Comparative observations on the premolar root and pulp canal configurations of Middle Pleistocene Homo in China.

Research paper by Lei L Pan, Clément C Zanolli

Indexed on: 30 Jan '19Published on: 30 Jan '19Published in: American Journal of Physical Anthropology


The aim of this study is to explore the root and root canal morphology of Homo fossil occupying China during the Middle Pleistocene period. Human occupation and evolutionary dynamics in East Asia during the Middle Pleistocene period is one of the most intriguing issues in paleoanthropology, with the coexistence of multiple lineages and regional morphs suggesting a complex population interaction scenario. Although premolar root and canal morphology has certain phylogenetic, taxonomic, and functional implications, its morphological diversity, possible evolutionary trend and characteristics regarding Middle Pleistocene hominins inhabiting East Asia are still insufficiently understood; where these populations fits within the Homo lineage (with respect to root and pulp canal structure) needs to be explored. Using microtomography, we directly observed and assessed the nonmetric variability of root and canal forms in maxillary and mandibular premolars of Chinese Middle Pleistocene Homo (N = 19), and compared our observed variations with Eurasian Early Pleistocene specimens from the Asia continent (N = 1) and Java (N = 2), as well as with Neanderthals (N = 28) and recent modern humans (N = 67). A total number of nine types of root-canal forms were recorded. As a whole, the Chinese Middle Pleistocene record shows an evolutionary trend toward a modern human-like condition (a reduction of root/canal number and a simplification of root surface structure). We documented primitive signals like high percentage of Tomes' root in lower premolars. A considerable occurrence of incompletely separated root branches and bifid root and canal apices, representing evolutionary transformation from multi-root to single-root condition was also noticed. The results were compared with previous publications on Early and Middle Pleistocene Homo in East Africa, North Africa, and Eurasia. This work provides new original data, incorporates the latest human fossil discoveries and suggests that analyzing the variation of premolar root structural organization, notably integrating together root/canal form and number, could possibly contribute to taxonomic and phylogenetic assessments. The mid-Middle Pleistocene populations, or "classic" Homo erectus, in our study show closer affinity to Early and Middle Pleistocene hominins in Eurasia, than to East African early Homo, which supports the suggestion that at least some of the Early Pleistocene hominin groups in Eurasia contribute to the later population; on the other hand, it is still difficult to clearly trace the evolutionary fate of those late Middle Pleistocene populations (roughly assigned as archaic Homo sapiens through a craniodental perspective). More comparable materials from the Early to Middle Pleistocene period as well as precise chronological framework is needed to further explore the evolutionary trends of archaic hominins in the Asian continent before the arrival of modern humans. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.