Prof. Paul O'Higgins
Head of Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences



After qualifying in Medicine, Professor Paul O'Higgins lectured in Anatomy at the University of Leeds then at the University of Western Australia. From 1994 he was Reader, then Professor of Anatomy, at University College, London. His research focuses on the evolution and function of the skeletal system, with an emphasis on comparative studies that have underpinned his contribution to the development and application of geometric morphometrics and finite element analysis to analyses of form and function. Clinical experience includes several years in Accident and Emergency Medicine in both Leeds and Western Australia; and work as Medical Officer at Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia.

He was appointed as Head of the Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences at Hull York Medical School in 2003.



Prof O’Higgins’ principal interests concern the links between skeletal morphological variation, phylogeny, function and ontogeny. Most of his work is in mammals and more recently (with Susan Evans and Michael Fagan) in tuataras and lizards.

His earliest work concerned the postnatal growth of the skull and spine in mice and apes and contributed to the development of an important new class of statistical and graphical methods for the analysis of form differences in biology, Geometric Morphometrics. A key feature of his research has been the statistical analysis of structure in addressing the biological significance of skeletal variation. An important contribution has been the publication of widely used software for the full three-dimensional modelling and analysis of shape variations using these techniques (Morphologika and now the Evan-Society toolbox; His studies of craniofacial evolution have shown how growth variations contribute to craniofacial variations amongst adult primates. These have related remodelling, ontogenetic shape changes and phylogeny to each other and have provided important new insights into the ontogeny of differences amongst sexes, subspecies and species. 

In attempting to relate craniofacial growth to function he has most recently turned to collaborative studies that have developed state of the art functional simulations of the masticatory systems of primates, tuataras and lizards using finite element analysis (FEA) and multi-body dynamics analysis (MDA). Ongoing BBSRC funded projects with Fagan concerned with modelling primate and with Evans modelling tuatara and lizard skull form and function have led to the development of novel technologies combining our high resolution FE software tool VOX–FE designed for biomechanical work with our newly developed Evan GMM toolbox designed for high resolution 3D morphometrics. This advance is likely to transform simulation and assessment of musculoskeletal form-function relationships.

Paul has also maintained an interest in clinical anatomical research throughout his career. Thus, his research in skeletal remodeling led to collaborative studies of age changes in the incus that gave the first indication of biomechanically induced changes in the incus of possible significance in relation to noise exposure. Recently he has applied morphometric methods in collaborative work leading to the discovery of disturbances of median nerve mobility in diffuse repetitive strain injury. Further clinical collaborations have applied shape analysis to brain magnetic resonance images to examine the morphological consequences of longstanding severe epilepsy, and ongoing collaborations are examining facial growth in relation to orthodontics and maxillofacial surgery. Most recently his work has progressed to the application of geometric morphometrics to forensics and to the kinematic analysis of  facial muscle and limb function in health and disease. 

In summary his research involves many diverse local and international collaborations with colleagues in biological and clinical disciplines. These are interwoven through their use of morphometric and biomechanical methods and include comparative studies of craniofacial growth in living primates; studies examining the ontogenetic basis of the evolution of cranial and postcranial variation and computer aided diagnosis using biomedical imaging modalities.


Skeletal morphology of primates and other mammals

Morphometric and functional studies of living humans 



Hull York Medical School

  • Anatomy teaching in the medical curriculum
  • SSIP in Anatomy

Department of Archaeology

  • Third Year Special Topic in Human Evolution


MSc in Human Anatomy & Evolution

  • Module lead for Functional Musculoskeletal Anatomy
  • Module lead for Geometric Morphometrics

External activities


Learned societies

  • Founding Board Member, European Society for Human Evolution
  • Member, The Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Member , American Association of Physical Anthropologists
  • Member, The Primate Society of Great Britain.
  • Fellow, Linnean Society of London
  • Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Honorary Chairs

  • Honorary Professor, Dept. of Engineering University of Hull
  • Honorary Professor, Centre for Forensic Sciences, University of Western Australia


Editorial duties

  • Journal of Anatomy
  • Evolution, Medicine and Public Health

Paul O'Higgins

Contact details

Prof. Paul O'Higgins
Professor of Anatomy
Hull York Medical School
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 1904 328872