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Keywords:

  • Computed tomography;
  • Mandibular corpus;
  • Australopithecine

Abstract

This investigation explores the effects of compact bone distribution on the biomechanical properties of the postcanine mandibular corpus of the fossil hominid taxa Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus The mandibles of extant great apes, modern humans, and the fossil hominids are examined by computed tomography (CT), and compact bone contours are used to calculate cross-sectional biomechanical properties (cortical area, second moments of area, and Bredt's formula for torsional strength). The relative amount of compact bone is comparable in the modern and fossil mandibles, but the mechanical properties of A. africanus and P. robustus jaws are distinct in terms of the ratio of minimum to maximum second moments of area. This difference most likely represents a structural response to elevated torsional moments in the fossil hominids. Although the relative amount of compact bone in cross-section does not differ significantly between taxa by statistical criteria, A. africanus utilizes less cortical bone than P. robustus in the same manner in which Pongo is separated from the condition in other extant large-bodied hominoids. It has been suggested that the phenomenon of mandibular “robusticity” (expressed as an index of corpus breadth/corpus height) may be an effect of postcanine megadontia and/or reduced canine size in the australopithecines. Results presented here, however, indicate that it is unlikely that either factor adequately accounts for mandibular size and shape variation in early hominids.