A cranial base of Australopithecus robustus from the hanging remnant of Swartkrans, South Africa



SKW 18, a partial hominin cranium recovered from the site of Swartkrans, South Africa, in 1968 is described. It is derived from ex situ breccia of the Hanging Remnant of Member 1, dated to approximately 1.5–1.8 Mya. Although partially encased in breccia, it was refit to the facial fragment SK 52 (Clarke 1977 The Cranium of the Swartkrans Hominid SK 847 and Its Relevance to Human Origins, Ph.D. dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), producing the composite cranium SKW 18/SK 52. Subsequent preparation revealed the most complete cranial base attributable to the species Australopithecus robustus. SKW 18 suffered weathering and slight postdepositional distortion, but retains considerable anatomical detail. The composite cranium most likely represents a large, subadult male, based on the incomplete fusion of the spheno-occipital synchondrosis; unerupted third molar; pronounced development of muscular insertions; and large teeth. Cranial base measures of SKW 18 expand the range of values previously recorded for A. robustus. SKW 18 provides information on anatomical features not previously visible in this taxon, and expands our knowledge of morphological variability recognizable in the cranial base. Morphological heterogeneity in the development of the prevertebral and nuchal muscular insertions is likely the result of sexual dimorphism in A. robustus, while differences in cranial base angles and the development of the occipital/marginal sinus drainage system cannot be attributed to size dimorphism. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.