Evolutionary significance of cranial variation in Asian Homo erectus

Susan C. Antón

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Homo erectus inhabited a wide geographic area of Asia, ranging from 40° north latitude in China to 8° south latitude in island Southeast Asia. Yet variation within Asian H. erectus and its relation to ecological and temporal parameters have been little studied. I synthesize the revised radiometric chronologies for hominid sites in Asia and their relation to new oxygen isotope curves (proxies for climatic fluctuations and landbridge connections). These data suggest substantial opportunities in the later Pleistocene for both regional isolation and gene flow between hominids in mainland and Southeast Asia. They also suggest that the most northerly located Chinese sites (Zhoukoudian and Nanjing) may have been occupied during sequential, interglacial periods. Probably reflecting these periods of isolation, nonmetric features and principal components analysis (PCA) of calvarial shape suggest regional differentiation between northern Asian and Southeast Asian H. erectus. The most recent Southeast Asian fossils (e.g., Ngandong) conform to the Southeast Asian pattern. Except perhaps in brain size, there is no evidence that the temporally intermediate Chinese fossils are intermediate in morphology between older and younger Indonesian fossils. In fact, northern Chinese calvaria are easier to exclude from the larger Asian H. erectus hypodigm than are the Ngandong fossils. The Chinese specimens differ from the others based on their narrower occipitals and frontals for their cranial size. The Chinese sample from Zhoukoudian alone is thus not a good proxy for the morphology and variation seen within Asian H. erectus. Both the Chinese and late Indonesian samples exhibit less variation than does the early Indonesian sample; this along with their shared morphological bauplan suggests a common origin and no more than subspecific differentiation. This shared morphology, despite regional differences, was likely maintained by the increasing intensity of multiple glaciations (and longerlasting land bridge connections) between mainland and island Southeast Asia during the last million years.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)301-323
    Number of pages23
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - 2002


    • China
    • H. ergaster
    • Indonesia
    • O record

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anatomy
    • Anthropology


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