Evaluation of a new method of fossil retrodeformation by algorithmic symmetrization: Crania of papionins (primates, cercopithecidae) as a test case

Melissa Tallman, Nina Amenta, Eric Delson, Stephen R. Frost, Deboshmita Ghosh, Zachary S. Klukkert, Andrea Morrow, Gary J. Sawyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Diagenetic distortion can be a major obstacle to collecting quantitative shape data on paleontological specimens, especially for three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis. Here we utilize the recently -published algorithmic symmetrization method of fossil reconstruction and compare it to the more traditional reflection & averaging approach. In order to have an objective test of this method, five casts of a female cranium of Papio hamadryas kindae were manually deformed while the plaster hardened. These were subsequently "retrodeformed" using both algorithmic symmetrization and reflection & averaging and then compared to the original, undeformed specimen. We found that in all cases, algorithmic retrodeformation improved the shape of the deformed cranium and in four out of five cases, the algorithmically symmetrized crania were more similar in shape to the original crania than the reflected & averaged reconstructions. In three out of five cases, the difference between the algorithmically symmetrized crania and the original cranium could be contained within the magnitude of variation among individuals in a single subspecies of Papio. Instances of asymmetric distortion, such as breakage on one side, or bending in the axis of symmetry, were well handled, whereas symmetrical distortion remained uncorrected. This technique was further tested on a naturally deformed and fossilized cranium of Paradolichopithecus arvernensis. Results, based on a principal components analysis and Procrustes distances, showed that the algorithmically symmetrized Paradolichopithecus cranium was more similar to other, less-deformed crania from the same species than was the original. These results illustrate the efficacy of this method of retrodeformation by algorithmic symmetrization for the correction of asymmetrical distortion in fossils. Symmetrical distortion remains a problem for all currently developed methods of retrodeformation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere100833
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


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