Staff profile – Dr Julia Martorell



In this article we profile and welcome a new member of staff to the School. Dr Julia Martorell joins us to work on an exciting project alongside Dr Tracy Kivell.

I studied Archaeology at the University of Barcelona, and, early on, I took an interest in human evolution and hominid morphology. During my undergrad studies I diversified my interests and took Palaeontology and Evolutionary Biology classes from other undergraduate programs, and started doing some research during my last undergraduate year at the Biological Anthropology Unit of the Biology Faculty (with a grant from the University to introduce last year undergrads to research). All of it finally prompted me to pursue a scientific career in Biological Anthropology.

I enrolled in the MSc in Human Biology (Biological Anthropology) after my undergrad, with a thesis on shoulder joint morphology in humans and a preliminary comparison with chimpanzees using 3D measures. Afterwards, I joined the Palaeontology and Human Evolution PhD program (also at the Biology Faculty) and continued working on the shoulder joint, only this time, I broadened my interests to all Apes and their ancestors. I designed a PhD dissertation project within the fields of evolutionary morphology and locomotion; using 3D laser scanners and 3D geometric morphometrics as analytical tool (it is a technique where the shape of an object -bone- is recorded and converted into data that you can then treat statistically), I looked at the outer shape of the shoulder joint of Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Gibbons and Siamangs and humans, as well as a broader sample of other Primates, and also included the fossil hominins from Africa (e.g., Australopithecus) and the ancestors of these hominins (and all Apes), which are known as the Miocene Apes (the Miocene is a geological epoch which covers from roughly 20 Mya to 5 Mya, and it’s during that time that our family, the Hominoidea, originated and evolved).

During my PhD, I collaborated extensively with the excavation of the Miocene site (hence the picture!) Can Llobateres (Vallès-Penedès, Spain), travelled to several osteological collections around the world (the American Museum of Natural History in NY, the Natural History Museum in London, the Powell-Cotton Museum in Birchington and the Anthropological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich), did a research stay at the Anthropology Department of the New York University, taught undergraduate classes (Primatology in practice) in Biology, attended several international conferences (e.g., AAPA, ICVM) and published my dissertation in several scientific articles in international journals such as the Journal of Human Evolution or Plos One.

I am coming to Kent Uni with a Marie Curie to pursue a research project aimed precisely at studying the locomotion and evolution of Miocene Apes, which is important because it was their evolutionary path that ultimately gave rise to bipedalism, one of our most distinctive traits as humans. I am going to learn and use 3D state-of-the-art techniques at Dr Kivell’s Lab and study the the internal structure of the forelimb bones of a comparative sample of Apes and other Primates, and the Miocene fossils Nacholapithecus (an African ancestor of the apes) Rudapithecus, Hispanopithecus and Pierolapìthecus (European ancestors of the apes).


Understanding the locomotor behaviour of our Miocene ape ancestors is critical to reconstructing the evolution of walking on two feet, or bipedalism. The Miocene (20-5 million years ago (Ma)) epoch is crucial because it is during this period that the morphological features of living great apes, including humans, were defined. In this respect, Miocene apes show unique morphological combinations that are unlike any living primate, known as “mosaic morphologies”, which include derived (apelike) and primitive (generalised) features more suitable to provide a model from which bipedal fossil humans (hominins) – our direct ancestors – might have evolved. This project uses novel 3D methods (microCT scans and imaging sotfware) to conduct the first holistic analysis of the internal structure of Miocene ape forelimb bones. Bone remodels throughout life in response to load; variation in internal structure thus correlates with forelimb use and offers a more direct window into behaviour than external morphology alone. The bony joints of the forelimb on an array of extant Primate species, including apes and monkeys, will be analysed, shedding new light on Miocene ape locomotion, the evolution of living apes and the emergence of human bipedalism.