Portrait of Professor Tracy Kivell

Professor Tracy Kivell

Professor of Biological Anthropology

About

Professor Tracy Kivell is a palaeoanthropologist who studies the evolution of the postcranial skeleton in living and fossil primates, including our human ancestors (hominins). Her research focuses on the functional morphology of the hand in fossil apes and hominins to further our understanding of the evolution locomotion, manipulation and tool use throughout our evolutionary history. Tracy aims to better understand the relationship between bone shape and function through analyses of ontogeny (development), internal (trabecular and cortical) bone structure, and the biomechanics of primate locomotion.

Professor Kivell received her PhD in 2007 from the University of Toronto, working on the developmental morphology of the ape wrist and the origin of human bipedalism. Before coming to the University of Kent, she was a Research Associate, teaching human gross anatomy at Duke University, USA (2007-2009), and was postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), Germany (2009-2013). Tracy has participated in palaeontological field excavations at Miocene sites in Hungary as well as Plio-Pleistocene sites in South Africa. 

She is currently an affiliated researcher with the Department of Human Evolution, MPI-EVA and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for the Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.  

Research interests

Current Research Interests

  • Evolution of Miocene apes and fossil hominins
  • Functional morphology of the primate postcranial skeleton
  • Internal (trabecular and cortical) bone structure in extant and fossil primates to reconstruct behaviour in the pasT
  • Behaviour and biomechanics of ape locomotion

Current Projects

  • NEWHUMAN Pathways to humanity: adaptive niche diversity at the origins of the human lineage (PI: Matthew Skinner, Senior Staff Member: Tracy Kivell; funded by European Research Council Consolidator Grant 2019-2024)
  • GRASP Evolution of the human hand: Grasping trees and tools (PI: Tracy Kivell; funded by European Research Council Starting Grant 2014-2019)
  • Director of research on Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi hand fossils: investigation of Au. sediba and H. naledi hand remains from South Africa in collaboration with, among others, Lee Berger (University of the Witwatersrand), Matthew Tocheri (Lakehead University), Caley Orr (University of Colorado), and Steve Churchill (Duke University).
  • Fossil hominin and ape hand use: comparative investigation of fossil hominin (australopiths to Neanderthals) and Miocene ape hand remains using morphometric and micro-CT data. This research aims to shed light on locomotor and tool-use behaviours throughout the evolution of the human lineage. Collaborators include: Matthew Skinner (Kent), Matthew Tocheri (Lakehead University), Erin-Marie Williams-Hatala (Chatham University), Steve Churchill (Duke University), Antonio Rosas (MNCN, Madrid) and David Begun (University of Toronto).
  • Functional signals in trabecular and cortical bone structure: a comparative investigation of internal bony morphology of the postcranial skeleton to assess variation in joint loading patterns and how this reflects differences in locomotor and manipulative behaviours. Collaborators include: Matthew Skinner (Kent), Dieter Pahr and Alex Synek (Vienna University of Technology), Jean-Jacques Hublin (MPI-EVA). 

Teaching

Professor Kivell teaches on the following modules:

Undergraduate

Supervision

Professor Kivell can offer supervision of PhD and MSc research students within any of her areas of interest – functional morphology of the postcranial skeleton, including external and internal (using microCT data) bony morphology and primate locomotor behaviour.

Current Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Dr Zewdi Tsegai (2022-24) ‘FOOTSTEP: How did our ancestors use their feet? Evidence of bipedalism and climbing from internal bone structure, funded by Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Dr Marine Cazenave (2020-22) Evolution of hip joint internal bone structure from fossil human ancestors to modern humans: locomotor and obstetrical constraints, funded by Fyssen Foundation Fellowship
  • Dr Chris Dunmore (2019-present) ERC Consolidator Grant ‘NewHuman’ Postdoctoral Researcher

Current graduate students

  • Rhianna Drummond-Clarke (PhD, Jan 2021-present) Positional behaviour of chimpanzees in Issa, Tanzania (primary supervisor)
  • Andrea Lucova (PhD, Jan 2021-present) Functional signals from the internal bone structure of the hominin knee (co-supervisor)
  • Samar Syeda (PhD, Sept 2020-present) Reconstructing hand use in external and internal morphology of hominoid phalanges (primary supervisor)
  • Simon Chapple (PhD, 2017-present) Assessing the variability and complexity of occlusal tooth patterning in primate enamel-dentine junction morphology as it relates to current systems of tooth crown nomenclature (co-supervisor)
  • Emma Bird (PhD, 2018-present) It’s all in the wrist: understanding the evolution of Homo tool-making through internal bone structure (co-supervisor)
  • Victoria Lockwood (PhD, 2016-present) Pressure and kinematics of the human hand during arboreal locomotion and tool behaviours (George Washington University, USA) (co-supervisor)

Past Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Dr Ameline Bardo (2017-21) Evolution of human dexterity, precision grip and stone tool-making, Fyssen Foundation Fellowship
  • Dr Alastiar Key (2016-19) ‘In the palm of your hand’: A biomechanical study of stone tool design, use, and ergonomics throughout early human evolution, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Dr Julia Arias-Martorell (2016-18), MOSAIC: Evolution of the ape forelimb: evidence from internal bone structure, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Dr Szu-Ching Lu (2015-18) Musculoskeletal modelling and validation of the human and ape hand, ERC Stg Grant ‘GRASP’ project
  • Dr Diana Samuel (2014-2016) Biomechanics of captive bonobo locomotion, ERC Stg Grant ‘GRASP’ project

Past PhD Students

  • Kim Deckers (MPhil, 2017-21) Trabecular ontogeny of the gorilla third metacarpal (primary supervisor)
  • Chris Dunmore (PhD, 2015-19): Functional signals from trabecular bone in the hominoid hand (co-supervisor)
  • Leoni Georgiou (PhD, 2015-19): Locomotor signals in the trabecular structure of the femur in extant and extinct hominoids (co-supervisor)
  • Johanna Neufuss (PhD, 2013-17): Hand use and posture during locomotor and non-locomotor behaviours in wild, habituated gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos
  • Zewdi Tsegai (PhD, 2013-18): Systemic and functional patterns of human and chimpanzee internal bone structure: a regional, systemic and ontogenetic approach (MPI-EVA)
  • Nicholas Stephens (PhD, 2013-18): Functional morphology of the hand: Detecting behaviour during life by way of variation in internal trabecular architecture (MPI-EVA)

Professional

  • Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for the Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (2010-present).
  • Research Associate, Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) 2013-present.
  • Scientific Advisory Board member (2021-present), Institut Català de Paleontologia (ICP) Miquel Crusafont, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • Founding member of SOFAR Network - Supporting Outstanding Female Academics and Researchers
  • Soapbox Science Canterbury, co-organiser of the first Soapbox Science events in Kent, sharing the research of women scientists with the public.
  • External Advisory Board of the Evolution and Ecology Research School Tübingen (EVEREST), Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (2018)
  • Biological Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network (BAWMN), Steering Committee since 2010, Chair in 2011-12.

Professor Tracy Kivell strongly supports the public understanding of science, and particularly the promotion of women in science. She has done radio and/or television interviews for the BBC, Science in Action, NPR and CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, including BBC4’s 'Dissected: The Incredible Human Hand and Foot'. She is available to provide academic comment on topics related to the evolution of human tool use and locomotion, primate manipulative abilities, or functional morphology in the human or primate skeleton more broadly.  

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