Notable: A tooth from West Turkana

Notable paper: Maddux, Scott C. et al. 2015. A 750,000 year old hominin molar from the site of Nadung’a, West Turkana, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution (in press) doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.11.004

Synopsis: The authors describe a single lower molar crown of a hominin (KNM-WT 51261) from the Middle Pleistocene of Kenya, which was discovered in 2010.

Interesting because: Even though the morphology does not allow them to conclude definitively which molar (first, second or third) this tooth is, Maddux and colleagues show that it is the smallest known in Africa during the entire Middle Pleistocene. It extends the range of variation of this sample to a greater degree of overlap with European and Asian Middle Pleistocene hominins.

Which changes what, exactly? The variation of molar size in Middle Pleistocene Africans now looks to have basically the same extent as larger samples of Neandertals and recent humans. Tiny samples sometimes look more different than the populations truly were, because of random sampling; this may be another case where adding more specimens changes our impression of these populations.