Rebecca Rogers Ackermann



archaeology dept, beattie building, room 3.19

phone: +27 21 650-2356

fax: +27 21 650-2352

email: becky.ackermann AT

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Curriculum vitae (.pdf file)


Courses lectured: AGE2011s Human evolution; Archaeology honours programme (Introduction to archaeological statistics); BIO1004s Biological diversity; GEO1009F Intro to earth & environmental sciences.



My research interests centre broadly on the relationship between phylogenetic divergence and morphological variation, and I study both living and ancient systems in order to understand this relationship.  Although the presence of a close relationship between variation and evolution has long been acknowledged by those who study the human past, there has been surprisingly little systematic study of intraspecific variation in primates and little attempt to connect this knowledge in a methodologically rigorous fashion to what we know from the fossil record.  Some of the questions that interest me include: Do patterns of morphological variation among extant primates differ?  Are any differences more likely to be the result of random evolutionary processes (e.g. genetic drift) or natural selection?  When ontogenetically does such morphological divergence in variation patterning occur, and how can we use this to understand the developmental evolutionary divergence of primates?  How does gene flow among populations affect patterns of morphological diversity?  Should we expect to be able to detect gene flow (hybridization) in the fossil record?  These are big questions which cross taxonomic boundaries, and my work has focused on myriad groups, including apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos), monkeys (baboons and tamarins), and humans, as well as Plio-Pleistocene members of our lineage, including australopiths and early members of the genus Homo.   Part of the reason for this breadth is that different questions in human evolution require different extant models.  For example, baboon models are particularly well-suited for understanding the morphological effects of hybridization among closely related but genetically distinct taxa that have diverged in the Plio-Pleistocene.  Alternatively, chimpanzees are probably better models for considering modularity and integration in early hominins.  Although I have engaged in field work, both palaeoanthropological and primatological, the bulk of my research takes place in museums and institutions within sub-Saharan Africa as well as across Europe and the United States. 


Rebecca Ackermann is an Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology at UCT, and a recipient of the UCT Distinguished Teacher Award.  She received a Masters degree in forensic anthropology (University of Arizona) and a PhD in physical anthropology (Washington University in St. Louis), and was a post-doctoral associate in anatomy (Wash U.) in the USA before taking up her post at UCT in 2000.


Selected publications:    

de Ruiter DJ, TJ DeWitt, KB Carlson, JK  Brophy, L Schroeder, RR Ackermann, SE Churchill, LR Berger (2013) Mandibular remains support taxonomic validity of Australopithecus sediba. Science 340. DOI: 10.1126/science.1232997.

Govender R, A Chinsamy, RR Ackermann (2012) An anatomical and landmark morphometric analysis of the phocid seals from Langebaanweg, South Africa. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa. 67(3):135-149.

Williams FL, L Schroeder, RR Ackermann (2012) The mid-face of lower Pleistocene hominins and its bearing on the attribution of SK 847 and StW 53.  Homo: J of Comp Human Biology. 63:245-57.

Wood, B.A., Henry, A., Baker, J., Claxton, A., Mikels, E., Bishop, L., Goodrum, M., Stone, A., Tyron, C., Ackermann, RR., et al. (eds) (2011) Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. New York: Blackwell, pp. 1264.

Ackermann RR (2010) Phenotypic traits of primate hybrids: recognizing admixture in the fossil record. Evolutionary Anthropology. 19: 258-270.  

Ackermann RR, JS Brink, S Vrahimis, B de Klerk (2010) Hybrid wildebeest (Artiodactyla: Bovidae) provide further evidence for shared signatures of admixture in mammalian crania. South African Journal of Science. 06(11/12), Art. #423: 5 pp. DOI:10.4102/sajs.v106i11/12.423

Ackermann, RR and JM Bishop (2010) Morphological and molecular evidence reveals recent hybridization between gorilla taxa.  Evolution. 64:271-290. DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00858.x.

Sithaldeen, R, JM Bishop, RR Ackermann (2009) Mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals Plio-Pleistocene diversification within the chacma baboon.  Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution. 53: 1042-1048. DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.07.038.

Neeser, R, RR Ackermann, J Gain (2009) Comparing the accuracy and precision of three techniques used for estimating missing landmarks when reconstructing fossil hominin crania. Am J Phys Anth. 140(1):1-18.  DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21023

Ackermann, RR (2009) Morphological integration and the interpretation of fossil hominin diversity. Evolutionary Biology. 36: 149-156.

Fourie NH , JA Lee-Thorp, RR Ackermann (2008) Biogeochemical and craniometric investigation of dietary ecology, niche separation and taxonomy of three closely related Plio-Pleistocene papionin species from Makapansgat Limeworks. Am J Phys Anth. 135(2): 121-135.

Stynder DD, RR Ackermann, JC Sealy (2007) Craniofacial variation and population continuity during the South African Holocene. Am J Phys Anth. 134(4): 489-500.

Stynder DD, RR Ackermann, JC Sealy (2007) Early to mid-Holocene South African Later Stone Age human crania exhibit a distinctly Khoesan morphological pattern. S African J Science.  103: 349-352.

Ackermann RR & RJ Smith (2007) The macroevolution of our ancient lineage: what we know (or think we know) about early hominin diversity.  Evolutionary Biology. 34(1):72-85.  

Ackermann RR (2007) Craniofacial variation and developmental divergence in primate and human evolution.  In: Tinkering: the micro-evolution of development. Novartis Foundation Symposium 284. Wiley, Chichester , pp. 262-279.

Williams FL, RR Ackermann, SR Leigh (2007) Inferring Plio-Pleistocene southern African biochronology from facial affinities in Parapapio and other southern African papionins.  Am J Phys Anth. 132(2):163-174.

Ackermann RR, J Rogers, JM Cheverud (2006) Identifying the morphological signatures of hybridization in primate and human evolution.  J Hum Evol. 51:632-645.  doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.07.009

Ackermann RR (2005) Ontogenetic integration of the hominoid face.  J Hum Evol. 48:175-197.

Ackermann RR (2005) Variation in Neandertals: A response to Harvati (2003).  J Hum Evol, 48:643-646.  

Ackermann RR and JM Cheverud (2004) Detecting genetic drift versus selection in human evolution.  Proc Nat Acad Sci USA., Dec 2004; 101: 17946-17951.

Ackermann RR and JM Cheverud (2004) Morphological integration in primate evolution.  In: Pigliucci, M and Preston, K, eds. Phenotypic Integration: Studying the Ecology and Evolution of Complex Phenotypes.  Oxford University Press: 302-319.

Ackermann RR (2003) Using extant morphological variation to understand fossil relationships: a cautionary tale.  S  Af J of Sci, 99:255-258.

Ackermann RR (2002) Patterns of covariation in the hominoid craniofacial skeleton; implications for paleoanthropological models. J Hum Evol., 43:167-187.   

Ackermann RR and GE Krovitz (2002) Common patterns of facial ontogeny in the hominid lineage.  The Anatomical Record (New Anat), 269:142-147.

Ackermann RR and JM Cheverud. (2002) Discerning evolutionary processes in patterns of tamarin (genus Saguinus) craniofacial variation. Am J Phys Anth. 117:260-271.

Ackermann RR and JM Cheverud. (2000) Phenotypic covariance structure in tamarins (genus Saguinus): A comparison of variation patterns using matrix correlation and common principal component analysis. Am J Phys Anth, 111:489-501.

Ackermann RR (1998) A Quantitative Assessment of Variability in the Australopithecine, Human, Chimpanzee, and Gorilla Face.  Ph D Thesis.  Washington University, St. Louis. [Download here: 10MB .pdf file]

Web-publication only:

Ackermann, RR, ed. (2003) A Comparative Primate Dissection Guide, Version 1.0.   [Download here: 10MB .pdf file]