Proconsul, Pan and Homo: face changes

Just some musings today
over chimps and humans (Fig. 1) and some other higher primate skulls (Figs. 2, 3). Chimps have not yet made it into the large reptile tree (LRT, 1068 taxa), but they will someday.

The tradition is
to consider chimps (genus: Pan) the starting point in human (genus: Homo) evolution and to make comparisons between the two. Once again, taxon exclusion becomes a problem.

The actual starting point
is closer to an extinct ancestor of both, Proconsul (aka: Dryopithecus; Hopwood 1933; 18–14mya; Figs. 2, 3) a genus that resembled a chimp, but did not knuckle-walk (Fig. 3) and lacked brow ridges, both traits retained by Homo.

Figure 1. Chimp baby and human baby compared to chimp adult and human adult. See text for details.

Figure 1. Chimp baby and human baby compared to chimp adult and human adult. Pupils are aligned. Everything else morphs. See text for details.

 

Question #1 today is…
What changes can we see in the face of a human compared to a chimpanzee?

  1. Forehead present (housing more cerebral frontal matter)
  2. Longer and protruding nose with ventral nostrils (better for underwater)
  3. Shorter nose-to-lip distance with philtrum (medial furrow)
  4. Chin boss (deeper in adults)
  5. Internal lip tissue externalized
  6. Shorter muzzle
  7. Thicker, less patchy and eternally growing cranial hair (+ beard on males)
  8. The rest of the face (and most of the body) hairless
  9. Smaller iris vs. sclera (whites of the eyes)
  10. Smaller ears
  11. Fewer wrinkles on breeding adults and babies
  12. Brow ridges absent, replaced by decorative eyebrows
  13. Maturity does not include a change of face color
  14. Not visible: smaller canines
  15. Lower cheekbones (jugal, zygomatic arch) relative to tooth row

It looks like the ears are lower in humans, but relative to the eyes and nose, they are not.

Figure 2. The skulls of Pan (the chimp), Proconsul and Homo (the human) for comparison.

Figure 2. The skulls of Pan (the chimp), Proconsul and Homo (the human) for comparison.

Question #2 today is…
What changes can we see in the face of a chimp (Pan) compared to Proconsul?

  1. Loss of forehead in Pan compared to Proconsul
  2. Nose unknown in Pronsul, but bones are shorter and flatter in Pan
  3. Longer nose-to-lip distance in Pan
  4. Chin, absent, as in Proconsul
  5. Internal lip tissue unknown in Proconsul
  6. Muzzle the same in Pan, less above, but more below the nose
  7. Hair unknown in Pan
  8. Skin unknown in Pan
  9. Eyes unknown in Proconsul, but note their relatively higher placement in Pan
  10. Ears unknown in Proconsul
  11. Wrinkles unknown in Proconsul
  12. Brow ridges present in Pan, absent in Pronsul
  13. Skin color unknown in Proconsul
  14. Canines slightly larger in Pan
  15. Higher jugal relative relative to tooth row (= taller premaxilla and maxilla) and coronoid process of mandible
Figure 3. Proconsul displays primitive traits for chimps and humans. It did not walk on its knuckles.

Figure 3. Proconsul displays primitive traits for chimps and humans. It did not walk on its knuckles

And then there’s one more transitional taxon
Ardipithecus (Fig. 4) nesting somewhere between Proconsul and Homo

Figure 4. Ardipithecus is a transitional taxon between Pronconsul and Homo.

Figure 4. Ardipithecus is a transitional taxon between Pronconsul and Homo.

In Ardipithecus,
compared to Proconsul, we find larger eyes, a larger, lower nose, smaller canines, and an overall shorter/wider face… and a pelvis more appropriate for an upright stance, freeing the long arms to do something else, like carrying everything from infants to water to weapons to belongings. This is where we lost our hair, became long distance runners, developed sweat glands, and became wanderers.

Figure 5. Ardipithecus in lateral view compared to Australopithecus and Homo (ghosted out).

Figure 5. Ardipithecus in lateral view compared to Australopithecus and Homo (ghosted out).

 

 

References
Hopwood AT 1933a. Miocene primates from British East Africa. Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Series 10), 11, 96-98.
Hopwood AT 1933b. Miocene primates from Kenya. Journal of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology 38:437–464.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proconsul

 

2 thoughts on “Proconsul, Pan and Homo: face changes

  1. The small iris/large sclera, they say, helps hunting parties communicate silently, by following a gaze to game or a vantage point. The eyebrows, might mitigate sweat dripping from the forehead. The ever-growing hair encourages pony-tails, beads and other means to decorate it, so to your point… Naked skin is covered in modern humans in Northern climes, until mating or bathing, but in equatorial regions facilitates evaporation during long-distance hunting forays, dogging down a panting springbok. The female genitals are hidden when standing erect, so no monthly monkey swelling and reddening there… The face and voice are the main organs of communication during the early phases of courtship, so fewer wrinkles, less hair, expressive eyes, all to your point, I think… The changes in the face from jungle ape to savannah human helped in several phases of life. The main point, though is, the extreme brow ridges and low skull of Pan do not seem so apparent in Proconsul, though they make another appearance, more or less in Homo erectus.

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