Human Variation and Identification Research Unit (HVIRU) : School of Anatomical Sciences

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Biological Anthropology has long been one of the mainstays of research in Anatomical Sciences. The diversity of living peoples in Southern Africa, together with our richly documented sequence of over 2 million years of fossil and archaeological materials, provides unique research opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. The aim of this research unit is to study modern human variation, how this variation came to be, and some of its practical applications (e.g., when it comes to human identification in forensic contexts or assessing modern growth processes). The results of this research will shed light on modern human adaptations, specifically with respect to patterns of health and disease. It bridges the gap between the study of fossil hominids and modern, living people and sheds light on where we are today – the modern human experience. This research focuses mostly on skeletal remains and dentitions of currently living and past (anatomically modern) humans and their environmental contexts. Modern approaches to the study and interpretation of human variation and identification are followed, using sophisticated techniques for assessment of population and individual variation, sexual dimorphism, craniofacial identification and the role of taphonomic processes on human remains. The research unit has five focus areas: Forensic anthropology Craniofacial identification Bioarchaeology Human variation Taphonomy A component of service to the community is included under the umbrella of this unit in order to apply our research results. The situation in South Africa with regard to unidentified bodies remains dire, and therefore forensic anthropological consultations are done under the umbrella of the Human Identification Unit. The School of Anatomical Sciences (SoAS) is ideally positioned to conduct the research as outlined above and to address some of these practical issues, as it has a deep history and standing in biological anthropological research both in the country and internationally. It also has excellent collections (for example the RA Dart Collection of Human Skeletons) and facilities.


If you are wondering why it so important to curate facial pools take a look at Jason Norwood Naked Data Issue #295 || Steal your Face Edition || 2021-03-05 " We’ve gone from carefully curated datasets collected with the participants’ permission, to a free-for-all where millions of faces are scraped and used without consent or even knowledge. And the consent is just one of the problems — racism and sexism are creeping into the datasets, and their false positives can and do result in false arrests, particularly of black men. " ( Thanks are due to all the participants who agreed to be photographed for the development of this database. Particular recognition is due to all the volunteers who assisted in participant recruitment for this study: Jesse Fredericks, Kiveshen Pillay, Rethabile Masiu, Sameerah Sallie, Daniel Munesamy, Laurette Joubert, Jordan Swiegers, Betty Mkabela, Johannes P. Meyer, Amy Spies, Natasha Loubser, Nicole Virgili, Dan-Joel Lukumbi, Tamara Lottering, Mathabatha Ntjie, Claudia Landsman, Raheema Dalika, Merete Goosen, Stephanie Souris, Rabelani Negota, Mahlatse Mahasha, Jessica Manavhela. Special thanks are due to Tamara Lottering for her assistance in composing the face pools.


The authors would like to thank the School of Anatomical Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, the Wits Library, Protection Services and ICT Services as well as the database participants and the individuals (Gideon LeRoux, Nina Lewin, Mark Allen) who assisted in the development and curation of the database. The WITS Faces Dataset and Faces Pool was developed with support from the South African National Research Foundation and the J.J.J. Smieszeck Fellowship from the School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (funds awarded to N. Bacci (Grant No.: 11858) and N. Briers as part of the Improving Methodologies and Practices in Craniofacial Identification (Grant No.: CSUR160425163022; UID:106031)). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this study are those of the authors and therefore the NRF and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg do not accept any liability in regard thereto