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Masters Students

Athi Baliso

Thesis title: Forensic Anthropology Cape Town: Are we helping?
Supervisors: Assoc. Prof Victoria Gibbon & Dr. Laura Heathfield

Thesis Description: South Africa is faced with a serious issue of unidentified human remains. In the Western Cape province, approximately 320 individuals remain unidentified annually. One issue complicating identification is the large number of decomposed or skeletonised that lack proper identification. In such cases, forensic anthropologists must and have been relied on to assist with identification. Forensic Anthropology Cape Town is an ancillary forensic anthropology service provided by academics in the Division of Clinical Anatomy and Biological Anthropology at the University of Cape Town; using peer-reviewed anthropological techniques they have assisted in forensic investigations. In this study I will evaluate the impact of FACT’s anthropological analysis, by investigating the positive identification human remains analysed by FACT from various medico-legal laboratories in and around the City of Cape Town and the Eastern Cape province. I will also assess the accuracy of FACT’s biological profiles for positively identified individuals. Therefore, providing the legal and anthropological communities with an understanding of the power and limitations of anthropological techniques in local death investigations.

Contact details: Email


Jesse Fredericks

Thesis title: Morphological measures of population dynamics during the Late Stone Age of South Africa before the introduction of pastoralism

Supervisors: Dr Jason Hemingway (School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand); Assoc. Prof Victoria Gibbon


Thesis Description: Modern African populations have their own microevolutionary history for the last 300,000 years, involving migration, gene flow, and periods of isolation. As such, the study of prehistoric African populations and their links to more recent populations is a topic of great interest and importance in understanding the ancestry of modern Africans. The Khoesan are one such population. They possess the most deeply rooted genetic lineages of all living human populations and were the major population group in southern Africa during the Late Stone Age (LSA). The Khoesan have been recognised as containing the most exclusive genetic variants with low levels of gene flow from other African populations and are, thus, often used as a reference population under the premise that genetic admixture is absent. However, upon testing varying circumstances of admixture, it was found that there had been gene flow around 1,500-1,300 years ago. Consequentially increasing the genetic variation in modern Khoesan populations, and biasing human evolutionary studies in which the Khoesan population is used as a reference sample. Whilst the introduction of pastoralism involved genetic admixture, it is likely that gene flow occurred between the LSA peoples of southern Africa and other, neighbouring, Holocene populations, even before the introduction of pastoralism. Thus, the study will aim to assess whether there is morphological evidence for gene flow into the LSA hunter-gatherers of the southern and western coastal planes of South Africa before the introduction of pastoralism into the region. Through the use of geometric morphometrics, the study will use cranial morphology as a means to derive genetic distances between the LSA populations of South Africa and to assess morphological spatial distribution of populations temporally and geographically.

Contact details: Email



Sadiyah Malek

Thesis Title: Improving current sex estimation standards for application in Khoesan populations
Supervisors: A/Prof Victoria Gibbon; Prof Judith Sealy (Department of Archaeology, UCT)

Thesis Description: Biological sex estimation of the skeleton is a key element in both forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology and serves many purposes: individual identification, assessing dietary influences, risks of disease and trauma and understanding past gender roles, amongst others. Multiple methods have been developed to estimate sex but the problem with these is that they tend to be highly population-specific, resulting in decreases in accuracy are when applied to individuals of other populations. Presently, no sex estimation standards exist for the Khoesan population. Due to the characteristic active lifestyle and markedly gracile, small-statured bodies of the Khoesan population, sexual dimorphic differences that generally distinguish sexes are less dominant. This leads to misclassifications when existing sexing techniques are applied, highlighting the need for the development of a Khoesan-specific sexing standard. This study aims to assess the effectiveness of current sex estimation standards when applied to a Khoesan assemblage, and through this, aims to create new Khoesan-specific standards by identifying and adapting methods that work best. Khoesan-specific sex estimation standards could improve identification rates in forensic scenarios, as well as set a precedent for sex estimation in other populations that face similar problems or exhibit anatomically similar features to those seen in Khoesan populations.

Contact details: Email



Graduated Masters Students

2020. Tarryn Haikney. MPhil (Pathology). Investigation into DNA recovered from human teeth for forensic applications. Supervisors: Dr. Laura Heathfield & A/Prof Victoria Gibbon

2020. Christie Putter MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Black River Excavation: A forensic anthropological investigation of the skeletal remains recovered from a historic cemetery. Supervisors: Dr Jacqui Friedling & Dr Mary Patrick.

2019. Tafadzwa Tawha. MPhil (Pathology). Geometric morphometric analyses to assess the accuracy of the zygoma for estimating ancestry in a South African population. Supervisors: A/Prof Victoria Gibbon, Elizabeth Dinkele & Calvin Mole.

2019. Kyle Paulssen. MSc (Med) (Anatomy). Axillary web syndrome after treatment for breast cancer: a correlation of clinical variables with imaging data focusing on fascial changes before and after physiotherapy treatment. Supervisors: A/Prof Delva Shamley & Dr. Charles Slater.

2018. Elizabath Dinkele.MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Ancestral variation in mid-craniofacial morphology of a South African sample. Supervisor: Dr Jacqui Friedling.

2018. Chandra Longden-Thurgood. MPhil (Pathology). Optimisation of DNA Extraction from Teeth Submerged in Seawater in False Bay, South Africa. Supervisor: A/Prof Victoria Gibbon & Dr. Laura Heathfield.

2018. Liesl Arendse. MSc (Med) (Biological Anthropology). Stature estimation: Evaluating regression formulae for different population groups in South Africa. Supervisor: Dr. Jacqui Friedling.

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 Carrie. 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 Max. 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 Lache. 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 Kundisai. 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 Hope. 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 Thabang. 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 Nonhlanhla. 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 Victoria. 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 Christine. 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 Jonathan. 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 Mary K. 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.