Morphological and morphometric analyses of a late Middle Pleistocene hominin mandible from Hualongdong, China.
Excavations in Hualongdong (HLD), East China, have yielded abundant hominin fossils dated to 300 ka. There is a nearly complete mandible that fits well with a partial cranium, and together they compose the skull labeled as HLD 6. Thus far, detailed morphological description and comparisons of the mandible have not been conducted. Here we present a comprehensive morphological, metric, and geometric morphometric assessment of this mandible and compare it with both adult and immature specimens of Pleistocene hominins and recent modern humans. Results indicate that the HLD 6 mandible exhibits a mosaic morphological pattern characterized by a robust corpus and relatively gracile symphysis and ramus. The moderately developed mental trigone and a clear anterior mandibular incurvation of the HLD 6 mandible are reminiscent of Late Pleistocene hominin and recent modern human morphology. However, the weak expression of all these features indicates that this mandible does not possess a true chin. Moreover, a suite of archaic features that resemble those of Middle Pleistocene hominins includes pronounced alveolar planum, superior transverse torus, thick corpus, a pronounced endocondyloid crest, and a well-developed medial pterygoid tubercle. The geometric morphometric analysis further confirms the mosaic pattern of the HLD 6 mandible. The combination of both archaic and modern human features identified in the HLD 6 mandible is unexpected, given its late Middle Pleistocene age and differs from approximately contemporaneous Homo members such as Xujiayao, Penghu, and Xiahe. This mosaic pattern has never been recorded in late Middle Pleistocene hominin fossil assemblages in East Asia. The HLD 6 mandible provides further support for the high morphological diversity during late Middle Pleistocene hominin evolution. With these findings, it is possible that modern human morphologies are present as early as 300 ka and earlier than the emergence of modern humans in East Asia.