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African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) occupy an ecological niche characterized by hypercarnivory and cursorial hunting. Previous interpretations drawn from a limited, mostly Eurasian fossil record suggest that the evolutionary shift to cursorial hunting preceded the emergence of hypercarnivory in the Lycaon lineage. Here we describe 1.9—1.0 ma fossils from two South African sites representing a putative ancestor of the wild dog. the holotype is a nearly complete maxilla from Coopers Cave, and another specimen tentatively assigned to the new taxon, from Gladysvale, is the most nearly complete mammalian skeleton ever described from the Sterkfontein Valley, Gauteng, South Africa. the canid represented by these fossils is larger and more robust than are any of the other fossil or extant sub-Saharan canids. Unlike other purported L. pictus ancestors, it has distinct accessory cusps on its premolars and anterior accessory cuspids on its lower premolars—a trait unique to Lycaon among living canids. However, another hallmark autapomorphy of L. pictus, the tetradactyl manus, is not found in the new species; the Gladysvale skeleton includes a large first metacarpal. Thus, the anatomy of this new early member of the Lycaon branch suggests that, contrary to previous hypotheses, dietary specialization appears to have preceded cursorial hunting in the evolution of the Lycaon lineage. We assign these specimens to the taxon Lycaon sekowei n. sp.
It is generally accepted that archaic humans of the African later Early and early Middle Pleistocene constituted the source population for anatomically modern humans. Due to limited fossil and archaeological records, however, relatively little is known about the morphology, behaviour and ecology of these presumed ancestors of modern humans. Fragmentary fossils (variously attributed to Homo heidelbergensis, H. rhodesiensis and H. helmei) from across Africa suggest that these archaic humans were both taller and more massive than their extant modern human descendants in this region, and perhaps had a body shape that was stockier and less ‘nilotic’ than seen among extant sub-Saharan Africans. Fragmentary fossils attributed to Homo sapiens, on the other hand, appear to represent individuals closer in body size to the means of recent sub-Saharan Africans. Since body size and shape are critical to the ecology, energetics and thermoregulatory adaptations of early humans, these differences in morphology may signal important adaptive changes at the time of the origins of modern humans. Comparative analyses of femoral and orbital dimensions support the claim that Middle Pleistocene Africans were of greater body size (both stature and mass) and had greater mass/stature ratios than modern Africans, and support the claim that early African H. sapiens were of smaller body size than their Middle Pleistocene ancestors.
The overall impression of the sexually dimorphic characteristics of Gough's Cave 1 is that the remains are those of a male. However, the specimen does present some ‘female’ features in the facial skeleton, the ischiopubic rami and pelvic apertures, combined with relatively small overall size, and an ambiguous greater sciatic notch morphology. Nevertheless, the various features employed for sexual diagnosis of Gough's Cave are predominantly those which indicate or strongly suggest that it is male, but this must be accompanied with the caveat that either this individual falls at the feminine end of the male range of variation or that the patterns of skeletal sexual dimorphism of the population from which it derived were modestly different from those of the mostly European and European-derived reference samples used for this assessment. In contrast to the ambiguities of sex determination for Gough's Cave 1, the various indicators of his age-at-death are highly consistent. All of them agree in placing Gough's Cave 1 between his late second decade and middle third decade. He was unlikely to have been younger than about 18 years, and most likely was not older than about 23 years at death.
Stature, body mass, and body proportions are evaluated for the Cheddar Man (Gough's Cave 1) skeleton. Like many of his Mesolithic contemporaries, Gough's Cave 1 evinces relatively short estimated stature (ca. 166.2 cm [5′ 5′]) and low body mass (ca. 66 kg [146 lbs]). In body shape, he is similar to recent Europeans for most proportional indices. He differs, however, from most recent Europeans in his high crural index and tibial length/trunk height indices. Thus, while Gough's Cave 1 is characterized by a total morphological pattern considered ‘cold-adapted’, these latter two traits may be interpreted as evidence of a large African role in the origins of anatomically modern Europeans.
The postcranial axial skeleton of Cheddar Man (Gough's Cave 1) is represented by seventeen presacral vertebrae, the sacrum, and nineteen ribs, all of which are relatively well-preserved. Cheddar Man derives from early Holocene deposits in Gough's Cave, and the remains of his axial postcranial skeleton are described here. Comparative evaluation of the Gough's Cave 1 remains reveals an axial skeleton that falls within the range of variation in size and shape of males of the same time period, albeit towards the small end of that range (reflecting relatively short stature in Cheddar Man).
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