Brief Communication: Human cranial variation fits iterative founder effect model with African origin


  • Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel,

    1. Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, The Henry Wellcome Building, Fitzwilliam Street, Cambridge CB2 1QH, UK
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  • Stephen J. Lycett

    Corresponding author
    1. British Academy Centenary Research Project, SACE, University of Liverpool, Hartley Building, Brownlow Street, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK
    • School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, Hartley Building, Brownlow Street, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK
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Recent studies comparing craniometric and neutral genetic affinity matrices have concluded that, on average, human cranial variation fits a model of neutral expectation. While human craniometric and genetic data fit a model of isolation by geographic distance, it is not yet clear whether this is due to geographically mediated gene flow or human dispersal events. Recently, human genetic data have been shown to fit an iterative founder effect model of dispersal with an African origin, in line with the out-of-Africa replacement model for modern human origins, and Manica et al. (Nature 448 (2007) 346–349) have demonstrated that human craniometric data also fit this model. However, in contrast with the neutral model of cranial evolution suggested by previous studies, Manica et al. (2007) made the a priori assumption that cranial form has been subject to climatically driven natural selection and therefore correct for climate prior to conducting their analyses. Here we employ a modified theoretical and methodological approach to test whether human cranial variability fits the iterative founder effect model. In contrast with Manica et al. (2007) we employ size-adjusted craniometric variables, since climatic factors such as temperature have been shown to correlate with aspects of cranial size. Despite these differences, we obtain similar results to those of Manica et al. (2007), with up to 26% of global within-population craniometric variation being explained by geographic distance from sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative analyses using non-African origins do not yield significant results. The implications of these results are discussed in the light of the modern human origins debate. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.