Reconstructing birth in Australopithecus sediba
Hominin birth mechanics have been examined and debated from limited and often fragmentary fossil pelvic material. Some have proposed that birth in the early hominin genus Australopithecus was relatively easy and ape-like, while others have argued for a more complex, human-like birth mechanism in australopiths. Still others have hypothesized a unique birth mechanism, with no known modern equivalent. Preliminary work on the pelvis of the recently discovered 1.98 million-year-old hominin Australopithecus sediba found it to possess a unique combination of Homo and Australopithecus-like features. Here, we create a composite pelvis of Australopithecus sediba to reconstruct the birth process in this early hominin. Consistent with other hominin species, including modern humans, the fetus would enter the pelvic inlet in a transverse direction. However, unlike in modern humans, the fetus would not need additional rotations to traverse the birth canal. Further fetal rotation is unnecessary even with a Homo-like pelvic midplane expansion, not seen in earlier hominin species. With a birth canal shape more closely associated with specimens from the genus Homo and a lack of cephalopelvic or shoulder constraints, we therefore find evidence to support the hypothesis that the pelvic morphology of Australopithecus sediba is a result of locomotor, rather than strictly obstetric constraints.