Craniodental variation in Paranthropus boisei: A developmental and functional perspective


  • Bernard Wood,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, and Human Origins Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560
    • Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, 2110 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20052
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  • Daniel E. Lieberman

    1. Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Peabody Museum, Cambridge Massachusetts 02138
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What levels and patterns of craniodental variation among a fossil hypodigm are necessary to reject the null hypothesis that only a single species is sampled? We suggest how developmental and functional criteria can be used to predict where in the skeleton of fossil hominins we should expect more, or less, within-species variation. We present and test three hypotheses about the factors contributing to craniodental variation in extant primate taxa, and then apply these results to the interpretation of the P. boisei hypodigm. Within the comparative samples of extant Homo, Pan, Gorilla, Pongo, and Colobus, variables from the cranial base, neurocranium, and face that are not subject to high magnitudes of strain have consistently lower levels of intraspecific variation than variables from regions of the face subject to high levels of strain. Dental size variables are intermediate in terms of their reliability. P. boisei is found to have a low degree of variability relative to extant primates for variables shown to be generally useful for testing taxonomic hypotheses. Contrary to the claims of Suwa et al. ([1997] Nature 389:489–492), the recently discovered material from Konso falls within the range of variation of the “pre-Konso” hypodigm of P. boisei for available conventional metrical variables. Those aspects of the Konso material that appear to extend the range of the P. boisei hypodigm involve regions of the skull predicted to be prone to high levels of within-species variation. The approach used in this study focuses on craniodental data, but it is applicable to other regions of the skeleton. Am J Phys Anthropol 116:13–25, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.