Experimental stress analysis of topographic diversity in early hominid gnathic morphology



Reconstructing the biomechanics of early hominid mastication is a key element in most models of hominid differentiation. Traditionally, ostelogical features marking muscle attachment surfaces have served as a reference system from which the vector geometry of the masticatory force system and resultant force distributions could be predicted. To augment traditional morphological and computational approaches, we developed a simulation system capable of replicating human and non-human primate chewing motions. The forces of occlusion are recorded as photoelastic fringes in a urethane alveolar process. Simulation experiments evaluating the functional correlates of topographic diversity in zygomatic root position and mandibular ramus height in early hominids indicated that the mandibles and dentitions of robust australopithecines are well adapted to sustain high magnitude, low gradient load distributions.