Modern human variation as a model for locomotor evolution in ancestral hominins

   Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences

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  Dr Karl Bates, Dr Kristiaan D’Aout, Dr James Charles  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The transition to terrestrial bipedalism represents a defining episode in the history of our species. Understanding how, when, and why upright bipedalism evolved in hominins requires the biomechanics of fossil organisms to be analysed. Fossilized bones and footprints represent our only evidence in this respect. Interpretations of fossils must be guided by information on how bone and footprint morphology are linked to the biomechanics of walking in living animals. In other words, to understand extinct morphologies and evolutionary transitions we must understand the links between anatomy and biomechanics in living systems: the present is the key to the past.

In this project, the student will utilise large medical image (MRI) and experimental gait data sets collected by the supervisors (Bates et al. 2013; Charles et al. 2020; Charles et al. 2021; Charles et al. 2022; Kissane et al. 2022) to better understand the relationship between anatomy and locomotor biomechanics in modern humans, focusing on morphological traits considered crucial to the evolution of hominin bipedalism. Initial analyses of this data set has suggested that relative expression of features in the distal limb and foot thought to be adaptively significant to human bipedalism correlate poorly with energetic costs (Charles et al. 2021). However, correlations between more proximal limb anatomy and the pelvis, and indeed other aspects of body shape, remain untested. The student will address this knowledge gap first through statistical analyses of morphological and experimental gait data, and second through parametric computer modelling to examine the causative underpinning correlations identified between anatomy and locomotor mechanics.

The ideal student would have a keen interest or background in human anatomy and evolution, zoology/palaeontology and/or biomechanics, and skills in morphometrics, mechanical and/or 3D digital techniques and/or computer simulation, but training will be provided in all techniques to be used. The student will be based primarily with Dr Bates in the Evolutionary Morphology & Biomechanics Group at Liverpool.

Anthropology (2) Biological Sciences (4) Forensic and Archaeological Sciences (16) Geology (18) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded project. The student is therefore expected to fund their own registration fees and stipend, as well as research costs. Research costs may vary depending on the final focus of the project, but we estimate between £1000-£3500 will be required.


Bates, K.T., Collins, D., Savage, R., Webster, E., Pataky, T.C., McClymont, J., D’Aout, K., Sellers, W.I., Bennett, M.R. & Crompton, R.H. 2013. The evolution of compliance in the human lateral mid-foot. Proceedings of Royal Society B 280(1769): 20131818.
Charles, J.P., Grant, B., D’Août, K. & Bates, K.T. 2020. Subject-specific muscle properties from diffusion tensor imaging significantly improve the accuracy of biomechanical models. Journal of Anatomy 237: 941-959. DOI: 10.1111/joa.13261.
Charles, J.P., Grant, B., D’Août, K. & Bates, K.T. 2021. Foot anatomy, walking energetics and the evolution of human bipedalism. Journal of Human Evolution 156, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2021.103014.
Charles, J., Kissane, R., Hoehurtner, T. & Bates, K.T. 2022. From fibre to function: are we accurately representing muscle architecture and performance? Biological Reviews.
Kissane, R., Charles, J., Banks, R. & Bates, K.T. 2022. Skeletal muscle function underpins muscle spindle abundance. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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