Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences

Led by Professor Paul O’Higgins, the Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences brings together research and teaching and has strong working relationships with colleagues at the Universities of York and Hull.

At York we are founding members of the Centre for Human Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins, one of the largest groupings in the UK. This interdisciplinary research centre in human evolution and palaeoecology that brings together York’s world-leading expertise in evolutionary anatomy, ancient DNA, biodiversity, psychology, palaeoenvironmental studies, prehistory and geochronology

Our teaching reflects our focus on human anatomy and evolution. We deliver extensive undergraduate teaching to our medical students in both core medical anatomy and specialist areas such as human evolution and evolutionary medicine. We also teach human and primate evolution to undergraduates outside the medical school.

At postgraduate levels, we offer MSc programmes, both taught and by research, as well as doctoral training in our fields of expertise. We also run a series of short courses in specialist and applied areas of anatomy and anatomical science.

Our research focuses on the ecological, evolutionary, functional and developmental bases of morphological variation in humans, primates, other mammals and reptiles.

One major research strand aims to explain how skeletal and dental morphologies arise during evolution in terms of developmental processes and functional adaptations. In particular, we are interested in how the functional demands of feeding and other activities have shaped the skull, and how such behaviours can be interpreted in fossil organisms. Another key strand is the study of functional integration in the skeleton, in which we seek to understand whether morphologies in different parts of the skeleton covary in order to preserve functional capabilities.

The key underpinning technologies of our research are geometric morphometrics, CT imaging, finite element analysis, multibody dynamics analysis, 3D printing, mechanical testing equipment and laser scanning. The advances in morphometrics that have arisen during this work are also being applied in functional studies and imaging.

Our work is directly applicable to the study of human evolution and the understanding of modern human biological variation. In addition, it has important medical and forensic applications through the use of morphometrics in CT, MR and other diagnostic imaging modalities and also in kinematic analyses of facial and body motion. 

 Our postgraduate teaching includes:

All of our masters courses are available to intercalating medical students from Hull York Medical School or any other medical school.

MSc in Clinical Anatomy / MSc in Clinical Anatomy and Education
These programmes are designed to provide advanced training in clinically applied human anatomy and are built around core dissection-based modules. More details

MSc in Human Anatomy and Evolution
This taught Masters programme will provide you with a detailed understanding of human and primate evolution, focusing on anatomy and its interface with ecology and behaviour. More details

PhD students
We are always keen to hear from students interested in undertaking postgraduate study in the centre. If you would like to do a PhD with us, the academic staff pages will give you an idea of the research interests of the centre. Please contact the appropriate staff member to talk further about project ideas and funding opportunities.

Postdoctoral positions
Are you looking for a postdoctoral position? If you are not a UK resident, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships may be right for you. If you wish to apply for one of these fellowships with our Centre, please contact in the first instance Phil Cox, specifying your area of interest and the academic you would like to work with. 

Short courses 
We also offer a range of short courses aimed at practising healthcare professionals. Training is delivered at our state of the art facilities, under the direction and supervision of expert tutors.

Funding opportunities
Information on funding for postgraduate study can be found on the University of York fees and funding pages. Students starting a Masters course  may be entitled to apply for a UK government loan of up to £10,000. University of York graduates applying for the MSc in Human Anatomy & Evolution are eligible for a 5% fee discount via the York Graduate Loyalty Scheme. There are also a number of scholarships for overseas students that are available at both Masters and PhD level.

McIntosh AF, Cox PG (2016) Functional implications of craniomandibular morphology in African mole-rats (Rodentia: Bathyergidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 117: 447-462.

Toro Ibacache V, Fitton LC, Fagan MJ, O'Higgins P (2016) Validity and sensitivity of a human cranial finite element model: implications for comparative studies of biting performance. Journal of Anatomy 228: 70-84.

Cox PGBaverstock H (in press) Masticatory muscle anatomy and feeding efficiency of the American beaver, Castor canadensis (Rodentia, Castoridae). Journal of Mammalian Evolution doi: 10.1007/s10914-015-9306-9.

Cox PG, Hautier L (2015) Evolution of the Rodents: Advances in Phylogeny, Functional Morphology and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cox PG, Rinderknecht A, Blanco RE (2015) Predicting bite force and cranial biomechanics in the largest fossil rodent using finite element analysis. Journal of Anatomy 226: 215-223.

Fitton LCPrôa MRowland CToro Ibacache VO'Higgins P. (2015) The impact of simplifications on the performance of a finite element model of a Macaca fascicularis cranium. Anatomical Record 298: 107-121.

Watson PG, Gröning F, Curtis N, Fitton LC, Herrel A, McCormack SW, Fagan MJ. (2014). Masticatory biomechanics in the rabbit: a multi-body dynamics analysis. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 11:20140564.

Cucchi T, Barnett R, Martínkova N, Renaud S, Renvoise E, Evin A, Sheridan A, Mainland I, Wickham-Jones C, Tougard C, Quéré JP, Pascal M, Pascal M, Heckel G, O'Higgins P, Searle J, Dobney KM. (2014) The changing pace of insular life: 5000 years of microevolution in the Orkney vole (Microtus arvalis orcadensis). International Journal of Organic Evolution 68: 2804-2820.

Cox PG, Faulkes CG. (2014) The masticatory muscles of the naked mole-rat. Heterocephalus glaber (Mammalia, Rodentia). PeerJ 2: e448.

Evteev A, Cardini A, Morozova A, O’Higgins P. (2014). Extreme climate rather than population history explains mid facial morphology among Northern Asians. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 153: 449-462.

Curtis N, Jones MEH, Evans SE, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ. (2013) Cranial sutures work collectively to distribute strain throughout the reptile skull. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 10: 20130442.

Bastir M, Martinez DC, Recheis W, Barash A, Coquerelle M, Rios L, Peña-Melián A, Rio F G, O’Higgins P.(2013) Differential growth of the upper and lower human thoraxPloS ONE, 8: e75128.

Cox PG, Kirkham J, Herrel A. (2013) Masticatory biomechanics of the Laotian rock rat, Laonastes aenigmamus, and the function of the zygomaticomandibularis muscle. PeerJ 1: e160.

Martínková N, Barnett R, Cucchi T, Struchen R, Pascal Ma, Pascal Mi, Fischer MC, Higham T, Brace S, Ho SYW, Quéré JP, O’ Higgins P, Excoffier L, Heckel G, Hoelzel AR, Dobney KM, Searle JB. (2013) Divergent evolutionary processes associated with colonization of offshore islands. Molecular Ecology 22: 5205-5220.

Lacruz RS, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Martinón-Torres M, O’Higgins P, Paine ML, Carbonell E, Arsuaga JL, Bromage TG. (2013)  Facial morphogenesis of the earliest EuropeansPLoS ONE 8, e65199.

Baverstock H, Jeffery NS, Cobb SN. (2013) The morphology of the mouse masticatory musculature. Journal of Anatomy 223: 46-60.

Gröning F, Jones MEH, Curtis N, Herrel A, O’Higgins P, Evans SE, Fagan MJ. (2013) The importance of accurate muscle modelling for biomechanical analyses: a case study with a lizard skull. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 10: 20130216.

O’Higgins P, Milne N (2013) Applying geometric morphometrics to compare changes in size and shape arising from finite elements analyses. Hystrix, the Italian Journal of Mammalogy, 24: 126-132.

Franklin D, Cardini A, Kuliukas A, Markas MK, Hart R, Oxnard C and O'Higgins P. (2013) Concordance of traditional osteometric and volume-rendered MSCT interlandmark cranial measurements. International Journal of Legal Medicine 127: 505-520.

Cardini A, Dunn J, O'Higgins P, Elton S. (2013) Clines in Africa: does size vary in the same way among widespread Sub-Saharan monkeys? Journal of Biogeography 40: 370-381.

Gröning F, Fagan M, O’Higgins P. (2013) Comparing the distribution of bone tissue in a human mandible: a finite element study. Anatomical Record 296: 9-18.

Proa MO’Higgins P, Monteiro LR. (2013) Type I error rates for testing genetic drift with phenotypic covariance matrices: a simulation study.  International Journal of Organic Evolution, 67(1): 185-195

O'Hare LMS, Cox PG, Jeffery N, Singer ER. (2013) Finite element analysis of stress in the equine proximal phalanx. Equine Veterinary Journal 45: 273-277.

Jones MEH, Werneburg I, Curtis N, Penrose R, O'Higgins P, Fagan MJ, Evans SE. (2012) The head and neck anatomy of sea turtles (Cryptodira: Cheloioidea) and skull shape in TestudinesPLoS ONE, 7, e47852.

Hautier L, Renaud L, Cox PG. (2012) Patterns of covariation in the masticatory apparatus of Hystricognathous rodents: implications for evolution and diversification. Journal of Morphology 273: 1319-1337.

Gröning F, Fagan M, O’Higgins P. (2012) Modelling the human mandible under masticatory loads. Which input variables are important? Anatomical Record 295: 853-863.

O’Higgins PFitton L, Phillips R, Shi JF, Liu J, Gröning F, Cobb SN, Fagan MJ. (2012) Virtual functional morphology: novel approaches to the study of craniofacial form and function. Evolutionary Biology 39(4): 521-535.

Milne N, O’Higgins P. (2012) Scaling of form and function in the xenarthran femur: a 100-fold increase in body mass is mitigated by repositioning of the third trochanter. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 3449-3456.

Jones MEH, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ, Evans SE, Curtis N. (2012) Shearing mechanics and the influence of a flexible symphysis during oral food processing in Sphenodon (Lepidosauria: Rhynchocephalia). Anatomical Record 295: 1075-1091.

Fitton LC, Shi JF, Fagan MJ, O’Higgins P. (2012) Masticatory loadings and cranial deformation in Macaca fascicularis: a finite element analysis sensitivity study. Journal of Anatomy 221: 55-68.

Cox PG, Rayfield EJ, Fagan MJ, Herrel A, Pataky TC, Jeffery N. (2012) Functional evolution of the feeding system in rodentPloS ONE 7(4): e36299.

Shi J, Curtis N, Fitton LO'Higgins P, Fagan MJ. (2012) Developing a musculoskeletal model of the primate skull: predicting muscle activations, bite force and joint reaction forces using multibody dynamics analysis and advanced optimisation methods, Journal of Theoretical Biology 310: 21-30.