The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Middle Pleistocene human facial morphology


1Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 2Department of Anthropology, City University of New York, The Graduate Center, 3NYCEP, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, 4Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen and Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology

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The facial morphology of the middle Pleistocene humans is mosaic-like variously aligning them to Homo erectus sensu lato, H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. Facial features that foreshadow the “classic” Neanderthal morphology have been equivocally identified in the European middle Pleistocene humans (e.g., Arago 21, Petralona) but are absent in their African and Asian counterparts. Additionally, significant changes in facial size and robusticity occurred throughout Pleistocene human evolution. However, it is unclear how size affects facial features.

The goals of this study are to 1) seek to identify temporal trends that are potentially informative about ancestral or derived features; and 2) assess the effects of ontogenetic and static allometry on the Pleistocene human face. The modern human sample (N=259) comprises cross-sectional growth series of four morphologically distinct human populations; their ages range from two years to adulthood. The fossil sample covers human specimens from the early Pleistocene to the Upper Paleolithic, and includes several sub-adult fossil humans. We digitized landmarks and semilandmarks on surface scans and computed tomography scans and analyzed the Procrustes shape coordinates.

We show that species and population specific facial features develop before two years of age. Facial features can be used to separate Pleistocene humans into temporal clusters. Our results indicate the large-scale facial differences between Neanderthals and middle Pleistocene humans are mostly due to allometric scaling along a shared allometric trajectory and that certain features in the European middle Pleistocene human face are more similar to the “classic” Neanderthals than in the African or Asian representatives.

This study was funded by the Marie Curie Actions grant MRTN-CT-2005-019564 “EVAN,” the Max Planck Society, NSF (0333415, 0513660 and 0851756), the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, and the Sigma Xi Foundation.

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