A geometric morphometric analysis of hominin upper first molar shape

J Hum Evol. 2007 Sep;53(3):272-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.02.002. Epub 2007 Jun 27.


Recent studies have revealed interesting differences in upper first molar morphology across the hominin fossil record, particularly significant between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis. Usually these analyses have been performed by means of classic morphometric methods, including the measurement of relative cusp areas or the angles defined between cusps. Although these studies have provided valuable information for the morphological characterization of some hominin species, we believe that the analysis of this particular tooth could be more conclusive for taxonomic assignment. In this study, we have applied geometric morphometric methods to explore the morphological variability of the upper first molar (M(1)) across the human fossil record. Our emphasis focuses on the study of the phenetic relationships among the European middle Pleistocene populations (designated as H. heidelbergensis) with H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens, but the inclusion of Australopithecus and early Homo specimens has helped us to assess the polarity of the observed traits. H. neanderthalensis presents a unique morphology characterized by a relatively distal displacement of the lingual cusps and protrusion in the external outline of a large and bulging hypocone. This morphology can be found in a less pronounced degree in the European early and middle Pleistocene populations, and reaches its maximum expression with the H. neanderthalensis lineage. In contrast, modern humans retain the primitive morphology with a square occlusal polygon associated with a round external outline.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropometry*
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / classification
  • Humans
  • Molar / anatomy & histology*
  • Principal Component Analysis