Australopithecine taxonomy and phylogeny in light of facial morphology

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The beginning of specialization characterizing the robust australopithecines is manifested in almost every aspect of the masticatory system of Australopithecus africanus. Of particular significance is the presence of two massive bony columns on both sides of the nasal aperture that support the anterior portion of the palate. These columns—the anterior pillars—are viewed as a structural response to the greater occlusal load stemming from the beginning stages of molarization of the premolars and exerted on the more anterior part of the dental arcade. In A. africanus the molarization process is, indeed, just in its initial phase, but the still considerable protrusion of the palate relative to the more peripheral facial frame increases the need for pillars. The anterior pillars and the advancement of the inferior part of the infraorbital plate (the origin of the masseter) play a major role in molding the facial topography of A. africanus. The absence of the pillars and the common position of the masseteric origin lead us to define the face of A. afarensis as the most primitive of the australopithecines and allow us to discriminate between its facial morphology and that of A. africanus. The presence of anterior pillars in the face of the latter places it clearly in the robust australopithecine clade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-287
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1985


  • Architecture
  • Australopithecus afarensis
  • Australopithecus africanus
  • Face
  • Morphology


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