This book is in part a sequel to a previous study of mine: Form and Pattern in Human Evolution: Some Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Approaches. That volume comprised a series of descriptions of modern methods available for the study of form and function and applied them to the investigation of human evolution through the examination of bones and fossils. It was specifically written so that the methods could be understood without mathematical, physical, or engineering expertise. At the same time as it demonstrated the nature of the various techniques, however, it also attempted to show how they may be used in studies of the evolution of function in primates and man, and it gave some indication of the nature of the new information that may flow from their use. In the hope of stimulating interest in yet newer approaches, the book purposely described some methods that are not commonly used in evolutionary biology.
The present book follows as a description of a series of studies in which the most prominent, and the most fully understood, of the methods—the multivariate statistical approach—has been applied. The method is used not only to provide background information about man and other living primates but also about a group of African fossils: the australopithecines. This book, then, describes the results of a number of morphometric studies and attempts to place the australopithecines in some relationship to modern primates from the viewpoint of the evolution of locomotor function.
As with the previous book, the results must be considered as tentative, if only because the numbers of anatomical fragments that have been analyzed by these methods are still small compared to the total number of finds known. In addition the results suffer from the deficit that in some cases the analyses have had to be based upon data obtained by other individuals. This latter criticism is, however, also a strength in that it indicates independence of analysis from data collection.
Bearing these caveats in mind, the reader will note that the results are controversial. Whereas the conventional wisdom about human evolution depends upon the (apparent) marked similarity between modern man and the various australopithecine fossils, the studies here indicate that these fossils are uniquely different from modern man in many major respects. Again the conventional wisdom has it that when the australopithecine fossils do depart from the condition in modern man, then they do so in the direction of the African apes, our nearest genetic relatives. The present study indicates that this may not be the case; more significant resemblances to and differences from other primates can be discovered through the multivariate statistical approach. We may well ask: What is the biological meaning of this new set of morphological relationships?
This book naturally follows from the first. But it also depends in large part upon an invitation from Steven J. Gould for my participation in a symposium, Evolutionary Development of Form and Symmetry, at the First International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology in Boulder, Colorado, 1973. Preparations for that symposium and the stimulus which followed from the confluence of workers whom Professor Gould had gathered together at that time, played a major role. The basic format of the book has also been influenced by the further development of my . . .