The biological and chronological maturation of early hominids

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Recent studies on the rate and pattern of dental development indicate that the growth and maturation of early hominids were more similar to the extant apes than to modern humans. This contrasts with the previously held opinion derived from combined dental development, pattern and attrition studies claiming that early hominids were more hominine in their development (Mann, 1975). This paper explores the origin of this difference of opinion and reviews immature hominid dentitions with the benefit of improved radiographs and new data on the pattern and rate of pongid dental development. Paranthropus and Australopithecus specimens are shown to possess an ape-like development pattern but incisor development is specialized in the former and superficially human-like in pattern. The present and recent studies on dental development rate and pattern justify the position that early hominids were more ape-like in their growth and development. Therefore, ages at death calculated from pongid dental development schedules are provided for most immature early hominids. More detailed studies of early hominid developmental biology are now possible. It is suggested that divergent heterochronic processes characterize changes in brain/body proportions during hominid evolution. Relative rates of bone remodeling processes can now be identified on early hominid skeletons. The paleodemographic analysis of early hominids is little changed by the developmental model one chooses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-272
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1987


  • dentition
  • development
  • hominid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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