The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)


Australopithecus afarensis endocasts suggest ape-like brain organization

PHILIPP GUNZ1, SIMON NEUBAUER1, DEAN FALK2,3, PAUL TAFFOREAU4, ADELINE LE CABEC1,4, TANYA M. SMITH5, WILLIAM H. KIMBEL6, FRED SPOOR1,7,8 and ZERESENAY ALEMSEGED9.

1Human Evolution, Max Planck EVA Leipzig, 2Department of Anthropology, Florida State University, 3School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, 4European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, 5Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, 6Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, 7Centre for Human Evolution Research, Natural History Museum London, 8Department of Anthropology, University College London, 9Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago

April 18, 2020 8:30AM, Diamond 5 Add to calendar

Debates about evidence for brain reorganization in Australopithecus have often focused on the position of the lunate sulcus, ever since Raymond Dart’s seminal description of the Taung child’s natural endocranial imprint in 1925. In non-human apes a well-defined lunate sulcus approximates the anterior boundary of the primary visual cortex of the occipital lobes. Some have argued that an evolutionary reorganization of the parietotemporo-occipital association cortices displaced the lunate sulcus posteriorly on endocasts of australopiths, and eventually led to the disappearance of a clear endocranial impression in humans. Hypothetically, such brain reorganization in early hominins could have been linked to behaviors that were more complex than those of their great ape relatives (e.g. tool manufacture, mentalizing, vocal communication.)

Conventional and synchrotron computed tomographic (CT) scans of original fossils from Dikika and Hadar (Ethiopia) yielded (i) an exceptionally preserved endocranium of the Dikika infant DIK-1-1, (ii) a precise age at-death based on virtual dental histology for DIK-1-1, (iii) new endocranial volume estimates of the best-preserved Australopithecus afarensis fossil crania, and (iv) previously undetected endocranial features on well-known Australopithecus fossils. An endocranial segmentation of DIK-1-1 reveals detailed sulcal impressions, including an unambiguous lunate sulcus in an anterior (ape-like) position. Moreover, the micro-CT data reveal a clear, previously undetected impression of an ape-like lunate sulcus on the partial cranium A.L. 162-28 from Hadar.

Contrary to previous claims, A. afarensis endocasts reveal an ape-like brain organization, and no sulcal features derived towards humans.

Max Planck Society (Evolution of Brain Connectomics),  European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ec597), US National Science Foundation (BCS 1126470), M. and W. Hearst, Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.