The basicranium of Plio‐Pleistocene hominids as an indicator of their upper respiratory systems

Jeffrey T. Laitman, Raymond C. Heimbuch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Our analyses of extant primates have shown that a relationship exists between the degree of flexion of the basicranium and the location of upper respiratory structures such as the larynx and pharynx (Laitman et al., 1978). Based upon these relationships, we have previously used the basicrania of late Pleistocene hominids as a guide to the reconstruction of their upper respiratory anatomy (Laitman et al., 1979). This study continues our approach by examining the basicrania of Plio‐Pleistocene hominids and reconstructing their upper respiratory systems. Nine Plio‐Pleistocene hominids had basicrania complete enough to be used in this study. These included the originals of Sts 5, MLD 37/38, SK 47, SK 48, SK 83, Taung, KNM‐ER 406, OH 24, and a cast of OH 5. Craniometric analysis of the basicrania of these specimens showed that they had marked similarities to those of extant pongids. These basicranial similarities between Plio‐Pleistocene hominids and extant apes suggest that the upper respiratory systems of these groups were also alike in appearance. As with living nonhuman primates, the early hominids probably exhibited a larynx and pharynx positioned high in the neck. This high position would have permitted an intranarial epiglottis to be present during both normal respiration and the ingestion of a liquid bolus of food. The high position of the larynx would have also greatly restricted the supralaryngeal portion of the pharynx available to modify laryngeal sounds. It is thus possible that the Plio‐Pleistocene hominids exhibited modes of breathing, swallowing and vocalizing similar to those of living apes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-343
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1982
Externally publishedYes


  • Basicranium
  • Plio‐Pleistocene hominids
  • Upper respiratory system


Dive into the research topics of 'The basicranium of Plio‐Pleistocene hominids as an indicator of their upper respiratory systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this