Dental development in Homo naledi
Humans’ prolonged somatic development and life history are unique among primates, yet their evolutionary origins remain unclear. Dental development has been used as a proxy to reconstruct life history evolution in the hominin clade and indicates a recent emergence of the human developmental pattern. Here, we analyse tooth formation and eruption in two developing dentitions of Homo naledi, a late-surviving, morphologically mosaic hominin species. Deciduous dental development is more similar to humans than to chimpanzees, probably reflecting hominin symplesiomorphy rather than bearing life history significance. The later stages of permanent tooth development present a mix of human- and chimpanzee-like patterns. Surprisingly, the M2 of H. naledi emerges late in the eruption sequence, a pattern previously unknown in fossil hominins and common in modern humans. This pattern has been argued to reflect a slow life history and is unexpected in a small-brained hominin. The geological age of H. naledi (approx. 300 kya), coupled with its small brain size and the dental development data presented here, raise questions about the relationship between dental development and other variables associated with life history.