The study of morphological variation in the hominid fossil record: biology, landmarks and geometry


Correspondence to Dr Paul O'Higgins, Evolutionary Anatomy Unit, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Rockefeller Building, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ, UK.


This review considers some recent advances in shape analysis based on landmark data, and focuses on the application of these methods to the study of skeletal evolution in primates. These advances have provoked some controversy. The major aims of this review are to put these debates in context and to provide an overview for the nonmathematician. The purpose of morphometric studies is considered, together with issues relating to the nature, significance and identification of landmarks before turning to a review of available technologies for the analysis of morphological variation. These are considered in terms of underlying models and assumptions in order to clarify when each is appropriate. To illustrate the application of these methods, 3 example studies are presented. The first examines differences amongst ancient and modern adult human crania using 2-dimensional data. The second illustrates the extension of these methods into 3 dimensions in a study of facial growth in monkeys. The third presents an application to the analysis of the form of the hominoid talus. The review ends with an account of available software resources for shape analysis.