Hominin diversity in the Middle Pliocene of eastern Africa: the maxilla of KNM-WT 40000

Fred Spoor, Meave G Leakey, Louise N Leakey
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 2010 October 27, 365 (1556): 3377-88
The 3.5-Myr-old hominin cranium KNM-WT 40000 from Lomekwi, west of Lake Turkana, has been assigned to a new hominin genus and species, Kenyanthropus platyops, on the basis of a unique combination of derived facial and primitive neurocranial features. Central to the diagnosis of K. platyops is the morphology of the maxilla, characterized by a flat and relatively orthognathic subnasal region, anteriorly placed zygomatic processes and small molars. To study this morphology in more detail, we compare the maxillae of African Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossils and samples of modern humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, using conventional and geometric morphometric methods. Computed tomography scans and detailed preparation of the KNM-WT 40000 maxilla enable comprehensive assessment of post-mortem changes, so that landmark data characterizing the morphology can be corrected for distortion. Based on a substantially larger comparative sample than previously available, the results of statistical analyses show that KNM-WT 40000 is indeed significantly different from and falls outside the known range of variation of species of Australopithecus and Paranthropus, contemporary Australopithecus afarensis in particular. These results support the attribution of KNM-WT 40000 to a separate species and the notion that hominin taxonomic diversity in Africa extends back well into the Middle Pliocene.

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