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Body mass and encephalization in Pleistocene Homo

Nature volume 387, pages 173176 (08 May 1997) | Download Citation



Many dramatic changes in morphology within the genus Homo have occurred over the past 2 million years or more, including large increases in absolute brain size and decreases in postcanine dental size and skeletal robusticity. Body mass, as the 'size' variable against which other morphological features are usually judged, has been important for assessing these changes1–5. Yet past body mass estimates for Pleistocene Homo have varied greatly, sometimes by as much as 50% for the same individuals2,3,6–12. Here we show that two independent methods of body-mass estimation yield concordant results when applied to Pleistocene Homo specimens. On the basis of an analysis of 163 individuals, body mass in Pleistocene Homo averaged significantly (about 10%) larger than a representative sample of living humans. Relative to body mass, brain mass in late archaic H. sapiens (Neanderthals) was slightly smaller than in early 'anatomically modern' humans, but the major increase in encephalization within Homo occurred earlier during the Middle Pleistocene (600–150 thousand years before present (kyr BP)), preceded by a long period of stasis extending through the Early Pleistocene (1,800 kyr BP).

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  1. Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 725 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA

    • Christopher B. Ruff
  2. Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA, and URA 376 du C.N.R.S., Universite de Bordeaux I, 33405 Talence, France

    • Erik Trinkaus
  3. Department of Anthropology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795, USA

    • Trenton W. Holliday


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