We report here on early hominid facial diversity, as part of a more extensive morphometric survey of cranial variability in Pliocene and early Pleistocene Hominidae. Univariate and multivariate techniques are used to summarise variation in facial proportions in South and East African hominids, and later Quaternary groups are included as comparators in order to scale the variation displayed.
The results indicate that “robust” australopithecines have longer, broader faces than the “gracile” form, but that all australopithecine species show comparable degrees of facial projection. “Robust” crania are characterised by anteriorly situated, deep malar processes that slope forwards and downwards. Smaller hominid specimens, formally or informally assigned to Homo (H. habilis, KNM-ER 1813, etc.), have individual facial dimensions that usually fall within the range of Australopithecus africanus, but which in combination reveal a significantly different morphological pattern; SK 847 shows similarly hominine facial proportions, which differ significantly from those of A. robustus specimens from Swartkrans. KNM-ER 1470 possesses a facial pattern that is basically hominine, but which in some respects mimics that of “robust” australopithecines. Early specimens referred to H. erectus possess facial proportions that contrast markedly with those of other Villafranchian hominids and which suggest differing masticatory forces, possibly reflecting a shift in dietary niche.
Overall the results indicate two broad patterns of facial proportions in Hominidae: one is characteristic of Pliocene/basal Pleistocene forms with opposite polarities represented by A. boisei and H. habilis; the other pattern, which typifies hominids from the later Lower Pleistocene onwards, is first found in specimens widely regarded as early representatives of H. erectus, but which differ in which certain respects from the face of later members of that species.