The perennial or occasional ‘Nutcracker Man’? Does dietary adaptation explain the derived craniofacial morphology of Paranthropus?
Conventional explanations of morphological variation focus on adaptive differences, such as those relating to dietary ecology. In this context, the highly derived craniofacial morphology of Paranthropus has long been regarded as a specialist dietary adaptation to aide with the consumption of hard foods, and the striking differences in morphology between Paranthropus and Australopithecus interpreted as a reflection of significant differences in the masticatory requirements of diet. However, evidence from stable carbon isotopes and dental microwear texture analyses challenge this interpretation, suggesting that the species of both hominid genera exploited more similar but varied omnivorous diets. Consequently, other evolutionary scenarios need to be considered to further our understanding of potential mechanisms involved in the evolution of Paranthropus mandibular and masticatory morphology. This project is a comparative study of extant nonhuman primates, exploring a variety of underlying factors potentially affecting morphology, including diet/ fallback foods, and sexual dimorphism. A series of metric and non-metric variables of the dentition and mandible will be used to describe and compare morphological variation among different Catarrhine and Platyrrhine primate species.
To date, research has been completed at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent, Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, the Museum of Natural History, Vienna and the Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich with a current sample size totalling 907 extant nonhuman primate specimens. Preliminary analysis indicates that variations in diet and the degree of sexual dimorphism are important factors affecting the masticatory morphology of nonhuman primates. Application of these factors will be made in reference to Paranthropus and Australopithecus.