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Form, function and wear of Neanderthal teeth

Background: Size and shape variation of molar crowns in humans play an important role for testing phylogenetic hypotheses and for better understanding how species adapted to their environment. Recent studies have shown that Neanderthal dental morphology is characterised by distinctive traits with a marked expression and high frequency, differing from those of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). This Honours project will examine molar functional morphology of important fossil specimens of Neanderthals and AMH using a multidisciplinary approach that integrates dental topographic methods with tooth wear and enamel thickness analyses derived from high-resolution 3D digital models of teeth. Project aim/s: This Honours project is part of a large international study, funded by the Australian Research Council, that aims to understand if Neanderthal cranio-dental morphology, characterised by an overall robusticity with a forwardly projecting face and extensive anterior dental wear, was truly adapted to resist powerful bite forces. Specifically, the Honours project has three key aims: • To reconstruct the relationship between occlusal wear and tooth architecture during masticatory function; • To compare the masticatory efficiency in Neanderthals and AMH; • To understand how diet and cultural habits in Pleistocene humans influenced tooth morphology and enamel thickness variation. Research environment and techniques to be utilised: The Palaeodiet Research Lab is a highly multidisciplinary and dynamic team that investigates important biological questions related to humans in an evolutionary context. The lab is led by A/Prof Luca Fiorenza, who has been recognised among Australia top’s researchers by the Australian’s Research 2020 Magazine as Leader in the field of Anthropology. The research produced in our Lab has been published in the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, including Nature, and Nature Ecology & Evolution. Our research has always generated high public interest, and it has been covered in the most important national and international media, such as National Geographic, Scientific American, BBC, CNN and The Times. The Palaeodiet Research Lab will provide world-class trainings for staff and students on how to study human anatomical variability using new digital approaches. The project will be based on advanced digital techniques, ranging from 3D medical imaging to engineering tools. Integration of dental anatomy with engineering tools will be used to create new and exciting methods for functional analyses of the musculoskeletal system; an approach that may eventually inform on applied settings like orthodontics, where the relationship between morphology and dental occlusion is still not well understood. You will have access to a state-of-the-art 3D imaging laboratory, equipped with the most advanced technologies, ranging from ultra-high precision 3D desktop scanner, innovative 3D printers, and with the best 3D imaging and engineering software on the market. Skills During the life of this Honours project you will receive trainings in 3D computer methods, dental anatomy, biomechanics, human osteology, data collection and management, functional morphology, orthodontics, engineering, and statistical analyses. Moreover, due to the interdisciplinary nature of this project, the Honours will also be an opportunity to develop essential transferable skills in communication, presentation, critical thinking, team-based learning, problem solving, decision-making, and time-planning. Skills that apply to jobs in and out of academia.
Essential criteria: 
Minimum entry requirements can be found here:
Dental anatomy, ecology, functional morphology, comparative anatomy, anthropology, evolutionary biology, biomechanics, archaeology
Biomedicine Discovery Institute (School of Biomedical Sciences) » Anatomy and Developmental Biology
Available options 
Time commitment 
Physical location 
Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Assoc Prof 
Alistair Evans
Michael Berthaume

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