Tabūn Pelvis Reconstruction

News: Weaver and Hublin (2009) virtually reconstructed the Tabūn C1 female Neandertal pelvis using CT scans.

Background: This is the closest we have to a complete female Neandertal pelvis, so a lot of the discussion centers around obstetrics. When a modern human woman gives birth, the infant enters the birth canal facing sideways so that the head will fit through the transversely oval inlet, then turns 90 degrees so it is facing the back so that the head will fit through the AP oval midplane and outlet, and finally turns another 90 degrees after the head passes through the outlet so that the shoulders can also fit through the outlet.

Tabūn conclusions: Neandertal infants (based on Tabūn’s inlet, midplane, and outlet diameters) only required two rotations: the initial turn so the head faces laterally, and the last turn so the shoulders fit through the transversely oval outlet. This means the infant comes out with the head facing sideways and the shoulders facing front (this is also how australopithecines are thought to give birth). This, the authors suggest, means that Neandertals were more primitive than modern humans. Furthermore, the transversely oval birth canal reflects the cold-adapted wide pelvis associated with Neandertals.


  1. Methods: There is no sacrum for Tabun. None. It is possible to predict sacral width and thus reconstruct the inlet, but it is improbable for the outlet to be reconstructed accurately without knowing the sacrum’s length, curvature, and orientation.
  2. Sexual dimorphism: They confuse this throughout the paper. First, they female-ize Kebara (a complete male Neandertal pelvis) by assuming that Neandertals were as sexually dimorphic as modern humans. This has been shown to be wrong previously, so it was a dumb assumption. They also find that this is not the case, making me wonder why they bothered with it in the first place. Then, they claim that the difference between Neandertals and modern humans is that Neandertals are like modern males (who have short pubic rami) when really they’re like modern females (who have long pubic rami). See Rosenberg (2007) for more discussion of this.
  3. Cold- and warm-adaptations: They say that Neandertals were cold-adapted because of the wide birth canal, in contrast to warm-adapted modern humans from Africa. First, wide birth canals do not go hand-in-hand with wide pelves. Second, Tabūn lived in the Levant and thus did not need to be cold-adapted. Third, the Busidima female Homo erectus pelvis from Gona is also wide and also not cold-adapted. Fourth, modern humans in Africa evolved a narrow pelvis to be better adapted to the warm environment is based on… uh… KNM-WT 15000? No, wait, that’s also a H erectus, and Gona has already shown that they have wide pelves despite their climate. But what else is there to support this long-held idea? Answer: Not much.


  • Weaver, TD and JJ Hublin (2009) Neandertal birth canal shape and the evolution of human childbirth. PNAS Early Edition: 1-6.
  • Rosenberg, KR (2007) Neandertal Pelvic Remains From Krapina: Peculiar or Primitive? Periodicum Biologorum 109(4).

Busidima female pelvis

Yay! A female, mostly complete, Homo erectus pelvis has been found (Simpson et al 2008)! I say “yay” because female pelves are the best way to learn about the effects of birthing on pelvic morphology, despite the numerous studies that claim to glean this knowledge from male pelves (I’m basing this mainly on Neandertal examples as I am admittedly not as well versed with H erectus papers).

Quick summary of the facts: Found in Gona, Ethiopia, BSN49/P27a-d (a.k.a. the Busidima pelvis) consists of both os coxae (hipbones) and the upper part of the sacrum of what has been identified as an adult female Homo erectus dated to 0.9 to 1.4 Ma. The hipbones are mostly complete, except for portions of the ilium missing on both sides and portions of the ischial tuberosities. Overall, the pelvis has been reconstructed so that measurements can be taken (see image below, taken from the Simpson et al 2008 article).

Why I’m excited: Since this fossil is female and has the first complete early Pleistocene pubis, and thus the first complete pelvic inlet, it means legitimate inferences about birthing can be made. The initial paper addresses this by exploring neonate (i.e. infant at birth) head sizes compared to inlet dimensions. The authors found that Busidima would have been capable of birthing infants 30% larger than predicted based on the Homo erectus pelvis KNM-WT 15000 (male subadult). Already this find is showing why making assumptions about birth based on male specimens is flawed! Yay!!

Why I’m concerned: The authors draw conclusions about the width of the trunk based on the bi-iliac breadth. As the picture shows, the ilia are largely reconstructed, making any measurement between the widest points on the iliac crest dubious. I’m not saying it’s a bad reconstruction; in fact it looks reasonable to me. I just believe caution must be used when drawing conclusions based on reconstructed measurements. Especially since I cannot find details on how the ilia were reconstructed (if I’ve missed something in my reading of the online supporting material, please, someone correct me). Given that this is the case, it seems extreme to use incomplete ilia as evidence against an endurance running hypothesis and as evidence for what type of environment this specimen lived in.

What others are saying: Hawks goes into more anatomical detail in his blog post about the article. He discusses questions raised by the study and points out that you really have to read the supporting stuff to get the full picture as the Science article is “superficial”. Beast Ape’s blog post discusses the bi-iliac interpretation and what it means. For a multilingual look, Mundo Neandertal also discusses the article, and based on my imperfect Spanish capabilities, I think they discuss the infant head size findings. Finally, New Scientist describes the findings in a newsy way, detailing the bigger birth canal (compared to WT 15000) and the squat proportions of Busidima. Enjoy!

Simpson et al. 2008 A Female Homo erectus Pelvis from Gona, Ethiopia. Science 322: 1089-1092.