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Masters Students

Elizabeth Dinkele

Thesis title: Ancestral variation in mid-craniofacial morphology of a South African sample

Supervisor: Dr Jacqui Friedling

Thesis description: Ancestry estimation remains crucial in a medico-legal setting as the likelihood of victim identification can be significantly improved by an accurate estimation of ancestry. Due to the high crime rate in South Africa, it is essential that an accurate demographic profile be constructed to prevent a backlog of cases and ensure that justice is served. Numerous studies have identified the cranium; specifically the mid-facial region, as the most accurate element in ancestry estimation. Currently, no South African studies have assessed ancestral variation in shape and size in the mid-facial region of cranium. Therefore, the current study aims to assess ancestral variation mid-craniofacial morphology in a skeletal sample of South Africans of African, European and Mixed ancestry. The study will assess nonmetric, anthroposcopic, metric and geometric morphometric techniques to determine which technique is most accurate in estimating ancestry in a South African sample.

Contact details: Email


Nadine Kocerhan

Thesis Title: TBD (Dental wear analysis of Khoesan foragers and pastoralists in southern Africa)

Supervisor: Dr. Victoria Gibbon; Co-supervisor: Dr. Deano Stynder (Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town)

My proposed research will pursue temporal and spatial analyses of dental wear and pathology in Later Stone Age (LSA) hunter-gatherers and foragers to examine diet and cultural practices. This will provide context and further insight into the assemblages I will be examining, attention will be paid to cultural, environmental, subsistence, and demographic patterns – and potential developments in these spheres over time. In examining wear quantity and direction, as well as looking for patterns associated with subsistence strategies I hope to distinguish the variability between foragers and pastoralists, and coastal and non-coastal populations.

Contact details: Email


Kyle Paulssen

Thesis title: Axillary Web Syndrome (AWS) after treatment for breast cancer: a correlation of clinical variables with imaging data focussing on fascial changes before and after physiotherapy treatment.

Supervisors: Dr. Delva Shamley and Dr Charles Slater

Thesis description: Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy in women. Treatment complications of breast cancer occur frequently and can significantly impact patients’ quality of life. One such complication – Axillary Web Syndrome - presents as tight axillary cords, is painful and limits range of shoulder movement (ROM). This project looks into understanding the anatomical basis for this syndrome, focussing on how disruption of fascia, as a three-dimensional connective tissue network, can explain these symptoms. Utilising ultrasound and MRI imaging pre- and post-physiotherapy, we are correlating qualitative information to quantitative measurements of pain, ROM and treatment variables to learn more on how to prevent this syndrome, inform clinical practise and improve these women’s quality of life in the future.

Contact Details: Email


Christie Putter

Thesis Title: Black River Excavation: A forensic anthropological investigation of the skeletal remains recovered from a historic cemetery.

Supervisor: Dr Jacqui Friedling Co-Supervisor: Ms Mary Patrick

Thesis Description: Data collection methods used in forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology have been applied to the skeletal remains recovered by the excavation and exhumation of a historic burial ground located in the Cape Flats. I will conduct the analysis of this data and include historic research from the available literature to the study of a historic South African population, informing on lifestyle, health and disease, behaviour, socioeconomic status, demographic patterns and burial rituals. I will also draw comparisons to modern and other populations and seek to identify variation in adaptive traits. This research will provide data on the sex, age and number of individuals that were buried at the site as little is currently known about this. Further, I hope to provide a narrative, not favoured in the history books, for the experience of the poor people living in the Cape during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Contact Details: Email


Maximilian Jan Spies

Thesis title: The effect of clothing on the decomposition process and post-mortem interval estimation in the temperate southwestern Cape, South Africa

Supervisor: Dr Victoria Gibbon Co-Supervisors: Dr Jacqui Friedling & Devin Finaughty

Thesis description: The estimation of the time-since-death or post-mortem interval (PMI) is a crucial element of forensic death investigations, and is influenced by multiple factors. Despite recent taphonomic studies in Cape Town, the effect of clothing on the general decomposition process remains largely unknown. Baseline data on decomposition rate has been established previously with unclothed pigs by this division in the forensically relevant Cape Flats Dune Strandveld habitat. I seek to determine the effect of clothing on limiting vertebrate and invertebrate access, to alter the rate of decomposition which may consequently affect the estimation of PMI. Most recovered individuals in forensic cases are clothed, highlighting the need for this research to understand the accuracy of PMI estimates and improve identification rates.

Contact details: Email


Tafadzwa Tawha

Thesis title: Geometric morphometric analyses to assess the accuracy of the zygoma for estimating ancestry in a South African population


Supervisor: Dr. Victoria Gibbon; Co-Supervisor: Elizabeth Dinkele, & Calvin Mole


Thesis description: Ancestry estimation is imperative in medico-legal investigation in constructing demographic profiles to aid in victim identification. In South Africa, high murder rates correspond to a high number of unidentified people. Thereby, increasing the caseload of unsolved cases; inhibiting family member’s receipt of closure and social justice. There is a need to ensure that ancestry estimation standards are relevant and reliable, as the South African populations is considered as a diverse population with complex and variable admixture.  Some studies have utilised metric and non-metric methods, however, these have their limitations in estimating ancestry. Various studies have identified the mid-facial region of the cranium, as the most accurate element in ancestry estimation. Geometric morphometric research pertaining to ancestral variation in South Africa has focused on nasal aperture, orbit and craniofacial shape, albeit none have assessed variation in the zygomatic region of the cranium in South Africans of different ancestries. In the current study, geometric morphometric analyses will be used to assess variation in the zygomatic bone among African, European and Mixed ancestral groups.

Contact details: Email


Chandra Thurgood

Thesis Title: Optimisation of DNA Extraction from Teeth Submerged in Seawater in False Bay, South Africa

Supervisor: Dr. Victoria Gibbon
Co-supervisor: Ms. Laura Heathfield (Division Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Department of Pathology)

Thesis description: DNA is currently the gold standard in confirming the identification of an unknown individual. Identification of decomposed, burnt or skeletonised remains is problematic; particularly in cases where the environmental effect on the decomposition of these bodies is not well known. Salt River mortuary in Cape Town, frequently receives cases of human remains washing up along the city’s coastline. In these cases identification is difficult due to limited research on the taphonomic influence of the sea. In addition, extracting sufficient quantities of good quality DNA has been problematic, if not impossible. Therefore, it’s the goal of my research to answer whether DNA can be extracted from teeth that have been submerged in seawater over a period of time. My project forms a part of a larger research project that is studying decomposition in the sea environment of False Bay, Cape Town. In my study teeth will be extracted from pigs (Sus Scrofa) and undergo tooth preparation and DNA extraction to demonstrate a proof of concept. Teeth are being used in this study as they provide a protective encasing, which protects the DNA from environmental degradation If, I find that DNA can be extracted, these findings will feed into and necessitate further research by applying the developed methods onto a human model.

Contact details: Email


Thokozani Zwane

Thesis title: Scaling of the thoracic and lumber vertebrae size to overall body size: vertebral dimensions in a modern South African sample.

Supervisor: Professor Graham Louw

Thesis description: this project seeks to examine the relationship that exists between body size (represented by body weight) and vertebral size (represented by vertebral height and area), with special attention given to the lumbar vertebrae which form the major weight-bearing elements of the axial skeleton. This relationship is important because it can help researchers understand why small vertebral size is a risk factor for vertebral fracture, it can help to predict which vertebrae of a specific region of the spine are most likely to fracture and finally, this relationship can help researchers better understand the relationship between obesity and low back pain. The latter is very important since recent data on the global and regional trends on overweight and obesity indicate that South Africans have the highest rate of overweight and obesity throughout the Sub-Saharan region, with females having the highest percentages when compared to their male counterparts. This trend of high overweight and obesity rates in South Africa, coupled with recent unpublished data indicating that South African women have absolutely and relatively smaller vertebral dimensions (height and area) compared to males, has the potential to negatively affect lumbar column loading, especially during postmenopausal life. The relationship between vertebral size and overall body size also has the potential to change the way certain skeletal modifications such as vertebral osteophytosis are viewed, i.e., challenging the conventional view that their presence indicates "wear and tear" over time, but rather an adaptation to relatively small vertebral size. The project looks at what happens to vertebral size in persons with different body sizes (ranging from severely thin individuals to overweight individuals, as indicated by their BMI's, calculated from recorded cadaveric weights and heights).

Contact details: Email


Graduated Masters Students

2016. Schwab    Petra. MPhil (Pathology). The importance of a protocol in the recovery and handling of burned human remains in a forensic context. Supervisors: Dr. Jacqui Friedling and Dr. S Maistry.

2015. Clarke C. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Does variation in facial fatness affect soft tissue thickness standards? Supervisors: Prof. Alan G. Morris and Dr. Jacqui Friedling.

2014. Du Toit Francesca. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). Circulus arteriosus cerebri: Anatomical variations and their correlation to cerebral aneurysms. Supervisor: Prof. Graham Louw.

2014. Sadler M. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). Variations in the insertions of tibialis posterior muscle and the structure of the medial longitudinal arch. Supervisor: Prof. Graham Louw.

2013. Maass Petra. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). The bony pelvis: With specific attention to the areas of occurrence of the scars of parturition. Supervisor: Dr. Jacqui Friedling.

2013. Meyer Anja. MSc (Biological Anthropology). An assessment of metabolic bone disease in the skeletal remains of Chinese indentured mine labourers from the Witwatersrand. Supervisors: Prof. Maryna Steyn and Prof. Alan G. Morris. University of Pretoria.

2013. Rip da Silva. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). Anatomical study of the variation in the branching patterns and histology of the aorta in a South African population. Supervisors: Dr Geney Gunston and Dr R Alexander.

2013. Van der Berg Kerri. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). An investigation of the brachial plexus and surrounding anatomical structures in a Southern African cadaver sample. Supervisor: Prof. Graham Louw.

2012. Speed Belinda. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). South African standards for age estimation of children between 0 and 13 years using radiographs of the hand and wrist. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2010. Rossouw L. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). A forensic anthropological investigation of skeletal remains recovered from a 1000 year old archaeological site in North-western Namibia. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2010. Dembetembe K. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Age estimation using epiphyseal closure at the wrist joint: an investigation of individuals of African origin, age 14 to 22.  Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2008. Gangata H. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). An investigation into the parameters related to the equinus ankle in children with hemiplegic and diplegic forms of cerebral palsy. Supervisor: Supervisor: Prof. Graham Louw.

2008. Jenkins C. MPhil (Orthopaedics). Can a ‘one off’ physiotherapy intervention help patients who have difficulty kneeling after unicompartmental knee arthroplasty? Supervisor: Dr. Delva Shamley. Oxford Brookes University.

2008. Manyaapelo T. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). An odontological analysis of 18th and 19th century burials from in and around Cape Town. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2006. Dlamini N. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). An assessment of the health status by non-specific stress indicators of the early farming populations from central and southern Africa. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2003. Friedling L Jacqui. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Dental modification practices on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

2002. Sanders V. MSc. (Med) (Applied Anatomy). An assessment of muscle insertion sites and biomechanical beam analysis in living subjects. Supervisors: Prof. Alan G. Morris and Prof. Graham Louw.

2000. Nyati L. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). Cross-sectional observations of growth and maturation in children with Down Syndrome. MSc, University of Pretoria. Supervisors:  Prof. Maryna Steyn and Prof. Graham Louw.

1998. Apollonio H. MA (Med) (Archaeology). Identifying the dead: 18th century mortuary practices at Cobern Street, Cape Town. Supervisors: Prof. Martin Hall and Prof. Alan G. Morris.

1997. Botha W. MSc (Med) (Biomedical Engineering). An anthropometric survey of female nurses working in the Western Cape: implications for equipment and workspace design. Supervisors: Bob Bridges and Prof. Alan G. Morris.

1994. Bell C. MSc (Med) (Applied Anatomy). Clinically-defined osteoarthritis, sex and age: their influence on the geometry, morphology and biomechanics of the upper cervical spine. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

1993. Kovacs J. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). The post-cranial remains of Papio ursinus and fossil baboons from South African Australopithecine sites. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.

1989. Patrick MK. MA (Med) (Archaeology). An archaeological and anthropological study of the human skeletal remains from the Oakhurst Rock Shelter, George, Cape Province, South Africa. Supervisor: Prof. Alan G. Morris.