Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Matt Sponheimer

Second Advisor

Douglas Bamforth

Third Advisor

Paul Strom

Fourth Advisor

Dennis Van Gerven


For more than a century, the morphology of the femoral head-neck junction has been used as a tool to reconstruct activity in the archaeological record. More recently, the head-neck junction has become the focus of intense study in the clinical literature following the description of femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), an injury common in athletes today. In this thesis, I present novel studies of the femoral head-neck junction and contribute to three areas of research.

First, I present a new analysis of activity in the Early Christian Period population of Kulubnarti, Nubia. In this study, I use Poirier’s facet and plaque, which have been argued to be skeletal indicators of activity, to look for differences in activity between cemeteries and sexes. The results of this study suggest that there may have been a gendered activity pattern at Kulubnarti.

Second, I examine the etiologies of Poirier’s facet and plaque and relate them to FAI. I argue that Poirier’s facet and plaque are different forms of what would today be described as FAI. Additionally, I provide the earliest known evidence of FAI-like morphology in an ancient population and present a new evolutionary argument for the origins of FAI deep in the human lineage.

Third, I present an exploratory study on variation in the femoral head-neck junction between primates with different locomotor patterns. I use this analysis to explore whether head-neck junction morphology can be used to predict the locomotor pattern of fragmentary fossil remains, focusing on fossil hominins. Preliminary results suggest that measurements on the head-neck junction show patterning, but may not alone be enough to clearly differentiate between locomotor patterns. Furthermore, data from this study provide reason to believe that hip morphology may be strongly driven by factors other than locomotion.

The results I present in this thesis suggest that the morphology of the femoral head-neck junction can provide valuable insights into the activities of ancient people and that by understanding variation in the head-neck junction in the past, we may be able to better understand conditions such as FAI that affect people today.