Life-History Inference in the Early Hominins Australopithecus and Paranthropus

Jay Kelley, Gary Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The life histories of early hominins are commonly characterized as being like those of great apes. However, the life histories of the extant great apes differ considerably from one another. Moreover, the extent to which their life histories correlate with the two aspects of morphology used to infer the life histories of fossil species, brain size and dental development, has remained subject to debate. Increased knowledge of great ape life histories and, more recently, dental development -in particular ages at first molar emergence- now make it clearer that the latter is strongly associated with important life-history attributes, whereas brain size, as reflected by cranial capacity, is less informative. Here we estimate ages at M1 emergence in several infant/juvenile individuals of Australopithecus and Paranthropus based on previous estimates of ages at death, determined through dental histology. These are uniformly earlier than would be predicted either by adult cranial capacity or by comparison to ages at M1 emergence in free-living extant great apes. This suggests that either, 1) the life histories of the early hominins were faster than those of all extant great apes; 2) there was selection for rapid initial dental development and presumably early weaning, but that early hominin life histories were otherwise more prolonged and consistent with adult cranial capacities; or 3) the ages at death have been systematically underestimated, resulting in underestimates of the ages at M1 emergence. We investigate the implications of each of these alternatives and, where possible, explore evidence that might support one over the others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1363
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Australopithecus
  • Cranial capacity
  • Dental histology
  • Life history
  • Paranthropus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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