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J Hum Evol. 2006 Sep;51(3):217-27. Epub 2006 Mar 30.

Size and shape variation in Australopithecus afarensis proximal femora.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Institute of Human Origins, Tempe, Arizona State University, 85287-4101, USA.


The degree of size and shape variation in the A. afarensis fossil sample has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Size variation has been described as exceeding that of extant hominoids, similar to that of strongly sexually dimorphic hominoids, and best matched to modern humans. The degree of shape variation has been characterized both as great and negligible. Recent fieldwork has increased the proximal femoral sample, providing new data with which to examine variation. The proximal femur of A. afarensis is analyzed in a comparative framework in order to gauge the magnitude of size and shape variation in this element. Seven of the best-preserved A. afarensis proximal femora contribute to the analysis (A.L. 128-1, A.L. 152-2, A.L. 211-1, A.L. 288-1ap, A.L. 333-3, A.L. 333-123, A.L. 827-1). Comparative samples from Pan, Pongo, Gorilla, and Homo provide context for interpreting variation among the fossils. The coefficient of variation (CV) of linear measurements is used to estimate size variation. Bootstrap resampling of CVs from extant hominoids provides distributions for comparison to A. afarensis CVs. Ratios of linear measurements provide scale-free shape variables that are used in pairwise comparisons. The Euclidean distance between pairs of A. afarensis are compared to the Euclidean distances between extant hominoid pairs. As found in some earlier analyses, size variation in A. afarensis is accommodated best in gorillas and orangutans. The magnitude of difference in shape between A. afarensis pairs is exceeded by most taxa, indicating that shape variation is not extreme. These general findings are contradicted by a few instances of excessive size and shape variation. These are uncharacteristic results and could point to temporal bias, although other alternatives are explored. The signal from the proximal femur is that size variation in A. afarensis is like that of the strongly sexually dimorphic apes, and shape variation is well within the range of most hominoids irrespective of their degree of size dimorphism.

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