Relative brain size has long been considered a reflection of cognitive capacities and has played a fundamental role in developing core theories in the life sciences. Yet, the notion that relative brain size validly represents selection on brain size relies on the untested assumptions that brain-body allometry is restrained to a stable scaling relationship across species and that any deviation from this slope is due to selection on brain size. Using the largest fossil and extant dataset yet assembled, we find that shifts in allometric slope underpin major transitions in mammalian evolution and are often primarily characterized by marked changes in body size. Our results reveal that the largest-brained mammals achieved large relative brain sizes by highly divergent paths. These findings prompt a reevaluation of the traditional paradigm of relative brain size and open new opportunities to improve our understanding of the genetic and developmental mechanisms that influence brain size. An in-depth look at mammalian brain size evolution prompts a reevaluation of a traditional paradigm. An in-depth look at mammalian brain size evolution prompts a reevaluation of a traditional paradigm.
Modern humans appeared in Europe by at least 45,000 years ago1–5, but the extent of their interactions with Neanderthals, who disappeared by about 40,000 years ago6, and their relationship to the broader expansion of modern humans outside Africa are poorly understood. Here we present genome-wide data from three individuals dated to between 45,930 and 42,580 years ago from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria1,2. They are the earliest Late Pleistocene modern humans known to have been recovered in Europe so far, and were found in association with an Initial Upper Palaeolithic artefact assemblage. Unlike two previously studied individuals of similar ages from Romania7 and Siberia8 who did not contribute detectably to later populations, these individuals are more closely related to present-day and ancient populations in East Asia and the Americas than to later west Eurasian populations. This indicates that they belonged to a modern human migration into Europe that was not previously known from the genetic record, and provides evidence that there was at least some continuity between the earliest modern humans in Europe and later people in Eurasia. Moreover, we find that all three individuals had Neanderthal ancestors a few generations back in their family history, confirming that the first European modern humans mixed with Neanderthals and suggesting that such mixing could have been common.
The teeth of sharks famously form a series of parallel, continuously replacing files borne directly on the jaw cartilages. In contrast, bony fishes possess site-specific shedding dentition borne primarily on dermal plates. Understanding how these disparate systems evolved is challenging, not least because of poorly understood relationships amongst early chondrichthyans and the profusion of morphologically and terminologically diverse bones, cartilages, splints and whorls that they possess. Here we use tomographic methods to investigate mandibular structures in several early branching ‘acanthodian’-grade stem-chondrichthyans. We characterise the dentigerous jaw bones of disparate genera of ischnacanthids as growing bones with non-shedding dentition. Mandibular splints, which support the ventro-lateral edge of the Meckel’s cartilage in some acanthodians, are formed from dermal bone and may be an acanthodid synapomorphy. We strengthen the case for as an acanthodid deeply nested within an edentulous radiation and show that its teeth are borne directly on the mandibular cartilage, unexpectedly representing an independent origin of teeth. Poor resolution of relationships amongst ‘acanthodians’ represents a major barrier to understanding the evolution and homology of teeth and associated oral structures.
Chemical analysis of archeological objects can provide important clues about their purpose and function. In this study, we used scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and chemical spectroscopy (SEM-EDS and XRD) to identify a white residue present on cylindrical rhizoliths from a component at an archaeological site (CA-SNI-25) on San Nicolas Island, California, dated ca. AD 1300 to 1700. The residue was found to consist of biogenic calcite and aragonite particles, different in composition and morphology from the CaCO3 particles in the rhizoliths, but identical to marine shell material. These results, together with observations of surface micro-wear patterning on fishhooks and rhizoliths, replicative experiments, situ spatial analysis, and other archaeological evidence, show that rhizoliths were used as files in a larger tool kit for crafting shell fishhooks. Our findings shed new light on the technological innovations devised by Native Americans to exploit the rich marine resources surrounding the Channel Islands, and provide the first analytical evidence for the use of rhizoliths as a production tool.
3D analysis of skeletal volumes has become an important field in digital anthropology studies. The volume of the mastoid process has been proposed to display significant sexual dimorphism, but it has a complex shape and to date no study has quantified the full mastoid volume for sex estimation purposes. In this study we compared three different ways to isolate the volume of the mastoid process from digital 3D models of dry crania, and then evaluated the performance of the three different volume definitions for sex estimation purposes. A total of 170 crania (86 male, 84 females) excavated from five medieval Croatian sites were CT-scanned and used to produce 3D stereolitographic models. The three different isolation techniques were based on various anatomical landmarks and planes, as well as the anatomy of the mastoid process itself. Measurements of the three different mastoid volumes yielded different accuracies and precisions. Interestingly, anatomical structures were sometimes more useful than classical landmarks as demarcators of mastoid volume. For all three volume definitions, male mastoid volumes were significantly larger than female volumes, in both relative and absolute numbers. Sex estimation based on mastoid volume showed a slightly higher precision and better accuracy (71 % correct classifications) than visual scoring techniques (67 %) and linear distance measurements (69 %) of the mastoid process. Sex estimation based on cranial size performed even better (78 %), and multifactorial analysis (skull size + mastoid volume) reached up to 81% accuracy. These results show that measurements of the mastoid volume represent a promising metric to be used in multifactorial approaches for sex estimation of human remains.
Histological analysis of teeth can yield information on an organism’s growth and development, facilitating investigations of diet, health, environment, and long-term responses to selective pressures. In the Americas, an extraordinary abundance of Late Pleistocene fossils including teeth has been preserved in petroleum seeps, constituting a major source of information about biotic changes and adaptations at the end of the last glacial period. However, the usefulness of these fossils for histological studies is unclear, due to the unknown taphonomic effects of long-term deposition in petroleum. Here, we compare histological and chemical analyses on dire wolf ( ) teeth obtained from two different environments, i.e. a petroleum seep (Rancho La Brea tar pits, California) and a carstic sinkhole (Cutler Hammock sinkhole, Florida). Optical and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) together with X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis revealed excellent preservation of dental microstructure in the seep sample, and the petroleum-induced discoloration was found not to interfere with the histological and chemical examination. By comparison, teeth from the sinkhole sample showed severe degradation and contamination of the dentine by exogenous substances. These results indicate that petroleum seep assemblages are useful, or even ideal, environments for preserving the integrity of fossil material for chemical and histological analysis.
Sharks (Selachimorpha) are iconic marine predators that have survived multiple mass extinctions over geologic time. Their fossil record is represented by an abundance of teeth, which traditionally formed the basis for reconstructing large-scale diversity changes among different selachimorph clades. By contrast, corresponding patterns in shark ecology, as measured through morphological disparity, have received comparatively limited analytical attention. Here, we use a geometric morphometric approach to comprehensively examine the dental morphology of multiple shark lineages traversing the catastrophic end-Cretaceous mass extinction — this event terminated the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago. Our results show that selachimorphs maintained virtually static levels of dental disparity in most of their constituent clades during the Cretaceous/Paleogene transition. Nevertheless, selective extinctions did impact on apex predator lineages characterized by triangular blade-like teeth, and in particular, lamniforms including the dominant Cretaceous anacoracids. Other groups, such as, triakid carcharhiniforms, squalids, and hexanchids, were seemingly unaffected. Finally, while some lamniform lineages experienced morphological depletion, others underwent a post-extinction disparity increase, especially odontaspidids, which are typified by narrow-cusped teeth adapted for feeding on fishes. This disparity shift coincides with the early Paleogene radiation of teleosts, a possible prey source, as well as the geographic relocation of shark disparity ‘hotspots’, perhaps indicating a regionally disjunct pattern of extinction recovery. Ultimately, our study reveals a complex morphological response to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, the dynamics of which we are only just beginning to understand.
The frontal bone is one of the sexually dimorphic elements of the human skull that can be used for sex estimation of unidentified human remains. Numerous morphological features of the frontal bone, such as its angle of inclination, maximum anterior projection (glabella), and rounded elevations (frontal eminences) have been shown to differ between males and females. Various approaches have been developed to assess the frontal inclination in particular, and recently a method has been proposed where the angle of the frontal slope is measured from snapshots of digital three-dimensional (3D) models of human crania. However, as 3D-based investigations of skeletal material can be time-consuming and expensive, we here compare measurements of frontal angle inclination from 3D model snapshots to measurements from 2D photographs for a large sample (61 females and 61 males) of dry archaeological crania from medieval Croatia. Although angles measured from 3D snapshots and 2D photographs produced discriminant functions that classified crania by sex with similar accuracy (around 73%), the angles recorded from the 2D photographs were systematically one degree smaller than the angles recorded from the 3D images. Thus, even though both data sets were useful for sex estimation, we conclude that angles measured with the two different techniques should not be combined.