In 2006, an excavation at Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Faro, Portugal, revealed a cemetery dating from the 16th–19th centuries with several phases of use, one of which presented 51 sub-adult individuals that had been abandoned at the institution through the ‘foundling wheel’—a device that allowed people to leave unwanted newborns anonymously. Of the 46 individuals for whom it was possible to estimate age-at-death, more than 80% were under two years. Skeletal samples from individuals of these ages are not commonly found in the archaeological record. This Faro sample is also unique in the sense that it is the first time it has been possible to study an osteological assemblage from abandoned children. Considering the assertion that dental development is buffered against environmental insults in comparison to skeletal development, and that discrepancies between dental and skeletal age estimations are suggestive of growth delay, this study aims to investigate if the immature individuals of this institution were exposed to severe environmental restrictions. Skeletal age was estimated according to long bone lengths and epiphyseal fusion. Dental age was calculated on the basis of dental development, namely dental calcification and the sequence of formation and eruption of teeth. Furthermore, a palaeopathological analysis of the sample was conducted. The age estimates obtained by the ossification and fusion of different skeletal elements resulted in too wide intervals and were therefore excluded from subsequent analysis. The age estimates obtained by the dental methods were consistent (100%). By contrast, the estimates obtained by osteometric and dental methods showed some disagreement (osteometric vs. dental calcification: 63.6%; osteometric vs. sequence of formation and eruption of teeth: 80.0%), the osteometric providing younger ages. Regarding the paleopathology, the high frequency of porotic lesions (60.8%) and new bone deposition (37.3%), especially in the individuals previously identified as small for their age, make evident the difficulties experienced by these individuals during their short lives.
Ngawi 1 is an undated but well-preserved Homo erectus calvaria from Java. Previous craniometric and morphological studies have shown its similarities to late Javanese H. erectus from Ngandong as well as Sambungmacan (Sm 1 [and Sm 3]). Some researchers emphasize their morphological homogeneity, and suggest that this ‘Ngandong/Sambungmacan/Ngawi group’ is morphologically distinct from H. erectus from the Early Pleistocene of Sangiran and Trinil, possibly at a species-level. In this study, we reinvestigated Ngawi 1 based on the newly cleaned original specimen and using micro-computed tomography with the aim of testing if such morphological discontinuity really exists within the Javanese fossil record. We metrically and non-metrically examined 33 cranial characters that are useful to distinguish earlier and later Javanese H. erectus. We also evaluated the morphology of the three Sambungmacan crania (Sm 1, 3, and 4) in the same way. The results of these and multivariate analyses support previous studies that Ngawi 1 exhibits many characteristic features of Ngandong H. erectus. However, Ngawi 1 is more or less similar to earlier Javanese H. erectus in smaller cranial size, a weak but distinct supraglabellar depression, a relatively short temporal bone, limited posterior projection of the middle part of the occipital torus, a shallower and ‘roofed’ mandibular fossa, and a smaller mastoid process. The three Sambungmacan crania also show general affinities to Ngandong, but are similar to earlier Javanese H. erectus in a few or more characters. Such slightly shifted character distribution is at least consistent with the hypothesis of continuous evolution of H. erectus through the Pleistocene of Java. This minor but potentially meaningful pattern of morphological variation should not be overlooked when a morphological group is defined for the specimens from Ngandong, Sambungmacan, and Ngawi. We also determined the endocranial volume of Ngawi 1 to be 959 cm3.
The Penghu channel, along the western shore of Taiwan, is well known for yielding numerous Middle to Late Pleistocene mammalian fossils, including an archaic human mandible. In this work, we examine a fossil mandible of the raccoon dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides, which was recovered from the bed of the Penghu channel, and compare this with extant raccoon dog subspecies in East Asia. Two-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis of the lower first molar of the Penghu specimen demonstrates that continental and Japanese populations were clearly separated. This indicates that amongst continental populations, the Penghu specimen has a shape intermediate between extant Chinese and Korean populations. Results indicate that the Penghu raccoon dog is phylogenetically closer to the extant continental raccoon dog, rather than those of Japan, and that the Chinese and Korean populations were not greatly separated at that time. When considering the fact that recent phylogenetic and population genetic studies report that the Korean raccoon dog population separated from other continental populations at the last glacial maximum, we can state that the Penghu fauna is at least 20000 years old.
Quantifying variation in human endocranial shape is important for interpreting the morphogenetic mechanisms of endocranial morphologies, as endocranial morphology has emerged from modification of the ontogenetic processes in the course of human evolution. We therefore analyzed patterns of morphological variability in endocranial shape among the modern Japanese population using landmark-based geometric morphometrics. After generating virtual endocasts of cranial specimens based on computed tomography scans, we defined a total of 171 conventional anatomical and sliding semi-landmarks on the endocranial surface. The brachycephalic/dolichocephalic tendency was the most frequently identified endocranial shape variation. In addition, we found that a smaller endocranium tended to be associated with a relatively larger cerebellar region accompanied by a flat, depressed parietal region and a more superiorly located frontal pole. Asymmetric shape variability possibly resulting from petalia was also observed, indicating that global brain asymmetry is related to endocranial shape. The present description of endocranial shape variability may contribute to the comparative understanding of the evolution of the endocast morphology of fossil hominins.
The HRD1 hominin maxilla was discovered during fieldwork carried out in the Republic of Djibouti, eastern Africa, in the 1980s. The HRD1 specimen is attributed to the genus Homo and has been dated from the Early to the Middle Pleistocene. This paper presents a detailed morphological and quantitative description of the HRD1 maxilla. The morphology of the dental roots, the enamel thickness, the morphological architecture of the premaxillary–maxillary complex, and the morphology of the maxillary sinus were all examined, yielding the data provided here. The Djiboutian specimen represents one of the late Early to Middle Pleistocene occurrences of Homo in an area where Pleistocene hominins are poorly documented despite a relative abundance of lithic artefacts. However, the precise identification of the specimen remains challenging and requires additional comparative analysis.