The Biological Anthropology Collection is housed across laboratories and storage spaces of the School of Archaeology and Anthropology (Banks Building). The collection includes physical casts of human and non-human primate skeletons. The purpose of the collection is to provide a comparative source of biological and anatomical data about human and hominin skeletal variation and morphology that characterised humans and our ancestral species over the past 7-8 million years.
This collection is fundamental to the study of human past. The specimens are regularly showcased as part of public events such as Open Days and outreach sessions that promote understanding of human evolution and modern variation. Both students and staff, as well as external visitors access our specimens on a regular basis as part of ANU undergraduate and postgraduate courses and programs, and externally and internally funded research projects:
3D surface scanning of hominin skull casts to investigate evolution of hominin social behaviour
We hold an extensive collection of hominin skull casts that represent fossils of species dated to various points in time spanning the past 7-8 million years. This includes Sahelanthropus tchadensis - the earliest known 7 million year old common ancestor to humans and chimpanzees, or Homo floresiensis – an unusually small extinct hominin, informally known as the ‘Hobbit’, who would likely lived 60-100k years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores. One of the major research lines in our School is investigating the evolution of hominin social behaviour, which can be reconstructed from fossil skull shape and size variation. This gives an insight into sexual dimorphism of extinct hominins. Our palaeoanthropologist, Dr Katharine Balolia, uses the cast collection to undertake 3D skull surface scanning for geometric morphometric analyses.
Neanderthal skull cast
Human skeletal development, growth, and pathology cast series
Another component of biological anthropology teaching and research in our School is the study of archaeological human health, disease, and forensic cases (bioarchaeology, palaeopathology, forensic anthropology). To inform various research questions in these areas we house and use a reference collection of modern human bone and tooth casts. These are sourced from Bone Clones, Inc. Osteological Reproductions, a company based in California US, which specialises in osteological replicas of human skeletons based on real medical and forensic cases. We store hundreds of different casts including full sets of adult human skeletons, foetal and juvenile series, examples of trauma, injuries, infectious diseases, various developmental abnormalities, and even artificial modification (such as skull binding). The casts are made from custom prepared polyurethane resin. They are precise and of extremely high quality, which makes them a unique source of modern human skeletal anatomy and morphology.
Forensic anthropology students practising field recovery methods excavating a human skeleton replica (pre-COVID!)