New high-resolution computed tomography data of the Taung partial cranium and endocast and their bearing on metopism and hominin brain evolution.
Falk and colleagues [Falk D, Zollikofer CP, Morimoto N, Ponce de León MS (2012) Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(22):8467-8470] hypothesized that selective pressures favored late persistence of a metopic suture and open anterior fontanelle early in hominin evolution, and they put an emphasis on the Taung Child (Australopithecus africanus) as evidence for the antiquity of these adaptive features. They suggested three mutually nonexclusive pressures: an "obstetric dilemma," high early postnatal brain growth rates, and neural reorganization in the frontal cortex. To test this hypothesis, we obtained the first high-resolution computed tomography (CT) data from the Taung hominin. These high-resolution image data and an examination of the hominin fossil record do not support the metopic and fontanelle features proposed by Falk and colleagues. Although a possible remnant of the metopic suture is observed in the nasion-glabella region of the Taung partial cranium (but not along the frontal crest), this character state is incongruent with the zipper model of metopic closure described by Falk and colleagues. Nor do chimpanzee and bonobo endocast data support the assertion that delayed metopic closure in Taung is necessary because of widening (reorganization) of the prefrontal or frontal cortex. These results call into question the adaptive value of delaying metopic closure, and particularly its antiquity in hominin evolution. Further data from hominoids and hominins are required to support the proposed adaptive arguments, particularly an obstetric dilemma placing constraints on neural and cranial development in Australopithecus.