Research

The Forensic Anthropology Research Centre (FARC) at the University of Pretoria has a research focus on human variation in modern populations, particularly South Africans, for applications in orthodontics and medico-legal investigations, namely facial approximations, presumptive identifications, patterns of decomposition and interpretations of traumatic injury to bone. FARC researchers also have interests in evolutionary history of South African fossil hominins as well as education in physical anthropology and expertise development in the discipline. Additionally, FARC provides education for undergraduate and postgraduate students, law enforcement, and the private sector in skeletal biology, and conducts skeletal analyses of unknown persons for the Forensic Pathology Services (FPS) in Gauteng and Limpopo as well as the South African Police Service (SAPS).

 

Collaborative research teams at FARC comprise of national and international researchers who have published on a variety of broad topics including: human variation (sex, ancestry and stature); age and sex estimation of South African children; facial approximations and reconstruction; periodontics and dental implants; patterns of decomposition in the South African Highveld; identification of Khoesan skeleton in European collections; comparison of bone trauma in blast injuries; and examination of the endocasts and postcranial remains of fossil hominins. International and national conference presentations and workshops have also been given on the application of bone trauma in medico-legal investigations, R-statistics, human and hominin variation. We also provide forensic anthropology training for six human rights members of the Solidarity, Peace, Trust/Ukuthula Trust, which is an NGO focused on human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The National Research Foundation (NRF), Erasmus+ and postgraduate bursaries from UP provide funding for postgraduate and postdoctoral students.

 

Two extraordinary staff members of the FARC are addressing critical areas of modern human and hominin research. Their research places them within the leading edge of international biological anthropology, not only with numerous publication in international journals but also with the development of large databases, statistical programmes and with the application of advancement of 3D modelling methods to evaluate hominin brain complexity for the emergence of language and to classify fragmentary hominin remains.

 

Dr Kyra Stull, a PhD graduate from the University of Pretoria, and currently an extraordinary lecturer in FARC and a full-time Faculty member at the University of Nevada, Reno, was the first anthropologist to capture a suitable range of osteometric variation among South African children less than 12 years for the purposes of evaluating trends in growth, development and sexual dimorphism. With the data and with the use of appropriate statistical analyses, she designed a software program (KidStats) for anthropologists to utilize and as such, her results offer a practical application in forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology. Dr Stull collaborates on age and ancestry estimation projects with MSc and PhD students at the University of Pretoria. Information on KidStats and Dr. Stull’s databases for children can be found on https://kyrastull.weebly.com/ In the United States, she recently received two National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grants (approximately $600,000 USD) and a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for her research into human variation in age and sex of children. 

 

Dr Amélie Beaudet, an extraordinary professor in FARC and a post-doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand, is redefining our understanding of human evolution and the biology of fossil hominins in South Africa by reconstructing their evolutionary history, paleobiology and paleobiodiversity.  She is working in collaboration with researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA), at Pelindaba. Using various 3D modelling methods, her team is non-invasively exploring fossil remains from the numerous African paleoanthropological sites, namely Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Makapansgat, and Taung. She has a particular interest in brain evolution and cerebral organization of fossil hominins. In 2017, she and her colleagues studied the endocasts of Australopithecines, archaic Homo sapiens and modern humans as a means to chart neuroanatomical changes in early hominids and to reconstruct evolutionary trajectories for brain development in the human lineage, providing researchers with promising functional implications and technical perspectives on brain and cranial expansion. She is co-supervising an MSc student at the University of Pretoria on the development of variation using endocasts. The student is part of the European Erasmus Mundus program AESOP+ with a research mobility grant at the University of Toulouse. Additionally, she is developing new analytical tools to improve the identification of isolated cranial fragments or incomplete hominin crania.

FARC has strong collaborative ties with the international community in biological anthropology. Collaborations have aided in bringing southern African forensic anthropology, as a discipline, on par with international standards particularly regarding technological and statistical advances; international student exchange; and workshops. Additionally, international and national collaborations have also generated new topics in periodontics and hominin neuroanatomy, which are enriching and broadening our research focus and those of our students. 

 

 

Contact: Prof EN L’Abbé, [email protected], 012-319-2438

- Author Prof Ericka L'Abbe
Published by Clarisa van der Merwe

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