Lingual incisor traits in modern hominoids and an assessment of their utility for fossil hominoid taxonomy


  • Varsha Pilbrow

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    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801
    • Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 109 Davenport Hall, 607 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801
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The morphology of the anterior dentition has received scant attention for purposes of taxonomic discrimination. Recently, however, lingual incisor morphology was used in differentiating several Miocene ape species and genera. This paper assesses the utility of this morphology for taxonomic discrimination by examining the nature and patterns of variation in lingual incisor morphology in extensive samples of modern chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons. This paper documents discrete morphological traits on the lingual side of incisors. Trait frequencies are used in univariate and multivariate analyses to examine the apportionment of variation in species, subspecies, and populations. A correlation between lingual incisor traits, tooth dimensions, and sex attempts to determine if such factors affect the manifestation of traits. Finally, the findings are applied to understanding patterns of variation in the Miocene hominids. The study demonstrates that: 1) lingual incisor morphology differs substantially between the hylobatids and great apes; 2) variation in incisor traits is high within species, and most of it is found within local populations; and 3) incisor traits do not correlate significantly with incisor dimensions or sex. Species and to some extent subspecies of extant hominoids can be differentiated statistically using lingual incisor traits, but the frequency of traits such as continuous or discontinuous cingulum, or the presence or absence of pillars, differentiates them. Given this pattern of variation, I argue that it is necessary to assume and document similar patterns of variation in Miocene apes before incisor morphology is used for differentiating taxa. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.