What lies beneath? An evaluation of lower molar trigonid crest patterns based on both dentine and enamel expression

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Aug;145(4):505-18. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21468. Epub 2011 Feb 10.


The nearly ubiquitous presence of a continuous crest connecting the protoconid and metaconid of the lower molars (often referred to as the middle trigonid crest), is one of several dental traits that distinguish Homo neanderthalensis from Homo sapiens. This study examined variation in trigonid crest patterns on the enamel and dentine surfaces to (1) evaluate the concordance between the morphology of trigonid crests at the inner dentine and the outer enamel surfaces; (2) examine their developmental origin(s); and (3) examine trait polarity through comparison with Australopithecus africanus and Pan. The sample included 73 H. neanderthalensis, 67 contemporary H. sapiens, 5 A. africanus, and 24 Pan lower molars. Results indicate general agreement in the morphology observed on the dentine and enamel surfaces. All but one H. neanderthalensis molar shows some trigonid crest development, whereas trigonid crests occur in low frequency in contemporary humans. Pan and A. africanus both also show high frequencies of a continuous trigonid crest. However, the origin of the trigonid crest differs among groups. H. neanderthalensis uniquely possesses a 'middle' trigonid crest that originates from the mesial accessory ridge of one or both cusps. Based on our results we suggest that presence of a continuous middle trigonid crest at the dentine surface is primitive and the lack of any trigonid crest is derived. Genetic drift may explain the high frequency of trigonid crests in H.neanderthalensis. However, H. neanderthalensis still appears to be derived relative to Pan and A. africanus in its high frequency of the mesial-mesial trigonid crestconfiguration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dental Enamel / anatomy & histology*
  • Dentin / anatomy & histology*
  • Fossils
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Molar / anatomy & histology*
  • Photography
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tooth Wear / pathology