Foramen magnum position variation in Pan troglodytes, Plio-Pleistocene hominids, and recent Homo sapiens: implications for recognizing the earliest hominids.
The anteroposterior position of the foramen magnum distinguishes living Homo sapiens from apes, and has been used as evidence for the hominid status of numerable fossils in the history of human paleontology. During the past decade, foramen magnum position has been cited as evidence of the hominid status of Ardipithecus and Sahelanthropus. Specifically, the basion of Ardpithecus is reported to be inline with the bicarotid chord, while the basion of Sahelanthropus is reported to both touch the biporion chord and intersect the bicarotid chord. In order to assess the effectiveness of anteroposterior foramen magnum position in distinguishing hominids from nonhominid apes, this study examined whether or not the positions of biporion and bicarotid relative to basion sufficiently distinguished Pan troglodytes from recent Homo sapiens and Plio-Pleistocene hominids. The distances from basion to the biporion chord (BSBIP) and from basion to the bicarotid chord (BSBIC) were measured on samples of chimpanzee (n = 69) and recent human (n = 42) crania and a sample of Plio-Pleistocene hominid fossils (n = 8). The data were used to test the hypothesis that BSBIP and BSBIC measurements do not sufficiently distinguish P. troglodytes from hominids. While basion to biporion (BSBIP) does not effectively distinguish P. troglodytes from Plio-Pleistocene hominids and humans when used univariately, basion to bicarotid (BSBIC), when used univariately or bivariately with BSBIP, can be used to test whether or not an unknown specimen is a hominid. These results are used to evaluate the hominid status of Ardipithecus and Sahelanthropus.