The Skeletal Biology and Forensic Anthropology Research Group conducts research that relates to the study of human skeletal and dental remains. This includes sub-fields of biological anthropology such as bioarchaeology (osteoarchaeology), palaeopathology, forensic anthropology, and biology of the human skeleton. Our research in bioarchaeology is primarily focused on Southeast-Asian and European populations, aiming to reconstruct ancient human lifeways, behaviour, health, demography, and disease by studying human remains from archaeological contexts. Our forensic focus is on developing new and more accurate methods of identifying (e.g. estimating stature) recent human remains, and estimating time-since and manner of death. Finally, we study the anatomy, structure, variation, and metabolic processes involved in skeletal growth and function in humans and animal models, to further our current understanding of human skeletal biology. Our analyses combine macro- and microscopic technical approaches in the lab, survey and recovery in the field, and advanced statistical analyses of demographic data.
Professor Marc Oxenham’s chief research focus centres on understanding ancient human biological responses to major lifeway shifts in Southeast Asia, Scotland, and Ireland. His work in Japan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam (in particular) has been funded from a number of sources, with the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and Australian Research Council providing the bulk of support. Most recently, he was awarded a four-year British Academy Global Professorship which he has taken up at the University of Aberdeen. His secondary research focus is elucidating the processes, patterning and rate of soft and hard tissue decomposition in a range of media (surface, sub-surface, and aquatic) in order to develop more precise models for estimating human time since death in Australian conditions.
Dr Justyna Miszkiewicz’s primary research interest is to reconstruct past human behaviour and metabolism using ancient skeletal remains. Secondarily, she aims to further our understanding of skeletal growth and physiology in humans and other vertebrates (skeletal biology). Her methodological expertise lies in hard tissue histology, but she also has experience in experimental biomechanics, X-ray imaging, micro-CT, and synchrotron sourced infrared microspectroscopy. Her current major project funded by the Australian Research Council reconstructs bone metabolism change with lifestyle in ancient Asia-Pacific populations.
Dr Clare McFadden’s research focusses on refining and expanding palaeodemographic and palaeoepidemiological analyses, with an emphasis on application to bioarchaeological samples from Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. She uses skeletally-derived age-at-death data to estimate population dynamics including fertility, the rate of natural population increase, maternal mortality, and elderly age-at-death, and combines this information with palaeopathological data to understand past population health. The application of these tools has reinforced overarching regional trends in population responses to major sociocultural and technological events.
Dr Stacey Ward’s principal research interest is investigating the impacts that large-scale social transitions had on ancient human health, with a particular focus on how these impacts varied among marginalised peoples in prehistoric and protohistoric Southeast Asia. Additional research interests include exploring identity and intersectionality in historic Southeast Asia; mortuary practices, with an emphasis on the practice of cremation; repatriation of Indigenous human remains in Australia and New Zealand, and refining current frameworks for the understanding of social status in the past.
Dr Laura Wilson’s research interests are centred on how the process of development has shaped morphological evolution on different time scales in mammals. Her research spans the fields of evolutionary developmental biology and biological anthropology, united through the application of statistical shape analysis and 3D modelling of hard and soft tissues to address questions that relate to adaptation, ecology and function. She has methods expertise in the analysis of skeletal growth and development, computational biomechanics (Finite Element Analysis), phylogenetic comparative methods and biostatistics. She also has a research interest in forensic anthropology and has developed novel quantitative methods for studying the ontogeny of sexual dimorphism and sex estimation in juveniles.
We are an active group with several PhD, Masters and Honours research students who engage in projects that range from lab-based skeletal biology and experimental forensic anthropology to field based bioarchaeology. If you are interested in pursuing a research project in our lab, please contact Professor Oxenham (Marc.Oxenham@anu.edu.au ), Dr Miszkiewicz (Justyna.Miszkiewicz@anu.edu.au), Dr McFadden (Clare.McFadden@anu.edu.au ), Dr Ward (Stacey.Ward@anu.edu.au) or Dr Wilson (Laura.Wilson@anu.edu.au).
Please note Professor Oxenham is currently based at the University of Aberdeen where he is completing his British Academy Global Fellowship (2020-2024). Dr Miszkiewicz is currently completing her Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship (2019-2022). They are both not teaching, but can still offer research supervision where possible.
Equipment and facilities
We have standard Osteology research and teaching lab facilities (Bio-Anthropology Teaching Lab Banks 239 and Bio-Anthropology Research Lab Banks 249) with anthropometric equipment, two fume cupboards, and a freezer, which are suitable for gross anatomical examination of human and animal model skeletal specimens. We house an extensive collection of human juvenile and adult skeletal cranial and post-cranial casts, as well as specimens representing a range of skeletal abnormalities.
We also have specialised facilities for microstructural analyses (thin sectioning and confocal topography) of hard tissues. Our Histology lab (Banks 229) is equipped with a Kemet cutting saw with a diamond blade, two Olympus BX53 with Olympus DP74 camera high powered microscopes, one Olympus BX50 with a Lumenera’s INFINITY1-2 2.0 megapixel CMOS digital camera microscope, a Buehler EcoMet 300/AutoMet 300 Pro Touchscreen grinder-polisher. A desktop confocal microscope Olympus OLS5000 (funded by the Major Equipment Grant from the ANU) is also located inside the Histology Lab Banks 229. Low powered dissecting microscopes with microscope cameras are also available.
Our "library" of thin sections is growing day by day. The lab is set up for processing of archaeological and palaeontological vertebrate skeletal (bones and teeth) samples, as well as modern teeth (of forensic or clinical origin with ethics clearance per project). We do not process fresh bone, only dry and highly mineralised skeletal samples. Please contact Dr Justyna Miszkiewicz (Justyna.Miszkiewicz@anu.edu.au) for tissue processing training, protocols, and expertise.
We have a “virtual library” of CT, micro-CT and dice-CT (soft tissue stained) data, including cranial and postcranial material for adult specimens and ontogenetic series. Please contact Dr Laura Wilson (Laura.Wilson@anu.edu.au) for virtual modelling (computational biomechanics and reconstruction) and 3D data methods training.
The Centre for Palaeodemography and Palaeoepidemiology (CPP) is led by Dr McFadden and Professor Oxenham. The Centre is small team of biological anthropologists and bioarchaeologists undertaking research into palaeodemographic and palaeoepidemiological methods and applications globally. Please contact either Dr McFadden (Clare.McFadden@anu.edu.au) or Professor Oxenham (Marc.Oxenham@anu.edu.au) if you are interested in joining CPP.
Research Group members
Prof Marc Oxenham – Professor of Bioarchaeology, British Academy Global Professor
Dr Justyna Miszkiewicz – ARC DECRA Fellow, Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Dr Clare McFadden – Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Dr Stacey Ward - Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Dr Laura Wilson – ARC Future Fellow, Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Dr Jarvis Hayman – Visiting Fellow
Dr Christine Cave – Visiting Fellow
Chelsea Morgan – PhD Student
Madeleine Green – PhD Student
Karen Cooke – PhD Student
Tahlia Stewart – PhD Student
Bonnie Clark – PhD Student
Alejandra Henriquez – PhD Student
Don Matthews – PhD Student
Catherine Fitzgerald - PhD Student
Felicity Gilbert – PhD Student
Nicole McFarlane – PhD Student
Heloisa Mariath - PhD Student
Juliet Meyer – PhD Student
Lindsay Watson – PhD Student
Bonnie Taylor – PhD Student
Gina Basile – Honours Student
Liv Beatty – Honours Student
Keelan Goodisson - Honours Student
Britta Van Tiel - Honours Student
Alex Wulff - Honours Student
Emma Spencer – Masters Student
Tianyi Wang – Masters Student
Lauren Richards – Masters Student