UCL Anthropology


Hester Hanegraef

Hester Hanegraef

UCL Email: hester.hanegraef.15@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: https://london-nerc-dtp.org/profile/hanegraefh/
Year of start: 2017
Supervisors: Fred Spoor (Natural History Museum) and Christophe Soligo
Subject: Biological Anthropology

PhD Research

Facial morphology of Australopithecus afarensis: exploring intraspecific variation in human evolution

Morphological variation of known species is an essential aspect that needs to be considered when attributing fossils to specific taxa. When studying human evolution, the assumed variation of extinct species is mostly inferred from samples of modern humans and great apes. However, these extant species are not necessarily representative, most obviously as they sample a much shorter time period. Thus, exploring the morphological variation of a well-defined early hominin species could provide an alternative and improved standard. Australopithecus afarensis is the best candidate for such a study, because it has a large and well-preserved fossil record from eastern Africa, which represents a substantial time period (3.7-3.0 Ma). Since facial morphology most commonly differentiates early hominin species, this project will focus on analysing maxillary variation, by direct observation and as inferred from mandibular morphology. First, the A. afarensis fossils will be virtually reconstructed based on µCT images, removing breakages, plastic deformations and other taphonomic distortions where necessary to recover the original morphology. Then, 3D geometric morphometric analyses will be used to examine the amount and nature of variation, including sexual dimorphism and temporal trends. Results will provide an improved characterisation of the intraspecific morphological variation shown by A. afarensis maxillae, and provide a framework for species attributions of key Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossils.

Research interests

  • Palaeoanthropology
  • Anatomy
  • 3D Geometric Morphometrics
  • Morphological Variation


  • Hanegraef, H., Martinón-Torres, M., Martínez de Pinillos, M., Martín-Francés, L., Vialet, A., Arsuaga, J. L. & Bermúdez de Castro J. M. (2018). Dentine morphology of Atapuerca-Sima de los Huesos lower molars: evolutionary implications through three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 166(2), 276-295.
  • Hanegraef, H. & Martinón-Torres, M. (2017). Atapuerca: One Million Years of Memories. Anthropolitan, 14, 6‒7.

Presentations & Conferences

  • 19-21 Sept 2019: ESHE Conference (Poster)
  • 12-13 Sept 2019: Dynamic Earth: The Joint DTP Conference (Poster)
  • 3-4 March 2019: NHM Student Conference (Poster)
  • 12-13 Sept 2018: A Changing Planet: The Joint DTP Conference (Attended)

Education History

  • MSc Human Evolution and Behaviour, University College London, UK, 2015-2016
  • MSc Evolution and Behaviour Biology, University of Antwerp, Belgium, 2013-2015
  • BSc Biology, University of Antwerp, Belgium, 2010-2013

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • 2017-present: PhD Funding awarded by London NERC DTP
  • 2016: PGT Dean’s List for Academic Excellence awarded by UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Science