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Header of the workshop Introduction to Functional Morphology and Biomechanics - 4th Edition


Workshop director









PLEASE NOTE: Next edition for this workshop will be held in 2016. If you want to receive information once the registration is open, please subscribe without any obligation by selecting the topic Functional Morphology.

Introduction to Functional Morphology and Biomechanics

This workshop aims to give the participants the ability to use the interdisciplinary approach of biomechanics, especially (but not only) through examples in palaeontology. Simple models based on the basic principles of classical physics will be used to infer the life history of extinct vertebrates.


Dr. Richard Fariña instructor at Transmitting Science
Dr. Richard Fariña
(Universidad de La República, Uruguay).
Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno instructor at Transmitting Science
Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno
(Transmitting Science and Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), Spain).
Pere Ibáñez-Gimeno instructor at Transmitting Science
Pere Ibáñez-Gimeno
(Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain).

Workshop director:

Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno workshop director at Transmitting Science
Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno

(Transmitting Science, Spain).


Graduate or postgraduate degree in any Sciences discipline, basic knowledge of statistics and personal computers. All participants must bring their own personal laptop (Windows, Macintosh, Linux).




1st Day: Dr. Richard Fariña.

1. Introduction.

- Basic principles: Mass (concept and units), force (units, special case: Weight), pressure (concept, units), energy (units, forms of energy: Potential, kinetic, elastic), power (units, example: Metabolic rate).

- Conditions of equilibrium: Forces and moments. Mechanical advantage. Biological examples.

- Practical session: Measurements in ulnas to assess the extention of the forearm in mammals.

- Biological materials, function and properties: Stress, strain, elastic modulus. Factor of safety, examples in biology.

2. Mastication in vertebrates.

- Transition from reptiles to mammals, the problem of the resultant in the craniomandibular joint region.

- Terrestrial locomotion and athleticism in tetrapods.

- Beam theory applied to the long bones of the extremities in parasagittal terrestrial vertebrates.

- Second moment of area, section modulus, strength indicator.

- Examples in reconstructing habits in extinct vertebrates.


2nd Day: Dr. Richard Fariña and Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno.

3. Scales and allometry.

- Dynamic similarity.

- Froude number, origin of the concept and application to terrestrial locomotion.

- Geometric similarity, isometry and allometry.

- The importance of body size. Metabolic rate, athleticism and skin features.

- Scales and allometry. Geometric and elastic similarities.

- Body mass estimation: 3D reconstruction, regression, principal components analysis, centroid size (Geometric Morphometrics). Percent of prediction error. Mean and medium values.

- Practical session: Comparison of body mass estimations with different methods.

3rd Day: Pere Ibáñez-Gimeno.

4. Entheseal changes.

- Definition, types, morphological variation and etiology. Entheseal changes and their dependence on activity. Terminology.

- Entheseal development: Description vs. quantification. Scoring systems: Criteria to grade the entheseal changes using different methods. Intraobserver and interobserver tests.

- Practical session: Grading entheseal changes in human bones and comparison with other animals. Statistical treatment of the data.

- Statistical analyses to deduce activity patterns: Aggregation and functional groups. Comparisons between populations, sexual dimorphism and bilateral asymmetry. Multifactorial analyses.

- Examples of studies inferring activity patterns from entheseal changes. Further applications: Activity-dependence of morphological characteristics. New approaches: 3D laser scanning and fractal analysis.

5. Cross-sectional properties.

- Previous considerations: Wolff’s Law and bone functional adaptation. Types of mechanical loadings. Rigidity and strength. Definition and biomechanical meaning of cross-sectional properties: Cross-sectional areas, second moments of area, section moduli and shape variables.

- Obtaining images of diaphyseal sections: Sections of interest and orientation of bones. Methods to obtain the images: Broken or cut sections, CT scanning, latex cast method and ellipse model method. Relevance of the outer and the inner contours. Scale.

- Practical session: Obtaining the outer contour from 3D images. Reconstruction of the inner contour from biplanar radiographs. Calculation of cross-sectional properties. Statistical treatment of the data.

- Size standardization for cross-sectional properties.

- Statistical analyses to deduce activity patterns. Comparisons between populations, sexual dimorphism and bilateral asymmetry.

- Relationship between entheseal changes and cross-sectional properties.


  • General Biomechanics:

- Fariña FA (1995) Limb bone strength and habits in large glyptodonts. Lethaia, 28: 189-196.

- Fariña RA, Blanco RE (1996) Megatherium, the stabber. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 263: 1725-1729.

- Fariña RA, Vizcaíno SF, Blanco RE (1997) Scaling of the Indicator of Athletic Capability in fossil and extant land tetrapods. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 185: 441-446.

- Alexander RM, Fariña RA, Vizcaíno SF (1999) Tail blow energy and carapace fractures in a large glyptodont (Mammalia, Xenarthra). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 126: 41-49.

- Vizcaíno SF, Fariña RA, Mazzetta GV (1999) Ulnar dimensions and fossoriality in armadillos. Acta Theriologica, 44: 309.

- Alexander RM (2003) Modelling approaches in biomechanics. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B, 358: 1429-1435.


- Alexander RM, Animal mechanics, Blackwell Scientific Publications.


  • Scale, Allometry and Body Mass Estimation:

- De Esteban-Trivigno S, Mendoza M, De Renzi M (2008) Body mass estimation in Xenarthra: Predictive equations suitable for all quadrupedal terrestrial placentals? Journal of Morphology, 269: 1276-1293.

- Henderson DH (2010) Estimating the masses and centers of mass of extinct animals by 3D mathematical slicing. Paleobiolgy, 25 (1): 88-106.

- De Esteban-Trivigno S, Köhler M (2011) New equations for body mass estimation in bovids: Testing some procedures when constructing regression functions. Mammalian Biology, 76 (6): 755-761.


  • Entheseal Changes and Cross-Sectional Properties:

- Hawkey DE, Merbs CF (1995) Activity-induced musculoskeletal stress markers (MSM) and subsistence strategy changes among ancient Hudson Bay eskimos. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 5: 324-338.

- Ruff CB (2000) Biomechanical analyses of archaeological human skeletons. Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton, Pages 71-102 in Katzenberg MA, Saunders SR, eds. Wiley-Liss. New York.

- O’Neill MC, Ruff CB (2004) Estimating human long bone cross-sectional geometric properties: A comparison of noninvasive methods. Journal of Human Evolution, 47: 221-235.

- Galtés I, Rodríguez-Baeza A, Malgosa A (2006) Mechanical morphogenesis: A concept applied to the surface of the radius. The Anatomical Record, 288: 794-805.

- Ruff CB, Holt B, Trinkaus E (2006) Who’s afraid of the big bad wolff? “Wolff’s law” and bone functional adaptation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 129: 484-498.

- Shaw CN, Stock JT (2009) Habitual throwing and swimming correspond with upper limb diaphyseal strength and shape in modern human athletes. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 140: 160-172.

- Villotte S, Castex D, Couallier V, Dutour O, Knüsel CJ, Henry-Gambier D (2010) Enthesopathies as occupational stress markers: Evidence from the upper limb. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 142: 224-234.

- Davies TG, Shaw CN, Stock JT (2012) A test of a new method and software for the rapid estimation of cross-sectional geometric properties of long bone diaphyses from 3D laser surface scans. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 4: 277-290.

- Ibáñez-Gimeno P, Galtés I, Jordana X, Fiorin E, Manyosa J, Malgosa A (2012) Entheseal changes and functional implications of the humeral medial epicondyle. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 23: 211-220.

- Ibáñez-Gimeno P, De Esteban-Trivigno S, Jordana X, Manyosa J, Malgosa A, Galtés I (2013) Functional plasticity of the human humerus: Shape, rigidity and muscular entheses. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150: 609-617.


For further information contact: courses@transmittingscience.org.


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