The enigmatic molar from Gondolin, South Africa: Implications for Paranthropus paleobiology

Frederick E. Grine, Rachel L. Jacobs, Kaye Reed, J. Michael Plavcan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

The specific attribution of the large hominin M2 (GDA-2) from Gondolin has significant implications for the paleobiology of Paranthropus. If it is a specimen of Paranthropus robustus it impacts that species' size range, and if it belongs to Paranthropus boisei it has important biogeographic implications. We evaluate crown size, cusp proportions and the likelihood of encountering a large-bodied mammal species in both East and South Africa in the Early Pleistocene. The tooth falls well outside the P. robustus sample range, and comfortably within that for penecontemporaneous P. boisei. Analyses of sample range, distribution and variability suggest that it is possible, albeit unlikely to find a M2 of this size in the current P. robustus sample. However, taphonomic agents - carnivore (particularly leopard) feeding behaviors - have likely skewed the size distribution of the Swartkrans and Drimolen P. robustus assemblage. In particular, assemblages of large-bodied mammals accumulated by leopards typically display high proportions of juveniles and smaller adults. The skew in the P. robustus sample is consistent with this type of assemblage. Morphological evidence in the form of cusp proportions is congruent with GDA-2 representing P. robustus rather than P. boisei. The comparatively small number of large-bodied mammal species common to both South and East Africa in the Early Pleistocene suggests a low probability of encountering an herbivorous australopith in both. Our results are most consistent with the interpretation of the Gondolin molar as a very large specimen of P. robustus. This, in turn, suggests that large, presumptive male, specimens are rare, and that the levels of size variation (sexual dimorphism) previously ascribed to this species are likely to be gross underestimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)597-609
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of human evolution
Volume63
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2012

Keywords

  • Cusp proportions
  • Drimolen
  • East Africa
  • Gondolin
  • Molar size
  • Paranthropus boisei
  • Paranthropus robustus
  • South Africa
  • Species biogeography
  • Swartkrans
  • Taphonomy
  • Taxonomy
  • Variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology

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