Postnatal temporal bone ontogeny in Pan, Gorilla, and Homo, and the implications for temporal bone ontogeny in Australopithecus afarensis

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2013 Aug;151(4):630-42. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22318.


Assessments of temporal bone morphology have played an important role in taxonomic and phylogenetic evaluations of fossil taxa, and recent three-dimensional analyses of this region have supported the utility of the temporal bone for testing taxonomic and phylogenetic hypotheses. But while clinical analyses have examined aspects of temporal bone ontogeny in humans, the ontogeny of the temporal bone in non-human taxa is less well documented. This study examines ontogenetic allometry of the temporal bone in order to address several research questions related to the pattern and trajectory of temporal bone shape change during ontogeny in the African apes and humans. We further apply these data to a preliminary analysis of temporal bone ontogeny in Australopithecus afarensis. Three-dimensional landmarks were digitized on an ontogenetic series of specimens of Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, and Gorilla gorilla. Data were analyzed using geometric morphometric methods, and shape changes throughout ontogeny in relation to size were compared. Results of these analyses indicate that, despite broadly similar patterns, African apes and humans show marked differences in development of the mandibular fossa and tympanic portions of the temporal bone. These findings indicate divergent, rather than parallel, postnatal ontogenetic allometric trajectories for temporal bone shape in these taxa. The pattern of temporal bone shape change with size exhibited by A. afarensis showed some affinities to that of humans, but was most similar to extant African apes, particularly Gorilla.

Keywords: geometric morphometrics; human evolution; temporal bone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Body Weights and Measures / methods
  • Bone Development / physiology*
  • Fossils*
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / physiology
  • Humans
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Regression Analysis
  • Species Specificity
  • Temporal Bone / anatomy & histology*
  • Temporal Bone / physiology