Dental tissue proportions in fossil orangutans from mainland Asia and Indonesia
Orangutans (Pongo) are the only great ape genus with a substantial Pleistocene and Holocene fossil record, demonstrating a much larger geographic range than extant populations. In addition to having an extensive fossil record, Pongo shows several convergent morphological similarities with Homo, including a trend of dental reduction during the past million years. While studies have documented variation in dental tissue proportions among species of Homo, little is known about variation in enamel thickness within fossil orangutans. Here we assess dental tissue proportions, including conventional enamel thickness indices, in a large sample of fossil orangutan postcanine teeth from mainland Asia and Indonesia. We find few differences between regions, except for significantly lower average enamel thickness (AET) values in Indonesian mandibular first molars. Differences between fossil and extant orangutans are more marked, with fossil Pongo showing higher AET in most postcanine teeth. These differences are significant for maxillary and mandibular first molars. Fossil orangutans show higher AET than extant Pongo due to greater enamel cap areas, which exceed increases in enamel-dentine junction length (due to geometric scaling of areas and lengths for the AET index calculation). We also find greater dentine areas in fossil orangutans, but relative enamel thickness indices do not differ between fossil and extant taxa. When changes in dental tissue proportions between fossil and extant orangutans are compared with fossil and recent Homo sapiens, Pongo appears to show isometric reduction in enamel and dentine, while crown reduction in H. sapiens appears to be due to preferential loss of dentine. Disparate selective pressures or developmental constraints may underlie these patterns. Finally, the finding of moderately thick molar enamel in fossil orangutans may represent an additional convergent dental similarity with Homo erectus, complicating attempts to distinguish these taxa in mixed Asian faunas.
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