Molecular-Based Phylogeny of Homo erectus

ESR4 Jülide Kubat

I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Biological Anthropology at the University of Mainz during which I conducted research using dental histology and LA-ICPMS analyses on different Pleistocene faunal fossils including Homo erectus and Pongo from Sangiran, Indonesia. My work revealed that Homo erectus and fossil Pongo have unique patterns in trace element profiles, implying distinctive dietary strategies and life histories. During my MSc project I also received comprehensive training in thin section preparations of teeth for use in histomorphometry/LA-ICPMS analyses, and on correlating geochemical data with individual dental chronologies. My research was performed in collaboration with the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome (Italy), supervised by Prof. Luca Bondioli and Dr. Alessia Nava, and at the Institute of Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany), supervised by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Müller. My ultimate goal is to combine two cutting-edge technologies, palaeoproteomic analyses and histologically-controlled LA-ICPMS on the specimens that I am actively working on, namely fossil Homo erectus and contemporaneous hominids, e.g. Pongo, Meganthropus, and Gigantopithecus. I am interested in pursuing topics that explore the high level of hominin and hominid diversity in South East Asia, especially on Java, given its implications for elucidating life histories and palaeohabitats in insular environments as they are characterized by limited space and resources. Palaeoproteomics offers novel ways of disentangling phylogenetic relationships, and given the multitude of limitations that come with working on fossil material I am eager to embrace interdisciplinary research that offers innovative ways to maximize data obtained from hard tissue to reconstruct critical aspects of hominin evolution.

My PhD Project

In this project I will initially use the quick tandem MS data-independent-acquisition (DIA) methods, developed by PROJECT 11 and used by PROJECT 7 and PROJECT 9 as well, to screen isolated tooth specimens from Asia. Because of the convergence in molar crown size and overall morphology between fossil Homo and Pongo (orangutan), the taxonomic diagnosis of many Asian Early Pleistocene dentognathic specimens has been debated for over a century, especially concerning fragmentary and heavily worn specimens. The specimens, including some confidently assigned to H. erectus, will be deep-sequenced to maximize the dental enamel palaeoproteome sequence recovered, to enable confident phylogenetic assignment. At an advanced project stage, Homo erectus position will be defined in relation to other various Asian regions.

More than 200 hominid fossil dental remains spanning from the Miocene to the Pleistocene from Asia and including various taxa such as Sivapithecus, Gigantopithecus, Pongo, Meganthropus and Homo erectus are housed at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum of Frankfurt am Main in Germany ( under the care of Prof. Friedemann Schrenk and Dr. Ottmar Kullmer who actively collaborate with researchers in the PUSHH project and represent a fundamental asset to the success of ESR3 and ESR4.

Planned secondments

Secondment period of 4 months, during PhD year 2, at Shandong University under Wei Wang’s supervision to take part to palaeoanthropological excavation and receive training on morphological characterisation of H. erectus specimens.

A further secondment is planned at the Geoarchaeology and Archaeometry Research Group (GARG), Southern Cross University under the supervision of Dr. Renaud Joannes-Boyau, for LA-ICPMS analyses.



10/2017 – 12/2019

MSc in Anthropology, University of Mainz (Germany)

Master Thesis: “Histologically-controlled LA-ICPMS (Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) analyses of trophic levels in Pleistocene faunal and Homo erectus teeth from Sangiran, Indonesia”

10/2013 – 06/2017

BSc in Biological Sciences, Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany)

Bachelor Thesis: “Morphological description of Sangiran IV inner ear (Homo erectus)”

Laboratory internships

05/2019 – 08/2019

Erasmus+ Traineeship at Bioarchaeology Service, Museo delle Civiltà, Rome (Italy)

Training in Dental Histology

10/2018 – 05/2019

Institute of Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany)

Training in LA-ICPMS

10/2017 – 11/2017

DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) PROMOS internship at College of Dentistry, Department of Biomaterials and Biomimetics, New York University (USA)

Training in electron microscopy and preparing hard tissue samples and sediment samples for LA-ICPMS analysis

Fieldwork experience

07/16/2018 – 08/11/2018

Department of Palaeoanthropology, Georgian National Museum, Tblisi (Georgia)

Dmanisi Palaeoanthropology Fieldschool

08/17/2018 – 09/02/2018

Institute of Archeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)

Tinshemet Cave Excavation

09/2016 – 10/2016

Department of Messel Research, Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt (Germany)

Palaeontological Fieldwork in the Eocene Messel Pit


Kubat, J., Nava, A., Bondioli, L., Peripoli, B., Zanolli, C., Albert, R., Dean, C., Evans, D., Gerdes, A., Kullmer, O., Schrenk, F., Müller, W., (in prep). Enamel trace elements differentiate South East Asian Homo erectus from fossil Pongo: Implications for dietary strategies and life history.

Kubat, J., Bondioli, L., Dean, C., Evans, D., Gerdes, A., Helbling, A., Kullmer, O., Nava, A., Peripoli, B., Albert, R., Schrenk, F., Müller, W., 2019. Trophic levels and taxonomic implications for Pleistocene hominids from Sangiran (Indonesia) revealed by histologically-controlled laser-based mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 171(S69): 150.

Host Institution

France 🇫🇷


Anne-Marie Bacon 🇫🇷



Clément Zanolli 🇫🇷

Header image by: Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt