Measures of maturation in early fossil hominins: events at the first transition from australopiths to early Homo
An important question in palaeoanthropology is whether, among the australopiths and the first fossil hominins attributed to early Homo, there was a shift towards a more prolonged period of growth that can be distinguished from that of the living great apes and whether between the end of weaning and the beginning of puberty there was a slow period of growth as there is in modern humans. Evidence for the pace of growth in early fossil hominins comes from preserved tooth microstructure. A record of incremental growth in enamel and dentine persists, which allows us to reconstruct tooth growth and compare key measures of dental maturation with modern humans and living great apes. Despite their diverse diets and way of life, it is currently difficult to identify any clear differences in the timing of dental development among living great apes, australopiths and the earliest hominins attributed to the genus Homo. There is, however, limited evidence that some early hominins may have attained a greater proportion of their body mass and stature relatively earlier in the growth period than is typical of modern humans today.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Major transitions in human evolution’.