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Teeth, wear and environment: how diet influenced early human evolution

Background: Strong climatic changes may have been the primary drivers of human evolution. Understanding how early human (hominin) foraging and feeding behaviour changed in response is key to understanding the evolution of our lineage, yet major questions remain unresolved. Diet is a direct reflection and driver of the biology, ecology and evolution of any species. Dietary analysis is particularly important when studying extinct species where behaviour and ecology cannot be directly observed and anatomy is represented by partial or fragmentary remains. Project aim/s: A novel way to answers these key questions is to use a multidisciplinary approach that considers different components of the masticatory system such as tooth architecture, dental wear and jaw movements. This study will be based on one of the largest samples of African hominin species ever assessed and it will advance our knowledge on how early human populations adapted to various feeding strategies to cope with habitat degradation associated with climatic changes. The methods employed in this project have been successfully used to reconstruct the diet of past human populations including hunter-gatherer groups, such as Inuit and Australian Aborigines, and Eurasian fossil humans, such as the Neanderthals. The project’s interdisciplinary framework will help resolve longstanding questions surrounding feeding behaviour during one of the most extraordinary phases in human evolution: the Plio-Pleistocene hominin radiation. The answers are of utmost significance to biological anthropology, as they illuminate central factors that drove the evolution of our lineage and led to the ultimate success of our own species. 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 PhD 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 PhD 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
Anatomy and Developmental Biology
Available options 
Time commitment 
Top-up scholarship funding available 
Physical location 
Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Ottmar Kullmer

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