The Antiquity of Man

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Journal abstracts 2006

Anatomical descriptions, comparative studies and evolutionary significance of the hominin skulls from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia
G. Philip Rightmire, David Lordkipanidze and Abesalom Vekua. Journal of Human Evolution 50(2):115-141

Evidence for ancient hominin occupation in Eurasia comes from Dmanisi in the Georgian Caucasus. Stratigraphic and sedimentological arguments, geochemical observations, paleomagnetic sampling and radiometric dates all point to the conclusion that bones and artifacts were deposited at this site during a brief interval following the close of the Olduvai Subchron (1.77 million years ago). In this report we present further descriptive and comparative studies of the D2280 braincase, the D2282 partial cranium, now linked with the D211 mandible, and the skull D2700/D2735. The crania have capacities ranging from 600 cm3 to 775 cm3. Supraorbital tori and other vault superstructures are only moderately developed. The braincase is expanded laterally in the mastoid region, but the occiput is rounded. The pattern of sagittal keeling is distinctive. D2700 displays a prominent midfacial profile and has a very short nasoalveolar clivus. Also, the M3 crowns are reduced in size. Although there is variation probably related to growth status and sex dimorphism, it is appropriate to group the Dmanisi hominins together. With the possible exception of the large D2600 mandible, the individuals are sampled from one paleodeme. This population resembles Homo habilis in brain volume and some aspects of craniofacial morphology, but many of these features can be interpreted as symplesiomorphies. Other discrete characters and measurements suggest that the Dmanisi skulls are best placed with H. erectus. There are numerous similarities to individuals from the Turkana Basin in Kenya, but a few features link Dmanisi to Sangiran in Java. Some traits expressed in the Dmanisi assemblage appear to be unique. Reconstructing the evolutionary relationships of these ancient populations of Africa and Eurasia is difficult, as the record is quite patchy, and determination of character polarities is not straightforward. Nevertheless, the evidence from anatomical analysis and measurements supports the hypothesis that Dmanisi is close to the stem from which H. erectus evolved.

Human and NonHuman Primate Brains: Are They Allometrically Scaled Versions of the Same Design?
James K. Rilling. Evolutionary Anthropology 15(2): 65-77

Allometric analyses of brain structure sizes across the primate order demonstrate that human, ape, and other anthropoid brains are not simply allometrically scaled versions of the same generalized design. Both human and ape brains exhibit specializations with respect to other anthropoid brains. Ape specializations include elaboration of the cerebellum (all apes) and frontal lobes (great apes only), and probably connectivity between them. Human brain specializations include an overall larger proportion of neocortex, with disproportionate enlargement of prefrontal and temporal association cortices; an apparent increase in cerebellar connections with cerebral cortical association areas involved in cognition; and a probable augmentation of intracortical connectivity in prefrontal cortex.

A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia
Paul Mellars. Nature 439(23): 931-935

Radiocarbon dating has been fundamental to the study of human cultural and biological development over the past 50,000 yr. Two recent developments in the methodology of radiocarbon dating show that the speed of colonization of Europe by modern human populations was more rapid than previously believed, and that their period of coexistence with the preceding Neanderthal was shorter.

With a critique by Professor John Hawks.

A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia
Zeresenay Alemseged, et al. Nature 443(21): 296-301 September 2006

Understanding changes in ontogenetic development is central to the study of human evolution. With the exception of Neanderthals, the growth patterns of fossil hominins have not been studied comprehensively because the fossil record currently lacks specimens that document both cranial and postcranial development at young ontogenetic stages. Here we describe a well-preserved 3.3-million-year-old juvenile partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis discovered in the Dikika research area of Ethiopia. The skull of the approximately three-year-old presumed female shows that most features diagnostic of the species are evident even at this early stage of development. The find includes many previously unknown skeletal elements from the Pliocene hominin record, including a hyoid bone that has a typical African ape morphology. The foot and other evidence from the lower limb provide clear evidence for bipedal locomotion, but the gorilla-like scapula and long and curved manual phalanges raise new questions about the importance of arboreal behaviour in the A. afarensis locomotor repertoire.

Additional relevant information can be found at:
Kate Wong. Special Report: Lucy's Baby
Kate Wong. Expert Commentary on Lucy's Baby: C. Owen Lovejoy

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