Endocranial features of Australopithecus africanus revealed by 2- and 3-D computed tomography

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Science  16 Feb 1990:
Vol. 247, Issue 4944, pp. 838-841
DOI: 10.1126/science.2305255


The earliest hominid from South Africa, Australopithecus africanus, is known from only six specimens in which accurate assessment of endocranial capacity and cranial venous outflow pattern can be obtained. This places a severe limit on a number of hypotheses concerning early hominid evolution, particularly those involving brain-body size relationships and adaptations of the circulatory system to evolving upright posture. Advances in high-resolution two- and three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) now allow the inclusion of another important specimen to this list, MLD 37/38 from Makapansgat. A new computer imaging technique is described that "reconstructs" the missing portions of the endocranial cavity in order to determine endocranial capacity. In addition, CT evaluation allows assessment of cranial venous outflow pattern even in cases where the endocranial cavity is completely filled with stone matrix. Results show that endocranial capacity in this specimen is less than originally proposed and also support the view that gracile and robust australopithecines evolved different cranial venous outflow patterns in response to upright postures.

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