizers, and settled in a dense riparian forest on the banks of the Maraiwatsé'pa River. The village of Maraiwatsé'pa became the political and ceremonial center of the Marãiwatsédé territory, where they lived in relative isolation until the 1930s. After that, however, their territory was continuously encroached upon and invaded by both landless peasants and big land-owners. The acceleration of the socio-economic changes which  characterized the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985) had profound negative impact on their society: in addition to extreme violence, there was a continuous process of erasing their memory, history, and culture, which legitimized the loss of their rights.  
The Xavante language (autonym: A'uwẽ) belongs to the Macro-Jê linguistic stock and to Jean (Gê) linguistic family. Although Xavante – in contrast to most other languages of Brazil – is not endangered, with a relatively healthy number of speakers (estimated at around 9,600, with 7,000 of them monolingual), its position as a minority indigenous language is vulnerable as it lacks comprehensive documentation. The linguistic portion of the project, has four main goals: 1) To document Xavante toponyms on their larger traditional territory and to map their distribution as it was in the times before the dictatorship in order to delineate the extent of traditional Xavante lands and the range of territorial losses. 2) To examine morphophonological characteristics of Xavante place names; this will include comparative analysis with sister languages from the Cerrado (Northern and Central) branches of Jean family, primarily Timbira and Membengokrê. 3) To examine sociolinguistic and referential features of the collected toponyms in the context of Xavante naming practices, as well as their cultural importance, and stories and legends connected with individual locations. 4) To combine results of linguistic investigation with those from other fields of inquiry so as to achieve the main goals of our project. 

Dr. Jérémy Duveau

Jérémy Duveau is a postdoctoral fellow in paleoanthropology supported by the the FYSSEN Foundation. His research focuses on the paleobiology and locomotor behaviours of hominins, and in particular Neandertals, based on the study of postcranial skeletons and footprints. To do so, he uses a multidisciplinary and experimental approach combining comparative and functional anatomy, ichnology, virtual anthropology, morphometry and phylogeny.

After completing a Master's degree in paleontology at the University of Poitiers (France) in 2015 and a second Master's degree in prehistory in 2016 at the French National Museum of Natural History (Paris) in 2016, he completed a PhD in paleoanthropology at the French National Museum of Natural History defended in February 2020. During his PhD, he was mainly interested in the Neandertal footprints discovered on the French site of Le Rozel and the biological information they provided about the groups that lived on this site 80,000 years ago. Since the end of his PhD, he is particularly interested in the simulation and modeling of the locomotion of hominins (recent such as Neandertals or older such as Australopithecus) using the complementary information provided by osteological remains (anatomical robustness, body proportions, joint angles, center of mass) and footprints (distribution of plantar pressures, stride lengths, foot angle).

Dr. April Nowell

Until recently, children have been understudied in the archaeological
record and this is particularly true of Paleolithic children.  Yet, they
likely comprised 40-65% of prehistoric populations and evidence from
burials, stone tools, parietal art, textiles, handprints, footprints and
possible toys strongly suggests that these children made important
contributions to the social, economic and spiritual wellbeing of the
communities of which they were apart.  Focusing on a large sample of
Gravettian ceramics, the proposed project addresses three research
questions--can the ceramic products of novices be distinguished from
those made by experts?  If so, can we tell if these novices were
children? In what ways do the chaînes opératoires of ceramic production
differ from ivory artifact production and what can these similarities
and differences tell us about learning and apprenticeship in the

Prof. Dr. Gustavo Politis

My research during my participation in the project "Words, Bones, Genes, Tools" will concentrate on
the peopling process of South America and on exploring the evolutionary patterns that operated in
the adaptive radiation of Homo sapiens in the continent. The early peopling of the Americas has
been one of the most hotly contested topics in American anthropology. In South America, although
the quantity and quality of data related to this issue have increased exponentially in recent decades
and fostered a growing interest in comprehensive and multi-proxy data, most of the core questions
related to the timing of human arrival and temporal patterns of the colonization process still remain
open. In the last decades, archaeological, bioarchaeological, and paleogenomics research
consolidated the pre-Clovis post-Late Glacial Maximum (LGM) model in one or two expansion waves.
Despite claiming a pre-LGM human occupation, the archaeological record suggests that humans
arrived in South America roughly 14.5 thousand years ago (Prates et al. 2020), shortly after the initial
colonization of the continent. It indicates a rapid spread southwards, several parallel micro-
evolutionary processes, and a fast biological and cultural adaptation to different environments. This
situation opens several fascinating questions which I will approach during my stay in Tübingen.

Dr. Gereon Kaiping

Gereon Kaiping is a language phylogeographer, working as postdoc in
geoinformation science at the University of Zürich. During his
fellowship in Tübingen, his two main research questions relate to
quantifying language contact and estimating the territories or ranges of
different languages, based on geographical factors.

The first project is to look into method to help linguists judge whether
the connection between different languages as donors or recipient in
language contact is likely. It may be possible to provide
likelihood-based suggestions for contact between languages within the
same time period. We would start from a simple sigmoid likelihood
function describing the likelihood of contact, and calibrate it using
known or inferred contact events on the basis of such a travel effort
network. This approach could be extended vice versa to suggestions for
inferred historical locations based on (attested or inferred) borrowing

The second project is inspired by calibrating linguistic phylogenies.
Working on temporal calibrations for Arawakan languages with some
collaborators, we noticed that it is sometimes helpful to treat
archeological ‘cultures’ as proto-languages with no associated data, but
temporal and geographical locations. A probabilistic suggestion of these
connections is a useful long-term goal – likely not achievable within
the time of the fellowship, but it would provide a focus for
discussions, which might lead to a formal model.