The taxonomic diagnosis of many Asian Early Pleistocene hominid dentognathic specimens has been debated for over a century, notably for isolated teeth and occlusally worn specimens. This is mostly related to the convergence in molar crown size and overall morphology between fossil Homo and Pongo species. The resulting taxonomic confusion has affected the historical debate on the evolution of the genus Homo in Southeast Asia and, more generally, the assessment of Pleistocene hominid palaeobiodiversity. Recently, the investigation of the tooth internal structure of some Indonesian hominid specimens using microtomography enabled to clarify their taxonomic attribution and to bring into light the existence and the validity of Meganthropus as a Hominid different from Gigantopithecus, Pongo and Homo. Recent advances in palaeoproteomics prove to be a reliable complementary diagnostic way to resolve the taxonomic conundrum affecting some of the Asian Pleistocene specimens.
The Early Stage Researcher involved in this project will investigate a set of hominid specimens currently attributed to Homo erectus, Meganthropus and Pongo using the analysis of tooth internal structure, to test the validity of their taxonomic assignment. A number of Early to Middle Pleistocene isolated teeth from Indonesia and China whose taxonomic attribution is still unclear will also be revised. The results of this morphometrical approach will be compared with those obtained from molecular analyses based on the same specimens. In case DNA is not preserved anymore, the samples will be deep-sequenced to maximise the dental enamel palaeoproteome sequence recovered and to enable confident phylogenetic assignment (Homo erectus or other hominine species).
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