skip to primary navigationskip to content

B330: From provinciality to trans-continentality: the evolving scale of hominin species ranges (Lead Supervisor: Robert Foley, Biological Anthropology)

Supervisors: Robert Foley (Biological Anthropology), Marta Miraón Lahr (Biological Anthropology), Andrea Manica (Zoology) and Eske Willerslev (Zoology)

Importance of the area of research:

As the fossil sample has increased, and with the greater application of evolutionary genetics, it has become clear that there are strong geographical patterns to hominin evolution. Furthermore, across the course of hominin evolution, the lineage shifts from being a specifically African one, probably spatially structured, to a transcontinental one. Three major questions arise from the this: the first is how do we identify the geographical structure of hominin diversity; the second is how this maps on to the dynamic biogeography of the Pliocene and Pleistocene; and the third, how do changes in scales of provinciality relate to hominin adaptations. This project will contribute to work on these problems by constructing dynamic biogeographic maps of hominin distributions and their context, and modelling the demographic and evolutionary processes that matches these. The aim will be to understand how hominin biogeography has changed, particularly in later human evolution.

Project summary:

The project will attempt to reconstruct patterns of hominin evolution within a biogeographical framework. Hominin taxa have strong geographical patterns – early hominins are sub-Saharan African; paranthropines appear to be distinct in East and south Africa; Lower Pleistocene Homo is increasingly seen as a number of geographically distinct lineages (Africa, Caucasus, W. Eurasian, East Asian, S.E. Asian); the genetics and palaeontology of the last 100,000 years indicates geographical lineages (H. sapiens, H. neanderthalensis, Denisovans). The project will use the fossil, archaeological and palaeogenetic record to construct geographically-based models of human diversity at different taxonomic levels, in terms of biogeographic zones, and use modelling to explore the processes that may produce these.

What the student will do:

The student will construct a database of hominin fossils, that reflects the main lineages and their morphological features. For modern humans and Neanderthals available genetic data will also be used. Archaeological proxies (distribution of sites, annotated with lithic chcarcteristics, faunal associations, chronology and environmental context) will be used to map space-time distributions. These will be integrated with a dynamic GIS-based map of later Cenozoic biogeography based on faunal evidence, using established datasets (e.g. (e.g.;; From these data models of hominin biogeography across time will be constructed, and tested against spatially explicit simulations of dispersals, palaeoenvironments, habitat fragmentation, etc. For recent human evolution comparisons with inferred hominin populations distributions based on genetic (e.g. phylogeographic) evidence will be made. The objective will be to investigate how changes in both environment and lineage characteristics may influence biogeographic zonation of hominins at different times.  

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Foley, R.A., 1999. The evolutionary geography of Pliocene hominids. In T. Bromage & F. Schrenk, eds. African biogeography, climate change and human evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 328–348.

Mirazón Lahr, M. & Foley, R.A., 2016. Human evolution in Late Quaternary Eastern Africa. In S. C. Jones & B. A. Stewart, eds. Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 215–231. Available at:

Linder, H.P. et al. 2012. The partitioning of Africa: statistically defined biogeographical regions in sub-Saharan Africa. J.Biogeography, 39, pp. 1189–1205.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project

Filed under: