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Department of Archaeology


The Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Lecture 2024

Dr Habiba Chirchir (Marshall University)

What we know and don't know yet about skeletal gracility in modern humans*

Wednesday 28th February, 5pm, Yusuf Hamied Centre, Christ's College

Please click here to reserve your ticket.

If you are unable to attend in person please find the Zoom link to register here




Skeletal gracility is the reduction in the strength and relative bone mass as inferred from bone tissue and overall bone size. In contrast to our hominin ancestors, the recent modern human skeleton is unusually gracile. In this lecture, I will examine the evidence supporting the recent emergence of gracile morphology, explore the variations in this morphology among recent human groups, and discuss the various hypotheses that have been proposed to explain this phenomenon through a comparative analysis of extinct and extant mammalian species including hominin ancestors from the deep past, reaching as far back as ~ 2 million years ago.  



Dr Habiba Chirchir is an Associate Professor of anatomy at Marshall University in the USA and also holds an associate research position at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. She earned her BA degree in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Nairobi in Kenya, followed by a Master’s degree from New York University. Subsequently, she matriculated with a PhD from George Washington University in Washington DC and completed her postdoctoral research at the Smithsonian. Her research investigates the relationship between skeletal anatomy and behaviour in the human fossil record, modern humans, and various other extant mammals through the quantification of trabecular and cortical bone using high-resolution imaging. Recently, she was awarded the John Deaver Drinko Distinguished Fellowship at her university as recognition of her research and teaching efforts.


* Please be aware that a photographer and filming team from or commissioned by the University of Cambridge will be taking photographs and filming the Annual Lecture. The photographs and films may be published, transmitted or broadcast in official University publications and in University publicity materials included in University and others’ websites and social media.

Recent Distinguished speakers:

  • 2022: Professor Zeresenay Alemseged (University of Chicago) - The changing face of Australopithecus and human origins in Africa
  • 2021: Professor Theresa Singleton (Syracuse University) - The worlds that enslaved created or forced to endure. Balancing archaeological narratives of slavery
  • 2019: Dr Joanne Pillsbury (Metropolitan Museum of Art) - The Golden Road. Materials, Value and Exchange in the Ancient Americas