Pilbrow laboratory: Physical (biological) anthropology


Research Overview

How humans evolved is a question that fascinates lay people and scientists alike. The question is often seeped in controversy, in large part because fossil remains for humans are rare and consist primarily of craniodental elements that fossilize well. A major question then is: how much reliance can be placed on observations from such scant evidence for reconstructing the evolutionary relationships among our fossil ancestors?

Research in our laboratory focuses on determining the importance of hard-tissue anatomy for studying human evolution. In particular, we study the evidence for gene flow, genetic admixture and evolutionary diversification through dental and skeletal morphology.

Research is conducted in the lab but also involves travel to museums around the world, and participation in palaeoanthropological and archaeological fieldwork in Africa, Europe and Asia.


  • photo of Peter Mayall
    Peter Mayall

    Peter Mayall graduated MBBS at the University of Melbourne in 1968 and then completed post-graduate study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the UK and Hong Kong before returning to Australia to practise until retiring in November 2013. He completed a MA in Archaeology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Melbourne in 2012 and is now researching intentional cranial modification in Europe during the migration period as a PhD thesis.

  • photo of Marine Chkadua
    Marine Chkadua

    Maka graduated from the Georgian National Medical Institute in Tbilisi in 2005, and is currently undertaking a PhD in physical anthropology. Her research will examine skeletal markers of cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis and dental pathology in osteological collections at the Georgian National Museum, dating to between the late Bronze Age and the Early Middle Ages. This project will assess the overall health of these ancient populations, as well as inspect the incidence of infectious diseases during this time.

  • photo of Natalie Langowski
    Natalie Langowski

    Natalie completed a master’s degree at the University of Melbourne in 2014, and is now continuing her research as a Ph.D. student. Her current research will use carbon, nitrogen and strontium stable isotopes to study the subsistence strategies and mobility of human populations residing in the region of Mtskheta, Georgia, between 1500 BC and AD 600. Natalie aims to examine the impact of major cultural changes on dietary practices, and the role of migrants in disseminating foreign cultures in Mtskheta during this period.

Of the staff in my lab, Peter Mayall is now postdoctoral research associate. His email is peter.mayall@unimelb.edu.au. His blurb should read: Peter Mayall graduated MBBS at the University of Melbourne in 1968 and then completed post-graduate study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the UK and Hong Kong before returning to Australia to practise until retiring in November 2013. He completed a MA in Archaeology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Melbourne in 2012 and a PhD in 2018 Biological (Physical) Anthropology researching intentional cranial modification in Europe during the Migration Period. In his postdoctoral research Peter is studying intentional cranial modification in Australasia.

The other staff stay the same, but I also currently have an Honours student, Julietta Capodistrias mcapodistria@student.unimelb.edu.au


Associate Professor Chris Briggs, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University of Melbourne
Professor Colin Groves, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University
Professor Nicky Kilpatrick, Department of Dentistry, The Royal Children’s Hospital
Professor Terry Harrison, Department of Anthropology, New York University
Georgian National Museum
Harry Brookes, Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology


Learning and Teaching Initiatives:  'Slice it, see it, learn it: Simulating cross-sectional anatomy of the head"

Research Product Realisation Working Group 3D Printing Mini Research Grants: "Great ape dental scoring system"

University of Melbourne CNRS Researcher Visit": "Characterisation of hypomineralised enamel (MIH) in ancient teeth: A way to understand a pathology with unknown aetiology"

The Leakey Foundation General Research Grant: "Non-metric dental traits in great apes"

Telematics Trust Fund

Near Eastern Archaeology Fund

Wenner-Gren Foundation

National Science Foundation

Research Publications

  • Mayall P*, Pilbrow V*, Bitadze L. Migrating Huns and modified heads: Eigenshape analysis comparing intentionally modified crania from Hungary and Georgia in the Migration Period of Europe. PLOS ONE 02 Feb 2017; 12(2): 23 pages. Article number e0171064. *Joint senior authors
  • Skinner MF, Skinner MM, Pilbrow VC, Hannibal DL. An Enigmatic Hypoplastic Defect of the Maxillary Lateral Incisor in Recent and Fossil Orangutans from Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). International Journal of Primatology 2016; 37(4-5): 548-567.
  • Ortiz A, Pilbrow V, Villamil C, Bailey S, Harrison T. The Taxonomic and Phylogenetic Affinities of Bunopithecus sericus, a Fossil Hylobatid from the Pleistocene of China. PLOS ONE JUL 8 2015; 10(7): 17 pages. Article Number: e0131206.
  • Pilbrow V, Groves C. Evidence for Divergence in Populations of Bonobos (Pan paniscus) in the Lomami-Lualaba and Kasai-Sankuru Regions Based on Preliminary Analysis of Craniodental Variation. International Journal of Primatology 2013; 34(6): 1244-60.
  • Kallenberger L, Pilbrow V. Using CRANID to test the population affinity of known crania. Journal of Anatomy 2012; 221(5): 459-64.
  • Pilbrow V. Dental and phylogeographic patterns of variation in gorillas. Journal of Human Evolution 2010; 59(1): 16-34.
  • Sagona AGS, Nikolaishvili V, Sagona CS, Ogleby CLO, Pilbrow VC, Giunashvili G, Manegaladze G. Bridging two continents: Renewed investigations at Samtavro, Georgia. TUBA-AR Turkish Academy of Sciences Journal of Archaeology 2010; 13: 313-334.
  • Pilbrow V. Patterns of molar variation in great apes and their implications for hominin taxonomy. In Bailey SE, Hublin JJ. (Eds.) 2007. Dental Perspectives on Human Evolution: State of the art research in dental paleoanthropology.  Book Series: Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Pages: 9-32.
  • Pilbrow V. Population systematics of chimpanzees using molar morphometrics. Journal of Human Evolution 2006; 51(6): 646-662.
  • Pilbrow V. Lingual incisor traits in modern hominoids and an assessment of their utility for fossil hominoid taxonomy. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2006; 129(3): 323-338.
  • Bailey SE, Pilbrow VC, Wood BA. Interobserver error involved in independent attempts to measure cusp base areas of Pan M(1)s. Journal of Anatomy 2004; 205(4): 323-331.

Research Projects

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Biomedical Neuroscience, Cellular Imaging & Structural Biology

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Head of Laboratory Dr Varsha Pilbrow

Department / Centre

Anatomy and Neuroscience

Unit / Centre

Pilbrow laboratory: Physical (biological) anthropology

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