The absolute and relative breadths of the mandibular ramus (MRB) display substantial variation in modern humans, and are of analytical value in paleoanthropology. According to Enlow et al. ( Am. J. Orthod. 56:6–23), the ramus is the growth counterpart of the middle cranial fossa (MCF) and the pharynx. Such counterpart principles state that variation in ramus breadth is a frequent function of the horizontal alignment of the MCF, and both structures tend to covary within and between populations. These authors also suggested that lateral parts of the basicranium have a particular importance in the positioning of facial components. In the present study, this hypothesis is tested, and relationships between midline and lateral basicranial elements and ramus breadth variation are explored. Two-dimensional landmarks taken from lateral radiographs of adult crania representative of three modern human populations (Europeans, West Africans, and Japanese) were analyzed by geometric morphometry. Our results are consistent with previous counterpart analyses. Furthermore, our findings highlight the significance of the orientation of the petrous temporal to modern human mandibular ramus variation. Variation in the orientation of the petrosal bone appears to alter the spatial position of the mandible and influences MRB. Developmental integration of a petroso-mandibular unit may have important paleoanthropological implications. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.