I study the evolution of animals in association with humans (amongst a few other things!). For my primary project, I look at dogs, wolves and foxes to examine their morphological adaptations to changing diets through time and in association with humans. I try to identify if their change in feeding behaviour (what they eat and how they eat it) is related to human activity or natural changes in the environment. For this I am looking at the biomechanics of the mandible to examine which ways the morphology of different wolf populations might indicate different prey preferences and feeding behaviour (scavenging versus hunting).
I also do a lot of work with developing and integrating photogrammetry methods into the department's research. These methods, also known as structure from motion, reconstruct 3D virtual models from multiple 2D photographs. I coordinate and lead a growing team of photogrammetry enthusiasts in the department to develop and test new methods. Here's a student built photogrammetry model of a cat cranium. Our Photogrammetry Team at Liverpool is becoming a centre of photogrammetry expertise. We build models for both research and archival purposes and are looking to use these models for public engagement and remote learning. This has become a great way for me and my research to integrate with the wider department, and has led to extensive innovations in photogrammetry methods. Research models and methodological experiments developed by the Photogrammetry Team are hosted on the departmental Sketchfab account. Our activities and expertise have also been sought by external collaborators from a wide range of backgrounds (including curators of material of regional cultural significance — Frank Sidebottom). The Photogrammetry Team is a real testament to interdisciplinary research, and the benefits of its multidisciplinary approach have informed and enhanced my own photogrammetry expertise.
My interests in these areas began towards the end of my BA in Durham University. For my dissertation I looked at the domestication of pigs in China using shape analyses. From there I continued to work with pigs and their more unusual relatives for my MSc, which I also did in Durham University where I studied babirusa, a rare species of pig from Sulawesi in Island Southeast Asia. These (not so) handsome animals are particularly interesting as they are the only species of mammal that has vertically erupting upper canines (but only in the males). Their canines curl over the head and can eventually grow backwards to pierce the skull of their owner and kill them! These strange pigs (and another species of warty pig that share the same island) appear to have been translocated by humans in prehistory to other neighbouring islands. I enjoyed studying the translocation of these animals so much so that I went on to look at the translocation of rats to different islands for my PhD. Rats might have been a demotion on the glamour scale, but they can tell us a lot about past human trade, migration, and colonisation.
I split my PhD between the University of Aberdeen and the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (Paris), working on the shape analysis of rat teeth in the pursuit of finding out “where did this rat come from?”. I also spent six months at Cornell University (USA) where I worked on the genetics of the Asian house shrew (also called the musk shrew): the question was the same. After this I took up a post-doc with the Deciphering Dog Domestication project, where I worked at the University of Aberdeen, then the University of Liverpool and finally the University of Oxford over just three years. During that short period I visited over 42 different museums and institutes and examined over 8,000 different canid specimens, which eventually led to my current projects. My primary research interests now are understanding past and present species that have evolved to exploit human built environments (e.g. rats and mice); this has led me to work increasingly with modern collections, but my work is always informed by the archaeological record and the past, which builds a more robust platform from which we can assess likely future change.