Prof Tracy Kivell project highlighted in ERC’s funding success campaign

Olivia Miller

Professor Tracy Kivell from the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC) has been recognised along with 14 other grantees to celebrate the European Research Council (ERC)’s milestone of funding 10,000 grantees.

In 2013, Professor Kivell was awarded an ERC starting grant to carry out a research project titled ‘GRASP – Evolution of the human hand: Grasping trees and tools’. This research unearthed the secrets of human evolution through the analysis of 2-million-year-old fossilised hands.

The ERC grant allowed Professor Kivell to further her research interests from primate locomotion and biomechanics into the study of internal bone structure. The depth and breadth of the research enabled Professor Kivell’s project team to demonstrate that some fossil human species still used their hands for climbing, while at the same time being capable of complex tool use. Dr Christopher Dunmore, who completed his PhD with Professor Kivell and Professor Matthew Skinner (a collaborator on her grant) at Kent, played a critical role in the research.

Professor Kivell’s research project has been highlighted in the ERC’s success campaign ‘How the ERC transformed science’, showcasing how its grantees are making a real impact on people’s lives.

Professor Kivell said: ‘This grant enabled me to take a really multidisciplinary approach to reconstructing behaviour from the past. The new fossils revealed combinations of anatomy that could never have been predicted from just looking at humans or apes. The key was being able to interpret behaviour from fossils in a more comparative and robust way.’

Currently a collaborator on an ERC Consolidator Grant awarded in 2018, Professor Kivell continues her research into internal bone structure. ‘I am really interested to focus in the future on how high impact behaviours, like running or climbing, are reflected in bone, to assess the adaptability of bone structure’, adds Professor Kivell.

A showcase of Professor Kivell’s research project can be accessed on ERC’s website, including a podcast interview.