The Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory is dedicated to understanding the link between variation and evolutionary process. Using innovative quantitative methods and theoretical approaches, we aim to fundamentally reshape our understanding of how and why we have evolved to be the diverse humans we are today.

The laboratory is involved in knowledge production around racism and decolonisation of biological anthropology. It is also affiliated with the Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI).

The lab houses equipment for three-dimensional data acquisition and analysis, including an Artec Space Spider, Microscribe 3-D digitisers, and Avizo software. We have a 3D printer, a substantial collection of 3D scans, and a large collection of primate and hominin casts.

Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory


The Morphology Laboratory focuses on four research areas:

Variation: Understanding variation is key to interpreting the fossil past of human evolution. A large part of our research is dedicated to quantifying morphological variation and integration across the skeleton of humans and other primates to investigate development and evolution.

Evolutionary process: Variation is necessary for evolution and vice versa. Our research explores this link between variation and evolutionary process using quantitative methods grounded in evolutionary theory, to understand the relative roles that adaptation (selection), chance (genetic drift), and hybridisation (gene flow) have played in shaping human evolution. Projects range from studies of living primates (e.g. macaques, baboons) and other mammals (e.g. mice) to investigations of fossil hominins. We are also investigating pattern and process through palaeoproteomic collaborations.

Geometric morphometrics: Some of the research above is done using geometric morphometrics, a tool for statistical 3D shape comparisons. We are also interested in linking these statistical tools more directly with the methodological approaches derived from quantitative evolutionary genetics. These methods can also be used for the analysis of archaeological materials.

Race and Decolonisation: Biological anthropology is a colonial discipline with a long history of practicing science in the service of racism. We are working towards dismantling white supremacy in the discipline, including in field and methodological practice, but also by interrogating how scientific narratives are shaped and their impact on communities.

Students at the laboratory:

  • Nomawethu Hlazo (PhD)
  • Robyn Humphreys (PhD)
  • Palesa Madupe (PhD)
  • Annelize Kotze (MSc)
  • Tarryn Sasha Fullerton (MSc)
  • Lauren Powell (MSc)
  • Jenna Larangeira (MSc)

Selected publications

Zdjelar N, L Nagendran, C Kendall, RR Ackermann, L Schroeder. 2021. The hybrid skull of the eastern coyote (Canis latrans var.): nonmetric traits and craniomandibular shape. Journal of Morphology.

Buck LT, DC Katz, RR Ackermann, L Hlusko, S Kanthaswamy, TD Weaver. 2021. Effects of hybridisation on pelvic morphology: a macaque model. Journal of Human Evolution. 159, 1030-1049.

Athreya S and RR Ackermann. 2020. Colonialism and narratives of human origins in Asia and Africa. In: Interrogating Human Origins: Decolonisation and the Deep Past.  M Porr and J Matthews, Eds. Archaeological Orientation Series. Routledge: Abingdon. (Series editors: Christopher Witmore and Gavin Lucas). Preprint AfricaArxiv DOI: 10.31730/

Humphreys R, J Bam-Hutchison, RR Ackermann. 2020. Archaeology is changing, slowly, but it’s still too tied up in colonial practices. The Conversation. May 27.

Ackermann RR, ML Arnold, MD Baiz, J Cahill, L Cortes-Ortiz, B Evans, BR Grant, PR Grant, B Hallgrimsson, R Humphreys, CJ Jolly, J Malukiewicz, CJ Percival, T Ritzman, C Roos, CC Roseman, L Schroeder, FH Smith, K Warren, R Wayne, D Zinner. 2020. Hybridization in human evolution: insights from other organisms. Evolutionary Anthropology. Preprint (2018) AfricArxiv DOI: 10.31730/


Prof Rebecca Ackermann
Archaeology Department
Beattie Building, Room 3.1.1
+27 (0)21 650 2356