The proximal femur has long been used to distinguish fossil hominin taxa. Specifically, the genus Homo is said to be characterized by larger femoral heads, shorter femoral necks, and more lateral flare of the greater trochanter than are members of the genera Australopithecus or Paranthropus. Here, a digitizing arm was used to collect landmark data on recent human (n=82), chimpanzee (n=16), and gorilla (n=20) femora and casts of six fossil hominin femora in order to test whether one can discriminate extant and fossil hominid (sensu lato) femora into different taxa using three-dimensional (3D) geometric morphometric analyses. Twenty proximal femoral landmarks were chosen to best quantify the shape differences between hominin genera. These data were first subjected to Procrustes analysis. The resultant fitted coordinate values were then subjected to PCA. PC scores were used to compute a dissimilarity matrix that was subjected to cluster analyses. Results indicate that one can easily distinguish Homo, Pan, and Gorilla from each other based on proximal femur shape, and one can distinguish Pliocene and Early Pleistocene hominin femora from those of recent Homo. It is more difficult to distinguish Early Pleistocene Homo proximal femora from those of Australopithecus or Paranthropus, but cluster analyses appear to separate the fossil hominins into four groups: an early australopith cluster that is an outlier from other fossil hominins; and two clusters that are sister taxa to each other: a late australopith/Paranthropus group and an early Homo group.
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