Australopithecus africanus is an early hominin (i.e., human relative) believed to exhibit stress-reducing adaptations in its craniofacial skeleton that may be related to the consumption of resistant food items using its premolar teeth. Finite element analyses simulating molar and premolar biting were used to test the hypothesis that the cranium of A. africanus is structurally more rigid than that of Macaca fascicularis, an Old World monkey that lacks derived australopith facial features. Previously generated finite element models of crania of these species were subjected to isometrically scaled loads, permitting a direct comparison of strain magnitudes. Moreover, strain energy (SE) in the models was compared after results were scaled to account for differences in bone volume and muscle forces. Results indicate that strains in certain skeletal regions below the orbits are higher in M. fascicularis than in A. africanus. Moreover, although premolar bites produce von Mises strains in the rostrum that are elevated relative to those produced by molar biting in both species, rostral strains are much higher in the macaque than in the australopith. These data suggest that at least the midface of A. africanus is more rigid than that of M. fascicularis. Comparisons of SE reveal that the A. africanus cranium is, overall, more rigid than that of M. fascicularis during premolar biting. This is consistent with the hypothesis that this hominin may have periodically consumed large, hard food items. However, the SE data suggest that the A. africanus cranium is marginally less rigid than that of the macaque during molar biting. It is hypothesized that the SE results are being influenced by the allometric scaling of cranial cortical bone thickness.
Bone, Diet, Finite element analysis, Hominin, Human evolution, Skull, Strain
Strait DS, Grosse IR, Dechow PC, Smith AL, Wang Q, Weber GW, Neubauer S, Slice DE, Chalk J, Richmond BG, Lucas PW, Spencer MA, Schrein C, Wright B, Byron C, Ross CF. The Structural Rigidity of the Cranium of Australopithecus africanus: Implications for Diet, Dietary Adaptations, and the Allometry of Feeding Biomechanics. Anatomical Record. 2010; 293(4). doi: 10.1002/ar.21122.