Research CommentariesPaleontology

Hominid Brain Evolution: Looks Can Be Deceiving

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Science  12 Jun 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5370, pp. 1714
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5370.1714

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What is the evolutionary history of the human brain? Conventional wisdom holds that cranial capacity began to increase rapidly about 2 million years ago, almost doubling in size, then leveling off in the modern era. In her research commentary, Falk discusses results presented in the same issue by Conroy et al. that cast doubt on this neat picture. By means of computed tomography, the reseachers were able to measure accurately the cranial capacity of a new specimen of Australopithecus africanus. The measured value is significantly less than expected, and Falk suggests this will cause a major reevaluation of previous measurements of hominid skulls and a profound alteration in the understanding of brain evolution.