Hominid-pongid distinctiveness in the miocene-pliocene fossil record: The lothagam mandible



The Lothagam mandibular fragment, found in 1967 west of Lake Turkana, Kenya, has been dated to 5.5 million years ago. This date is significant because it may lie within the suggested time range during which the hominid and pongid clades diverged. Because of its fragmentary condition and great age, this specimen has run the gamut of taxonomic assignations, from ramapithecine to pongid to hominid. These three nomenclatural categories serve as the basis for three hypotheses tested in this study. First, morphological and metric comparisons between Lothagam and a sample of Euroafrican ramapithecines address the hypothesis of “Lothagam as predi-vergence hominoid.” Second, comparisons with a sample of Pan test the “Lothagam as postdivergence, African protopongid” hypothesis. Finally, samples of Australopithecus afarensis and A. africanus were utilized to evaluate the hypothesis of “Lothagam as postdivergence, early hominid.” Unlike previous studies attempting to ascertain the evolutionary affinities of this enigmatic fossil, this work benefits from the large sample of A. afarensis specimens now generally available for study. Metric and morphological comparisons demonstrate Lothagam's affinity to A. afarensis in sharing derived, hominid states in such features as the mental foramen vertical position, the ascending ramus origin, the breadth of the alveolar margin, the reduction of the hypoconulid, the dimensions of the M1 and the dimensions of the mandibular corpus. It is suggested that the dental/gnathic features enumerated in this study can be employed to distinguish ancestral hominid from pongid in future Mio/Pliocene paleontological discoveries.