Research Paper

Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 53, Issue 8, pp 1141-1152

First online:

Geometric morphometric analysis of the early Pleistocene hominin teeth from Jianshi, Hubei Province, China

  • Wu LiuAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of Vertebrates, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences Email author 
  • , Ronald ClarkeAffiliated withUniversity of the Witwatersrand
  • , Song XingAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of Vertebrates, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of SciencesGraduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

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Abstract

Although the early Pleistocene hominin fossils found in East Asia continent are widely recognized as the earliest hominins migrated from Africa, debates remain on the morphology and taxonomy of these fossils. In this study, dental crown shape of the three early Pleistocene hominin teeth (P3, M1, and M1) found in Jianshi, Hubei Province of China was analyzed by means of geometric morphometrics. The comparative samples of fossil hominins from Africa, Asia, and Europe as well as those of modern humans (N=257) were used. The results indicate that the contour, asymmetry, and cusp patterns of these three types of teeth differ obviously between the fossil hominins and modern humans. The crown shape of P3 in most fossil hominins including Australopithecus, African early Homo, and Asian Pleistocene hominins are asymmetric with their crown occlusal contours long and curving elliptic-shaped. The occlusal contour of the fossil hominin M1 is symmetric and rectangle-shaped with no marked cusp protrusion. The crown shape of fossil M1 is characterized by asymmetric contour with slightly projected metaconid and hypoconid. On the contrary, in modern Chinese and some European late Pleistocene hominins, the crowns of P3s show symmetric contours with buccal side wider than lingual side; the crown shape of M1 is asymmetric with lingual cusp distal-placed, especially for hypoconid; the M1 has symmetric and round crown contour. Our study reveals that Australopithecus has wide variations in its crown shape, whereas these dental morphospaces of Asian hominins are closely placed. The crown contour, symmetry, and cusp patterns of these three teeth of Jianshi hominin resemble those of Asian early and middle Pleistocene hominins. No marked difference in dental crown shape is shown between the Jianshi hominin and other Chinese Homo erectus, and there is also no evidence in support of the Jianshi hominin’s closeness to Australopithecus and African early Homo members.

Keywords

human evolution tooth shape geometric morphometric Jianshi Hubei China