Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

From the Field: Nicole Squyres

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Nicole Squyres is a PhD candidate from Johns Hopkins University. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant in our fall 2014 cycle for her project entitled “Morphological variation in the distal femur of modern humans and fossil hominins.”

Nicole Squyres Nicole Squyres

The Leakey Foundation Research Grant has funded my travels to several different skeletal collections both within the US and Europe as part of the data collection for my PhD. At these collections, I have used a portable NextEngine 3D laser scanner to collect detailed surface scans of modern human and Neanderthal femora. I am now using this set of scans to collect data in the form of linear measurements and 3D geometric morphometric point data, which I will use to test several hypotheses about human variation in distal femoral morphology and the evolution of the hominin knee. I am interested in the evolution of the human knee because our ability to walk bipedally is one of the most unique characteristics of the human species. The shape of the distal femur had to change significantly from the ancestral hominoid condition in order make this type of locomotion possible. Although this morphology has been evaluated in various fossil hominins, there is still debate on how to interpret potential differences in femoral morphology and therefore locomotor behavior between these species and modern humans. The goal of my project is to examine differences in knee shape between hominins and modern humans within the greater context of the overall variation in knee shape within modern humans.

Neanderthal femur Neanderthal femur

In January of 2015, I spent two weeks at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville TN. There, I collected scans of 60 skeletal individuals from the Native American Arikara population from South Dakota. In February of 2015, I spent two weeks at the University of Colorado Boulder where I collected scans of an additional 60 skeletal individuals from the Kulubnarti population of medieval Sudanese Nubia. In May-June of 2015 I travelled to Europe to collect additional data. In Brussels, I visited the Institut Royal des Sciences Naturellles de Belgique, where I collected scans of 5 African pygmy individuals as well as the Spy II Neanderthal specimen. I then visited Bonn, where I scanned the Neanderthal 1 individual at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum. Before receiving the Leakey Grant, I had also collected scans from three modern human populations at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC. Additionally, I had been sent scans of several australopith and early Homo femora from other researchers. My dataset of scans therefore consists of 291 modern human femora from six different populations and 13 fossil hominin femora from several different species.

Unfortunately, I was unable to visit either the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, or the National History Museum in London as proposed in my grant because collections at both museums have been closed for at least the next year while renovations are made to the collections. I was, however, able to obtain CT scans of the two Neanderthal specimens in Paris and will therefore be able to include these individuals in the project even though I could not visit them in person. At this point I have collected all of the scans needed to complete my research. I am currently in the process of taking linear measurements from the scans and of analyzing shape differences within the dataset using 3D geometric morphometrics. I will be presenting findings from this project at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting this year.

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