Comparative morphometric analyses of the deciduous molars of Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Juliet K. Brophy, Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi, Gregory J. Matthews, Shara E. Bailey

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objectives: The purpose of this study is to help elucidate the taxonomic relationship between Homo naledi and other hominins. Materials and Methods: Homo naledi deciduous maxillary and mandibular molars from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa were compared to those of Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus robustus, Paranthropus boisei, early Homo sp., Homo erectus, early Homo sapiens, Upper Paleolithic H. sapiens, recent southern African H. sapiens, and Neanderthals by means of morphometric analyses of crown outlines and relative cusp areas. The crown shapes were analyzed using elliptical Fourier analyses followed by principal component analyses (PCA). The absolute and relative cusp areas were obtained in ImageJ and compared using PCA and cluster analyses. Results: PCA suggests that the crown shapes and relative cusp areas of mandibular molars are more diagnostic than the maxillary molars. The H. naledi deciduous mandibular first and second molar (dm1 and dm2) do not have a strong affinity to any taxon in the comparative sample in all analyses. While the H. naledi dm2 plots as an outlier in the relative cusp analysis, the H. naledi specimen fall closest to Australopithecus due to their relatively large metaconid, a primitive trait for the genus Homo. Although useful for differentiating Neanderthals from recent southern African H. sapiens and UP H. sapiens, the PCA of the relative cusp areas suggests that the deciduous maxillary second molars (dm2) do not differentiate other groups. The three H. naledi dm2 cuspal areas are variable and fall within the ranges of other Homo, as well as Australopithecus, and Paranthropus suggesting weak diagnostic utility. Discussion: This research provides another perspective on the morphology of, and variation within, H. naledi. The H. naledi deciduous molars do not consistently align with any genus or species in the comparative sample in either the crown shape or relative cusp analyses. This line of inquiry is consistent with other cranial and postcranial studies suggesting that H. naledi is unique.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)299-314
    Number of pages16
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2021


    • Pleistocene Homo
    • dental morphology
    • elliptical fourier
    • intra/interspecific variation
    • rising star cave

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anatomy
    • Anthropology


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