Professor Tracy Kivell
Professor of Biological Anthropology
Primate locomotion; skeletal morphology; origin and evolution of human bipedalism and hand use.
- - T.L.Kivell@kent.ac.uk
- - 01227 (82)4959
School roles and responsibilities
Director of the Animal Postcranial Evolution (APE) Lab.
I am a palaeoanthropologist who studies the functional morphology of the wrist and hand in extant and fossil primates. My research focuses on extant and fossil apes, including fossil hominins, to further our understanding of the origin of human bipedalism and hand use throughout our evolutionary history. I aim to understand the relationship between bone shape and function of the hand through analyses of ontogeny, internal (trabecular and cortical) bone structure, and the biomechanics of primate locomotion. My current research interests include:
- Functional morphology of the Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba hands
- Trabecular and cortical bone structure in extant and fossil primate hands to better understand locomotion and tool-use in early hominins
- Biomechanical analyses of terrestrial and arboreal locomotion in apes
- Functional morphology of fossil hand bones of Miocene hominoids
I received my PhD 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, I was a Research Associate, teaching human gross anatomy at Duke University (2007-2009) and was postdoctoral Junior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (2009-2013). I have participated in palaeontological field excavations at Miocene sites in Hungary as well as Plio-Pleistocene sites in South Africa.back to top
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
I occasionally teach on undergraduate (e.g. SE 302) and graduate (e.g. SE856) modules, but will not be teaching full time until September 2020.back to top
GRASP Evolution of the human hand: Grasping trees and tools (funded by European Research Council Starting Grant 2014-2019) See “Research Projects”or click here
Director of research on Australopithecus sediba hand fossils: Investigation of Au. sediba and Rising Star hand remains from South Africa in collaboration with Lee Berger and Job Kibii (University of the Witwatersrand) and Steve Churchill (Duke University).
Fossil hominin and hominoid hand use: Comparative investigation of fossil hominin (australopiths to Neandertals) and Miocene hominoid 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: Matthew Skinner (UCL), Steve Churchill (Duke University), David Begun (University of Toronto).
Functional signals in trabecular and cortical bone structure: A comparative investigation of internal bony morphology of the primate hand to assess variation in joint loading patterns and how this reflects differences in locomotor and manipulative behaviours. Collaborators: Matthew Skinner (UCL), Dieter Pahr and Thomas Gross (Vienna University of Technology), Huynh Nguyen and Jean-Jacques Hublin (Max Planck Institute-EVA) and Richard Lazenby (University of Northern British Columbia).
Biomechanics of primate locomotion: Investigation of variation in biomechanics of terrestrial and arboreal locomotion in apes as well as other primates, including the aye aye, in both captive and natural settings. Collaborators: Daniel Schmitt and Brian Hare (Duke University) and Roshna Wunderlich (James Madison University).back to top
I can offer supervision of PhD and MA/MSc research within any of my areas of interest – functional morphology of the postcranial skeleton, including external and internal (using microCT data) bony morphology – with a particular focus on the upper limb.
Current PhD students
- Chris Dunmore"Skeletal form and function of the primate hand"
- Leoni Georgiou "Functional morphology of the hip and knee joints in apes and humans"
- Zewdi Tsegai (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
- Nicholas Stephens (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
Past PhD students
- Johanna Neufuss “Hand use and posture during locomotor and non-locomotor behaviours in wild, habituated gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos”
Past Masters students
- Ann-Marie Schilling “Trabecular bone structure in the primate wrist”
Physical Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network (PA WMN), an organization that brings together more senior women in biological anthropology with younger women seeking advice as they transition from their PhD to a postdoc, to their first academic positions and through the tenure process, balancing work, research and family. We organize mentoring events at the American Association of Physical Anthropology (AAPA) conference each year, but offer mentoring year round. I currently sit on the Steering Committee and was Chair of PA WMN in 2011-2012.back to top
I am available to provide commentary or discussion on human or nonhuman primate evolution, primate locomotion, or skeletal morphology and evolution.
- 2014 - BBC4 two-part documentary “Dissected: The Incredible Human Hand and Foot”, aired February 18th
- 2009 - The Daily Planet on Discovery Channel, Canada: “The World is Just Awesome Week”, Episode 13, September 14th: “Unraveling the secrets behind these not-so-cute creatures”
- 2016 - NPR Science Friday, “Lucy’s Bones” September 2nd
- 2015 - BBC World Service, Science in Action, “Evolution of human-like hands” January 22nd
- 2015 - CBC Quirks and Quarks, “Getting a grip on tool use” January 24th
- 2011 - CBC Quirks and Quarks, “Give a Hand for Evolution” September 10th
- 2011 - NPR All Things Considered, “Mosaic fossil could be bridge from apes to humans”, September 8th
- 2009 - CBC Quirks and Quarks, “Walking on our own two feet” September 19th
Popular magazines and websites
- 2015 - Science “Breakthrough of the year”, runner up “Homo naledi comes out of the dark”
- 2015 - Discover magazine, “100 top stories of 2015”, #2 "Homo naledi and the Chamber of secrets”
- 2015 - Science News “The Top 25 Science Stories of 2015” #3, "A new hominid, Rethinking the origins of the genus Homo"
- 2015 - Discover magazine, “The Evolutionary Timeline, Retooled” by Hillary Waterman. November 2015 issue.
- 2015 - BBC news, “Homo naledi: Hands, feet suggest 'jack of all trades"
- 2015 - Nature | Research Highlights, “Early human with familiar handshake” Oct 15, 2015
- 2015 - New York Times, “Homo naledi, new species in human lineage is found in South African cave"
- 2015 - National Geographic, “New Species of Human Relative Discovered in South African Cave” Sept 10th
- 2015 - National Geographic, “Human ancestors may have used tools half-million years earlier than thought”, Dan Vergano, January 22nd
- 2011 - Science News, “Fossil finds offer close look at contested ancestor” by Bruce Bower, October 22nd
- 2010 - BBC Wildlife Magazine, “An arboreal primate takes a few steps to protect its fingers when travelling in trees.” by David Butvill, November, 2010
- 2010 Smithsonian Magazine, 40th Anniversary “Wild Things: Life as We Know It”, by Abigail Tucker, June 2010
- 2009 - New Scientist by Bob Holmes, August 12th “Humans may have learned to walk in trees”