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2019 Project Proposal

Human evolutionary anatomy in silico

Zachary Cofran (Anthropology)

Human evolution is well documented by a vast fossil record, but this ancient evidence is often damaged and/or incomplete. Fortunately, technological advances in the past 20 years have opened new possibilities for reconstructing and analyzing the fragmentary remains of our evolutionary forebears, bringing new evidence to how we became human. This project aims to use these modern methods to reconstruct human fossils from the past two million years, with the aim of creating new models that can be used to study the evolution and development of the skull and brain.

Participating in this project, a student will learn: anatomy of key human fossils, with the aid of both computer models and 3D printouts of original specimens; and state of the art methods for reconstructing, analyzing, and visualizing fossil data, i.e., surface meshes and computed tomography (CT) scans. In addition to the target fossil specimens (including Australopithecus sediba, Homo naledi, and Neandertals), the student will have the opportunity to undertake a fossil reconstruction project of their own design.

The project is open to all, but students who have taken at least one course in biological anthropology (i.e., Anth 120, 232 or 305) and/or have experience using CAD software will have priority.

How should students express interest in this project?
Students should email me (zcofran@vassar.edu) to inquire about, and express interest in, this project.