stephanie melillo
Visiting Assistant Professor
Zurn 61

Dr. Melillo is a paleoanthropologist interested in the australopiths—those fossil species that are certainly human ancestors, but not quite human. One aspect of her research focuses on how shoulder anatomy can help us understand functional capabilities in extinct species, for example how adaptations to moving through the trees changed as bipedalism evolved. Dr. Melillo uses a range of digital approaches in her research, including different modes of three-dimensional scanning (CT- and surface scanning), landmark-based quantitative methods (geometric morphometrics) and musculoskeletal modeling. She applies these methods to reconstruct damaged skeletal material, to re-articulate skeletons, and to explore how the spatial configuration of articulated bones and associated muscles affect joint biomechanics.

Another aspect of Dr. Melillo’s research focuses on identifying different species of human ancestors and understanding their evolutionary relationships. She maintains a long-standing participation in the Woranso-Mille Paleontological Research Project, which is located in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia and led by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie (Arizona State University Institute of Human Origins). She contributed to the discovery and publication of some important new fossils from Woranso-Mille, including the first cranium known for Australopithecus anamensis, and the Australopithecus afarensis partial skeleton ‘Kadanuumuu’. Dr. Melillo received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and completed a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany). She enjoys live music, bicycles, maps, the great outdoors, and everything related to bones and fossils.


  • Case Western Reserve University, B.S., 2005
  • Stanford University, Ph.D., 2011

Research Specialties

  • Structure and function of the hominoid shoulder 
  • Evolutionary history of early Australopithecus 
  • Virtual methods and geometric morphometrics

Recent Publications
(*) Supervised Ph.D. student
(†) Authors contributed equally

  • van Beesel, J. *, Hutchinson, J. R., Hublin, J. J., & Melillo, S. (2022). Comparison of the arm‐lowering performance between Gorilla and Homo through musculoskeletal modeling. American Journal of Biological Anthropology. DOI:10.1002/ajpa.24511 
  • Melillo, S. M., Gibert, L., Saylor, B. Z., Deino, A., Alene, M., Ryan, T. M., & Haile-Selassie, Y. (2021). New Pliocene hominin remains from the Leado Dido’a area of Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia. Journal of Human Evolution, 153, 102956.
  • Melillo, S. M. (2021). Hominin footprints at Laetoli reveal a walk on the wild side. Nature, 600(7889), 388-390.
  • van Beesel, J. *, Hutchinson, J. R., Hublin, J. J., & Melillo, S. M. (2021). Exploring the functional morphology of the Gorilla shoulder through musculoskeletal modelling. Journal of anatomy, 239(1), 207-227.
  • Haile-Selassie, Y. †, Melillo, S. †, Vazzana, A., Benazzi, S., & Ryan, T. M. (2019). A 3.8-million-year-old hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia. Nature, 573(7773), 214-219. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1513-8
  • Saylor, B. Z., Gibert, L., Deino, A., Alene, M., Levin, N. E., Melillo, S., . . . Haile-Selassie, Y. (2019). Age and context of mid-Pliocene hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia. Nature, 573(7773), 220-224. DOI:10.1038/s41586-019-1514-7
  • Melillo, S., Gunz, P., Coqueugniot, H., Reske, S., & Hublin, J. J. (2019). Structural effects of variation in the human clavicle. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 168(4), 687-704.