Early Homo, plasticity and the extended evolutionary synthesis

Susan C. Antón, Christopher W. Kuzawa

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    The Modern Synthesis led to fundamental advances in understandings of human evolution. For human palaeontology, a science that works from ancestral phenotypes (i.e. the fossil record), particularly important have been perspectives used to help understand the heritable aspects of phenotypes and how fossil individuals might then be aggregated into species, and relationships among these groups understood. This focus, coupled with the fragmentary nature of the fossil record, however, means that individual phenotypic variation is often treated as unimportant ʼnoise’, rather than as a source of insight into population adaptation and evolutionary process. The emphasis of the extended evolutionary synthesis on plasticity as a source of phenotypic novelty, and the related question of the role of such variation in long-term evolutionary trends, focuses welcome attention on non-genetic means by which novel phenotypes are generated and in so doing provides alternative approaches to interpreting the fossil record. We review evidence from contemporary human populations regarding some of the aspects of adult phenotypes preserved in the fossil record that might be most responsive to non-genetic drivers, and we consider how these perspectives lead to alternate hypotheses for interpreting the fossil record of early genus Homo. We conclude by arguing that paying closer attention to the causes and consequences of intraspecific phenotypic variation in its own right, as opposed to as noise around a species mean, may inspire a new generation of hypotheses regarding species diversity in the Early Pleistocene and the foundations for dispersal and regional diversification in Homo erectus and its descendants.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number20170004
    JournalInterface Focus
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - 2017


    • Developmental plasticity
    • Homo erectus
    • Human biology
    • Phenotypic variation
    • Speciation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Biotechnology
    • Biophysics
    • Bioengineering
    • Biochemistry
    • Biomaterials
    • Biomedical Engineering


    Dive into the research topics of 'Early Homo, plasticity and the extended evolutionary synthesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this