9. Understanding Human Cranial Variation in Light of Modern Human Origins

  1. Fred H. Smith and
  2. James C. M. Ahern
  1. John H. Relethford

Published Online: 26 JUL 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118659991.ch9

The Origins of Modern Humans: Biology Reconsidered

The Origins of Modern Humans: Biology Reconsidered

How to Cite

Relethford, J. H. (2013) Understanding Human Cranial Variation in Light of Modern Human Origins, in The Origins of Modern Humans: Biology Reconsidered (eds F. H. Smith and J. C. M. Ahern), John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, NJ. doi: 10.1002/9781118659991.ch9

Author Information

  1. Department of Anthropology, State University of New York College at Oneonta, Oneonta, NY

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 JUL 2013
  2. Published Print: 30 AUG 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470894095

Online ISBN: 9781118659991



  • genetics;
  • craniometrics;
  • modern human origins;
  • neutral model


Abstract: There is growing consensus that the fossil record (including ancient DNA) shows that populations with modern human anatomy appeared first in Africa about 200 ka, and then expanded throughout the Old World with small but non-trivial levels of interbreeding with archaic human populations. Although most genetic studies have looked at how genetic variation can be used to test hypotheses about modern human origins, the approach in this chapter is to ask what this consensus can tell us about our species' genetic variation in general, and more specifically what we know about modern human origins can tell us about cranial variation in living humans. How much, if any, of our species' cranial variation reflects our African origin? We can interpret much of genetic variation in our species today in terms of an African origin, including: (1) relatively limited variation (and effective population size) in our species, (2) higher levels of genetic diversity in African than elsewhere, (3) a cline in genetic diversity associated with increasing geographic distance from Africa, (4) relatively low levels of genetic differentiation among geographic regions, and (5) a global correlation of genetic distances and geographic distances. Since the mid-1990s, a number of studies have found that these five observations also fit cranial variation in recent and living humans. The genetic signature of modern human origins is found not only in our DNA markers but also in our cranial variation.