||Did the first hominids have a short developmental period similar to that of the great apes or a longer period closer to that of modern humans? Evidence from studies on dental and facial growth favors the first point of view. Additional evidence presented in this report is provided by a morphogenetic analysis of the lower limb. Some morphological modifications undergone by the human femur during infantile and adolescent growth are shown to be excellent markers of different developmental stages. The angular remodelling of the femoral diaphysis, which results in femoral bicondylar angle, is a marker of infancy, while the reshaping of the distal femoral epiphysis is a marker of adolescence. This reshaping of the bony epiphysis consists of the strong projection of the external lip of the femoral trochlea, the increase of the radius of curvature of the external condyle, and the anteroposterior lengthening of the whole epiphysis. The growth spurt in linear dimensions of the femur, characteristic of human adolescence, is shown to be associated with qualitative changes of the distal femoral epiphysis engendered by the late closure of the distal epiphysis. The femur of the first hominids (Australopithecus afarensis) shows only features of infantile growth, whereas characters of both precocious and later growth are typical of later hominids (Homo). The absence of the derived epiphyseal features in Australopithecus would be linked to their early epiphyseal closure and short adolescent growth period; their presence in Homo would have been promoted by their delayed epiphyseal closure and prolonged adolescent growth period. The transition from Australopithecus to Homo appears to have involved a heterochronic process of time hypermorphosis (Gould, , Ontogeny and Phylogeny [:Cambridge: Harvard University Press]) in which the size of the femur increases, the epiphysis is modified, and the period of peripubertal growth is prolonged. The shape of the distal epiphyses of KNM-WT 15000, an immature Homo erectus (Brown et al.  Nature 316:788-792), lies clearly within the range of modern human adolescents. In contradiction to Smith's ( in A. Walker and R. Leakey [eds.]: The Nariokotome Homo erectus Skeleton [Cambridge: Harvard University Press], pp. 195-220) hypothetical reconstruction of life span of Homo erectus, we infer that a growth spurt had begun with Homo erectus but was probably less pronounced and of shorter duration than in modern humans. Our findings on the femur are consistent with studies of the growth on the hominid pelvis (Berge  in LF Marcus, M Corti, A Loy, G Naylor, and DE Slice [eds.]: Advances in Morphometrics [Chicago: Plenum Publishing Corp.], pp. 441-448). It is suggested that the lengthening of the adolescent growth period, from Australopithecus to Homo, would have been also associated with the shape changes of the pelvis and with the lengthening of the lower limbs. (C) 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.