Postcranial variation in Plio-Pleistocene hominins of Africa

by Tallman, Melissa, Ph.D., CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, 2010, 368 pages; 3426870


Postcrania are a key component of functional analyses of Plio-Pleistocene hominin behavior, but many specimens are unassociated or fragmentary and have thus been largely ignored by researchers. This dissertation examined all relevant Plio-Pleistocene postcranial material to examine whether there are consistent patterns of morphology that characterize Plio-Pleistocene taxa and whether there are different locomotor types represented.

Data on all available Plio-Pleistocene hominin humeri, radii, ulnae, femora and tibiae were collected with a microscribe 3-D digitizer and compared to a modern sample of four populations of Homo sapiens, two subspecies of Pan troglodytes, two subspecies of Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus and Pan paniscus in order to make taxonomic and functional conclusion about overall patterns of postcranial variation in the appendicular skeleton of hominins.

The most informative areas were the distal femur, tibia, radius, and humerus, and the proximal femur and ulna. In the distal humerus, individuals from Koobi Fora had a more pleisomorphic morphology than all of the other fossils, including those with much earlier dates. The variation present in the proximal femur of A. afarensis was greater than most single modern species. The pattern of variation in the distal femur was tested against an ontogenetic sample of modern humans and chimpanzees in order to assess whether the differences present were caused by heterochronic change; this hypothesis was not supported.

There are few postcranial characters that can be tied to specific groups. Among hominins, Paranthropus robustus and Homo habilis sensu lato had the most distinctive patterns of morphology. There was a temporal pattern in the distal tibia with individuals the least like modern humans occurring the earliest in time and those most like them occurring latest, but there were no temporal patterns to any other segment sampled. There was a clear difference in the way that humans and apes covary in the fore- and hindlimb. There was no evidence of developmental shape integration between serial homologues. As a group, Plio-Pleistocene hominins had patterns of covariance that were most similar to modern humans, with the exception of pairings involving the distal femur.

AdviserEric Delson
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsPhysical anthropology
Publication Number3426870

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