Ardipithecus ramidus and the evolution of the human cranial base.
The early Pliocene African hominoid Ardipithecus ramidus was diagnosed as a having a unique phylogenetic relationship with the Australopithecus + Homo clade based on nonhoning canine teeth, a foreshortened cranial base, and postcranial characters related to facultative bipedality. However, pedal and pelvic traits indicating substantial arboreality have raised arguments that this taxon may instead be an example of parallel evolution of human-like traits among apes around the time of the chimpanzee-human split. Here we investigated the basicranial morphology of Ar. ramidus for additional clues to its phylogenetic position with reference to African apes, humans, and Australopithecus. Besides a relatively anterior foramen magnum, humans differ from apes in the lateral shift of the carotid foramina, mediolateral abbreviation of the lateral tympanic, and a shortened, trapezoidal basioccipital element. These traits reflect a relative broadening of the central basicranium, a derived condition associated with changes in tympanic shape and the extent of its contact with the petrous. Ar. ramidus shares with Australopithecus each of these human-like modifications. We used the preserved morphology of ARA-VP 1/500 to estimate the missing basicranial length, drawing on consistent proportional relationships in apes and humans. Ar. ramidus is confirmed to have a relatively short basicranium, as in Australopithecus and Homo. Reorganization of the central cranial base is among the earliest morphological markers of the Ardipithecus + Australopithecus + Homo clade.