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J Anat. 2004 Oct;205(4):323-31.

Interobserver error involved in independent attempts to measure cusp base areas of Pan M1s.

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CASHP, Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA.


Cusp base areas measured from digitized images increase the amount of detailed quantitative information one can collect from post-canine crown morphology. Although this method is gaining wide usage for taxonomic analyses of extant and extinct hominoids, the techniques for digitizing images and taking measurements differ between researchers. The aim of this study was to investigate interobserver error in order to help assess the reliability of cusp base area measurement within extant and extinct hominoid taxa. Two of the authors measured individual cusp base areas and total cusp base area of 23 maxillary first molars (M(1)) of Pan. From these, relative cusp base areas were calculated. No statistically significant interobserver differences were found for either absolute or relative cusp base areas. On average the hypocone and paracone showed the least interobserver error (< 1%) whereas the protocone and metacone showed the most (2.6-4.5%). We suggest that the larger measurement error in the metacone/protocone is due primarily to either weakly defined fissure patterns and/or the presence of accessory occlusal features. Overall, levels of interobserver error are similar to those found for intraobserver error. The results of our study suggest that if certain prescribed standards are employed then cusp and crown base areas measured by different individuals can be pooled into a single database.

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