A virtual assessment of the suprainiac depressions on the Eyasi I (Tanzania) and Aduma ADU-VP-1/3 (Ethiopia) Pleistocene hominin crania

Abel Marinus Bosman, Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Katerina Harvati

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2 Scopus citations


Despite a steady increase in our understanding of the phenotypic variation of Pleistocene Homo, debate continues over phylogenetically informative features. One such trait is the suprainiac fossa, a depression on the occipital bone above inion that is commonly considered an autapomorphy of the Neanderthal lineage. Challenging this convention, depressions in the suprainiac region have also been described for two Pleistocene hominin crania from sub-Saharan Africa: Eyasi I (Tanzania) and ADU-VP-1/3 (Ethiopia). Here, we use a combined quantitative and qualitative approach, using μCT imaging, to investigate the occipital depressions on these specimens. The results show that neither the external nor the internal morphologies of these depressions bear any resemblance to the Neanderthal condition. A principal component analysis based on multiple thickness measurements along the occipital squama demonstrates that the relative thickness values for the internal structures in Eyasi I and ADU-VP-1/3 are within the range of Homo sapiens. Thus, our results support the autapomorphic status of the Neanderthal suprainiac fossa and highlight the need to use nuanced approaches and multiple lines of evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102815
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this research was provided by the German Research Foundation ( DFG FOR 2237 : Project "Words, Bones, Genes, Tools: Tracking Linguistic, Cultural, and Biological Trajectories of the Human Past" and DFG INST 37/706-1 FUGG : Paleoanthropology High Resolution CT Laboratory). We thank Yonatan Sahle for suggesting the inclusion of ADU-VP-1/3 in this study, facilitating access to this specimen, and for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We thank the Middle Awash Project team, as well as the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage of Ethiopia, for access to the ADU-VP-1/3 fossil. In particular, we thank Berhane Asfaw, Yonas Beyene, and Tim White for their hospitality during our visit to the National Museum of Ethiopia and for access to the μCT scan of ADU-VP-1/3. We thank Nicholas Conard, Michael Francken, and Wieland Binczik for assistance with scanning of the Eyasi I specimen. We thank Antoine Balzeau, Dominique Grimaud-Hervé, and the curators of the Muséum National d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) for access to the CT scans of La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 and La Ferrassie 1. Finally, we thank the Editor-in-Chief, the Associate Editor, and four anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which have greatly improved this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Computed tomography
  • Homo sapiens
  • Homology
  • Middle Pleistocene
  • Suprainiac fossa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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