Concept: Homo habilis
Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology. H. naledi has humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist. It also exhibits a humanlike foot and lower limb. These humanlike aspects are contrasted in the postcrania with a more primitive or australopith-like trunk, shoulder, pelvis and proximal femur. Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa.
Although the diminutive Homo floresiensis has been known for a decade, its phylogenetic status remains highly contentious. A broad range of potential explanations for the evolution of this species has been explored. One view is that H. floresiensis is derived from Asian Homo erectus that arrived on Flores and subsequently evolved a smaller body size, perhaps to survive the constrained resources they faced in a new island environment. Fossil remains of H. erectus, well known from Java, have not yet been discovered on Flores. The second hypothesis is that H. floresiensis is directly descended from an early Homo lineage with roots in Africa, such as Homo habilis; the third is that it is Homo sapiens with pathology. We use parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test these hypotheses. Our phylogenetic data build upon those characters previously presented in support of these hypotheses by broadening the range of traits to include the crania, mandibles, dentition, and postcrania of Homo and Australopithecus. The new data and analyses support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis is an early Homo lineage: H. floresiensis is sister either to H. habilis alone or to a clade consisting of at least H. habilis, H. erectus, Homo ergaster, and H. sapiens. A close phylogenetic relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus or H. sapiens can be rejected; furthermore, most of the traits separating H. floresiensis from H. sapiens are not readily attributable to pathology (e.g., Down syndrome). The results suggest H. floresiensis is a long-surviving relict of an early (>1.75 Ma) hominin lineage and a hitherto unknown migration out of Africa, and not a recent derivative of either H. erectus or H. sapiens.
There is much debate on the dietary adaptations of the robust hominin lineages during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition. It has been argued that the shift from C3 to C4 ecosystems in Africa was the main factor responsible for the robust dental and facial anatomical adaptations of Paranthropus taxa, which might be indicative of the consumption of fibrous, abrasive plant foods in open environments. However, occlusal dental microwear data fail to provide evidence of such dietary adaptations and are not consistent with isotopic evidence that supports greater C4 food intake for the robust clades than for the gracile australopithecines. We provide evidence from buccal dental microwear data that supports softer dietary habits than expected for P. aethiopicus and P. boisei based both on masticatory apomorphies and isotopic analyses. On one hand, striation densities on the buccal enamel surfaces of paranthropines teeth are low, resembling those of H. habilis and clearly differing from those observed on H. ergaster, which display higher scratch densities indicative of the consumption of a wide assortment of highly abrasive foodstuffs. Buccal dental microwear patterns are consistent with those previously described for occlusal enamel surfaces, suggesting that Paranthropus consumed much softer diets than previously presumed and thus calling into question a strict interpretation of isotopic evidence. On the other hand, the significantly high buccal scratch densities observed in the H. ergaster specimens are not consistent with a highly specialized, mostly carnivorous diet; instead, they support the consumption of a wide range of highly abrasive food items.
Besides Homo erectus (sensu lato), the eastern African fossil record of early Homo has been interpreted as representing either a single variable species, Homo habilis, or two species. In the latter case, however, there is no consensus over the respective groupings, and which of the two includes OH 7, the 1.8-million-year-old H. habilis holotype. This partial skull and hand from Olduvai Gorge remains pivotal to evaluating the early evolution of the Homo lineage, and by priority names one or other of the two taxa. However, the distorted preservation of the diagnostically important OH 7 mandible has hindered attempts to compare this specimen with other fossils. Here we present a virtual reconstruction of the OH 7 mandible, and compare it to other early Homo fossils. The reconstructed mandible is remarkably primitive, with a long and narrow dental arcade more similar to Australopithecus afarensis than to the derived parabolic arcades of Homo sapiens or H. erectus. We find that this shape variability is not consistent with a single species of early Homo. Importantly, the jaw morphology of OH 7 is incompatible with fossils assigned to Homo rudolfensis and with the A.L. 666-1 Homo maxilla. The latter is morphologically more derived than OH 7 but 500,000 years older, suggesting that the H. habilis lineage originated before 2.3 million years ago, thus marking deep-rooted species diversity in the genus Homo. We also reconstructed the parietal bones of OH 7 and estimated its endocranial volume. At between 729 and 824 ml it is larger than any previously published value, and emphasizes the near-complete overlap in brain size among species of early Homo. Our results clarify the H. habilis hypodigm, but raise questions about its phylogenetic relationships. Differences between species of early Homo appear to be characterized more by gnathic diversity than by differences in brain size, which was highly variable within all taxa.
Modern humans are characterized by specialized hand morphology that is associated with advanced manipulative skills. Thus, there is important debate in paleoanthropology about the possible cause-effect relationship of this modern human-like (MHL) hand anatomy, its associated grips and the invention and use of stone tools by early hominins. Here we describe and analyse Olduvai Hominin (OH) 86, a manual proximal phalanx from the recently discovered >1.84-million-year-old (Ma) Philip Tobias Korongo (PTK) site at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). OH 86 represents the earliest MHL hand bone in the fossil record, of a size and shape that differs not only from all australopiths, but also from the phalangeal bones of the penecontemporaneous and geographically proximate OH 7 partial hand skeleton (part of the Homo habilis holotype). The discovery of OH 86 suggests that a hominin with a more MHL postcranium co-existed with Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis at Olduvai during Bed I times.
The estimation of body size among the earliest members of the genus Homo (2.4-1.5Myr [millions of years ago]) is central to interpretations of their biology. It is widely accepted that Homo ergaster possessed increased body size compared with Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, and that this may have been a factor involved with the dispersal of Homo out of Africa. The study of taxonomic differences in body size, however, is problematic. Postcranial remains are rarely associated with craniodental fossils, and taxonomic attributions frequently rest upon the size of skeletal elements. Previous body size estimates have been based upon well-preserved specimens with a more reliable species assessment. Since these samples are small (n < 5) and disparate in space and time, little is known about geographical and chronological variation in body size within early Homo. We investigate temporal and spatial variation in body size among fossils of early Homo using a 'taxon-free' approach, considering evidence for size variation from isolated and fragmentary postcranial remains (n = 39). To render the size of disparate fossil elements comparable, we derived new regression equations for common parameters of body size from a globally representative sample of hunter-gatherers and applied them to available postcranial measurements from the fossils. The results demonstrate chronological and spatial variation but no simple temporal or geographical trends for the evolution of body size among early Homo. Pronounced body size increases within Africa take place only after hominin populations were established at Dmanisi, suggesting that migrations into Eurasia were not contingent on larger body sizes. The primary evidence for these marked changes among early Homo is based upon material from Koobi Fora after 1.7Myr, indicating regional size variation. The significant body size differences between specimens from Koobi Fora and Olduvai support the cranial evidence for at least two co-existing morphotypes in the Early Pleistocene of eastern Africa.
The species Homo naledi was recently named from specimens recovered from the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. This large skeletal sample lacks associated faunal material and currently does not have a known chronological context. In this paper, we present comprehensive descriptions and metric comparisons of the recovered cranial and mandibular material. We describe 41 elements attributed to Dinaledi Hominin (DH1-DH5) individuals and paratype U.W. 101-377, and 32 additional cranial fragments. The H. naledi material was compared to Plio-Pleistocene fossil hominins using qualitative and quantitative analyses including over 100 linear measurements and ratios. We find that the Dinaledi cranial sample represents an anatomically homogeneous population that expands the range of morphological variation attributable to the genus Homo. Despite a relatively small cranial capacity that is within the range of australopiths and a few specimens of early Homo, H. naledi shares cranial characters with species across the genus Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, and Middle Pleistocene Homo. These include aspects of cranial form, facial morphology, and mandibular anatomy. However, the skull of H. naledi is readily distinguishable from existing species of Homo in both qualitative and quantitative assessments. Since H. naledi is currently undated, we discuss the evolutionary implications of its cranial morphology in a range of chronological frameworks. Finally, we designate a sixth Dinaledi Hominin (DH6) individual based on a juvenile mandible.
Homo erectus and later humans have enlarged body sizes, reduced sexual dimorphism, elongated lower limbs, and increased encephalization compared to Australopithecus, together suggesting a distinct ecological pattern. The mosaic expression of such features in early Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and some early H. erectus, suggests that these traits do not constitute an integrated package. We examined the evidence for body mass, stature, limb proportions, body size and dental size dimorphism, and absolute and relative brain size in Homo naledi as represented in the Dinaledi Chamber sample. H. naledi stature and body mass are low compared to reported values for H. erectus, with the exception of some of the smaller bodied Dmanisi H. erectus specimens, and overlap with larger Australopithecus and early Homo estimates. H. naledi endocranial volumes (465-560 cc) and estimates of encephalization quotient are also similar to Australopithecus and low compared to all Homo specimens, with the exception of Homo floresiensis (LB1) and the smallest Dmanisi H. erectus specimen (D4500). Unlike Australopithecus, but similar to derived members of genus Homo, the Dinaledi assemblage of H. naledi exhibits both low levels of body mass and dental size variation, with an estimated body mass index of sexual dimorphism less than 20%, and appears to have an elongated lower limb. Thus, the H. naledi bauplan combines features not typically seen in Homo species (e.g., small brains and bodies) with those characteristic of H. erectus and more recent Homo species (e.g., reduced mass dimorphism, elongated lower limb).
In this study, a new Early Pleistocene proximal hand phalanx (ATE9-2) from the Sima del Elefante cave site (TE - Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), ascribed to Homo sp., is presented and comparatively described in the context of the evolution of the genus Homo. The ATE9-2 specimen is especially important because of the paucity of hand bones in the human fossil record during the Early Pleistocene. The morphological and metrical analyses of the phalanx ATE9-2 indicate that there are no essential differences between it and comparator fossil specimens for the genus Homo after 1.3 Ma (millions of years ago). Similar to Sima de los Huesos and Neandertal specimens, ATE9-2 is a robust proximal hand phalanx, probably reflecting greater overall body robusticity in these populations or a higher gracility in modern humans. The age of level TE9 from Sima del Elefante and morphological and metrical studies of ATE9-2 suggest that the morphology of the proximal hand phalanges and, thus, the morphology of the hand could have remained stable over the last 1.2-1.3 Ma. Taking into account the evidence recently provided by a metacarpal from Kaitio (Kenya) from around 1.42 Ma, we argue that modern hand morphology is present in the genus Homo subsequent to Homo habilis.
Fossil bird data (community composition and taphonomic profiles) are used here to infer the environmental context of the Oldowan-Acheulean transitional period at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. This is the first comprehensive report on the Middle Bed II avifauna and includes fossils excavated by the Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project (OGAP) and recently rediscovered fossils collected by Mary Leakey. Crane, ibis, darter, owl, raptor, crow, and vulture are reported from Bed II for the first time. The presence of these taxa, absent earlier in this Bed, point to a general opening and drying of the landscape with grassland and open woodland expansion. Taxa associated with dense, emergent wetland vegetation, such as dabbling ducks and rails, are uncommon and less diverse than earlier in Bed II. This suggests more mature wetlands with clearer waters. Cormorants continue to be common, but are less diverse. Cormorants and other roosting taxa provide evidence of trees in the area. Compared to lowermost Bed II, the Middle to Upper Bed II landscape is interpreted here as more open and drier (but not necessarily more arid), with matured wetlands, scattered trees, and a greater expansion of grasslands.