A virtual reconstruction and comparative analysis of the KNM-ER 42700 cranium
Bauer, Catherine C.; Harvati, Katerina
The taxonomic attribution of the 1.55 million year old young adult fossil calvaria KNM-ER 42700 from Ileret, Kenya, is subject to ongoing controversy. It has been attributed to H. erectus based on comparative description and linear measurements. However, 3-D geometric morphometric analysis found that this specimen fell outside the range of variation of H. erectus in its cranial shape, which was intermediate between H. erectus and modern humans. One problem is that analyses so far were conducted on the original specimen, which shows slight post-mortem distortion. Here we use a surface scan of a high resolution cast of KNM-ER 42700 to virtually reconstruct the calvaria and conduct a new 3D geometric morphometric analysis of both its original and its reconstructed shape. Our comparative sample included several specimens of H. erectus (s.l., including the subadult KNM-WT 15000), H. habilis, H. heidelbergenis (s.l.) and H. neanderthalensis, as well as early and Upper Paleolithic H. sapiens. Our principal component analysis results showed that, like the original specimen, our virtual reconstruction of KNM-ER 42700 is also intermediate in shape between fossil Homo and modern humans. Taphonomic distortion, therefore, appears to not have been a major factor affecting previous 3-D geometric morphometric analyses. The intermediate shape of KNM-ER 42700 might instead be related to the young developmental age of the specimen. Further work on reconstructing the original specimen or based on computed tomorgraphic scans is needed to confirm these results.