Walking upright on two legs is the hallmark of the human lineage. Understanding when and how we made the transition to this unique way of moving about the world is key to deciphering how, and why, we evolved. Scientists have traditionally studied hands, feet, arms and legs to understand animal movement, but primates differ in body shape as much as they do in their limbs, and this is related to the ways they are designed to move about the world - whether they hold their bodies upright or horizontally, whether they hang below branches in the trees or walk above them on all fours, and more. Over the past few decades, more bones associated with the trunk, including ribs, pelves and vertebrae, have been discovered for fossil hominins and our relatives, shedding new light on the evolution of body form in apes and humans. In addition, new 3D computer technologies allow us to study these fossils in new ways. These new insights into the evolution of human body form paint a striking new picture of the transition from ape to hominin, leading to a whole new way of thinking about our origins.
Carol Ward is interested in the evolution of humans and our closest relatives, apes and monkeys. Her research focuses on fossils from East and South Africa, primarily Kenya. She takes a mechanical approach to the interpretation of the postcranial skeleton, and uses these principles to reconstruct the behavior of extinct animals. Her overall research goal is to understand human origins.
Dr. Ward's current areas of research involve fieldwork in Kenya searching for Pliocene fossil hominins. She is co-director of the West Turkana Paleontology Project through the National Museums of Kenya, and is currently working at Kanapoi, Kenya. She is also studying a great radiation of apes that lived about 18 million years ago. She is studying the evolution of their body plan, particularly the torso, to reconstruct the way they moved and the evolutionary history of the apes. She is the Director of Anatomical Sciences at the University of Missouri, Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, College of Medicine.