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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2003 Jul;121(3):198-218.

New approaches in hominoid taxonomy: morphometrics.

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Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


We report here on new cranial data relevant to hominoid taxonomic analyses, based on a study of 438 skulls belonging to 13 nonhuman living hominoid taxa. Nineteen landmarks were selected to describe the overall shape of the maxillofacial complex, in order to investigate its discriminative power in taxonomic analyses. We used a geometric morphometrics approach to depict morphological variation from the genus down to the subspecific level, and we evaluated whether our morphologic criteria are relevant to discriminating species and subspecies among living hominoids. Considering previous genetic studies, we discuss whether our results can be extrapolated to the hominin fossil record, providing a reference for species and subspecies morphologic differentiation. Our results indicate that the relative warp method, as applied to facial landmarks, provides a powerful tool to discriminate taxa down to a subspecific level. Results show a noticeable divergence of P. t. verus compared to P. t. troglodytes and P. t. schweinfurthii. According to our data, the distance between eastern and western gorilla populations as well as between Bornean and Sumatran orangutan subspecies is as great as between the two species of Pan. In the same manner, differences between Hylobates and Symphalangus are similar to those between Pan and Gorilla genera. Congruence between the morphological distances computed in this study and previous morphological and genetical studies strongly supports their relevance for morphological species recognition in paleoanthropology. Our data provide an objective standard for assessing taxonomic differences among hominoids, and will enable us to define more precisely the significance of morphological differences in the fossil record.

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