Part III: Pliocene Epoch

13. Kenyanthropus platyops

Kenyanthropus platyops (3.5 mya)

(“Kenyan human” / “flat-faced”)

Kenyanthropus platyops reconstruction. “Kenyanthropus platyops IMG 2946” by Rama is in the public domain.


Lake Turkana, Kenya


Meave Leakey


A surprisingly “flat-faced” hominin came to light with Meave Leakey’s discovery and naming of Kenyanthropus platyops (“flat-faced human from Kenya”) in 1999. The degree of orthognathism was surprising for such an early hominin.


Since the skull was crushed and reconstructed (see Figure 13.1), some paleoanthropologists discount the degree of orthognathism and would like to see the specimen assigned to genus: Australopithecus, and possibly to species: afarensis. Others feel that it is the base of our lineage, believing that a cladistic event occurred at Au. afarensis, leading on the one hand to the robust forms (including Au. africanus) and on the other hand toward humans. In the latter case, some would like to see K. platyops assigned to genus: Homo, believing it to be the ancestor of Homo rudolfensis, with which it shares a similar orthognathic profile. Of interest is that some have speculated that the species may have made the Laetoli footprints. However, if the platyops fossils really belong in Au. afarensis, it would not be news!

Lake Turkana, Kenya. “Kenya relief location map” by Uwe Dedering is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


K. platyops is known only from a site in the West Lake Turkana region of Kenya (see Figures 13.2 and 13.3), where Meave Leakey’s team found the crushed skull in 1999. The hypodigm consists of a reconstructed skull, plus two partial maxillae and a temporal bone from other individuals.

Lake Turkana, Kenya. “LakeTurkanaSouthIsland” by Doron is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


While possessing primitive ape-like molars (elongated mesiodistally, i.e. front to back) and sharing similarities with Au. anamensis and afarensis, the lower face of K. platyops is surprisingly (and possibly mistakenly) orthognathic for its early date. The cranial capacity of K. platyops is also suspect due to the reconstruction but if accurate, it was fairly high relative to other species of the time, at 400–500 cc.

Review of Primitive Characteristics

  • Elongated ape-like molars.

Review of Derived Characteristics

  • Possibly more orthognathic.
  • Possibly encephalized relative to previous and contemporary species.


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The History of Our Tribe: Hominini Copyright © 2017 by Barbara Helm Welker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.