Evolution of brains
and their imprints

Brain tissues do not fossilize, but as the brain expands during early development it leaves in an imprint in the bony braincase. Such endocranial imprints of fossil hominins make it possible to trace evolutionary changes of brain size and organization.

The next frontier in Paleoanthropology will be connecting the genotype of living and extinct hominins to the phenotype. This link will open new perspectives for understanding the fossil record as well as the underlying factors driving evolutionary changes.

Endocranial imprints point to evolutionary changes in both brain size and brain organization within the hominin lineage. However, as endocasts only capture the outer shape of the brain, the underlying neuroanatomical changes have remained elusive.

White matter tracts of the brain, visualized based on brain scans conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig.

Genotype & Phenotype

My publications explore different aspects of ontogenetic and phylogenetic shape changes — in particular the evolution and development of the brain and the imprint it leaves in the bony braincase. Alteration of endocranial shape in the hominin lineage is likely to reflect evolutionary changes in the organisation of structures of the human brain.

However, brain tissue does not fossilize, so the underlying biology has remained elusive. My research addresses this challenging question through an interdisciplinary approach that brings together analysis of fossil skulls, ancient genomes, brain imaging and gene expression.

Figures and animations by Philipp Gunz (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)