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J Hum Evol. 2011 Jun;60(6):711-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.01.006. Epub 2011 Apr 8.

Evolution of the mandibular third premolar crown in early Australopithecus.

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Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2402, USA.


The Pliocene hominins Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis likely represent ancestor-descendent taxa--possibly an anagenetic lineage--and capture significant change in the morphology of the canine and mandibular third premolar (P(3)) crowns, dental elements that form the canine honing complex in nonhuman catarrhines. This study focuses on the P(3) crown, highlighting plesiomorphic features in A. anamensis. The A. afarensis P(3) crown, in contrast, is variable in its expression of apomorphic features that are characteristic of geologically younger hominins. Temporal variation characterizes each taxon as well. The A. anamensis P(3) from Allia Bay, Kenya expresses apomorphic character states, shared with A. afarensis, which are not seen in the older sample of A. anamensis P(3)s from Kanapoi, Kenya, while spatiotemporal differences in shape exist within the A. afarensis hypodigm. The accumulation of derived features in A. afarensis results in an increased level of P(3) molarisation. P(3) molarisation did not evolve concurrent with postcanine megadontia and neither did the appearance of derived aspects of P(3) occlusal form coincide with the loss of canine honing in hominins, which is apparent prior to the origin of the genus Australopithecus. A. afarensis P(3) variation reveals the independence of shape, size, and occlusal form. The evolution of the P(3) crown in early Australopithecus bridges the wide morphological gap that exists between geologically younger hominins on the one hand and extant apes and Ardipithecus on the other.

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