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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1996 Oct;101(2):247-82.

Mandibular postcanine dentition from the Shungura Formation, Ethiopia: crown morphology, taxonomic allocations, and Plio-Pleistocene hominid evolution.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, Japan.


Over 200 hominid specimens were recovered by the International Omo Expedition of 1967-1976. Despite the fragmentary nature of this primarily dental collection, these hominid remains represent a major body of evidence about hominid evolution in eastern Africa during the 2-3 myr time period. Our analysis of the Omo dental collection is based on a large comparative sample of 375 quantifiable mandibular postcanine teeth of A. afarensis, A. africanus, A. aethiopicus, A. boisei, A. robustus, and early Homo. A total of 48 isolated mandibular premolars and molars of the Omo collection spanning the 2-3 myr time period is sufficiently preserved to allow reliable serial allocations and intertaxon comparisons and is the object of study in this paper. We present taxonomic identifications of these teeth and seven other mandibular specimens preserving tooth crowns. Metric analyses of this study include cusp area and crown shape variables taken on occlusal view diagrams. Nonmetric analyses were based on simultaneous observations of all relevant material to ensure accuracy of categorical evaluations. First, a combined metric and morphological evaluation was conducted to allocate each Omo tooth to either robust or nonrobust categories. Further taxonomic affinities were then examined. Our results indicate that nonrobust and robust lineages cooccur by circa 2.7 myr. We consider the Shungura robust specimens from Members C through F to represent A. aethiopicus. A significant phenetic transformation occurs at circa 2.3 myr, with the mosaic emergence of the derived A. boisei morphology across Member G times. Characterization of the East African nonrobust lineage is more difficult because of the comparatively subtle morphological differences seen among the dentitions of A. afarensis, A. africanus, and early Homo. The earlier Members B and C nonrobust specimens are difficult to evaluate and are considered indeterminate to genus or species. Both molars and premolars from Members E through G exhibit phenetic similarities to the early Homo condition and are considered as aff. Homo sp. indet. At present, there is no indication of multiple species in the Omo nonrobust sample at any time horizon. The 2-2.4 myr Omo nonrobust specimens exhibit some similarities to the stated Homo "rudolfensis" condition in size and morphology and are likely to represent the ancestral condition of the genus Homo. The bearing of these results on interpretations of early hominid evolution and diversification is considered.

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