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Keywords:

  • cercopithecoids;
  • Makapansgat;
  • Sterkfontein;
  • relative dating;
  • Parapapio;
  • sexual dimorphism;
  • mean;
  • standard deviation;
  • variance

Abstract

Papionin monkeys are widespread, relatively common members of Plio-Pleistocene faunal assemblages across Africa. For these reasons, papionin taxa have been used as biochronological indicators by which to infer the ages of the South African karst cave deposits. A recent morphometric study of South African fossil papionin muzzle shape concluded that its variation attests to a substantial and greater time depth for these sites than is generally estimated. This inference is significant, because accurate dating of the South African cave sites is critical to our knowledge of hominin evolution and mammalian biogeographic history. We here report the results of a comparative analysis of extant papionin monkeys by which variability of the South African fossil papionins may be assessed. The muzzles of 106 specimens representing six extant papionin genera were digitized and interlandmark distances were calculated. Results demonstrate that the overall amount of morphological variation present within the fossil assemblage fits comfortably within the range exhibited by the extant sample. We also performed a statistical experiment to assess the limitations imposed by small sample sizes, such as typically encountered in the fossil record. Results suggest that 15 specimens are sufficient to accurately represent the population mean for a given phenotype, but small sample sizes are insufficient to permit the accurate estimation of the population standard deviation, variance, and range. The suggestion that the muzzle morphology of fossil papionins attests to a considerable and previously unrecognized temporal depth of the South African karst cave sites is unwarranted. Am J Phys Anthropol 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.