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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Mar;144(3):442-53. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21425. Epub 2010 Nov 29.

Paleoamerican morphology in the context of European and East Asian late Pleistocene variation: implications for human dispersion into the New World.

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Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Museo, Universidad Católica del Norte, Calle Gustavo LePaige 380, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.


Early American crania show a different morphological pattern from the one shared by late Native Americans. Although the origin of the diachronic morphological diversity seen on the continents is still debated, the distinct morphology of early Americans is well documented and widely dispersed. This morphology has been described extensively for South America, where larger samples are available. Here we test the hypotheses that the morphology of Early Americans results from retention of the morphological pattern of Late Pleistocene modern humans and that the occupation of the New World precedes the morphological differentiation that gave rise to recent Eurasian and American morphology. We compare Early American samples with European Upper Paleolithic skulls, the East Asian Zhoukoudian Upper Cave specimens and a series of 20 modern human reference crania. Canonical Analysis and Minimum Spanning Tree were used to assess the morphological affinities among the series, while Mantel and Dow-Cheverud tests based on Mahalanobis Squared Distances were used to test different evolutionary scenarios. Our results show strong morphological affinities among the early series irrespective of geographical origin, which together with the matrix analyses results favor the scenario of a late morphological differentiation of modern humans. We conclude that the geographic differentiation of modern human morphology is a late phenomenon that occurred after the initial settlement of the Americas.

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