Cranial base morphology and temporal bone pneumatization in Asian Homo erectus.
The external morphological features of the temporal bone are used frequently to determine taxonomic affinities of fossils of the genus Homo. Temporal bone pneumatization has been widely studied in great apes and in early hominids. However, this feature is rarely examined in the later hominids, particularly in Asian Homo erectus. We provide a comparative morphological and quantitative analysis of Asian Homo erectus from the sites of Ngandong, Sambungmacan, and Zhoukoudian, and of Neandertals and anatomically modern Homo sapiens in order to discuss causes and modalities of temporal bone pneumatization during hominid evolution. The evolution of temporal bone pneumatization in the genus Homo is more complex than previously described. Indeed, the Zhoukoudian fossils have a unique pattern of temporal bone pneumatization, whereas Ngandong and Sambungmacan fossils, as well as the Neandertals, more closely resemble the modern human pattern. Moreover, these Chinese fossils are characterized by a wide midvault and a relatively narrow occipital bone. Our results support the point of view that cell development does not play an active role in determining cranial base morphology. Instead, pneumatization is related to available space and to temporal bone morphology, and its development is related to correlated morphology and the relative disposition of the bones and cerebral lobes. Because variation in pneumatization is extensive within the same species, the phyletic implications of pneumatization are limited in the taxa considered here.