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 ways in which 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 photogrammetry methods, which are methods that reconstruction 3D virtual models from multiple 2D photographs. I coordinate a small team of photogrammetry enthusiasts in the department to develop and test new methods and approaches in its application. We build models for both research and archival purposes and are looking to use these further for public engagement as well.
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.