Unexpectedly rapid evolution of mandibular shape in hominins

P. Raia*, M. Boggioni, F. Carotenuto, S. Castiglione, M. Di Febbraro, F. Di Vincenzo, M. Melchionna, A. Mondanaro, A. Papini, A. Profico, C. Serio, A. Veneziano, V. A. Vero, L. Rook, C. Meloro, G. Manzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Members of the hominins - namely the so-called 'australopiths' and the species of the genus Homo - are known to possess short and deep mandibles and relatively small incisors and canines. It is commonly assumed that this suite of traits evolved in early members of the clade in response to changing environmental conditions and increased consumption of though food items. With the emergence of Homo, the functional meaning of mandible shape variation is thought to have been weakened by technological advancements and (later) by the control over fire. In contrast to this expectation, we found that mandible shape evolution in hominins is exceptionally rapid as compared to any other primate clade, and that the direction and rate of shape change (from the ape ancestor) are no different between the australopiths and Homo. We deem several factors including the loss of honing complex, canine reduction, and the acquisition of different diets may have concurred in producing such surprisingly high evolutionary rates. This study reveals the evolution of mandibular shape in hominins has strong morpho-functional and ecological significance attached.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7340
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

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