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J Hum Evol. 2000 Jul;39(1):23-55.

Temporal trends and metric variation in the mandibles and dentition of Australopithecus afarensis.

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Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4101, USA.


The Pliocene hominin samples from Hadar and Laetoli are thought to represent one species, Australopithecus afarensis, that exhibits stasis throughout its temporal range and has high levels of skeletal sexual dimorphism. In this paper, we test the hypothesis of stasis in dental and mandibular dimensions using nonparametric rank correlation methods to detect temporal trends and randomization tests to evaluate their statistical significance. We then use two methods (CV resampling; Fligner-Killeen test) to compare overall levels of variation in the fossil sample to those of extant hominoid species. Together, these analyses allow us to gauge the effects of changes through time on variation in mandibles and teeth of A. afarensis.P(3)mesiodistal length, M(3)size, and canine shape change through time but do not appear unusually variable in the sample as a whole. These temporal trends possibly reflect differences between the Laetoli and Hadar site-samples. For mandibles, a pronounced trend towards greater corpus size occurs late in the temporal sequence and contributes to high levels of variation compared to African apes. These results show that significant directional changes do occur in the A. afarensis mandibles and teeth, and in these elements, at least, the species is not static. Temporal variation is clearly an important component of overall variation in the A. afarensis lineage, even though other factors, such as sexual dimorphism, may also play a part.

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